Environment Canada scientist Phil Thomas recently texted me a photo of him working in the field. The image shows him gloved, crouched before a strip of bloodied flesh that is hanging from a thin rope. From the top of the creaturely thing protrudes a strange-looking tail.
“What IS this?” I texted back.
“Lmao,” he replied. “Trappers usually bring me their carcasses to skin … I skin them for them. They keep the hide, I keep the tissues. This is an otter … Or was an otter.”
The profundity of this interaction, while not apparent on its head, can’t be overstated.
Here I am, a journalist, chatting freely and casually via text message with a federal scientist about his work.
Two years ago Thomas and I were having what felt like cloak and dagger conversations, entirely off the record and at his occupational peril.
Back in Canada’s Harper days, before the “Great Unmuzzling,” it was next to impossible to conduct a real-deal interview with a federal scientist. The idea of having casual, on-the-record conversations that were entirely un-chaperoned seemed like a fairy tale.