notes from the field

No. 4 - Purposefully Repetitive

We now go back out to sea. We hope to map the frontal zones and eddies in the ocean flow that meanders past the islands. We also want to assess the fauna of these waters whose populations are hell-bent on growing as fast as they can and spreading their young as far as they can during the short summer. Well, at least we'll form a good impression given that the ship can move only so fast and everything else is moving as well. We'll work around the clock for the next 15-17 days systematically sampling the waters that cover the shelf surrounding the archipelago and onto the adjacent slopes and deep water as well. But collecting the measurements, sorting the samples, processing the data is tedious work and the big picture is slow to emerge.

This can be a drag for humans. The jobs are purposefully repetitive, the watches are long, day blends into night which becomes no different than day, and the mind tends to lose focus. Fog and constant motion add to the sense of alienation and time stretches out and out. Fifteen days can seem like three months. Here we need routine. Routine is a sacred rite that adds a sense of regularity to our lives so that we can mark time and move forward rather than sink into a stupor. Routine assures you that you're doing the right thing at the right time and haven't absent-mindedly skipped an important detail.

I post the watch schedules that the four disciplines have given me so that everyone knows who's on and who's off, and I scatter station maps in all the labs and give them to the crew. People tape them on doors and bulkheads to help keep score. The old-timers seem to know the value of routine, but the new kids find it hard to believe after the last 10 days.


next episode: got milk?