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Rosemary (not actually john muir)
05 August 2011 @ 08:21 am
So I still don't feel like going to the mountains is like going home, but I have been spending a lot more time there recently and seem to be collecting more than my usual share of scrapes, bruises, burns, lacerations, hypothermia, and idiotic accidents. At home, I have to worry about broken glass, power tools, kitchen knives, carbon monoxide, fires, and meteorites crashing through the roof. In the Trinity Alps (where I have been doing field work all summer), I have to worry about hypothermia due to the unusually late spring, faulty rain gear, and ice-melt lakes, being mauled by bears (I wasn't making enough noise while hiking because I was concentrating on not dying of hypothermia), burning myself on the cooking pot when cooking over an open fire because I didn't bring enough stove fuel, getting hopelessly lost when the trail becomes obscured in the snow (thank goodness for GPS), loosing an intern to hypothermia (wet cotton clothing), being swept away by high streams (blame the late spring again), falling off precarious log jams, falling off precarious rocks, loosing my car keys, contracting heat stroke from sitting in the only patch of cell phone reception for five hours waiting for AAA, being afrain my car will fall apart driving over bumpy dirt roads, close encounters with deer, close encounters with bobcats, tripping over logs, being scratched by thorn bushes, bitten by mosquitoes, and harassed by flies, ruining my knees while making a 2000 ft decent over one horizontal mile, and getting scurvy from lack of fresh vegetables.

Most of the accidents in the egregiously long sentence above only resulted in minor discomfort or were near misses. However, my luck ran out this week and I made my very first trip to the emergency room. You see, we were trying to get to this lake that was off-trail, and involved climbing 1800ft in about 1/2 mile. I knew many researchers had been there in the past, and I was told by several people who had been there in the past that the "prefered" route to get there was "a little sketchy, but not too bad." So my intrepid interns and I bushwacked through the brush, climbed up a cliff, meandered over the mud, and scrambled over snow to the lake. I should have turned back when I slipped on the mud and nearly ended up between the snow bank and the creek, but I really wanted to get to the lake (bad call on my part). I really shouldn't have led my minions interns up that route. The lake was really nice, and perfect for my study, but then we had to go back down. We made it past the snow fields, down the muddy creek bank, and only had the cliff to traverse before the sketchy bit was over and we just had annoying scree and brush to get through until the trail resumed.

"Let's do this one at a time so we don't kick rocks in each other's faces." I say (famous last words). It was a bit tricky, but so long as you go slow it wasn't dangerous. 

"I'm down!" I say, and Charlie starts down after me. I wait at the bottom of the cliff to make sure he is OK with the climb. Right at the bottom of the cliff. Right in the path of the boulders he kicks down as he starts to climb. One the size of my head hit me in the shin and put an inch-long, half-inch deep gash in my leg. Blood immediately started pouring onto my boots .

I didn't want to upset my interns while they were in the middle of the climb, so I hobbled behind a bush to take care of myself. I managed to extract one tiny band-aide from my pack before my pack tipped over and rolled 100 ft down the scree slope I was sitting on, so I had to ask my interns to help me bandage my wound once they were down. Then I had to sit there for 20 minutes until I stopped seeing stars. Then I had to trip my way down the slope to the trail and hike four miles until we found someone to drive us back to our car (very nice people). By that time it was almost dark and I couldn't face the 2-hour drive to the hospital on mountain roads with an injured leg and deer crossing signs everywhere at night. Yeah, neither of my interns drive a stick shift.

Anyway, I went to the hospital when it was light the next day, got stitches, a tetanus shot, and antibiotics, and drove back to Davis. Who knows if I'm ever going to get this summer project done...

At least Davis has hot showers and ice cream.
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
01 December 2010 @ 09:44 am
Squirrels burying acorns
hats with pompoms
people who insist that data is plural
phenotypic plasticity
men who wear pink
the stars
My Little Pony
tall, grande, vente
men who don't wear pink
Harry Potter
crunchy leaves
the word "pumpkin"
stinky cheese
people who don't wear bike helmets
waking up in the morning
clothes fresh out of the dryer
best friends
bathing suits
thesis statements
going to bed at night
digital watches
songs stuck in your head
people who take themselves seriously
food webs
peanut butter
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
05 September 2010 @ 06:13 am
The world is very large and very strange. Sometimes I stare in awe at the patterns forming themselves on my retinas and am astounded that they all come from the same planet. Being raised in Maryland, my optical cortex was fed on rolling hills, deciduous forests, sand beaches, and suburbia. And yet, you can go down into a cave not two hours from Rockville and see the strange bulbous forms of stalactites, flowstone, and subterranean sculptures so different from anything above ground that the mind boggles. Venturing further afield, New England provides beaches completely covered in pebbles the size of your fist, alternating with huge barnacle-covered rocks where seagulls drop their clams to crack the shells.  A finite number of naturally occuring elements and only four DNA base pairs gives you both the Halleakala cinder cones dotted with silverswords and the Florida Everglades, knee deep with water and covered with sawgrass as far as the eye can see. There is the insane, twisted beauty of the Craters of the Moon lava flows in Idaho, which is mirrored in the contorted ecstasy of the bristlecone pine  forests atop the Nevada mountians. There are huge jagged mountain peaks in Montana and huge stately trees in California. I could talk for hours about the white terraces of Mammoth hot springs along with the multi-colored thermal pools and bubbling mud throughout Yellowstone. Yeah, the world is pretty increadable. Litterally, I am incredulous as to how it can all fit into one planet.

My latest jaw-dropping reminder of the stupid, crazy, unreal beauty of the Earth was at Great Sand Dunes National Park, where a pile of sand has blown up in a pocket at the base of the Sangre de Christo mountains in Colorado. The geologists explanation for how this Martian landscape appeared in the middle of the United States involves a lake loosing all its water in as little as three days, leaving all the sand free at once to be blown into jaw-dropping dunes and walls. Now it is eternally piled up onto the mountains by the prevailing winds, only to be carried down again by the streams as they return to the valley. This makes some sense, but seems not enough to explain the patterns of the ripples and the stunning majesty of the dunes themselves. 

The world is so wide and so wonderful. And this is just the USA! I haven't even started on the rest of the world...
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
30 August 2010 @ 04:29 pm
There is not much to occupy my eyes while driving through Kansas and Eastern Colorado. Corn field gives way to corn field which yeilds to sod farm or, if you are really lucky, a cow pasture. Howeer, during one long stretch of highway 40, the "Sunflower State" lived up to its nickname, giving me fields of sunflowers. Vast seas of nodding blossoms prodiving french fry oil, bird seed, and trail mix ingredients. These monstrous captives in the fields were taunted by their smaller, wild cousins growing in great profusion along the sides of the road and laughing in the face of the cars rushing by. I came around a curve in the road and thousands of petals flew from the flowers and turned the highway into a ticker-tape parade. Yellow confetti trapped itself under my windshield wipers where I could see they were not petals at all, but an exhultation of butterflies.

As I continued west, the tame Helianthus in their fields of sunshine gave way to the sagebrush of the desert, but it was decided that today was a yellow day so the olive-drab of the sage was refreshed by rabbitbush, mule's ear, and asters galore. Yellow is a color to cut through the gloom of your brain even under the influence of a twelve hour drive. I think that's why I painted my car yellow!
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
21 August 2010 @ 07:57 pm
So, I am about to embark on a journey out of suburbia, across the Mississippi, rocketing across the Great Plains, meandering through the Rocky Mountains, discovering ancient kivas in the mesas of Colorado, driving through the deserts of Utah, plunging into the basin and range or Nevada, and tracing the footsteps of the Donner Party through the Sierras. But before I started I wanted to reaquaint my legs (too used to the flatness of Florida) with topography, so my brother and I went for a hike in Shenandoah National Park.

The mountains on Virginia are very different from the craggy peaks I've been in most recently. They have gotten over their youthful exuberance and mellowed with age, falling into soft hills as they roll down to the sea. They have been ground down with their years, but not become jaded or tired, just wise and at peace. They have gotten over the middle school jokes of sudden hailstorms or steep precipices, blatantly cloaking themselves in vegetation and fog so you can tell up front that theirs are secrets not for you to know. Campsites might be tucked away, hidden behind a mass of greenery, and what appears to be a stream may have dried up weeks ago, but once you find a place to pitch your tent and a pool to soak your feet in, the ground is softer and the water sweeter than anywhere else on Earth. But really, it doesn't matter the age of the wilderness, no matter the topology, no matter the vegetation, a walk in the woods makes me feel better. No stress about school starting, no worry over packing my car, no deciding on what to do about money, just watching the rocks beneath my feet. Maybe one day when I am old and wise I will return to the Appalacians and understand them better. But now I am off for the West again, and the mountains of the young.
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
18 August 2010 @ 07:12 am
A lot of people say a lot of things about the beauty of birdsong, with me usually first among them. The Montezuma's oripendulas which served as our alarm clock in Belize were surreal, the meadowlarks of the plains of Idaho were worthy or orchestration, the robins and morning doves of suburban Maryland make me think of home, and even the francolins who jarred me awake at four in the morning at Mokolodi were fun and exotic. However beautiful the symphonic sound of a skein of geese above my head, passing by as I drift off to sleep, and however exhilarating the raucous dance music of 10,000 cranes calling all around my morning cup of coffee, it is not the birds who I want to write the sound track to my life.

It's the cicadas!

I enjoy the chirping of crickets in the evening, and the katydids will serenade you all night long in some places, but there is nothing that makes me feel at home like the alien roar of the Cicadoidea.  It reminds me of dinners on the deck, picking "flavor granules" (flowers from the black gum tree) out of Dad's grilled chicken, and Saturday mornings spent at swim meets eating donuts (or bagels once our coach told Mom donuts weren't very good pre-race food). Playing in the yard with Karen and finding shed cicada skins which stick to your clothing like broaches; "cicada-skin pins," it falls trippingly off the tongue. Here in Maryland we get cicadas ever summer, they spend three years in the ground, then one brilliant summer in the trees before they mate and die. The real concert, however, comes once ever 17 years, when a bumper crop of cicadas all emerge at once, in early summer, and take over suburbia with a gentle invasion. Shed skins cover ever tree trunk, crushed bugs coat the sidewalks and the shoes of passers-by, and their song is deafening. It is a strange song, different from the normal summer chorus, and strangely reminiscent of a 1950s UFO (this because they used cicadas for the sound of a UFO in one popular 1950s sci fi movie).

The last time they came out was my senior year of high school. For a few weeks before they emerged, the news anchors were all having fun getting people worked up about them. "Watch out! The cicadas are coming!" Not that they did any harm, at worst they would mess up your windshield. The really remarkable thing about the work up to their emergence happened in my physics class. The boy who would go on to become validictorian of our class says "Everyone is talking about these cicadas? What's a cicada?" He had never noticed their peaceful roar, never thought to wonder who was singing from the trees. I guess there just aren't enough poems about cicadas. We all know bird song, but if someone can live in Maryland their entire life and not know what a cicada is, then cicadas need more press.
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
11 August 2010 @ 05:47 am
List of things I saw in AfricaCollapse )

* indicates things I ate
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
11 August 2010 @ 05:26 am
It felt familiar, somehow. The flatness of the Kalahari scrubland with its dry winds so like southern Idaho (except with acacia instead of sage and kudu instead of pronghorns). The rocky hills near Gaborone so strangely similar to the foothills of eastern Oregon (except you have to watch out for rhinos instead of bears when going for a hike). A roost of wading birds in the Okavango Delta looked very much like one on the marshes of Lake Okeechobee (except they were surrounded by papyrus, not sawgrass). Max was amazed that this was my first trip to Africa, because I seemed so at home there. I can't say I felt at home, home is still my people (who I missed greatly), but it felt right. It felt right to burrow under the covers on freezing nights, to dip rusks in hot cups of milky bush tea, and spend afternoons basking in the sun, storing it for later. It felt natural to be twisting wire and setting glass in windows in the name of research. Good old seat-of-your-pants science, ladies and gentlemen. Do what works. Rejoice in the purchasing of new bolt cutters and the capturing of an owl in flight on the motion camera. Put the truck in 4-wheel drive to get out of the sand. Cut up the kudu meat real small so the wild dog puppies won't choke on it.

Botswana was a good place for my soul. Even as my skin dried out and cracked in the cold sun, my mind dried out too, clearing the mildew from the corners of my brain. The solitude of my condo in Clewiston, with its resident bass fishermen and rednecks, was a whole different type of solitude from the solitude of our camp in Ghanzi, with a 40 minute dirt road drive to the nearest neighbors. That is solitude to make you love your neighbors. And we did love them and they us. It is solitude that lets you pick up hitch hikers even though you barely speak each others language. Solitude that makes every human contact count more dearly. And you don't seek out that solitude unless you love everyone who lives in it: kudu, gemsbok, eland, impala, aardvark, African wildcat, cheetah, jackal, ostrich, kori bustard, guinea fowl,  and even the sweet-breathed cattle. It is a lucky land to have all that space for people to appreciate each other in. You can't see a place without meeting its people, and I will carry the people of Botswana with me for a long time. Hopefully until I return there, and bring my friends and family with me.
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
24 June 2010 @ 04:40 pm
I leave Florida tomorrow! There is a lot of good nature in Florida, but it is best enjoyed sometime other than the summer. I saw a lot of birds. For those interested, they are listed below, with an asterisk indicating birds that I saw eggs and or chicks of:

my birdie listCollapse )
Rosemary (not actually john muir)
18 June 2010 @ 09:53 am
I like a nice rainy day in most situations (so long as there aren't too many of them consecutively), but they reasons why depend on the situation. In the winter, I like a rainy day because I can sit inside and drink hot cocoa and watch the raindrops run down the windows until they spill into the gutter and join the ephemeral rivers running toward the nearest ditch, gutter, storm drain, or mountain stream. The joy of a rainy day in winter comes from the contrast, being dry while the world outside is wet and cold. There is probably no better feeling than curling up in a sleeping bag in a nice, dry tent and hearing the rain start thirty seconds after you are safely ensconced inside. Though, at the same time, there is no worse feeling than hearing cold rain on your tent in the morning when you know you have to get up and go out in it. My first work hitch in Idaho was rainy and cold, and I remember waking up the first morning after a painfully frigged night and thinking "gee it's cold, but at least the rain's stopped. Ha! Maybe the rain just changed to snow and that's why I can't hear it. No, that's a silly idea." Then I poked my head out of the tent. Yup. Snow. On June 10. But still and all, An occasional rainy day while I am inside with a warm drink and a good book is quite a pleasant thing.

Summer rains bring equal joy, if not more, but the joy is not in the contrast between the rain and the dry, but in the power of the weather itself. Summer rains are rains you can dance in, warm showers that love their work. Monstrous thunderclaps and obese raindrops that can't wait to be reunited with the land again. Even if I am not in the mood to join in their joy, standing inside and watching them reminds me of all that is fantastic in the world.