(June 5, 2021)—I think field school would feel a little like an island at the best of times, but COVID-19 has made everything even more isolated. It’s a bit weird, because for some of us, this is the biggest group of people we’ve been around mask-less (or at all!) since last March. We do spend pretty much all of our time together, but a lot of that is by choice.
For about half of us, this field school is extra-special because we’ve had an extra year to anticipate it. I was one of the students who applied in the winter of 2019–2020, got accepted in March, then had to deal with the cancellation a week later. Even though it was pretty obvious that we weren’t going to be able to come out, I was still crushed. I wasn’t the only one; one of the other students remembers crying the morning we were supposed to arrive in Tucson—although, to be fair, that was two months into quarantine and we were all feeling a little fragile. This year, there are a few more students than usual, because the directors wanted to give everyone who’d been accepted last year a chance to attend.
COVID has also changed the activities we are able to do. Some of the field trips to Native American reservations are on hold for this year because Tribes have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. And it’s the first year that the school has Wi-Fi, because we need to Zoom in some lecturers. We still try to stay off our phones (especially since we still don’t have any cell service!) and talk to one another, and most nights we sit in the main building, a former church, for company, even if we’re just reading a book or cleaning up our paperwork for the day.
Another new activity this year was a driving audio tour of Mt. Lemmon along the Catalina Highway. It was the second day of the introductory programming, which meant a lot of us were still adapting to the altitude and environment of Tucson. We got out at about 7,000-foot elevation to take some pictures at Windy Point Vista, and I definitely was feeling the altitude—I’m from upstate New York, and my home is about 500 feet above sea level. We hiked out to the actual point of the vista, which was a couple hundred yards away from the parking lot, but over some rocky territory. The view was breathtaking, and not just because of the altitude! Although this trip was a COVID-motivated choice, it was a very fortuitous opportunity to start off the field school experience.