Friday, December 23, 2016

Little house in the big woods

"But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, This is nowShe was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.” 
- Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House in the Big Woods

Right now, I am on the living room couch at parents' cottage in northern Michigan. The newly-decorated Christmas tree is glowing to my right. My brother is clad in his team's colors, watching a football game. Dad and I are clacking on our laptops. Mom is somewhere upstairs. 

It's my tradition to spend Christmas at the cottage, and this year is no different. Well, I suppose there is one difference: this year, I'm no longer a student, and I brought my work with me. As a post-doc, I have more accountability and more responsibility. I'm doing all I can on my laptop to set myself ahead when I get back to WHOI. I'm writing an application for research funds and the introduction for a future study. I'm keeping track of shipments. I'm getting my bearings for a data analysis I'll start in January. 

Oh, and I'm also snowboarding to my heart's content! 

Fear not, friends, this laptop-clacking is balanced with plenty of powder-shredding. It's good to be outside. It's good to be with family. It's good to be here, and now. 

Wes and I on the chairlift

View from the North Face

Sunset over northern Michigan

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Messiah

From his podium in the center of the room, John waved his arms to get everyone's attention. There was a row of wind players seated behind him, a harpsichordist facing him directly in front. I was in the first violin section, off to his left. The pews were filled with people - sopranos and altos in the front, tenors and basses behind. A handful of onlookers were seated in the balcony.

Director John Yankee leads the Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra,
Falmouth Chorale, and community members in a warm-up
I was astounded by the sheer number of people that had shown up. I had no idea there were so many musicians in, of all places, Falmouth, Massachusetts. Every year around Christmas, the Falmouth Chorale and Falmouth Chamber Players Orchestra invite the community to participate in a reading (they call it a "community sing") of Handel's Messiah. The Messiah is an oratorio, a massive work for choir and orchestra. The 50+ movements tell the story of Jesus Christ, from the fortelling of his birth to his death and resurrection. You might recognize the "Hallelujah Chorus," probably the most famous movement of The Messiah. Some movements, called chorales, involve the whole choir, while others feature a soloist in one voice.  The Messiah is in my opinion one of the greatest works of music ever written and the single greatest English-language oratorio.

"When we've finished," John spoke into the microphone, "let's just let the music hang. Just give it 15 seconds or so, and listen to it ring. Let's let the music have the final word. Agreed?"

I lifted my instrument, laid one finger on my D string, and pulled my bow on the first note of the overture. For the next two hours, I rooted my hips to the chair while letting my back and my shoulders sway. I held long, soft notes, hiding under the sopranos during a recitiative. I exploded in a fiery fury during a tenor aria. I kept my ears open to stay together with my section, and my eyes glued on John to follow his cues.

My usual complaint with playing first violin is that the firsts can't hear anyone else but themselves. I much prefer to be on second violin or viola, seated in the center of the orchestra, surrounded by diverse voices. But in the case of The Messiah, my complaint was completely invalid. I had the sopranos to my left, a cello to my right, and the violas behind me. I felt surrounded, embedded in the matrix of sound. It was glorious.

The final movement, the "Amen," is one of the finest examples of counterpoint in history. Each voice swells and then dies back in alternation, passing the sound around the room. The first violins support the sopranos, carrying them up and away before passing off the phrase to the altos. The combination of orchestra and choir filled the whole sanctuary, until three measures before the end - silence. A shocking, dramatic pause, and then the final three chords in magnificent D Major.

I am so grateful that I landed here. That I live in a town with a chamber orchestra and a chorale and a director willing to guide use through such a massive, historical work. I am grateful for the cellos and the sopranos and the violas. I am grateful for the people around me and sanctuary walls that let the sound reverberate. Because as I lifted my bow from the string and listened to it ring, I knew indeed, the music had the final word.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The journeyman

Way back in the day (and in some places still nowadays), people learned marketable skills through apprenticeships. They worked under the direct tutelage of a master, observing and absorbing skills as they went. I've compared graduate school to an apprenticeship in the past, and I still believe that science, for all of its fanfare and academic regalia, boils down to an apprenticeship system.

A recently-graduated apprentice does not become a master straight away. First, they must hone their skills and develop their own unique style. In the Middle Ages, apprentices who had recently finished their training traveled the countryside, seeking work wherever they could find it. I suppose nowadays we would call them free-lancers, but the proper term is actually "journeymen."

Friends, if graduate school is an apprenticeship, then a post-doc is a journeyman - one who has spent years observing a master, has completed all the required training, but is still not a master themselves. They travel the world seeking work, sharpening their minds, and developing their own unique projects.

I've told you I'm networking my way through WHOI right now, getting to know other researchers at my institute and planting seeds for future projects. I feel very much like a journeyman, tasked with developing my own unique style as a scientist. I'm grateful for the mentors around me, who nudge me in the right direction, making sure I will be fundable in the future. I have a phenomenal advisor who has already helped me start crafting a scientific persona. Someday, I will be a master.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Planting

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."
- Robert Louis Stevenson

It's a gray day in Woods Hole, and I can see the thick, pale clouds covering the sky out my office window. They form a solid canopy, wrapping my world.

My succession experiment won't really take off until the spring, so in the meantime, I'm getting prepared. I'm reading. I'm planning. I'm playing around with new ideas, and I'm networking. WHOI is actually an incredible place to network. The scientific caliber here is extremely high, but the culture is also very open. Every time I meet someone new, they are genuinely interested in hearing about my work and freely tell me about theirs.

I've made several connections with other post-docs and scientists at WHOI. There's the senior scientist who taught me how to identify local tunicate species and the PhD student who could teach me a new analysis technique. There's a physical oceanographer with connections abroad and another post-doc who works in same region of the Arctic as I have. I don't expect any new projects to take shape right away, but it's always good to know what my colleagues are up to.  There are several I'd like to collaborate with in the future.

I am getting acquainted with my institution and planting seeds for future projects. We'll see if anything grows!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Boston in the fall: Part 2

"Well I've never licked a spark plug
And I've never sniffed a stink bug
And I've never painted daisies on a big red rubber ball
And I've never bathed in yogurt
And I don't look good in leggings
And I've never been to Boston in the fall"
- "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" from the childrens' series Veggie Tales

Statue of John Harvard on the campus that bears his name. 
Apparently it's lucky to rub his left shoe.
On our second day in Boston, Stefanie and I took a short ride to Cambridge to see the campus of Harvard University. I had been to Harvard once before but never had much of a chance to look around. I've got to admit - the atmosphere on the campus lives up to Harvard's grand reputation. Most buildings were red brick and surrounded by deciduous trees. Some of the larger ones had columns and inscriptions along the top edge. Stefanie and I both wanted to find the Science Center (naturally) but laughed when we got there - it was modern white stone, and to quote the German expression, "so hässlig wie die Nacht" ("as ugly as the night"). Of course the ugliest building on campus belongs to the scientists!

One of my favorite works in the Institute of
Contemporary Art, from the Index Series by
Xaviera Simmons.


We finished the weekend with a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art along the waterfront in Boston. It's very rare for me to get in and out of a big city without stopping at whatever modern art museum there is, because I am positively enthralled by 20th- and 21st-century creations. My favorites are painters Wassily Kadinsky and Piet Mondrian (especially his later works), sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass. My favorite work in the Institute was a series of composite photographs of bodies covered by the kinds of things you accumulate when you travel. The faces were covered, which I interpret as a reminder that our identity is the sum of our experiences.

It was a great weekend in Boston! I am glad for the chance to spend time with a friend and experience new places.

Boston in the fall

"Well, I've never plucked a rooster
And I'm not too good at ping-pong
And I've never thrown my mashed potatoes up against the wall
And I've never kissed a chipmunk
And I've never gotten head lice
And I've never been to Boston in the fall"
- "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" from the childrens' series Veggie Tales

Stefanie and I in Boston Commons
The above song quote is absolutely ridiculous but perfectly fitting. Because guess what! I have now officially been to Boston in the fall.

I met up with my dear friend, Stefanie, in the city for the weekend. Stef and I met on a research cruise in the Arctic in 2011, and we've spent the past five years bouncing around the world for our research. We try to meet up whenever we're on the same continent, and it usually works out once a year.

Stefanie's been working with collaborators in Montreal for a few weeks, so we decided to take advantage of our (relative) geographic proximity and meet up in Boston. We spent the weekend in downtown, hitting up all of the historical landmarks and absorbing the city life.

View from the top of the Bunker Hill memorial
Boston is actually very well set-up for tourists, because the historical landmarks are organized along a walking path called the Freedom Trail. You begin in Boston Commons, follow the red tiles on the sidewalk, and read the historical markers along the way. We saw the Old North Church, where lit candles in the bell tower signaled the start of Paul Revere's ride. We passed the site of the Boston Massacre. We climbed the obelisk monument at Bunker Hill, site of the first battle in the Revolutionary War. My favorite spots were actually the cemeteries, with their simple, thin headstones. We found the headstone that had inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter and passed the flashier, more prominent graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin. Very cool!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Empire

"From the rain
Comes a river running wild that will create
An empire for you
Illuminate!
There's a river running wild that will create
An empire for you"
- "Empire" by Of Monsters and Men

Friends, last Thursday was Thanksgiving in the United States, so I used the holiday weekend to spend time with family. My parents and brother made their way out to Cape Cod, and I was eager to show them my new place in the world. They got to see Main Street and downtown Falmouth. I showed them my office in Woods Hole and the dock communities I've fallen in love with. The Cape is my domain, my new arena, and I relished the chance to show it off. It was a lovely weekend. 

Dad, Wes, and I on a floating dock in Woods Hole's Little Harbor.
Photo by Angela Meyer.

Slipper limpet shells on a beach in Falmouth
Falmouth Harbor
Showing my brother a bryozoan on a dock in Eel Pond, right outside my building.
Photo by Angela Meyer
Falmouth Harbor

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Windy city

"I just blew in from the windy city
The windy city is mighty pretty
But they ain't got what we got"
- the musical Calamity Jane
Blustery and beautiful. Seen from Woods Hole village

Man, is it windy in Woods Hole today! My bike ride to work took fully twice as long as usual this morning, because I was battling a strong headwind the whole way. This air is bitingly cold and furiously fast.

I decided to grit my teeth and visit my settlement plates, no matter how strong the wind was. They've only been out for a week, so I didn't expect much to be living on them yet, and I was right. They were covered in a thin film, but there weren't any animals yet. Barnacles around here usually settle in February-March, so I may have a long time to wait.

In the meantime, I'm working indoors to set up new projects. My succession study will have a field component and hopefully also a lab component, so I'm working with my advisor, Lauren, to design a productive and worthwhile study. The project is just outside the realm of my current knowledge (for the record, I designed it that way), so I'm hoping to glean a lot from Lauren's expertise. It is so important for scientists to be exposed to different questions, different methods, different ways of approaching scientific problems. I'm grateful that I've landed at WHOI, where I have an advisor who points me in the right direction and keeps me from blowing off-course.

Now, if I could just turn off the wind for my bike ride home!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The manifesto

Friends, it has been a long day.

When I came into my office this morning, I thought I would have a slow start. As it turns out, several important things happened while I was away from my e-mail, and all of them showed up in my inbox this morning. 

For one, my inbox held three different requests from other scientists for a copy of a paper I had written. It's not unusual for scientists to ask each other for papers, even if they've never met before (as was the case with all three of my requesters), but the paper they were requesting was (I thought) not even published yet! It had been accepted months ago but was still in production - or so I thought.

Well, turns out the paper had just appeared online. Find it here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0065288116300335

I'm very proud of this particular paper, because it served as the introduction to my dissertation, and in a way, it has become my manifesto. When people ask what I specialize in, I find myself almost reciting the title. It serves as my statement to the world and a course I've charted for the rest of my career. 

Peruse the manuscript if you will, and feel free to contact me with your feedback or ideas. I'm awfully proud of this one. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Feel invincible

"You make me feel invincible,
Earthquake, powerful
Just like a tidal wave
You make me brave"
- "Feel Invincible" by Skillet

There is something so satisfying about working with my hands. Starting with raw materials and shaping them into a product. I love having something I can point to at the end of the day and say "I built that."

In preparation for my succession study, I wanted to outplant racks of settlement plates on some docks around WHOI. The plates are really just for me to play around with - nothing quantitative or high-pressure. I'll monitor them over the winter and early spring just to see what is where and get familiar with identifying small recruits of the local species. I should also double-check if my assumption that barnacles recruit first to a substratum is actually true.

My creations
Well, settlement plates don't just fall out of the sky; I had to build them. Fortunately, my advisor had enough supplies from previous studies to let me scavenge what I needed from her scraps. We pulled out PVC from a warehouse, lexan from a nook in her office, and rope from an old, smelly crate in the lab.

To cut all the pieces, I needed some pretty hefty power tools, which meant getting an orientation from the WHOI facilities team. One particularly helpful employee found a chop saw and a drill press for me to use, then trained me on how to not lose any fingers. The plates had to be cut with a table saw, which was only available in the WHOI carpentry shop, so I also got an assist from some employees there.

It took a while to assemble all the necessary materials and equipment, but it was worth it! I plan on using a lot of settlement plates for various projects in the near future, so it's nice to have all the tools I need to make more. I'm grateful for the variety of facilities available at WHOI and for helpful people to show me around.

After assembling the PVC frames, I peeled the backing off of the clear plates, roughened each of the them with sandpaper, and tied them on with zip ties. It was a multi-step process, and by the end of the day, my hands were raw. Ah, but I could gaze on my creations with pride, and feel invincible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The octopus in the corner

My office at WHOI is in the corner. It's in the corner of the lab, which is in the corner of the building. When I first moved into my office, I noticed there was a whiteboard on the door with a drawing in the corner. I guess this means I'm the octopus?


I've spent a lot of time in my corner recently, just reading papers at my desk. The first part of any project is getting acquainted with the pertinent background information, which means diving into the literature. It's a lot of reading, which takes a lot of time. At least I have a comfortable reading space. 

The second thing I've been doing to prepare for my project is getting familiar with the local fauna. My experimental organisms are all drawn from local docks, so I've met with various other researchers who know the local species. It's a learning process, but thankfully, the forms are all pretty distinct. I'm learning the most common species around Woods Hole are all non-native, meaning they were transported here from elsewhere and accidentally or purposefully introduced. It doesn't matter for my experiment where the species come from, but it's interesting to know how much the dock communities have changed over the past several years. 

I look forward to getting my project off the ground. Alright, now back to my corner.

A few species living on a rope at one of the local docks

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Jump around

My office at WHOI is right on Water Street, so I have a front-row view of all the activity in the village. There's a ferry from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard that docks right across the street from my building. Every time the ferry takes off from the dock, it sounds its horn. One long blast, then three short blasts.

It sounds like the beginning of a rap song from the 90s, and my brain fills in the rest of the song. Oh boy.

On a more serious note, I legitimately love it at WHOI. I have several projects starting up that I'm very excited about. My main project, the one I proposed when I applied for my current position, concerns succession on subtidal substrata. Ok, let's break that down. Succession is the process by which organisms replace each other over time. "Subtidal" refers to any habitat permanently covered by water - that includes everything from the underside of a boat to the deep sea. For this project, I'm focusing on shallow subtidal habitats, or in other words, things that grow on docks.

An encrusting community on the underside of
a buoy in Eel Pond, just next to my lab.
How many species do you see?
So if you drop a solid object - a rock, a bottle, your boat - in the water, it's first going to get covered by barnacles. After a while, though, there will be other animals present. Soft sponges and squishy ascidians, delicate hydroids and crunchy bryozoans. There's some evidence that the barnacles help those other guys settle on top of them (essentially, the barnacles ensure their own demise), and I want to figure out why. Is it because of bacteria living on the barnacles? Is it because the barnacles change the way the water flows over them? Are the barnacles giving off a chemical signal?

My first step toward this new project is scoping out the subtidal habitats around WHOI. I've been on the prowl for publically-accessible docks where I can lay on my belly, lean my head over the side, and collect the organisms I need. I actually spent a good part of this afternoon walking around town and laying on any dock I could access. I probably looked like a crazy person, but hey, that's being a scientist, right?

I find encrusting communities fascinating. These species live next to, around, on top of, and entangled with each other. There is so much biodiversity in just one handful! I'm very excited to get my project started.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Stars

I am lying on my back on Surf Drive Beach. To my right, the sky is striped. Orange sky, gray clouds, yellow sky, gray clouds, blue sky, gray clouds, dark blue. To my left, warm lights from homes stretch in an arc across the horizon. A green beacon flashes every few seconds. In front of me, the sea gently licks a rock. Above me, tiny white sparkles emerge.

"I lay my head onto the sand
The sky resembles a backlit canopy with holes punched in it...
And in this moment, I am happy, happy"
- "Wish you were here" by Incubus

I am lying on my back on Surf Drive Beach. I think of my friends and family far away, wishing they could see these stars. I think about how blessed I am to have such a solid family rooted in the Midwest. I think about the branches of my network across the world, running like vines on multiple continents. They form a tangled web, and I fall on them like an acrobat in a net.

"We will wars undo
Make the oceans blue
Paint the heavens with stars
And I won't let it out of my heart
No we won't let this world fall apart"
- "Theory of everything" by Amaranthe

I am lying on my back on Surf Drive Beach, looking up at the stars. It's a little hard for me to believe I'm a post-doc; the term seems oversized. But here I am. I think about the students gone before me with whom I am now a peer. I think about the community I left behind in Oregon and how quickly time passes.

"I lie under starlit sky
And the seasons change in the blink of an eye
I watch as the planets turn
And the old stars die and the young stars burn"
- "Lonesome dreams" by Lord Huron

I am lying on my back on Surf Drive Beach, looking up at the stars. Of all the places in the world where I could have gone as a post-doc, I landed here. I landed at an institute where I am welcomed and embraced and supported. I landed in a hotbed of innovation with a positive culture and a drive for greatness. I landed in an institute that gets me. I know there's a plan for my life, a broad-brush scheme that I experience pixel by pixel, and being here is part of it.

"I lay here under the stars
In awe of who you are
You've never been so real
I'll never understand it fully
Lost here in your beauty
No words can say how I feel"
- "Seeing for the first time" by Britt Nicole

I am lying on my back on Surf Drive Beach, looking up at the stars. Of all the places in the world where I could have moved, I landed here. I landed in a community that is at once clean, classy, and comfortable. I landed in a place that enthralls me - like the first time I saw Switzerland in 2008. I landed where there are waterfront views everywhere - like in Germany. I landed where the wind and the waves work together and I bicycle my way through it all - like Norway. I landed where the people are warm and genuine - like Michigan. I landed where the cold energizes me - like Svalbard. I have never felt so immediately at home in a location, and yet I still feel that I am on an adventure. My restless heart is calm. I am so incredibly blessed.

"If you can calm the raging sea
Then you can calm the storm in me
You're never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars"
- "Stars" by Skillet

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whoo-ee

There's a recurring skit on Saturday Night Live in which Kenan Thompson plays the host of a ridiculous talk show. There's not actually much talking on the show, because any time a new guest enters the stage or says something silly or really does anything at all, Kenan and his band break out into song. The music is peppy and loud, and the lyrics are simple: "Whooo-eee! What up wit dat? What up wit dat?" He has background singers who salsa behind their microphones, and Kenan dances across the stage. Anyway, the whole thing is ridiculous.

And for the past week, every time I've told someone that I work at WHOI (whoo-ee!), my brain has chimed in with "What up wit dat? What up wit dat?" Ugh.

Now that I've been at WHOI a couple days, I can give you my first impressions of the institute. First off, this place is huge. Two-campuses huge. Official-policies-on-everything huge. Huge. I've worked at a large institute before (the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany), but at the time, I was sheltered in the bubble of my deep-sea ecology group. I've gotten much better acquainted with my new institute's magnitude in the past couple days. WHOI's size means it has a lot of power and a lot of resources. Huge.

Second, the people are ridiculously friendly. They smile at each other when passing in the halls, and many stop to chat. When I asked to eat lunch with a colleague, she immediately consented and pulled out an extra chair. I was even offered hot chocolate while waiting for an appointment in the Human Resources office. Very classy, and very friendly.

There's a culture of innovation at WHOI. There's a positive atmosphere. I am surrounded by fundraisers and risk-takers and modern-day explorers.  At such a cutting-edge institute, I expected fierce competition, but so far, I've only found people who legitimately love what they do. I think I've landed in a very good place.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Shining sea

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain;
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea"
- "America the Beautiful" by Katharine Lee Bates

Possibly the most famous person from Falmouth is Katharine Lee Bates, author of the poem (now a common patriotic song) "America the Beautiful." There's a Katharine Lee Bates Road in downtown Falmouth, and her birthplace is just a few blocks from my house. 

The last line of the first stanza, "from sea to shining sea" was converted into the name of a bike path along Cape Cod, the Shining Sea Bikeway. The Bikeway runs right along the ocean and is in my opinion the best way to get from Falmouth to Woods Hole. Check out some of the views I captured along the bike path today.







Monday, October 17, 2016

Coast to coast

"I made these wishes with you
Went coast to coast
And we both felt so alive.
We traded safe for something
That just had to be
And we almost lost our minds."
- "Be the young" by Yellowcard

There's a theory in ecology called "parallel communities." It's not very widely accepted just because there are so many exceptions to it, but the theory goes like this: communities in similar habitats are all alike. For example, on rocky shores, you get encrusting sponges and bryozoans. You get filter-feeding mussels, predatory sea stars, and kelp below the low tide line. Maybe in the Pacific you get 5 kinds of sponges, one species of mussel, one species of sea star, etc., but in the Indian Ocean you get a different mussel, a different sea star, and 3 different sponges. Maybe you get red and brown algae instead of proper kelp. The organisms vary, but the roles those organisms play don't change. The community functions the same.

Got to admit, I'm noticing a lot of functional similarities between Coos Bay and Falmouth. Both are located on peninsulas. Both have about 30,000 people and are notoriously dominated by retirees. Each town has a 10 km foot race in the late summer or fall - the Road Race in Falmouth, the Steve Prefontaine Memorial Run in Coos Bay. Both cater to tourists in the summer.

In the Pacific Northwest, the major crustacean delicacy is Dungeness crab, Cancer magister. In New England, it's American lobster, Homarus americanus. Each coast has its own go-to store for outdoor gear - REI in the west, L.L. Bean in the east. Instead of sunsets over the ocean, I'll watch sunrises over the sea. Instead of earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific, I'll come to fear hurricanes in the Atlantic.

The communities parallel each other quite well. Of course there are also some true differences, but so far, I've only noticed two. First, Pacific shores are much more rugged than Atlantic shores. In Coos Bay, I was constantly clambering over rocks, easing myself down steep trails to get to the beach. In Falmouth, I can just walk straight there - the beaches are at street level and much more accessible. However, much of the east coast shoreline is privately owned, whereas in the west, coasts are defined as public land. I hope I don't run into trouble accessing the habitats I need.

My move across the country is a big hassle, but it's also a grand adventure. As I settle into Falmouth, I'm sure I'll add to my Venn diagram of observations. I look forward to learning more about the area.

Typical Cape Cod cottages along a beach in Falmouth

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The roadtrip: Part 8

Falmouth, Massachusetts

The Manhattan skyline, seen from New Jersey
I have arrived! For the last day of the cross-country drive, my parents and I set off from Maryland and headed northeast. We cut across southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It was beautiful, hilly country, and the closer we got to New Jersey, the less my mom could resist using her imitation  Jersey accent. Oh my goodness. So entertaining.

The highlight of the day was definitely going through New York. Believe it or not, the best route to Massachusetts took us straight through New York City - the Bronx, to be exact. None of us had ever been to NYC before, so seeing the big city was very exciting. We actually got a great view of the Manhattan skyline as we approached the city from the New Jersey side of the Hudson river.

Falmouth on a sign!
After New York, we headed through Connecticut and Rhode Island. We crossed numerous bays and rivers in both states, enjoying lovely views along the way. The closer we got to Massachusetts, the more excited I became. There's just something special about seeing the name of your destination city on a sign for the first time. I also loved seeing signs for "The islands" (Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard).

Now that I'm on Cape Cod, I'm very excited to settle in and get to know the area around me. It has been a journey of 3,642 miles, but I am finally in my new home!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The roadtrip: Part 7

Hagerstown, Maryland

The Wild Women of Charleston wine label
This is it - the final push east! I set off from Ohio earlier today with both parents in tow. They'll help me move in, and I'm extremely grateful for such a supportive family.

Before I tell you about the drive, I actually have to back up. When I moved into Oregon four years ago, my mom and I stumbled upon an hilarious item in a wine store in Coos Bay. It was an Oregon-made wine labeled "The Wild Women of Charleston, OR." Charleston is actually where my lab, OIMB, was located, so we couldn't resist purchasing the bottle.

The wine spent four years on my kitchen counter as a conversation piece, and then made it across the country with me to Ohio. My last night before the final push to Massachusetts, we opened the bottle of wine. And sipped it. And spit it out. After four years on my kitchen counter, the wine tasted exactly like a solution of grape juice and vinegar. Oh, but what an amazing label!




Western Maryland
Ok, now to the roadtrip. My parents and I set off from Ohio and headed east. We actually spent most of the day's drive in West Virginia and Maryland. We climbed the Appalachian Mountains and crossed the Eastern Continental Divide at 2600 ft altitude. Like its western counterpart, the Eastern Continental Divide marks the line between two watersheds. To the west of the Eastern Continental Divide, water flows into the Mississippi River; to the east, water flows into the Atlantic.

We crossed into Maryland, and I had no idea how hilly western Maryland was. Cumberland is actually nestled in the Appalachians. As we continued east, we made a dramatic drop in elevation. I can't wait to be back at sea level on the east coast!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Good to be alive

"We hold on to each other
All we have is all we need
'Cuz one way or another
We always make it, you and me"
- "Good to be alive" by Skillet

Wes and I before the concert.
Detroit, Michigan

There's no way I could leave the Midwest without spending some time with my brother. For my final stop on the Friends and Family Tour, I hopped south to Detroit to see him.

If I had to name one person who's had the most impact on my personality and my tastes in the last few years, it would be my brother, Wes. He's the reason I listen to metal. He's the reason I chose snowboarding over skiing and stuck with it when I sucked. He taught me everything I know about football, lacrosse, and body-building. He's the reason I'm not afraid of guns. Seriously, without my brother in my life, I would be a prissy little twinkle-toes.

One of the many things Wes and I have in common is an affinity for the Christian rock band Skillet. Yes, they're named after a frying pan. Skillet is touring at the moment, so when Wes and I found out they would be in the Midwest during my move, we knew we had to go see a concert together.

Skillet gives incredible live shows. Unfortunately, our master plan to bring an actual skillet into the concert hall didn't pan out (pun intended!), but we danced and fist-pumped and head-banged the night away. It was a great time, and we both had to massage our feet as soon as we got home.

Ah, so good to be alive.

Skillet in concert. Photo by Wes Meyer.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The U.P.: Part 2

Marquette, Michigan

Lauren and I in downtown Marquette
It's a beautiful day in the U.P. I've moved over from one friend's house to another, spending time now with my friend Lauren. I shared a dorm room with Lauren my third year at NMU, and she too belongs to the Club of Kirstin's Former Roommates, Labmates, and Neighbors Who Got Married Shortly After Sharing a Small Space With Her.

Lauren is a great friend. We actually knew each other from high school before rooming at NMU. She's one of the few friends I've held onto from my hometown, and we've grown and changed together over the years.

On the NMU campus



We went strolling through downtown Marquette and stopped at Lauren's favorite bakery. We watched movies and ate gargantuan bowls of popcorn. We spoke German to each other and drove her husband nuts.

While in Marquette, I also took the opporunity to visit my alma mater, Northern Michigan University. I hadn't set foot on the campus in 5 years, so I was excited to see it changing and improving. I toured the new Jamrich Hall, and of course I had to stop by the on-campus Starbucks. (Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks Coffee, is an NMU alumnus.) I then surprised my undergrad research advisor in his office, and boy, was that fun. He recognized me right away (after a moment of shock). We caught up on our research projects, and it was really great to see him again.

No visit to Marquette is complete without seeing my favorite spot on Lake Superior, a gravel beach behind the Superior Dome. It's a beautiful, serene place where I always went to decompress and pray. I just love looking out over the water and contemplating its vastness. I love feeling the breeze from the magnificent freshwater sea. I love imagining what might live on the bottom.

I have been fortunate to live in a number of beautiful places, and Marquette is certainly one of them. It is a part of my story. I have been blessed with incredible friends who open their doors, share their lives, and welcome me when I'm in town. I'm grateful to spend time with such lovely people.

Lake Superior, seen from my favorite spot

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The U.P.

Marquette, Michigan

Do me a favor. Picture the state of Michigan. What do you see? The mitten? The Great Lakes? If you're like most people, you're picturing a mitten-shaped peninsula flanked by Lake Michigan in the west and Lake Huron in the east. But guess what - you're missing half the state.

It's ok. Most Americans (even some Michiganders) regularly forget that the Upper Peninsula exists. Some people think it's part of Wisconsin; others think it's part of Canada. Most just ignore it or forget it's even there. 

Amy and I made banana bread!
The U.P. is isolated, but it's also a gorgeous part of the world. It's largely empty, with only small towns dotting the map and untamed forests in between. Those who live in the U.P. call themselves Yoopers, and they love to be outdoors. The U.P. was settled primarily by Finnish immigrants, so Yoopers are hearty people. Winter is their favorite season. Camping, fishing, and hunting are their go-to pastimes. Hockey (not football) is their sport of choice. Yoopers have their own distinctive dialect because of the historical Finnish influence, and to give you an idea of what it sounds like, I'll use two example sentences. 

1) "Go to the house and talk about it" is pronounced "Go to da hoos and talk aboot it" by a Yooper.
2) "Say yes to Michigan" (the state's old tourism slogan) was re-written "Say yah to da U.P., eh!" to poke fun at the local dialect. Yoopers can now purchase bumper stickers with the re-written slogan, and many have them on their cars. 

Amy and I by the shore of Lake Superior. Yes, we planned to
both wear plaid in our favorite colors.
Photo by Megan VanOrman.
You get the idea. I find myself now in Marquette, Michigan, the largest city in the U.P. (population 21,500). I lived in Marquette from 2008 to 2011 while attending Northern Michigan University (not to be confused with Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), and I still have a number of friends in the area. I'm using some of my time in limbo to visit with them and enjoy being up north. 

I'm starting at my friend Amy's house. Amy and I met our first week as freshmen at NMU, and we clicked right away. We even shared a dorm room during our second year. Amy is a founding member of the Club of Kirstin's Former Roommates, Labmates, and Neighbors Who Got Married Shortly After Sharing a Small Space With Her. (Current membership: 7. Any woman looking to get married should move in with me immediately. Not kidding.) 
The sea star pattern on the afghan Amy made me

I love being at Amy's house. We drink herbal tea. We bake. We watch movies. We spend time outdoors. Amy can crochet better than anyone I know, and this trip, she surprised me with a special gift to recognize my Ph.D. It's an afghan that she crocheted herself using a pattern that looks like sea stars. (Ok, the stars in the pattern have six arms, but that just means they're probably Leptastarias polaris.) Amy even used yarn for the afghan in my favorite color. I am so blessed to have friends who care about me so much. Life is good in the U.P.!




Thursday, September 29, 2016

The grafted tree

Ohio

I'm on my parents' couch right now, listening to my mom and sister pore over a box of my great grandfather's belongings. I'd be over there too, but Mom already showed me the box in August. My dad is at the kitchen table behind me, looking something up on his laptop. My sister's fiancé is upstairs.

Ah, it's good to be in Ohio.

All of us at trivia night
I told you I'd be spending some time in the Midwest before settling in Masschusetts, and that's exactly what I'm doing now. It worked out for Kendra and Seth to visit Ohio while I was in limbo, so I wanted to make sure I was here and could see them. They live in Michigan and don't make the trip south very often - this is actually their first time at the house in Ohio. It's been fun for me to tag along as Mom showed them the town. Mom is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable - we joked that she could record her voice and sell copies of a guided driving tour of Ohio.

Of course we had to stop by the local pub for trivia night while Kendra and Seth were in town. It was a fun time, but we didn't do very well, coming in 8th place overall. Just not our night.

It feels like an eternity since I've done any science, but my defense was really only two months ago. I'll be back in the game soon enough. For now, I'm enjoying my time in the Midwest. My family tree has a newly-grafted branch, and I'm happy to see it grow.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The roadtrip: Part 6

Ohio

After almost a week on the road, Mom and I made it to my parents' home in Ohio. We chose a route that took us through 5 states, across 3 rivers, and through very hilly terrain. We started out by crossing the Mississippi River from Missouri into Illinois, then across the state line into southern Indiana. A bridge across the Ohio River took us from Indiana into Kentucky, then across a state line into West Virginia. Finally, we crossed the Ohio River one more time to enter Ohio.

I had been through Kentucky before but never spent much time there. I loved seeing the rolling hills, the horse farms, and something I hadn't seen since we left the Oregon coast: trees! I mean, of course there were sparse trees in each state in the West, but never dense forests lining the highway. It was always short, dry grasses or farm fields. Kentucky is the first time since Oregon that we've seen a solid cover of trees.

Now that we're in Ohio, Mom and I will be staying put for a few days. I'm so glad to be out of the car! I have a couple adventures planned while in the Midwest, and then I'll make the final push to Massachusetts. I'll keep you posted as the journey continues!
The Mississippi River, between Missouri and Illinois


The Ohio River, between Indiana and Kentucky

Kentucky

Kentucky

The Kanawha River in West Virgina

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The roadtrip: Part 5

St. Louis, Missouri

The "famous hill" outside Columbia, MO, which offers the
most sweeping view in the state.
Today was a short driving day. Mom and I are finally in the Midwest, so we are getting back into familiar territory. We made our way across Missouri today, through much of Mom's old stomping grounds. I didn't take as many pictures of the landscapes, just because the terrain was more familiar to me - much of my extended family lives in Missouri, so I had been in the state many times before.

We used the opportunity while in Missouri to spend time with family. Most of my relatives live in or near St. Louis, so we all gathered at my cousin's house for dinner. It was an awesome evening, and I'm so glad for the opportunity to see my family in Missouri!

Friday, September 23, 2016

The roadtrip: Part 4

Kansas City, Kansas

Kansas
After leaving Denver, we headed east across Colorado and into Kansas. I always thought of Denver as a city in the center of the Rockies, but we were out of the mountains almost as soon as we left the city. We dropped over 4,000 ft of altitude in just a few hours. The landscape in eastern Colorado was characterized by rolling hills and farmland, and it flowed effortlessly into Kansas. As we drove, I saw plenty of wheat fields, corn fields, and more cows than I could count. There were also numerous wind farms on the horizon, with regularly-spaced windmills as far as the eye could see. With all the flat terrain in Kansas, wind travels almost unobstructed. It's easy to see why the Wizard of Oz opened with a tornado!

We finished the day in Kansas City, where Mom and I have extended family. We don't often get to see our Kansas relatives, so we took the opportunity to spend time with them. It was so much fun!

I'm officially over 2,000 miles away from the Oregon coast. Slowly but surely, the roadtrip progresses!

The roadtrip: Part 3

Denver, Colorado

Day 3 of my cross-country roadtrip adventure began at the Great Salt Lake. Neither Mom nor I had ever seen it before. (A family roadtrip when I was growing up took us to southern Utah, but we missed the northern part of the state that trip.) We were both curious about the lake and decided to check it out while we had the chance. I certainly learned a lot.

Great Salt Lake
The modern-day Great Salt Lake is a small remnant of a much larger body of water, Lake Bonneville, that covered parts of Utah, Idaho, and Nevada earlier in geological time. The modern lake is only 12 feet deep on average but has 4 times the salinity of seawater. It's a terminal lake, meaning it has no outflow, so any trace of salt carried into the lake from the surrouding drainage area gets trapped there as the water evaporates. Because of the high salinity, the only animals in the lake are small crustaceans called brine shrimp. Birds come from all around to feed on the brine shrimp, leading to a diverse and abudant avian community.

Seen in Echo Canyon, Utah
Tourism on the lake has been off and on, with the major facility being destroyed multiple times by fire or flood. Nowadays, the lake is surrounded by mines. It's a very industrial area, with heavy machinery being used to extract salt and copper from the surrounding mountains.

Green rock in Wyoming
After our stop at the lake, we headed east across Utah through ski country and narrow Echo Canyon. The mountains were absolutely beautiful, and the canyon walls were red and extremely steep. The majority of the drive actually took us through southern Wyoming, which was much more diverse than I expected. We drove past rolling hills, ranches, rough cliffs, and smooth knolls. At one point, we passed rocky outcrops that looked green. Very interesting.

We kept climbing altitude in Wyoming and actually crossed the Continental Divide in two places. I kept checking our altitude, and the highest value I ever saw was over 8,600 feet. Mom and I could both notice the effects of the altitude on our cosmetics - for the past few days, every lotion, shampoo, and cleanser has exploded when opened. I even opened a sealed bag of trail mix in the car, and it too was grossly bloated in the low-pressure environment.

At the end of the day, we stopped in Denver, the Mile-High City. We both laughed that even the famous high-altitude city was a steep downhill slide away. Another great day of travel is over!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The roadtrip: Part 2

Salt Lake City, Utah

The second day of cross-country travel took me through southwestern Idaho and into Utah. I have just a few things to say about Idaho. First, the landscapes are absolutely beautiful. Gorgeous. Stunning. We started in terrain very similar to the Oregon Badlands, then watched as the land flattened out and became covered by potato and corn fields. The closer we got to Utah, the more mountains there were.

The second thing I have to say about Idaho is that it's obvious Idahoans love their state. We saw exits for towns named Paradise Valley, Bliss, and Eden.

Now that I'm in Utah, I just can't get enough of the mountains. As my mom and I were walking to dinner, we kept our eyes to the sky and the horizon, just drinking it all in. What a gorgeous, gorgeous state.

"In eastern Oregon, they make such a big deal out of the Oregon Badlands.
Sure, it's beautiful terrain, but where I come from, the land looks exactly
the same, and we just call it...Idaho." - Caitlin Plowman
Idaho

Idaho

A wind park in Idaho
A rest stop outside Eden, Idaho
Getting close to Utah
Near the Idaho/Utah border
Utah