© Ellen Harasimowicz
© Ellen Harasimowicz
No, I didn’t find a kite.
In the photo above, I’m actually holding a throw ball line as Dr. Maya Nehme, a scientist studying Asian longhorned beetles, works to maneuver a heavier rope into the canopy of a tree. Technically, Ellen and I were along to watch Dr. Nehme work, and to gather details for our upcoming book on these gnarly beetles and the damage they are causing here in North America. But there was a moment when Dr. Nehme needed an extra set of hands, and I was nearby. (Thank you, Ellen, for catching it on film!)
Aside from holding the occasional throw ball line, I spent the morning gathering tiny details that will help me describe fieldwork like this in the book. I was hunting for specifics: small ideas, surprising imagery, unusual sounds, things that hadn’t come up during the interview process but which might help make my text come alive for readers. Like the fact that each scientist had his or her own method for getting the throw ball up over a branch. (I saw an underhand toss, an overhand rocket, and a magnificently simple and effective between the legs heave. Who knew?)
And there was this: When you are hanging beetle traps from the branches of trees, you spend most of your time looking up. And do you know what happens when you walk around an urban forest all morning with your eyes looking up? You trip. A lot. I did it, and I saw the scientists do it, too. Nice detail.
My absolute favorite detail of the morning was this one: Before hanging a trap, scientists have to measure the trap tree’s diameter. No big deal, right? Someone simply unfurls a tape measure, wraps it around the trunk, and records the number. But if the tree being measured is just the right size, then recording its diameter requires one to hug the tree, to stretch both arms around the trunk while passing the tape measure from one hand to the other. The sight of a beetle scientist with his arms wrapped around a trunk was poignant and loaded with symbolism; don’t know if I’ll ever use that nugget of an image, but I am certainly glad to have stumbled across it.