This past week our three independent research groups trekked out to our respective destinations around the country for an interesting five days of fieldwork. On Wednesday we all said farewell to our home base and my group found ourselves hauling miles up rocky, perilous, winding dirt roads to the cloud forest of Monteverde. We arrived in Monteverde that afternoon, greeted by the deliciously cool mountain air. The town was complete with a coffee shop, whole foods store, art co-op, bakery, restaurant, and chocolate factory.
The next five days were to be dedicated to executing our research procedures centered around various topics, everything from testing soil health on coffee farms to assessing the tree biodiversity of primary rainforests. We came with our procedures written out and equipment lined up ready to go; our thoughts were organized and morale was high. Weather: perfect, a breezy, misty 70 degrees with a break from the relentless sunshine and the hopeful prospect of wearing pants in the evenings.
However, day one in the field was a disaster of sorts. If anything had the option to go wrong it did. Well, at least for my core group on the coffee farm, but I am certain that everyone’s project beheld some element of conflict or confusion that day. Once we arrived to the field we realized that our procedures, remotely written in the comfort of the classroom, were not designed for the elements of the field. The rain, the wind, the lack of string, the inconvenient positioning of the sun, whatever our obstacle was that day it made for much frustration. Upon returning from the field we spent the afternoon rethinking our projects and discussing ways we could adapt to our circumstances.
This is what I learned during our independent projects component – field research is messy and the conclusions that come of it are even more so. We cannot fully count on our work to give us entirely comprehensive results, and the process, no matter how thought out, can be completely riddled with possible instances of error. The past week taught me that research must always be taken with a grain of salt, constantly challenged and compared against other research or schools of thought. We cannot entirely leave it to the so-called experts to tell us how we must best take care of each other, our Earth, or ourselves.