By Lesley Parilla, Field Book Project
For the last year and half I’ve cataloged materials from field work across the globe. Sitting at my desk and reading these accounts inspired wanderlust. So this summer I took part in a little adventure with several friends and headed out on a 35-foot sailboat to New England for two weeks.
I wondered how much my work would affect the way I experienced the trip. As the days counted down to departure, I was already sympathizing with collectors who wrote about their first times at sea—excited and nervous about group dynamics, space restrictions, and weather challenges. I’ve cataloged several maritime surveys of the east coast including the United States Navy Buoy Fouling Survey, 1943-1947 as well as Bureau of Fisheries studies that focused on Chesapeake Bay fisheries and oysters in Long Island Sound. I was curious to know if the subject matter I cataloged would influence me. After my return, I realized cataloging changed the details I remember and kinds of questions I ask.
So in what ways did cataloging field notes affect my vacation? One would be the marked fascination I had with buoys and day markers because of my work on the Buoy Fouling Survey. I kept wondering if these buoys were the types the survey pulled and studied. We photographed several of these.
Our route went through the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, off the coast of New Jersey, and Long Island Sound. These are all active fishing grounds. During previous sailing trips before cataloging for the Field Book Project, I was more aware of passing (and thankfully dodging) crab pots and fishing nets than anything else. This time, having been influenced by several collections of fisheries field notes, I was more mindful of where we passed oyster beds, schools of fish, or dolphin pods gathering around fishing boats. When coming into harbor at the end of the day, I began to notice the range of fouling marine life. I also noticed more about the boats we passed, like commercial fishing vessels with extended nets. These reminded me of countless field book entries describing dredging and seine net fishing.
At one point, three miles off the coast of New Jersey, we were attacked by flies (seemingly from nowhere). After my vacation, while I was cataloging in the Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, I thought to ask David Furth, Entomologist and Collections Manager, about this experience. I learned about the ability of weather currents to blow insects like flies miles from their regular habitats.
I realized my work has taught me to see in a different way, respond differently to what I see, and ask better questions. I realize as a cataloger I spend a lot of time during the day looking down and reading archival materials. My vacation showed me that field notes and the collectors have helped me learn to be more cognizant when I look up.