I've had ample occasion to ponder and sympathize with this point of view over the past couple of weeks doing field work on the north end of Lake Winnipeg. I'm often amused at how field work is often idealized by laymen who perceive it as glamorous adventure. Well, okay, sometimes it is, but mostly it's nasty, disturbing, and uncomfortable and all too often makes you late for dinner. The glamor fades pretty quickly in the sweltering heat while you're being devoured by thick clouds of mosquitoes and black flies; or, as was the case this year, cold and wet. It rained for days without pause. Some days the wind gusted so strong that it rained sideways. One day the rain turned to sleet - even in Canada, that's just wrong. At least the black flies had the sense not to go out in weather like that.
The first two days of work consisted of exposing new limestone beds by shoveling and sweeping ground cover off of them. This is pretty unromantic, tedious work, and my blisters are only now healing.
|Cleaning the Outcrop|
|Graham Young examines rock with hand lens|
A couple of weeks in the field always gives me new appreciation for the comforts of home that I might otherwise take for granted: a soft bed, a comfortable chair with a good book and a pot of fresh coffee. Just imagine the life of the itinerant wanderer: sleeping on the ground in all manner of weather, being roused in the night to battle the menace that some sadistic bastard rolled up on his random encounter chart - only to finally descend into the subterranean depths risking an all-too-likely death in hope of hauling out some treasure. There's got to be a better way to make a living.
It's funny that I've never given a lot of thought to what motivates adventurers, given how often I've played one, but I think it must be a combination of one or more of the following traits: desperate, suicidal, or just plain crazy.
Desperate: there isn't much that someone won't do when they have nothing left to lose.
Suicidal: personal tragedy can lead to a death wish; when you don't have anything to live for, there isn't much that scares you.
Crazy: this covers a lot of ground, from thrill-seeking adventure junkies, gambling addicts, and misanthropic outcasts who don't fit society's mold. I think most player characters fit into this category and share a lot in common with the sort of men who went off to try their hands at prospecting during the gold rush.
When you compare the number of player characters that die to those that retire wealthy, you've got question the reward-to-risk ratio. In my own case, I've put in a lot of long, back-breaking hours over the years to accumulate my bit of "treasure," and this past summer there were a number of rare and outstanding fossils found, including two fully articulated eurypterids preserved together on a single slab, one giant eurypterid - possibly the largest Ordovician eurypterid ever found, and a brachiopod with it's fleshy pedicle preserved (something I've been searching for my entire career), but none of them were found by me. It makes it worse, somehow, to be enduring grueling field conditions when people all around you are making incredible finds and all you've got is a rock.
Despite it all, I'll keep putting my characters in mortal danger in hopes of someday making that big score, just as I know that next summer will find me back in the field, enduring the discomfort and the blood-sucking insects, in hopes of making an even bigger score. I can't help myself - I must be just plain crazy.