It’s been some time since I’ve posted anything to this blog – my plans to use it as a study aide for my qualifying exams did not pan out. However, I am currently “in the field” for my first stint of dissertation research, and thought it an appropriate forum for communicating my progress and thoughts. (Apologies for formatting – WordPress is being a pain!)
I arrived in Idaho on the 28th of April (2016) – I’ve been here over three weeks, now, and it seems an appropriate point to set down a bit of reflection on how things have been so far.
Currently, with many thanks to the folks at Lava Lake Land and Livestock, I am staying in a yurt (#yurtlife) on their main ranch – about 15 miles outside of the town of Carey, in Blaine County – right next to Craters of the Moon National Monument.
The region is a far cry from anywhere I’ve lived before – on one side, the volcanic landscape; on another, the northern edge of the Great Basin, with its characteristic sage scrub; to the north, the beginnings of Idaho’s expansive national forest (Idaho has the largest contiguous area of federally protected wilderness outside of Alaska, and leads the nation in forest service land as a percentage of total area).
This time of year the land is beautiful – green, wet, and flowering. The weather is highly variable – “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes” certainly holds true, and I’ve experienced cold (very happy for the wood-burning stove in the yurt), high winds (which whip at the canvas to the point that I’ll use earplugs just to be able to sleep at night), dry heat, as well as beautiful sunny weather.
The skies here are incredible. I’d experienced a similar feeling living in Tucson and in my previous explorations around the West, but there is really something – about the vast expanses of sky, the patterns of cloud, and the quality of light – that has to be experienced, that is just qualitatively distinct from the skies I know in California.
While I’ve conducted field research in the past, this is the first time I’ve fully relocated to a site on my own like this. The first few weeks (and really the month before I left, as well) have been a period of stress, transition, and learning a lot about my typical patterns and needs – and about how I adapt in the absence of my social networks and communication technologies!
The area is very, very rural and agriculturally-focused, and phone and internet are minimal to non-existent. It’s taken some adjustment, to say the least – I don’t think I was aware of how much of a typical day back home was killed checking email and facebook.
And yet Blaine County is also home to Sun Valley, an enclave of wealth oriented on the recreational possibilities of the Wood River Valley and Sawtooth National Forest beyond. I drive up the Wood River Valley corridor – Bellevue, Hailey, and Ketchum – a few times a week, which takes between 45 minutes and an hour from the ranch depending on how far north I’m going. (It’s only there that I can seem to get phone service, so if I’m slow responding to texts and calls you know why!)
Much of my time and mental energy the past couple of weeks has been spent adjusting to my new living situation – logistically and emotionally. Living in the yurt is far more posh than I expected – I had definitely packed for the barest of conditions, and was happy to instead find running water (if a bit iron-heavy), a furnished bed, wood burning stove, and probably the fanciest “outhouse” I’ve ever seen.
Still, there are challenges: the winds and a very active and vocal bird population makes sleeping a challenge at times (again, earplugs are a blessing), while the interior is plagued by tenacious mice (I’m working on it – after some false starts that included a couple of painful snaps on my fingers, I’ve pretty much mastered trap-craft) and a nearly constant and oddly disturbing presence of dead and dying flies. (I intellectualize all this as a very personal lesson in the production, maintenance, and permeability of territory!)
And of course I’m all alone. I’m hitting a rhythm now, but it’s been a challenging adjustment (as I’ve not had to live alone for over 5 years now, and this is really alone).
But overall I really can’t complain – it’s absolutely beautiful, has the added perk of frequent puppy visits, and gives me the space to collect my thoughts after I exhaust myself in “the field.”
Research is slow going but progressing. I’ve had to confront my own impatience and preference for clear plans, instead adjusting to a much more organic and iterative “deep hanging out” (yes, that’s me admitting that my advisors were totally right). Being so self-directed, not really having a clear research plan (no matter what I told the IRB…), and having to continually put myself out there – “fishing” for leads, for any kind of bite from people I’d like to talk with – it’s exhausting, and can be frustrating. But for every day I flounder and feel like I’ve no idea what I’m doing here and why, there’s another day when I drive back to the yurt really feeling like things are coming together.
I won’t say much on what I’m finding so far and where it’s leading, because I honestly still don’t know. I have flashes of insight, glimpses of directions I could take, but it’s all still amorphous – ask me in a few more weeks!
Before I sign off, many, many thanks to all of those who have helped me out so far: whether that’s the folk I encounter who give me a reason – through encouragement or mystery – to keep digging; new and old friends in the area who support me along the way; or those back home and around the world who have expressed an interest in my work (even if it’s just the puppy snaps) and/or sent me advice and well-wishings. It’s all more appreciated than you could know.