Research, for Heaven’s Sake!

by on February 7, 2010

Research for my novel The Find included visits to clinics, hospitals,  museums,  and paleontological sites.  I love  research, but sometimes I hate it too. Here’s an extract from a notebook I kept during  one of my trips to the Royal Tyrell Museum.

Suspended forty thousand feet above the Rockies I absolutely knew that I would die. Probably not soon, not this trip, but some time. It was not anxiety, not terror that the plane would crash, nothing panic-stricken or urgent like that. I simply sat there in the sky and thought: the fact is, I can’t avoid this thing.
It will happen – and very likely before I’m ready for it, since I can’t see myself ever not wanting to know and see what’s happening with the children and their lives and to be there to help as required… They will grow up and away and there will be so much of interest – no doubt problems too sometimes – but whatever happens it will be utterly compelling – and so, of course, I continued, beginning to feel now as well as think, how hard it will be to go when the time comes, how sad it will be to have to let go of them, not to see all of it, for ever…

I sat there in the sky and remembered how tears came to my mother in law’s eyes as she passed. I wished my husband and I had met and had children earlier, so that then I would (with luck, though you never know) have been with them longer. I sipped my iceless tomato juice and hated being away from my family and wondered why on earth I have involved myself to be drawn into this strange profession that takes me on bizarre trips like this one…. Research, for Heaven’s sake! Hopefully, I  thought, when you get closer still to death, philosophy does eventually console, but hell, I really don’t want to go there. I wondered: Does everyone think this when they get middle-aged, or is it just morbid old me? I didn’t feel I could ask the very large, short-of-breath man sitting next to me, so there was nothing for it to distract myself with a book.

An hour later, I was sitting in a hire car trying to work out what all the dials and buttons could achieve. It seemed more like a space ship than a car. I could heat the seats but there was no obvious way to turn on the inside lights. I spent another half hour circling the tangle of highways that surrounds the airport before I found the road I wanted and soon enough, left the outskirts of the city behind. So now, I’m on the road and should reach Drumheller in a couple of hours.

Last time I was here I found this landscape dull and ugly, but under a bright, pale blue sky it is transformed. The sun is low behind me. To the left the huge shorn fields, bordered here and there by the suggestion of a hedge, are all of different textures and shades of straw and yellow, some almost buff, some greyish, some buttery with hints of marigold. The land undulates more than I remembered – or perhaps, simplified like this, it just seems to do so. Here and there are the patchy remnants of the some snowfall, a scraping or a dusting of white, a half frozen creek. Towards the horizon, the land grows paler and is tinged with lilac and mauve. The ghost of a three–quarter moon hangs in the sky directly ahead of me and to my right is a ditch and then a bank where the snow is a little thicker; it is in shadow, and glows with an almost ultraviolet tinge.

A few cattle stand in these fields, or the occasional horse. The road vanishes suddenly at the top of a small rise, or disappears into an equally minor dip and it too is less absolutely straight than I remember it. The feeling in the plane is fading, changing. It is becoming a memory, something to tell people about. I’m on my way to the Badlands, almost there.  And yet part of me just wants to turn around and go straight home…

Royal Tyrrell Museum

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