Coming to Kangerlussuaq for the third summer in a row, I thought I knew exactly what to expect. I was excited to be back in Greenland and to see all of the familiar sights. I never would have guessed that what makes the third time most exciting (at least thus far) are the new discoveries, new perspectives, and unexplored territory.
There are, of course, many things that feel much more comfortable the third time around. I know exactly how to arrange everything in my tent and daypack for maximum coziness and comfort. Driving the stick-shift truck on one of the bumpiest roads ever is much less nerve-wracking. And my tundra legs came back quickly this year – I no longer feel like I might twist my ankle on each tundra hummock. I am thankful that each time I return these things become easier.
But what surprises me is how much feels new and different. Even after being here for only 10 days, I feel like I have a new perspective on the landscape and on my research. Just by coming back again, by wandering over the hills of Kangerlussuaq, I’ve gained more insight than any amount of data analysis could provide.
For instance, over the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not a deflation patch can fully recover and become revegetated. Just two weeks ago, I had a hazy notion of what such a patch would look like. A few days ago, walking around close to town, I started seeing recovering patches everywhere. The vegetation is taking over, obscuring the telltale features of a deflation patch, but I’m now fairly certain that yes, this landscape can recover from soil erosion. Although I had walked the exact same paths many times before, something had changed in my perspective, allowing me to see through the layers of vegetation to the landscape’s history.
My curiosity about recovering deflation patches also took me to a new area even farther from the ice sheet than the town of Kangerlussuaq – unexplored territory. Although I knew that soil erosion was less active farther from the ice sheet, I had never really walked around beyond town. Exploring this new landscape has been the highlight of my time in the field thus far – after a morning wandering new ridges, discovering new viewpoints, lakes, and erosional features, I felt incredibly inspired and motivated.
More than for any samples I collect or data I write in my field notebook, this is why fieldwork matters. New perspectives and new discoveries, for me, don’t happen in my office. They happen in the field, after returning to the same place for the tenth time, or after exploring a new ridgeline and looking at the landscape from a new angle.