A Guide to your First Summer at Skamnooket Harbor Field Station

Author: Skylar Bayer

This was my sample piece for the McSweeney’s Internet Tendency Column contest.
N.B. This is a work of fiction.

Hello and congratulations on your first internship at Skamnooket Harbor Field Station!

Your summer will be filled with adventure, science, and you’ll certainly be educated on what happens when a group of subjects a research community lives in a small confined place for several months! Oh Boy! This will be an exciting summer for you, especially if you’re an attractive person!

Anyway, there are a few things you should probably know about Skamnooket Harbor Field Station before you begin your long, arduous, terrifying journey out to the absolute middle of nowhere in Alaska!

Clothing. In regards to your pants and other rugged attire (such as jackets or vests) I highly recommend the Carhartt brand. It is durable, and more importantly, you’ll blend in with the rest of the “crowd” here at SHFS (pronounced SheFuss). But whatever you do, don’t get Dickies! It would be a total fashion faux pas. But actually, really, seriously, don’t get them. The Station Manager Tom will literally shoot you. His wife left him for a Dickies man. We take this kind of thing very seriously in Alaska.

Moving on to more exciting topics!

Living Options. Your living area choices include tent city, where vagabond lab techs and graduate students set up their tents like college hippies. It’s just a wonderful set up if you really love the outdoors (I mean, really love it, a lot). In fact, your chances of a wolf popping its head into your tent are one in three! But it is required that you bring your own tent if you wish to live among the hippies in tent city. Another option is living in a weather port, which is a semi-permanent tent that includes a cot and a space heater. This experience is very similar being a Hurricane Katrina victim, although I’m fairly certain that the weather port existed before that natural disaster. The third option is to live in one of our musty, drafty, trailers, but hey, they have drawers and an actual mattress in them! Clearly the best option. Although, sometimes you have to share the space with a family of bats or squirrels. But this is what this station is all about – learning about nature through first hand experiences!

While we’re on topic why don’t we just get to it – Dangerous Animals. We at Skamnooket Harbor Field Station don’t take this matter lightly. Dangerous animals cover anything from rabid squirrels to a bear family that can pound 100 beers. There is a vague and useless comprehensive safety course that you’ll take during your first week here at SHFS. It encompasses all the ways in which a bear can kill you and the theoretical use of a giant can of pepper spray (a.k.a. bear spray). I’ll spoil it for you now – Spray the bear, not yourself! Oh, and there’s only one shotgun on station. You don’t get to use it, ever. At SHFS, we believe that people kill people out in the wilderness, not dangerous animals like bears! You’ll learn more about our philosophy of science and safety at your orientation meeting!

Bathing. Here at the station we like to conserve our water even though there is a very large water source nearby. Most of us enjoy our camp sauna three times a week either during women’s hour, men’s hour or co-ed hour. There are quite a few sauna rules but I’m going to highlight the most important rule to give you a head’s up! Almost everyone at camp saunas naked in order to heat up enough to jump into the lake and bathe without going into a cold-shock coma. So, the most important rule: No Stretching. I mean it, no one wants you to do any. Kind. Of. Stretching. In. The. Sauna. Period. No one wants to see you that way and you do not want to see any of us that way, especially any of your supervisors.

Rules of the Science Biz. Ah, this is the easiest topic to address. Don’t touch other labs’ shit and they won’t touch yours. Especially John Henry’s squirrel experiments. The last intern that tried to make friends with the rabid squirrels was sent to a hospital in Anchorage and never seen or heard from again.

Socialization. More likely than anything, you will spend almost all of your time with your research team. You will work with them, you will smell bad with them, and you will share a crammed office space together while you sit at a makeshift desk space over a lab sink because you drew the short straw. You will throw lab notebooks angrily at your team when they fall asleep during data collection. You will drink with them and laugh and cry and yell at each other together. Such bonding time, indeed! However, meal hours in the dining hall are good times to meet the other 25 souls that may be confined at enjoying the field station this summer like you! During meal hours, you will get to hear about other research experiences that are way cooler different than your own and gain at least 8 10 12 15 pounds by the end of the season and lose any hope of attracting anyone of the opposite any sex in the next three months! But it’s all in the name of research, my friend, and not well worth it!

Morale. Say, theoretically, later in the season you might get to this point of thinking … I am fed up with this place. I’m fat, my office smells like rotten feet and if I have to see another test tube I might scream. My trailer was rocking last night from the violent sex that was happening next door between the Mormon lab technician and the married helicopter pilot. I slept on my lab floor crying about the experiments I’ve done wrong and the hundreds more I have left to do. I’ve started contemplating my escape. The next oil truck that comes barreling down the dirty highway I’ll gladly jump in front of on and offer any kind of service that a young woman like me could offer in exchange for a ride to the-hell-out-of-here!

Well never fear, friend, there are at least two of us that feel exactly the same way!

In conclusion, if you see a female graduate student walking around with earplugs and a black hipflask, you’ll know it’s me! Can’t wait to welcome you in person to SHFS this summer!

Happy Trails,

Karen Stolmiwicz

Student Social Coordinator of Skamnooket Harbor Field Station

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