Bad habits in the field

Chuck at the Lounge of the Lab Lemming has a good Monday-morning meme: bad geologic habits. What things do you forget to do - or do when you know you shouldn't?

I am probably an embarrassment to everyone who ever taught me*. Here's an incomplete list of my bad habits:

- Leaving gear at outcrops. (I've actually put bright-colored tape on my rock hammer, to make it easier to see. I also have cultivated the habit of carrying my hammer and my map in my hands, rather than in a pack or attached to my belt, so that something feels wrong if my hands are empty.

- Forgetting my camera. Argh. Never go anywhere without a camera, if you're a geologist. Geology is everywhere. You never know when you'll see an example that will be useful in class. And when you're doing research, and your observations are part of your data, well...

- Forgetting to take pictures. Especially pictures with people in them, or pictures of gorgeous views.

- Forgetting spare batteries for the GPS.

- Forgetting to set a waypoint for the car. Or to mark the location of the car on the map. Fine if the car is in the parking lot at the trailhead to the wilderness (which is often, these days), but if it's on the side of a Forest Service road someplace deep in the woods...

- Not packing enough food or water.

- Sloppy and incomplete note-taking, especially at the end of a day that's been frustrating or repetitive. It may seem as though I will never, ever forget the nth identical field description, but three years later, that's not true.

- Not wearing sunscreen. I know, Mom. I know.

- Leaving samples at outcrop, instead of putting them into my pack.

At least I learned to write sample numbers on multiple places (rocks, sample bags, pieces of paper tucked into sample bags), to put my data on my map while I'm in the field, and to be redundant in my field note-taking. (I was in grad school the last time I had to throw out data because I realized, while plotting it, that the combination of measurements was geometrically impossible.) And I've only locked the keys in my car once while doing field work. I think. And I've never come down the opposite side of a mountain from where I thought I was. (Though I did once walk all the way around a hilltop in deep fog during grad school. That was before GPS, though. And I found my chisel while I was lost.)

*Actually, I know this isn't true - my students have gone on to TA for some of my professors. Maybe I'm successful at "do as I say, not as I do."


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I probably suffer the most from the sunscreen and not-enough-water issues the most when I'm in the field. However, what I find myself most in trouble with is not taking enough sample when I have the chance. I think it is mostly when I'm out there, especially as the day wears on, the idea of packing more and more rocks in my pack becomes, well, less appealing. It is only when I get back to I think "you know, I could use with another kg of this sample" or "hmmm, maybe that last outcrop would have been useful". The famous remorse of insufficient field work.

I think I was cured of the not-enough-sample issue in grad school. One of the other members of my group was doing a lot of U-Pb zircon work, before Stanford got its shrimp, and we had to fill at least one large bag with unweathered granite chunks every time we took a sample. (The advice we got was "if you break it on the outcrop, you'll contaminate it with the same rock." I smashed some fingers pretty badly trying to clean off those &*$^# weathering rinds.) I was doing argon dating on micas in schists, so I didn't actually need much sample myself, but I got paranoid about getting back to California without enough rock. (I had so much excess crushed rock when I was done.) Plus I was collecting oriented samples and was afraid to break the rock down too much, for fear of losing the cool stuff.

The end result: my back is a mess, and I still collect samples that are ten times the size I need.

I was cured of the 'not taking good enough notes' and sample-taking early on during my school field camp days. Glad of it.

As for losing gear in the field, I once was engaged in field work in Central Montana on a ridge in thrust fault territory when I sat down on this perfectly shaped sitting rock to write my notes (having just taken a sample of it). My rock hammer was in my side holster (unsecured) and I didn't feel it get 'poked' out by the rock and fall to the ground. I would have lost it right there; but what I did hear was the sound of metal on metal when my hammer fell on another rock hammer!

I still have both hammers, though both have been well worn by now.

By Lynn David (not verified) on 13 Jul 2009 #permalink

Forgetting to mark the car position can be kinda freaky when you're driving off road, the bush is thick, and the temperature is high.

My advisor once left his hammer on an outcrop for a year, before picking it up again next field season.

During my Master's field work, I followed a series of directions to an abandoned mine site. Found the first small pit and set my backpack down to search for the 2nd. After a 20 minute or so search, I had located it and turned to fetch my backpack.

Not in sight. Stuck the shovel in the ground, put my red coat on it as a landmark, and started to search for the 1st pit and my backpack. After another good 20-30 minutes with no luck, I marched back out to the road (3/4 mile), over to the the vehicle and re-followed my directions to the 1st pit and my backpack. Swiveled around to find my shovel/coat landmark, standing about 15 meters away in the brush.

Why yes, this was in the Carolina Slate Belt. Why do you ask?

The nice thing about my Honda Civic LX is that it won't let me lock the keys inside.