I convinced myself that each wave was washing the ticks right off of me. We were swimming in ocean water so turquoise, it looked straight out of a Caribbean island tourist magazine, and the shore was glistening with shells.
The exaggerated luxury of this swim and the false assurance that being pummeled by waves washed away ticks was in contrast to our day in Buxton Woods. We had finished our first day of fieldwork for our Capstone research project in Buxton Woods down on Hatteras Island. With the help of GPS coordinates from a 1988 survey and Lindsay’s bushwhacking a few days prior, we made it to our plot area. We were conducting vegetation surveys, which included measuring tree diameters, taking plant samples, and digging soil samples.
Going into this day, there was a nervous anticipation amongst the group. All we kept hearing about Buxton Woods was that it was the breeding ground for the peskiest mosquitoes, the most Lyme diseasiest ticks, and the best place for poisonous snakes to test out their fangs. It was going to be hot, humid, and we would be pestered non-stop all day with bugs. We had mosquito nets covering our faces and layers upon layers of deet soaked clothes in our best effort to prepare for the day.
Despite our best preparation, we faced several logistical and methodological challenges throughout the day. We were all amateur plant identifiers. We constantly had to ask Kathy, our guiding plant expert, questions and consult our picture-less wordy guidebooks to determine each specific species. It was hot, the bugs were biting rampant, and we had a bit of logistical confusion. It was the perfect recipe for group discord, frustration, snappy attitudes, and irritation.
However, even after several hours in the woods, I heard Jane, Steve, and Nathalie laughing from the other side of the plot. Jason was still yanking on vines and Blakely continued to measure tree trunks with patience and accuracy- yelling out our absurd and incorrect pronunciations for each species’ Latin name.
Any tension or nervousness going into the day had disappeared. I was continually encouraged by the flexibility, perseverance, and genuine spirits of the group. I was proud of how we not only managed to stay sane and support each other throughout the day, but many of us actually had fun. I stepped out of the woods exhausted, but happy. Our swim on the beach at the end of the day was just the cherry on top of a great day.
This short anecdote is merely one day of laughter and friendship. In the first month here, I have loved getting to make new friends, learn outside, and try new things! I am soaking it up and am enjoying each day here. Here’s to the rest of the semester of bug spray, laughter, friends, the woods, and pummeling waves!