Dr. B Asks, “What are you reading?” (Last one of the semester!)

Field Guides: Reading with the Environmental Sciences Group

Article by Dr. Erika Behrisch Elce

One of the (many) pleasures of bunking in the Swing Space while our beloved Massey Building is renovated has been making new friends: I’ve been delighted to meet some members of RMC’s Environmental Sciences Group, a team of dedicated scientists and engineers who work with DND and other federal departments to provide scientific and technical advice on environmental cleanup and management for federal sites, including CAF bases and the DEW line.

Only a portion of the ESG team is temporarily in the Swing Space: the folks specializing in assessing risk and aquatic contamination. I asked the team members – Dr Tamsin Laing, Dr Iris Koch, Tom Partridge, Laura Ogilvie, and Matt Turnbull – what books they like to read alongside (or in contrast to) their technical work, and what they might bring along when they’re working this summer in the field. Their choices are as eclectic and wide-ranging as their work!

Dr Laing’s latest read is one she picked up for her son – a novel she remembers from her own childhood: H.M. Hoover’s This Time of Darkness. “It’s YA, but I remember it as a powerful dystopic science fiction.” And the books she reads for herself?  “I like books about the Arctic: Pierre Berton’s Arctic Grail, and the big classics of exploration.”

Dr Koch, who specializes in risk assessment, laughed at my question: “I prefer lighter fare!” Dr Koch’s current choice is a thriller series – Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton books, mysteries set in the North. “It’s mystery and murder set against the backdrop of Dawson City and the big, beautiful Yukon.” Who could ask for more?

When Laura Ogilvie is on the move, so is her reading: she currently has three books on the go, and does the same when in the field. Her current reads? “They’re totally unrelated to work! The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (historical fiction); Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (thriller); and Bear Town by Frederik Backman (fiction).” What’s Ms Ogilvie’s reading strategy? “I get them out of the library and sometimes have to return them before I’m done. It’s a constant cycle.”

Tom Partridge describes his own reading tastes as “so random,” but at the moment he’s enjoying Jonathan F. Vance’s A Township at War, the nonfiction history of a Hamilton suburb during WW I. Does he bring books with him in the field? “Absolutely, though the days can be tiring.”

Matt Turnbull spoke for all his colleagues when he identified his go-to books during research and assessment trips: “Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds and the Lone Pine series of Plant Field Guides, of course!” Okay, but what about during his down time? “Right now I’m reading Ryan North’s To Be Or Not To Be, a choose-your-own-path rewrite of Hamlet.” Those two ends of the literary rainbow could hardly be farther apart.

What the team agrees on, though, is that reading for pleasure is an important part of their days, whether in the field or in the office. “Sometimes the work can be physically as well as mentally tiring,” Mr Partridge said. Ms Ogilvie concurred: “We deal with some heavy material, and big science: numbers, data, and some sad evidence of contamination. At the end of the day it’s important to take a break.” Mr Turnbull and Dr Koch agreed: “You need that down time, even if it makes for some late nights.”

This is the final instalment for this year’s “What are you reading?” series. I wish everyone happy reading over the summer!