Dear Winter: It’s Not You, It’s Me


People seem to think that research biologists spend most of their time outdoors. I would like to dispel that misconception. For most people, field work lasts a few weeks to a few months each year, and some biologists never make it out of the laboratory.

Most of the time, I sit here in front of my computer writing reports, analyzing data, programming scripts, revising manuscripts, answering emails, reading scientific papers, and completing the odd homework assignment. So I look forward to any opportunity to soak up the skin cancer inducing UV radiation that I enjoyed as a southern Californian youth.

And that time has come again: it’s almost Field Work O’Clock ! Despite a particularly nasty Montreal winter, spring has finally sprung. Sure, there is still a foot and a half of snow on the ground, but the maple syrup tapping buckets are out and yesterday I traded in my down winter coat for a wool mid-calf length pea coat. It’s basically bathing suit weather outside (for people who enjoy the occasional arctic plunge).

I will head down to Follensby Pond to catch lake trout as soon as possible after the ice melts to supplement last year’s field data. On one hand, I want nothing more than warm, sunny weather to spend all day fishing. I lose circulation in my hands and feet quite rapidly when I get cold, and an otherwise relaxing day on the lake quickly becomes a struggle to keep from turning into ice like Anna in the movie Frozen. Warm May weather also brings black flies to the Adirondacks. And from what I have heard, black fly season nearly qualifies as a biblical plague.

On the other hand, warming temperatures are the enemy when it comes to spring lake trout fishing. As temperatures increase, the lake stratifies into a layer of warm water near the surface and a layer of cold water near the bottom. Lake trout are cold water fish and after the thermocline develops, they spend the summer in deep, cold sections of the lake where they are more difficult to catch.

Dressed to impress in my snazzy bug repelling head net

I have my cold weather survival suit and bug repelling head net ready to go. I cannot wait to get away from the computer, something I know Sarah commiserates with after spending so much time in the lab analyzing how mudflat diatoms are affected by heat waves . Luckily I have been able to pry my way away from an LED screen a few times this month, first with an amazing vacation in Hawaii (spring break baby!), again for the requisite spring sugar shack trip, and occasionally for Macdonald Campus’s Thursday night bar trivia. Okay, technically graduate students do not get spring break off like undergraduates, but I felt it was an appropriate time to ditch the snow and take a mini vacation.

Snorkeling in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Oahu, Hawaii

It took more willpower than I would like to admit to return to wintery Montreal after spending a week snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, and eating fresh coconut in paradise.  But work called…

Taking a scenic picture with my boyfriend after hiking up Diamond Head State Monument in Oahu, Hawaii

…and coming back to Montreal was worth it to enjoy the end of winter. And by enjoy, I mean that same feeling of pleasure you get when a superhero destroys a hell-bent villain on television.

Spring is maple syrup tapping season, and I recently visited the sugar shack at the Village Québécois d’Antan  north of Montréal to chow down on traditional Québécois fare and drink my weight in maple syrup. Although most of the buildings modeled after historic Quebec were closed for the winter, dinner was a warm and welcoming experience with live music and enough flannel to please any aspiring lumberjack.

Historic style church at the Village Québécois d’Antan.

The family style menu included pea soup, fresh farm style bread, baked beans, pates, fried pork rinds, sausage, omelets, ham, potatoes, coleslaw, crepes, maple syrup taffy, and sugar pie. The table also had a jug of maple syrup to sweeten food as needed. Needless to say, I left in a sugar-induced coma. Have you ever poured maple syrup into coffee? I have. And it’s amazing.

While I am enjoying the cultural experience of studying in Canada, I cannot wait to head back to the States and spend a month in New York. After spending four years studying at Cornell University, New York almost feels like home to me. And nothing beats coming home after spending so many months abroad.

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