Saturday, May 14, 2016

97 Days

     It takes a lot of work to prepare a research team for a summer fieldwork campaign, but somehow we always manage to do it. The last few weeks have been busy getting paperwork finalized, gathering supplies, tying loose ends, and finding passports. As I was filling out my Canadian customs card on the flight to Edmonton, I was counting the exact number of days I would be staying in Canada before my return to the US, and I concluded that it was ninety-seven days! That is a long time to be in another country, away from home. But the great thing about being here every summer for the past few years is that I feel like Athabasca IS my home. I am very excited to be in Alberta once again, doing the fieldwork that I love so much. Bring on the bogs!

     Hope and I arrived in Athabasca late Thursday night. The weather is warm and dry, with perfectly blue skies. But with warm, dry weather comes wildfire. There was a wildfire raging last week in the city of Fort McMurray, 250 km north of Athabasca, near the oil sands mining operations. All 80,000 residents were evacuated overnight on May 3rd. More than 2,000 homes have been destroyed by fire. While the fire has moved away from the town center it is still burning hot in the surrounding boreal forests. Even now the residents have yet to be allowed back into their community. They are essentially refugees in their own province. 
200,000 hectares of land burned by wildfire in the Fort McMurray region from May 1st to May 8th, 2016.

     There was a Fort McMurray relief concert on Saturday at the Athabasca riverfront. It’s rare that we take time off away from the peatlands to participate in the town’s activities, but this was a good cause to support. There was music, barbecue, and a donation collection to support the fire relief fund. The headlining band was a group of Fort McMurray musicians, calling themselves the Fort Mac Refugee Band. Athabasca may be a small, but the people sure know how to support each other in times of need.

     We are lucky to be working with the wonderful people at Athabasca University. Everyone has been so helpful with getting us set up in our house and allowing us to store our trucks during the winter, and even offering to help us bring our equipment out of storage. The facilities office at AU is the best.
     Hope and I are getting things ready for the arrival of the rest of the Villanova team including Mikah, returning grad student, Wendy, prospective grad student, 2 undergrads from Villanova, Libby and Yevgeniya, and an undergrad from Virginia Tech, Caitlyn. As well as the usual suspects, Kel, Melanie, and Kim. We look forward to meeting up with the rest of the summer 2016 crew. 

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