My part of the research project was to study the tree rings in relation to climate especially drought, and in relation to a mycoplasma virus. We traveled within five states of the northeast including New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New Hampshire during the course of three summers. My job was to extract part of the wood diagonal to the trunk of the trees by using an increment corer. It needed a lot of physical strength to operate by hand, especially hardwoods. Although I was a forest engineer in China for 4 years, I knew how this worked, but I had never done this work myself before. In China where we have so many people, we always had some young local helpers to do the physical work for us. We hired people to carry luggage for us, to cook, and drive for us, too. There was always a local forest station where we could stay. I never did any physical work except climb mountains and hiking.
I didn’t have any idea about camping, just what I had seen in movies. Porter and Mark basically told me that I would need a sleeping bag, field clothes that didn’t matter if they got dirty and non-perishable food for when we would be in the field. So, I went to our local market and bought a few cans of beans and soda crackers because a real meal in a can was so expensive. I borrowed a sleeping bag from Mrs. Wang until I could get my own when I could get a ride from someone to a store. I started my first summer field trip.
Porter usually did the driving and Mark read the county map to find the sites we had to visit. I did not know all the details for the field trip while they seemed to know what to do. I usually took my nap after the first 20 minutes of driving. Porter and Mark joked that I slept so much in the GMC truck. I tried to explain that somehow cars make Chinese people sleepy. If you take a long distance bus in China, you will see most people taking naps in their seats. But if I were driving, I would not feel sleepy. They laughed and said that they would not let me drive even when I got my driver’s license because I would fall asleep after five minutes of driving.
After we parked our truck by the road, we carried all the necessary equipment and started to walk into the woods. Porter usually led the way with a compass. Mark and I followed. A flock of deer-flies and mosquitoes was all around and looked like they had not seen humans in all their lives. The flies and mosquitoes bit through the thick jeans that I wore. That was something I had not encountered in the sub-alpine mountains of China.
When we reached our study area, Mark tried to help Porter set up his plot by pulling a measuring tape following Porter’s directions on his compass. Mark had to go through thick brush or over big rocks or whatever was in front of him to get a straight line. He was a big, heavy man so he had so much trouble keeping a straight line. It was like watching two big bears roaming through the woods. They shouted at each other since they just could not get the line straight. It looked so easy for me, so I volunteered for the job since I was small and had a lot of experience going through thick brush, setting plots in China. It was a “piece of cake” for me following Porter’s directions to go straight. I could help him finish the plot in less than half an hour. He was very pleased and told me that I was the best.
When we finally got back to our campground, it was dark already. We started to eat our dinner. I started to eat my beans and crackers with some water. I could not eat much since I did not think the food was edible. I could not sleep on the cold ground; it was like “hell.”