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> August 13, 2006 - Reflections on a month in the Field, A Personal Perspective
post Aug 13 2006, 04:22 PM
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It is getting very close to the end of our trip now. I plan to make a few more postings about the students presentations at UNIS and our trip home, but I am going to wrap up the main experience in this entry. I have had lots of time to think as I hiked, and had some wonderful conversations with students and the researchers about science, learning, the Arctic, climate change and life. This has been an incredibly enriching experience in many ways.

Id like to highlight a few of the most important things that I want to come away with. You might already share some of these thoughts if you have been a faithful reader of the entries. I hope that my journal has inspired many of your own thoughts as well. Here are some of mine.

Science is Exciting
As I told my friends before I left, I love being on the edge of the unknown and going in to explore. Very few places on earth inspire exploration like the arctic, and very few people have done much long term exploration here. Institutions like UNIS are so wonderful because there, in one place, are many of the experts on a poorly understood part of the globe. It is thrilling to be out in wild country seeing a landscape and interpreting it, perhaps for the first time.
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Scientific Conclusions are Made of Thousands of Pieces
We all want the answer to tough questions, like Why is the earth warming so fast? and in order to really answer that clearly, we have to get very close to all the pieces of the story. This involves lots of funding, muscle, drive, time, chocolate and electrical tape! Scientific study is based on observations and questioning, so this takes time. Scientists are unwilling to throw out conclusions hastily, and we should not ask them to. We can support their work and trust that they will bring conclusions to us when they have enough solid evidence. Then, when they do share their findings, our job is to try to understand and make necessary changes to our lifestyles.
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As a Country, We Need to Listen to the Experts
There are experts who have studied climate for decades and have solid evidence about all the intricate details that go together to tell the complex story of climatic change. If I had a PhD in Geomorphology or Paleoclimatology and spent all summer in the arctic every year for 30 years, I might be an expert on climate change too. Mike Retelle and Al Werner have done that, and they are 2 of the worlds experts. They and their many scientific colleagues know what they are talking about! What they say about it is based on a lifetime of careful study. They are fantastic scientists. They never stop talking and thinking about this stuff. Sit with them at dinner and you would see what I mean!
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Growing Older is Tough!
The college students remind me so much of myself at 20. They hike like mountain goats, have endless energy, quick minds and can stay up to all hours of the night and still get up and hike a dozen miles. At twice their age, I will finally admit that it just isnt the same for me anymore! I also realize that in those 20 years between us, there is a vast amount of maturation that happens. I feel so honored to work with these kids they have taught me a lot about their projects and how science is done now (such different technology now than in the 80s!) I am hopeful that I may have impacted them in some small positive way. If nothing else, I hope my presence here influences them to stay strong enough to do what I have done when they reach my age! It is still super fun!
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Attitude is Everything!
This type of field work is extremely hard it aint no picnic out there! It takes inner and outer strength to keep going. The desire to understand, explore, discover, and make sense of something is very compelling. The wish to really help the students here, the kids in my classroom, my community and to teach my own family has been really big for me. I want you all to see that women do amazing things, that mothers can go off on adventures, that dads can stay back and do it all (thank you so much Barnabas!) and that we need to follow our hearts and push to get out and explore. It is a PLEASURE to carry a heavy pack full of instrument if you know it is making all those things more real.
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Teamwork Takes Everybody
It is a wonderful thing to be part of a highly functional team, but it takes everybody. Keeping the jokes going in a freezing downpour is a special art form! Being willing to do something that at first you dont want to do is essential for the good of the group, and to do it with grace is inspiring. I saw some of our students do this on a regular basis and Ill never forget it.
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The Arctic is Very Special
The arctic continues to pull and inspire me. Now having spent 3 summers in the arctic (Alaska 1985 and Baffin Island, Canada 1986) I feel more in touch with my entire planet. It allows me to truly appreciate so many things that most of us take for granted. A large rock to step behind in a strong wind can inspire gratitude, as can a hot cup of tea from a friend in the field. The little things that help you survive in a difficult environment take on huge significance.
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New Perspectives Come With New Experiences
When I get back to the states I will enjoy the ease of my life, but also treasure the knowledge that much of what I have is unnecessary, that I could happily live without many conveniences. I hope to recycle or give away a few hundred items this year, to lighten my load and be less weighed down by unnecessary objects. I would also like to plan to spend more time overseas to interact with other cultures. There are so many ways to live.
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In March of this year, begins a time known as International Polar Year which actually lasts 2 years. The 2 year time span is designed so that researchers have 2 summers to be in the field, one at each polar region. IPY, as it is known, is a time when we will hear more about the arctic and Antarctic. There will be many interesting stories, broadcasts and events that you might find interesting, so please keep your ears open for them. Go to http://www.ipy.org/ for more information. You are well ahead of the curve already on understanding and appreciating this very special part of the globe.
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I hope that these journal entries have added to your lives in some small way. I have loved doing them, and will continue to add short posts of our final events as they come in the next few days. I look forward like nothing else on earth to hugging my family when I get home! Thanks for being part of this experience and please continue to send emails with questions. Ill always want to talk about my time on Svalbard.
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