Friday, October 28, 2016


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


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.!