Tuesday, August 28, 2007
A day in the life of a botanist
6:00 am. Drag self out of bed, shower, dress in fancy quick-drying REI hiking pants with zip-off legs and velcro cuffs and a brightly colored t-shirt (so am not mistaken for deer). Pack truck with half the contents of my house, including camping gear, cooler of ice, enough food for several days (bagels, granola, Little Debbies), water, lantern, ziplock bags, clippers, laptop, GPS, various chargers. After crucial stop at Starbucks, husband and I are on the road.
9:00 am. Stop for gas and very important Donettes for me and Combos (new flavor - salsa and corn tortilla; v. disappointing) for him. Central Illinois is not very interesting.
12:00 pm. Arrive in the general region of the field site in the Shawnee National Forest. Miss turn because road is unmarked. Drive a ways on rugged, steep, gravelly, one-lane road with trees or sharp drop-offs on either side. Pray to traffic gods that we don't encounter oncoming cars.
12:30 pm. Based on topo maps and google earth printouts, are not exactly lost, just don't know where we are. Husband asks wary backwoods resident for directions. Man miraculously knows the way (probably has hunted at field site, I would guess).
1:00 pm. Park the truck on a grassy shoulder, put on hiking boots, douse with deet. Hike along the forest service road, which is too washed out even for the truck. Use topo map to navigate. Lovely area, first pine then post oak/blackjack oak, with maple/beech on lower sites. Stop to admire a turtle on the trail. Wince at horseflies zooming past our faces (they aren't bothering us and clearly have important things to do). The trail ends and we head down into the hollow, which was supposed to be a marvel of waterfalls but during this drought is completely dry. Quickly learn to wave in front of us with sticks because spiderwebs are abundant. The hollow meets a second hollow at right angles; this second hollow is our destination. Now, we hunt for basswood trees. Supposedly this is one of the few places in Illinois where white basswood can be found. We find one right away but it's not healthy, and over the next couple of hours we find no more than eight more trees, none of them very green, all of them very bug-eaten and hosting some bug that folds one side of every leaf over like a taco. Some trees are too tall to sample, none are visibly reproductive, and only three are attractive enough to make herbarium sheets out of. We clamber up and down steep terrain, step on treacherous rotted logs, admire butterflies and fish and frogs, and battle spiderwebs. I gaze fondly at some massive beeches and curse several mulberries for looking like basswood. Finally I'm convinced we've found all the basswoods, or at least have found enough, and we begin the exhausting hike up the hill and back to the truck. The water runs out well before we get there.
3:30 pm. At the truck, remove most of our clothes there on the roadside, not much caring if someone comes along, and discover lots and lots of ticks. Get horribly creeped out. Remove ticks and change clothes. Are terribly sweaty and very very tired. Drink a bunch of water. Stash ticky clothes and shoes in bags, hope truck doesn't get infested.
4:00 pm. Return to civilization and have first meal of the day at a state park lodge nearby. Luxuriate in soap and running water in lodge restroom.
5:30 pm. Set up camp, eat Little Debbies. Read (me) and play on computer (him). Swat at bugs.
8:00 pm. Sunset. Climb into hot tent to read because lantern outdoors will attract bugs.
11:00 pm. Wake up freezing. Add more covers.
Next day: Six-hour drive home.
Now doesn't botany sound like fun??