I am writing to you from the frozen tundra of Cape Cod. Winter has definitely arrived to the North east (and most of the East coast) since I have returned from field work in the Caribbean and I’m not going to lie, the weather has made it hard for me to transition back into the swing of things!
I wanted to take some time to write about a topic that has been on my mind since I returned from field work.
I first noticed a mournful and solemn feeling on the last day that I was on the Alucia. I was sitting in the crew mess with my sore left foot propped up on the seat in front of me and wrapped in ice (remember . . . from my bunk bed incident?) and I was alone because everyone else was preparing for the boat “demobe” (demobilization: essentially getting all of our science equipment and gear off of the boat and shipping it back to original destination).
As I sat there, I was mentally flipping through my personal cruise highlight reel, laughing and smiling to myself as I remembered all of the wonderful and specific experiences and moments that I had enjoyed for the past couple weeks. There was our initial travel down to the Alucia and our last minute errands (running around the local town the day before we left, trying to collect all the items that we needed to live and conduct research for the next month). The first moment that we boarded the vessel. Enjoying Halloween on our transit day as we steamed towards Havana. Meeting the Cuban scientists as they boarded the ship in Havana. Setting up the lab and labeling vials with Mayelin while sitting on the floor in the hallway and listening to her favorite music. Kalina’s birthday celebration. Salsa dancing (and getting salsa dancing lessons) under the moonlight and stars. Getting nudged by a shark underwater. Watching the stars on the top deck in silence. The grouper that stalked Colleen. Games of tiki toss and corn hole. Hanging off the side of the Northwind at sunset. Belting Backstreet Boys with my advisor as we filtered seawater. A specific incident involving a puddle. Just so many memories.
I am so grateful for these memories, but as I sat there, it dawned on me that I would never experience these specific moments again. And I was sad. And I realized that it would be some time before I could dive on these reefs again if I am so lucky. And I was sad. And I reflected that it would probably be some time before I would be able to speak with and share a dance with my new Cuban friends. And I was sad. And this is also what I am going to refer to as research cruise withdrawal.
I have experienced this feeling before, after finishing field work, but I would argue never to this degree. This was the longest I had been in the field and my first major cruise. Someone I was speaking with recently (maybe Ashlee) referred to this cruise as “science camp” and I couldn’t agree more. Everyday was filled with excitement and wonder, laughter, sunshine, time underwater, corals, delicious food, starlight, song, dance, and friendship. How could I not lament the end of this cruise?
I guess I am writing this post to record that I am feeling this bittersweet feeling, to chronicle that it is a part of my PhD journey, to emphasize that scientists are relatable, and to reach out to others who may have also experienced this. It’s likely a normal aspect of field work, but rarely discussed. I even tried to search for other posts or articles on this topic, but I couldn’t find any specifically related to field work or research.
I am using this bittersweet feeling as an anchor to help me remember how grateful and fortunate that I am to have experienced all these memories. And to motivate me to continue to seek out fun, spontaneous, and adventurous experiences no matter where I am or what I am doing. This will be especially useful to hold onto since winter is coming (who gets that reference ;)).
Thanks for reading!