The Right Place at the Right Time
February 18, 2014
By Chloe Beck (Miami University, Ohio ’16)
I realized I was at an interesting place in my life while my instructor was driving three students and I through the future home of Patagonia National Park. We had been in the field for three consecutive days at this point. I couldn’t tell if we were tan or dirty. I had just spent the last two or so hours climbing around in the sunny rocks looking for lizards with Tyler and Jonny. Despite a few good looks we were unable to catch any before they darted away under rocks or Mulinum bushes. The other two students in the truck, Frances and Bolton, had spent that time surveying for viscacha. So there I was in the truck, holding a pile of guanaco bones that we’ve randomly picked up, with most of my thought process involving how we could finally catch one of those lizards or if Bolton could run fast enough to actually touch the baby guanaco in the road. As I looked out the window at the mountains surrounding the valley and reflected on what was happening I asked myself, ‘when did my life become so interesting?’
It started about a month ago when I met seven new people in Santiago airport. These seven have become my classmates, research partners, and new friends. We have spent our time together camping, doing field work, and learning about all sorts of interesting species, environments, and interactions. We were brought together because of our common interest but I have come to realize that many of the events since have been happenstance. Collecting empirical scientific data can happen even when unexpected. One example of this is our first couple of lizard sightings. While doing viscacha surveys up on the cliffs, some students noticed something small quickly dart away as they approached. There were a few of us that wanted to pursue these sightings further. This led to the wild lizard search I went on with Jonny and Tyler. Now that we have had a few attempts at catching the little guys, we have been devising a plan to go again. Hopefully this next time we will be able to catch one and get a positive ID.
A second example of a random and lucky finding was while on a bird survey Laurel spotted three little frogs looking right at her. Of course there was a group that went back to check it out. After about ten minutes of searching the reeds in the high marsh area, Jonny spotted the first four-eyed frog. Naturally, after seeing how awesome it was, the rest of us were pretty keen on catching a frog ourselves and we did! Let me tell you we had some pretty cheesy smiles on our faces after our catches, and there is photo evidence of that.
A final example I have from this past week is a true testimony of how thorough our binocular cliff scanning skills have become. As Andrew and I were in the first scanning spot of our viscacha survey patch I spotted something at the base of a crevasse. Not a viscacha but a Magellanic horned owl! This was my first owl sighting in the valley. It definitely made up for the fact that I have yet to personally spot any viscacha.
So there it is. Within the past week I have seen three species that I wasn’t looking for. I’m so glad that someone in our group happened to be in the right place at the right time so we could all learn something new. That’s kind of how I feel about myself right now. I am in the right place at the right time. Taking a semester in Patagonia and being with this group is incredible. We have spent our time in some of the most beautiful landscapes ever. I mean, honestly, what is a better way to spend Valentine’s day than having a sleepover with your friends under a full moon next to a mountain lake with the intent to wake up and go birding in the morning? I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s not to say it is all glamorous. I have had sunburn and chilblains and just a couple days ago I had to face the loss of my dearest four-degree sleeping bag. Every one of us has dirty hair, dirty clothes, and at least half a dozen splinters at any given time. I can’t speak for everyone in the group but I don’t think anyone really minds because it’s a combination of EVERYTHING that is making our lives more interesting. Adventure is making US more interesting and we are in the perfect place for adventuring so there is no better time than now.
(Photo at top: Tyler, Frances, and Chloe find little frogs. Photo by Jonny Miller)