Showing posts from October, 2017

The little stone

"How happy is the little stone That rambles in the road alone, And doesn't care about careers, And exigencies never fears; Whose coat of elemental brown A passing universe put on; And independent as the sun, Associates or glows alone, Fulfilling absolute decree In casual simplicity." - Emily Dickinson I always write when I'm about to leave work. I'll get to the end of my day, get to a natural stopping point, feel my mind wind down, and then get the urge to write. I need to review what I've done. I need to let my thoughts settle before I can go home for the night. It's been a busy week. I came back from Bonaire to a long list of important tasks, so I've been working through them one by one. It was overwhelming at first, but honestly, I've been massively productive. I applied for a visa for my next trip. I finished and submitted two scientific papers. I went to important meetings with other scientists. I got a new intern and started tea

Never let me go

"Looking up from underneath Fractured moonlight on the sea Reflections still look the same to me As before I went under... And it's breaking over me A thousand miles down to the seabed Found a place to rest my head Never let me go" - "Never let me go" by Florence and the Machine Looking up from underneath Right now, I am in the middle seat on a 737 on my way back to the United States. I am leaning on my boyfriend, watching the bright scarlet sunset through the oval window in the wall. I can’t focus on anything, and I can’t fall asleep. I just keep looking back through my pictures, reviewing species names, wishing I was underwater.  It's been an incredible week. My dive skills improved by leaps and bounds - my air consumption, buoyancy control, and ability to hold position in the water all grew and stretched and improved. I learned how to carry extra tanks and switch gas sources mid-water to extend the lengths of my dives. I practiced the a

Surface interval

At the end of every diving trip, you have to take some time off. It’s unsafe to fly within 18 – 24 hours of your last dive because your body is still releasing the nitrogen gas that’s been dissolved into your bloodstream at higher than atmospheric pressure. Exposure to altitude too soon could cause decompression sickness. So what are two divers to do during a surface interval on their last day in a desert paradise? Go explore on land, of course. We set out from Kralendijk and drove south along the western coast of Bonaire. It was a beautiful tour, and magically, everything that I had still wanted to show you in photographs was there and in the perfect light. I’ll show you below. Typical Bonaire vegetation We saw a flamingo! It was hanging out in a pool  of  rainwater near the beach. Flamingoes are the national bird of Bonaire. This lighthouse marks the southern tip of the island. Coral rubble beach and whitecaps in southern Bonaire Feral donke

Age of Aquarius

"When the moon is in the Seventh House And Jupiter aligns with Mars Then peace will guide the planets And love will seer the stars This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius" - "Aquarius" from the musical Hair "I don't think this is going to happen," my boyfriend judged disappointedly as he pulled off the road. We had just reached our planned dive site, Red Slave, at the very southern tip of Bonaire. Parked on the gravel, we could see over a pile of coral rubble to the sea. The wind was whipping past our truck windows, and there were white caps on the waves. Three surfers paddled toward the oncoming swells, and we watched them ride the cresting waves back to shore. Rule of thumb: never attempt to go diving where there are people surfing. There was no way we could make it through the surf safely, so we turned and headed back north. Just north of the Salt Pier, we chose another site called Aquarius. The entry looked easy, and the waves were muc

Ship to wreck

"Under starless skies we are lost And into the breach we got tossed And the water's coming in fast... Oh, my love remind me What was it that I did? Did I drink too much? Am I losing touch? Did I build a ship to wreck?" - "Ship to wreck" by Florence and the Machine Swimming across the coral reef, I made my body horizontal. My eyes were directed downward as always, scanning the corals and the sponges and the fish. I was in my zone. Lifting my head ever so subtly, I checked my boyfriend's position in front of me. And was faced with a giant metallic wall. This is the best picture I could get of the animals on the Hilma Hooker wreck. Like I said, large portions of the hull are completely empty and uncolonized. It was the wreck of the Hilma Hooker , a cargo ship that sank off the coast of Bonaire in 1984. It's now a popular dive site and the only wreck in (my) divable depth range on the island. The ship rests on its side on the seafloor, s

Into that good night

"Do not go gentle into that good night Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." - "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas I hung suspended above the reef, neutrally buoyant, perfectly poised. In front of me, a huge silver tarpon slithered past, oblivious to my presence. My dive light scanned the ground in front of me, and a small crab caught my eye. I hadn't seen it before - well, I remembered it was in my ID book, but I couldn't remember its name. It had a thin, teardrop-shaped body and unbelievably long, skinny legs.  Stenorhynchus seticornis , the yellowline arrow crab. The reef does not go gently into the night. At dusk, little fish hide away, but the ecosystem is no less alive. Nocturnal invertebrates come out to feed. Coral polyps emerge, so the reef looks like it's covered in fuzz. There are giant, predatorial fish lurking. It is fascinating. Swimming further down the reef,

Salt flats, slave huts, and things that come in eights

Salt flats, salt mounds, Salt Pier Leaning back in the front seat of the pickup truck, I could feel the breeze coming through the window teasing my salt-encrusted hair. The sun heated my legs and my shoulders. To my right, the beach stretched out to the sea, white sand and blue lagoon. To my left, my boyfriend pressed the clutch and shifted gears. We had a truckbed full of dive gear and were on our way out of town. A few minutes past the airport, I noticed a change in the landscape to my left. The ground looked pink. Large, rectangular pools filled with rose-tinted saltwater stretched for miles inland, and at the seaward edges, the wind tossed clumps of salt up onto the rim like snowballs. The southwestern quartile of Bonaire is one giant salt farm, and we were driving straight past it. In front of us, colossal salt mounds lined the horizon, and a metallic bridge lead across the road to a large pier. The Salt Pier. The White Slave dive site, named for the old huts that still

The reef

A stovepipe sponge For our first few dives in Bonaire, my boyfriend and I started easy, diving on the reef just adjacent to our beachfront hotel. It was my first time diving on a coral reef, and I have just one thing to say: holy biodiversity, Batman. We started the dive by jumping off the resort's pier and swimming seaward over the sand. There's a line leading divers out to the reef, which makes the journey very straight-forward. The sand had a smooth, gentle slope, but I could notice we were getting gradually deeper. At about 30 ft (9 m), the seafloor dropped off with a steep ledge, and that's where the reef began. Most coral reefs around Bonaire are located on similar sub-sea walls, about 30 - 130 ft (40 m) deep. The first organism I remember noticing was a large purple sponge. Several long, thin tubes stretched up from a common base, and each tube was maybe 2 ft long. According to my identification guide, it's called the stovepipe sponge, Aplysina archeri .

Land of cactus and coral

Anytime I land in a new place, I spend my first day looking around and noticing unique aspects of the country I'm in. Below are some of the things I've noticed about Bonaire. A cactus fence  1) The vegetation is all very dry, even though the air is humid. There are cacti everywhere and salamanders running around on the sidewalks.  2) There are a lot of donkeys on the island. There are "donkey crossing" signs everywhere, and we actually saw a few beside the road our first night. Our hotel has a grate with widely-spaced metal rods in the driveway at the entrance, much like you would see at a ranch out west. But instead of keeping cows in, the grate is meant to keep the donkeys out. 3) Cactus plants grow really tall here, in some cases taller than trees. Many of the fences on the island are actually just cactus stalks woven together with mesh or wire. 4) Papiamentu is the most common language spoken on Bonaire, and it's a Creole language based on

Guess where

Friends, after just a month of lab work and writing in the U.S., I am going abroad again! I'm very excited for this trip, but I'm not going to tell you where I'm going; I'm going to make you guess. Clue #1: For this week-long trip, I am bringing the same number of suitcases as I had when moving to Europe (both times). All my clothes, toiletries, and "normal" items fit in my carry-on; everything else is equipment. Clue #2: I have never been to this location before, but my boyfriend has been twice. (Pertinent to clue #1, the last time he was here, he and two friends had 19 bags between them, only two of which contained clothes.) Clue #3: I studied extensively to prepare for this trip. With my boyfriend on the plane Clue #4: The country I'm going to has Dutch as its official language, but English and a unique Portuguese-based Creole are more commonly spoken. Clue #5: This place is  a desert but has lots of water. Clue #6: It is famo

Damaged words

"But with all my education I can seem to commend it And the words are all escaping me And coming back all damaged And I would put them back in poetry if I only knew how I can't seem to understand it" - "All this and heaven too" by Florence and the Machine Friends, writing is hard. Ask any scientist why they got into research, and I guarantee none of them will tell you it's because they love to write. We get into this business for the field work, for the adventure, for the curiosity, but a large portion of our time is spent on the back end of that process, merely writing up our results. Scientific literature can be bland and is often difficult to assemble, but we do it anyway. It's the best way to communicate our results to one another. Trust me, though, nobody gets into this job for the writing. It's just an inevitable necessity. I've spent a lot of time writing this week. I've been working on proposals and applications for future