My summer research began in a lab. Work station, latex gloves, pipettes, centrifuge tubes, tiny dead snail DNA, and a handful of chemicals. I was living the simple life. I would go to work every odd day, perform extractions, PCRs, sequence DNA and make trees. From this life of simplicity, I produced a poster to present at the ESA Conference.
I enjoyed this work. Not only because I knew what I was doing, but also because everyday I was learning something new and interesting. Even so, I was looking forward to the field work. Lab work can only be so satisfying. What I needed were more specimens for morphological analyses and to characterize the species habitat. Thus, after ESA, I prepared to make my way from Ann Arbor to the Owyhee River in Oregon. From here on, the level of simplicity, comfort and ease with which I worked inverted.
The easiest part of my field work was arriving at the Boise, Idaho airport. There, I met Dave Hopper of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who was the driving force behind this research project. During my first night in his neck of the woods, he and his wife showed me the sights of Boise: a local co-op grocery store, a family-owned Mexican restaurant (including an adorable Mexican man singing karaoke), and the state capitol. It was calm, quaint and, in retrospect, the perfect juxtaposition with the next two days.
The plan was to leave by 7am. We hit the road, bags packed, sleeping bags secured, and canoe laced tightly to the top of the Jeep. The highway was beautiful. We took it for 2 hours before turning off onto a rarely-traveled but moderately well-maintained dirt road.
Then the simple life I had learned to both love and expect evaporated and in it's stead was a stampede of cows and cowboys, which apparently are still real.
We waited on the side of the road for 20 minutes as cow after cow, urinating, drooling, and doing a lot of staring into my soul with their dark and lucid eyes, walked up to and around our car. Moos came from every direction with cowboys on horses and 4-wheelers herding to their heart's content.
Once we reached the study site, the following happened: