Monday, August 29, 2016

Home

I'm writing this from the spare bed in my brother's room. He won't be happy to find me in here, but I don't care. It's comfortable. I'm surrounded by some laundry and his half-open backpack.

It's amazing how much can change in a year. My first time seeing the Ohio house was actually this time last year. Then I headed to Svalbard to collect my settlement plates, and that trip certainly does not feel like it was 12 months ago. I remember telling my brother about how I had to be trained on a 30-06 rifle in case of polar bear attack, and he positively freaked. I've never been much of a gun person, so he was proud of me for my new skills. Immediately, he announced that the next time we were both in Ohio, he would train me on his own collection of rifles.

My target for the day. Not perfect, but I was still pretty proud.
Well, it's taken a year for both of us to be in Ohio again, but Wes remembered his vow. I joined him and our dad at the local gun range this week. The range is not much to speak of, actually. It's a rectangular field with a wooden shelter at one end and targets at the other. The gated entrance probably cost as much as the land and the shelter combined.

Dad trained me on my grandpa's old .22 caliber "varmint gun," and Wes trained me on his AR-15. To be honest, the .22 was my favorite because it was so simple. It turns out I'm left-eye dominant (despite being right-handed), so I do best when shooting left-handed. Good to know for any future trips to Svalbard!

Whenever I talk about the American Midwest to my west coast or European friends, I get a lot of weird looks. The beef-guns-and-Jesus trifecta is difficult for some people to understand. But to someone who grew up in the middle of the country, it just feels like home. The flat landscapes, the acres-wide cornfields, the sweltering summer humidity - all of it feels comforting and familiar.

I'm grateful to spend time with my family in Ohio, the heart of the American Midwest.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

East of center

Current location: Ohio, United States.

Ohioans refer to their state as the "heart of America." If you look at a map, Ohio is actually kind of heart-shaped, and its location in the U.S. is about where a heart would be - above the middle, just east of center.

Growing up in Michigan, I knew exactly two things about Ohio: it has a lot of truck stops (Ohio's central location makes it a hub for interstate commerce), and it's where the amusement park Cedar Point is located. Michiganders love Cedar Point. A trip to Cedar Point with friends is almost a rite of passage for Michigan teenagers, because it's the farthest our parents would let us drive by ourselves. I've even seen maps of the United States from a Michigander's point of view that label the entire state of Ohio as "Cedar Point." (For the record, these same maps label Michigan's Upper Peninsula as "Heaven" and the Lower Peninsula "God's high-five to Earth.")

No ocean in Ohio, but my parent's town has plenty of rivers.
So pretty!
You might wonder why I'm in Ohio, considering, well, there's no ocean here. You're right, there's not much saltwater to go around, but the state of Ohio currently holds something even more precious: my parents. They moved one state south after my siblings and I had all finished high school, so I'm spending some of my time in limbo at their homestead.

One of the many reasons I'm excited for my upcoming fellowship in Massachusetts is that for the first time since 2011, I will live just a day's drive from my parents. Actually, it'll be the first time since 2011 that we'll be on the same time zone. My parents are an incredible support system, so I'm excited to be a bit closer to them geographically.

Close to the heart, east of center.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Paris

Well, friends, now that I've finished at OIMB, you might be wondering where that leaves me. I'm in limbo for a while, but the good news is that I won't stay there forever. I already know where I'm going next. I'm headed for a marine biology research institute on a new coast.

I'm going to make you guess which one.

The institute is not in France, despite the title of this post. (Paris is a metaphor; see below.)
The institute is in the United States.
To get there from OIMB, I have to fly.
It's an institute I've visited within the past 18 months but not the past 12 months.
This institute has incredible infrastructure, including one of the best underwater research vehicles in the world.
When you pronounce the acronym for this institute, you sound a bit like an owl.

Any ideas?

It's WHOI, or Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts.

Sailboats seen from a beach in Falmouth, MA
Woods Hole is a top-tier institute. In my humble opinion, it is the best in the United States, possibly the world. I am continually impressed with the quality of the science coming out of WHOI - and for the record, I held this opinion long before they offered me a fellowship. Ever since my Atlantis cruise last summer, I've felt about Woods Hole the way I imagine artists feel about Paris. I consider it the center of the deep-sea biology world. And starting in a few months, I get to work there.

As you can imagine, I am beyond excited. My mom and I have spent the past few days exploring the area around WHOI and trying to find a place for me to live. It's definitely going to be a change from Coos Bay, but it will be such a good change. In just a few months, I will be out of limbo and in the center of the world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Black water

"The strange silence
Surrounding me
Grows closer
Feels colder...
Swallowed by a vicious, vengeful sea...
In the deepest depths I lost myself
See myself through someone else"
- "Black water" by Of Monsters and Men

Wearing tan slide-on shoes and a bag slung over one shoulder, I made my way down the sidewalk on Boat Basin Road. The fog was thick. So thick. Cut-it-with-a-knife thick. It occurred to me how eerily quiet it was. Fishing towns are usually full of chatter - sea lions, gulls, bells, whistles - but tonight there was nothing. Just the silence and the fog.

Peering over my shoulder, I could see the amoeba of students heading the other way down the sidewalk, on their way back to the lab. One of them was walking backwards at the head of the crowd, pretending to be a band director. The rest seemed unaffected and continued their casual conversations.

Every once in a while, I'll have a moment when I realize something simple but profound. I'll see something or hear something, and a switch will flip in my brain. Then in one magic sentence, I'll be able to express what I've been feeling for a long time. It happened tonight as I watched my friends move down the sidewalk. For a second, I actually felt like I was in It's a Wonderful Life and was observing a world without myself in it. I don't mean that in a bad way - not in a bad way at all! - but in a beautiful way.

I am no longer a part of OIMB.

The simplicity of this statement is self-evident, but its profoundness requires a little explanation. You see, I think a lot about communities, why they exist where they do and not where they don't. For the longest time, I felt like an outsider at OIMB. I failed to connect with my fellow graduate students or be accepted by them. Only since my return from Norway and especially since the Atlantis cruise have I really embraced my identity as an OIMBer. Now, in one moment, it disappeared.

Although it might not be my OIMBness that's the issue here. It's the observation that life goes on without me. I mean, of course it does - I'm just one person, and it's summer field season besides. People are busy. But get this: the OIMB community goes on without me. And that is why my heart was warm.

There have been more friendships among the OIMB grad students in the past year than ever before. There have been more group dinners, more birthday celebrations, more sincere congratulations than my first two years made me believe were possible. It is so important for graduate students to have each others' backs, because let's be honest, our families have no idea what our projects are about.

I take no credit for the quality of the OIMB community, but I delight in the fact that it now exists. And that it continues, marching backwards, into the fog.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Limbo

Well, friends, I have finished my Ph.D. I submitted my final-final-final dissertation to the Graduate School earlier this week, so my obligations to OIMB and to the university are completely finished. Done, over - and that means I'm in limbo.

Limbo is not a bad place to be. On a scale of "Ducking under a broomstick at a party" to "The River Styx," I'd say it's about a 2. Maybe even a 1. I've had plenty of details and logistics to keep me occupied, but it's been low-stress. Here are a few things that have happened while I've been in limbo:

My decorated desk
1) My fellow graduate students decorated my desk. It was epic.

2) I visited friends in Albany. We went swimming at the local pool, then grilled out and watched the Olympics.

3) I attended a goodbye party for two friends in Hebo. They live in a log cabin in the middle of the woods with running water straight out of the local stream. No kidding.

4) On the way home, I climbed a sand dune in Pacific City.

5) A friend donated her collection of packing materials to me, so now my living room is drowning in boxes.

All's well on the West Coast!