Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Science Book Club: Ice Whale

It's time again for an installment of the STS Book Club! This time, it's a novel of the young adult variety. Perhaps a perfect stocking stuffer for the 11-year-old, nature-lover in your life? Or, you know, your story-loving 20-something PhD student.



My co-conspirators, then and now.  Notice that I have grown in my
appreciation of pants-wearing. 
I grew up on a farm in south central Kentucky with a small expanse of second growth forest rimming the yard and cultivated fields.  My siblings, cousins, and I would spend hours in those woods, building treehouses, turning over rocks, and chasing imagined creatures through the understory.  Mostly, we would pretend that we were surviving.  We would play like we were 100 instead of, maybe, one mile from home.  We had our dogs and we had our “tools” (usually a pocket knife or a hammer), but mostly we had our bravery and our brains.  It’s that same feeling of playing at survival that thrills me about backpacking or long canoe trips to this day.  No doubt this persistent desire to prove myself against some sort of untamed wilderness was inspired, in part, to my childhood reading list:  White Fang, Hatchet, “To Build a Fire,” Julie of the Wolves, and My Side of the Mountain, to name a few.  I rediscovered my love of young adult and children’s novels when I was writing my Master’s thesis.  I found I had less dreams about amphipods if I read before bed, and usually, by the end of the day, I had the reading comprehension of a 14-year-old.  I rediscovered my well worn copy of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, and the rest is history.  

“Not hope that he would be rescued--that was gone. But hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of though hope.” ― Gary Paulsen, Hatchet


Over the past 3 years, I’ve re-read many of my childhood favorites and also discovered a few new novels in the genera that I truly love.  I’d like to share one of those with you now.  Ice Whale, by Jean Craighead George is a book I read over the summer when I was traveling.  George has a great track record with her writing, as she is also the author of My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves, a novel which won her a Newbery Medal.  Plus, I read on her website she has a memoir for children called The Tarantula in my Purse.  If I write a memoir, I hope the title is half as impressive!   

On with the review!

What is Ice Whale about?

This is an epic tale, spanning families, generations, and two centuries.  The real story begins in 1848, when young Eskimo boy, Toozak, witnesses a bowhead whale being born.  He feels connected to the whale, which has a distinctive marking that looks like a dancing Eskimo.  Some years later, the boy, now a young hunter, accidentally betrays the location of a group of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) to a whaling ship.  To atone for this mistake, the young man and his future offspring are bound to the fate of the whale whose birth he witnessed, and they must protect him till he dies.  Bowheads can live over 100 years, so this initial plot point propels the story through time.  Characters and families come, go, and weave together in unexpected ways.  There are numerous themes: ocean exploitation, changing culture of native peoples, survival, and science!  All the action of the novel is set against the raw beauty of the arctic, an area close to George's hear and a location she often visited during her life. I really think everyone can find something to love in this novel.   

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Assess the Stress

This is it guys. Two more weeks and then FINALS! Wow, two sentences into a blog post and I’m already about to reach for the stress chocolate I have stashed in my desk right next to the stress tea. Admittedly, the rest of the semester is going to be non-stop GO, GO, GO, for me and a lot of y’all out there. We’ve all being kicking ass this year and nothing is stopping us now. Even that crippling fear of ending the semester in a horrific crash and burn finals extravaganza doesn’t stand a chance. Not going to happen, folks. Why? Because we are going to keep our stress in check. Rachel and I have both been through our fair share of finals weeks (not to mention Rachel’s COMPS are tomorrow! GO WISH HER LUCK) and we’ve gathered up our top tips for finishing the semester with minimal freak out moments.


  1. Hang on to your favorite mantras for dear life until it’s all over. My personal favorite currently is “Stay ahead of them game, or at least don’t fall behind”, while I’m pretty sure Rachel’s is “All my tasks are accomplishable”.  I used to think mantras were a little silly, but I am a full fledged believer now. Sometimes just taking a moment to remind yourself that you are capable really helps.




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Plans for the Afterward

I'm studying for my qualifying exams right now, and I think I'm firmly in the "What if I FAIL?" phase.  I really don't think I'll fail.  But, WHAT IF?!!  In either case, I'll know in about two weeks.  In the afterglow of my success or in the I-don't-give-a-crap phase before deciding on my new career path, I plan to have two days of full on relaxation.  Hint, if you come to this blog to hear about actual science things, then now is the time to bow out of this post.  Otherwise, here are the things I plan to do when I can close my eyes and not visualize the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

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