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Stubbornness and Flexibility

Stubbornness and Flexibility
Lane collecting data using the photography method on a sunny summer day

I must apologize for not writing for two weeks! I keep trying to write this blog post, and I keep getting side tracked. Anyways, at the beginning of the week, when I originally started writing this post, I started off by stating that this week was going to be my last week in the woods collecting data. Of course, because I wrote that, the world (or the weather) decided that it was not going to let me finish my data collection this week.


The week started off well, and I was completing all of the plots I planned to each day. Then Thursday came. That day, I was prepared to be super productive, complete my last three plots and finish my data collection. I must admit, I did notice that the weather forecast said that it could storm in the afternoon, but since they have been consistently wrong, I didn’t worry too much about it. However, right around noon, as predicted, the sky started to get dark, and the rain started to gently fall from the sky. Drew, Sean’s research assistant, was helping me collect data that day. When it started to rain, he and I were under a fairly dense canopy, so we barely noticed. We continued measuring trees, and the sun even started to come out.


A picture of a large trunk with deep ravines in it's grayish brown bark with a yellow measuring tape rapped around it
This was a very large dead ash tree that was measured this week. The Emerald Ash Borer is a real problem in this part of the US right now.
Alison McGarigal


After we finished measuring the plot the old fashioned way, we started the photography method. Since it looked like it was clearing up, I thought it would be wise to check what the storm looked like on the radar. There was lightning a little ways away, but not close enough to need to abandon our plot. However as I watched the radar, the thunder started getting noticeably louder and the rumbling started to sound more menacing. I unfortunately had to make the call that it was time to abandon the plot for now due to safety concerns. So we sat in the car eating our lunch waiting to see if it would pass. But instead of passing quickly like storms here normally do, the sky just kept getting darker, the thunder kept rolling closer, and the sky started to spit out big fat drops of water. It took me a while to finally admit to myself that the weather just wasn’t going to let me finish my data collection that day.


However, my decision to head back in for the day was reaffirmed when the sky literally opened up and poured down on us as we drove back to the research center. I walked about five steps from the car to the building several times to unload gear, and got completely drenched from head to toe!


Looking out of a car windshield that is splattered with rain drops with a dark cloudy sky in the background
Drew and I safe and sound in the car, driving back through a rainstorm that we could have been stuck in. We were lucky we didn't take the open air cushman out that day!
Alison McGarigal


Anyways, since Friday’s weather wasn’t looking any better, I had to come to terms with the fact that this week was not going to be the last week of data collection. Which is really not a big issue because I still have plenty of time before the symposium to figure out what all the data means. It was more of a psychological thing. The main thing that got me through this past week was that I could see the finish line. After seven weeks of being out in the woods almost everyday, and having to repeat the same three tasks at my plots day after day for almost five weeks straight, I admit that I was a little worn out. But I also admit that I can be a little bit stubborn when it comes to completing the goal I set out to do. (Side note: Kirsten wrote a great post on the importance of repetition in science that you can read here!)


In some cases, like in this project’s data collection process, it can be seen as a good trait. However, in other circumstances, I would be much better off letting go. For instance, last weekend, I was determined to walk to downtown Downers Grove from our hotel so I could get some exercise, a change of scenery, and find a coffee shop to get some work done. Unfortunately, it was a ridiculously hot, humid day in Chicagoland, and I made a poor decision on what shoes to wear. After an hour and a half, I finally made it to the downtown. In retrospect, when I realized the unideal weather conditions I was walking in and just how far of a walk it was going to be, I should have got an uber to take me the rest of the way. But because of my stubbornness, I walked the whole way, ended up with two huge blisters on my heels, and was drenched from head to toe in my own sweat.


I guess the lesson from all of this is that it is good to have goals and to see projects through to the end. However, it is also good to be flexible and to know what is important and what can be let go. I have found that these lessons can be pretty much applied to all aspects of life. You have to find a balance between determination and compromise, between stubbornness and flexibility, between stability and change.


Till next week (probably… maybe the week after…)



A young woman wearing a bright orange shirt holding a large tube covered in QR codes stands in front of a field of wild sunflowers in bloom
The wild sunflowers started to bloom in the burned section of the forest! They were so beautiful that I had to take a picture with them ;)
Lane Scher