Almost heaven, San Juan Islands. On my recent reporting trip to a research lab set in this glorious green archipelago, I was thrilled with the beautiful light. With seeing a sea otter cross the road. (Why? To get from its kits, nestled in a den beneath the undergraduate dormitory bathrooms, to the harbor on the other side.) A few minutes later I spotted it again, swimming just off shore.
Late one afternoon, a red fox trotted by my studio’s back window as I sat writing email. I saw it again the following evening.
The mule deer were positively domesticated, hanging out on the meadowy lawns near the campus residences and chomping on the lush grass.
And the science I’d come to observe was cutting-edge.
All of this more than compensated for the chilly wet weather. This was April, off the coast of Washington State, and I barely packed enough warm clothing. During the day, I wore almost every layer I’d brought. I kept one on to go to bed at night. More than once I longed for my expedition-weight fleece leggings, sitting in a pile on the floor at home in Brooklyn. Pretty shameful performance for someone who lived nine years in western Oregon, but even then I was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker.
This trip took a non-trivial chunk of money out of my pocket. I was still pursuing a paid writing assignment based on the experiment I observed. The financials worry me. But taking the risk put me near the ground floor of a still-developing arena of ocean science, as well as marine research technology and tools. I met some of the most experienced techs in the country, as well as some up-and-coming scientists and their well-established team leads.
This is what keeps me doing environmental journalism, despite the grim forecasts for the profession and uncertain income: Getting out from behind the desk, traveling to an amazing place, meeting the smart and engaged people working to understand and learn about it, and coming back with an important story to tell.