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  Field Notes From

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On Assignment
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From Author

Joel Achenbach

On Assignment

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From Photographer

Robert Clark

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Joel Achenbach (top) and Robert Clark


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Dinosaurs Come Alive

Field Notes From Author
Joel Achenbach
Best Worst Quirkiest

    The night we spent studying alligators had to have been as fun as any journalistic assignment I've ever had. It was more interesting, even, than covering the New Hampshire primary (speaking of reptiles).
    When you measure the bite force of a gator you have to be very diligent and careful, but there's no finessing the situation. It's a hands-on operation. The danger is that the gator will suddenly twist and lash out. We kept tape over the gator's mouth and towels over its eyes until the crucial moment. Usually the gators were sleepy (having blown out all their energy during their capture), but a few had their dander up, or whatever the gator equivalent of dander is. We treated them as nicely as we could and, when we were finished with the measurements, left them in a dark shed (eventually they went back in the lake). A few times someone would start to go into the shed, and we'd have to say: "Mind those gators on the floor."

    Just for my own files, I asked photographer Rob Clark to take a picture of me in anatomist Larry Witmer's lab—like the picture at the opening of the magazine story—with the rhino head, the crocodile head, and so on. It's a fun snapshot, but man, it wasn't until I got up close that I realized how drippy those heads were. They'd been in the deep freeze, but after they thawed they got pretty leaky. And ripe. I don't mind large animals' heads in general. I just don't like it when they drip.

    After spending a day following paleontologist Phil Currie in the badlands of the Red River in Alberta, we repaired to the only restaurant anywhere nearby, a kind of hotel/bar. When you order a buffalo steak there they hand you a big slab of raw meat. You can cook your steak any way you want it on the fire over in the corner, and can make it just like you want it. Like drippy. Yee-hah!

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