September 11, 2019, by Matt
The importance of a good field hat!
I’m nursing a coffee in Hebden Bridge, looking out at the drizzly remnants of Hurricane Dorian that wrought such devastation on communities across the Atlantic, but offers us only the prospect of damp waterproofs over the next few hours. We are currently about to begin Day 8 (Hebden Bridge – Cowling, 27km) of our walk from the School of Geography to Malham to celebrate geographical field work and raise money for undergraduate field work (all donations welcome – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/uongeogfieldwork). Shaun French left us yesterday, as planned, leaving Matt Jones, David Beckingham, and me (grammar police will insist on ‘and I’, common sense and usage dictates ‘and me’) to continue to Malham. We’ve covered over 176 km in the past 7 days.
Fieldwork as a student, can be a transformative and inspiring experience. Actually, it still is – every time I head out into the field, I am amazed at the natural world, and at how lucky I am to be able to experience it. Fieldwork is enjoyable, but it is also challenging and, at times, stressful when things like the weather interfere with gathering crucial data. Nothing worse than being stuck inside as limited time and money tick away. There is a lot of planning and effort from a lot of people needed for a successful field campaign. However, one component that I have come to appreciate over the years is the importance of a good field hat.
No matter where you carry out your fieldwork, a field hat is indispensable. And crucially important for safety. Whether working in tropical rainforests or the Arctic, a field hat is key to keeping cool or warm and avoiding sunstroke or frostbite, as the case may be. The importance of the field hat means that we have a tendency to get emotionally attached to them. They take on meaning beyond their utilitarian use. One colleague, to remain nameless, plans to frame one of his for his wall when he retires it.
I fully understand Matt’s (oops) sentiment. I am very attached to my current field hat, which I share with my wife, Dr. Leslie Bode. The hat, a simple baseball cap, has kept the sun off both of us for almost a decade. It, like all field hats, carries with it the story of our fieldwork and research careers. That story is a geographical one. Over the past 10 years it has travelled with one, or both, of us to many countries and sat perched on our heads through many intense experiences. Off the top of my head, the list includes Egypt, Bulgaria, Jordan, USA, Spain, Honduras, Greece, and Malaysia. I’m probably missing a few. Needless to say, the old field hat is starting to look a little faded and battered around the edges. Much like me, I must admit (Leslie has somehow managed to escape this!). I worry that our trusty field hat’s days are near an end and it soon will face retirement. I’ll be sad to see it go, and I worry that the next one will not be as trustworthy. But that’s still in the future. For today, I’ll stick it on my head to keep the rain off and head off for Cowling, 27km away.
Long live the Field Hat!