Thursday, May 30, 2013

First day in Dublin

Day 1
Location: Isaac's Hostel, Dublin Ireland

I don't think it's possible to have a smoother, jet-lag free international traveling experience. I left from Chicago O'Hare (ORD) on Wednesday around 7. About thirty minutes behind schedule, mind you, because apparently Air Force One was nearby? (Insert meme: 30 minutes less holiday time in Ireland. THANKS OBAMA.) Once in the air, my seat mate struck up conversation and I was really hoping he'd be a complete bore so I would have no choice but to sleep. He expressed similar concerns, but I sadly informed him that, unfortunately, I'm fascinating. He shared a stick of gum with me and we proceeded to shoot the shit until dinner and then snoozes. 

The entire plane, landing, customs, baggage retrieval, etc process was so painless that it doesn't even warrant mention. Really, my bus ride to Chicago was only an hour or so less than my entire trans-Atlantic flight! My new friend, seat mate KC, had even less plans for his solo trip than I and decided to tag along with me to check out the hostel I'd booked. More smooth sailings with check in there. KC decided to stay for a night as well. Rooms weren't ready for a few hours, but we miraculously were just in time for the FREE daily walking tour. Most hostels come equipped with rentable lockers and are a great bargain for securing your large bags while exploring the city. KC and I split a locker (they really are huge here) but I made sure I was in charge of key duties. 

Cue three hours of wandering about with our trusty Irishman tour guide, Sean, and another new friend, SC. Sean certainly earned his tips, and we had gathered some solid Irish history knowledge, as well as some ideas for where to explore further.
Dublin's "Spire" in the middle(?) of the city. Great place to meet up if you get seperated, but really it looks like a radio antenna. 

Sean, our lovely free tour guide. 

Super cool architecture/housing in Dublin. 

The thing about traveling abroad to large European cities is to not over think them, or to put them on a pedestal, as it were. As we were finding our way back to the hostel, it dawned on me that Dublin is not really so different from any major American city. Once you check out a map well, find some solid landmarks, familiarize yourself with the transit systems, and just go out and wander about, you'll feel just as comfortable. Yes, we did walk around in a few superfluous loops while trying to find some noms, but that was just as illuminating as any bit of the guided tour. 

The rest of the night has been a blur of hotel chilling. Sauna and tablet monopoly. If my next 89 days are this glorious, I'll be just fine with that. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

EcoNews Round-up: May 29, 2013

Hello, hello.  It's time yet again for me to share some of the cool ecology (or conservation, or just cool science!) related news and media I've been taking in recently.  As it has been over a month from the last EcoNews segment I posted, this will cover some of my highlights from the past 8ish weeks.  Onward!

African Elephants.  Kenya, 2008.
I'll start with something less obviously "science," but still totally science related in my mind.  As you probably remember from my post about my morning routine, I bike to work/campus nearly every morning.  On this bike ride I generally listen to a bunch of different podcasts (only one headphone, and the one that isn't near to traffic, plus I'm on a bike path 50% of the time...okay, it's not super safe.  Guilty.).  One of my favorites is Stuff You Missed in History Class.  Obviously, this is a history focused podcast, but they often talk about science history or discuss other things which my brain instantly connects to science.  The latter was the case with their shows in early April about The Great Emu War and Australia's Rabbit-proof Fence.  The Great Emu War (great may be a bit hyperbolic) is a classic case of human-wildlife conflict.  Humans plant wheat, emus eat wheat, humans want to shoot emus with machine guns.  I don't mean to make light, the description of the occurrence made my little veggie heart tremble, but it instantly struck me how similar this situation was to other cases still happening today.  An example from my personal research experience is the impact of elephants on subsistence farmers in Kenya.  Elephants can trample an entire farm, which supports a family, and afterward there is a tendency to want to destroy the "problem elephant."  From a western perspective, the idea of killing an individual member of an endangered species seems reactionary, but from the perspective of people who support their entire lives with small plots of land easily dispatched by the said individual, the choice is not so clear.  Understanding how to mitigate these conflicts is a key area of research in conservation biology.

The Australian Rabbit-proof Fence is interesting because it discusses the issues around managing invasive species.  I don't recall if they use that specific term in the podcast, but Australian rabbits are a classic example in invasion ecology.  An interesting note, which they bring up in the podcast but do not expand upon, is the potential to introduce a virus to control rabbit populations.  This is another classic example in the scientific literature concerning biological control.  Biological control can be defined many ways, but the definition I currently like best can be found in Eilenberg et al. (2001):  "The use of living organisms to suppress the population of a specific pest organism, making it less abundant or less damaging than it would otherwise be." And though this definition technically excludes viruses, I very much doubt the authors would dispute the fact that the use of viruses to control pest populations is, in fact, biological control.  The virus referenced in the podcast is one of a group of myxoma viruses, which have been used to control rabbit populations in Europe.  One one level, the argument for biological control is that it helps us avoid potentially more harmful control measures (like poisons or pesticides) and it may be naturally sustaining (such as a virus which has natural cycles within the population) making it more cost effective.  More cost effective, say, than continually up-keeping a fence to exclude rabbits.  However, biological control isn't always perfect and introducing a biological control agent to control another introduced species can have a run-away effect.  These sorts of decisions are heavily researched  and the literature surrounding the study of biological control is very interesting.        

Another really cool podcast I heard earlier this month was from my favorite podcast of all:  Science Friday.  It was a discussion with Michael Pollan's about his new book, Cooked:  A Natural History of Transformation.  In the interview, he discusses the ecosystem inside your guts.  I don't know about you, but I love, love the idea of thinking of myself as an ecosystem where I am the manager and I have to care for the populations.  Oh wait, you didn't realize I was that nerdy?  He also talks about fermented foods and how there is a process of ecological succession among the communities of bacteria growing in your sauerkraut or kombucha.  I found this section exceptionally fascinating and plan to ferment some stuff over the summer.  Science plus cooking, I love it.    

I tried to find a picture of Meridith, Colin, and I, but I'm
not sure I have one!  You'll have to settle for Colin
and Meridith as biology babies (2007).
Last up in this segment, I'd like to plug two of my friends who recently got scientific papers published.  I'm at that age where some of my friends are having babies, and my friends are birthing research papers.  Some are doing both at the same time, overachievers!  Anyhow, my long time ecology friend Colin Kremer was first author on a cool study in the Journal of Theoretical Ecology entitled, Coexistence in a variable environment: Eco-evolutionary perspectives.  I love papers like this because they attempt to address questions that bridge fields in biology.  Specifically, how does ecology interact with evolution, and how will this impact the communities we observe.  Last, but not least, a recent paper by the all time ecology love of my life, Meridith Bartley was recently published in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy.  Her paper, Effects of salinity on growth and lipid accumulation of biofuel microalga Nannochloropsis salina and invading organisms, attempts to improve efficiency of production for the marine algae used in many algae biofuels operations.  Again, her study is unique because it takes an ecological perspective on the problem by incorporating competition and predation from invading organism.  Okay, end shameless plugging of my friends.  

Last Word:  I'm always finding that non-science focused things make me think of science.  That's probably because I spend so much of my day thinking about science related issues, but it's still fun to find connections.  No matter if you are biking to school, fixing your dinner, or making new friends, all roads can lead to science eventually.  I just love that.

What do you think?  Do you see connections between outside events and your field of study?  Where do you get your news?  Internet, print, podcast?  Do you have any cool science news to share?     

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In My Pack: (3 Month) Summer European Adventures

I'm just one sleep from waving farewell to Louisville at the bus station and starting my long journey to get to my long journey. For anyone just now tuning in, I am spending 90 days traveling around different European countries by myself. I have a very, very basic itinerary, a Euro Railpass, and whatever fits into my backpacker's pack. During my three months traveling around Europe I'll need a variety of clothing options. Chilly days are still a threat even in the middle of summer.

Flight between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
That may or may not be ketchup wrapped in plastic for my
scared vegetarian in Africa ways. 
The closest I've come to needing to prepare for a trip of this magnitude was my month adventure around South Africa in 2008. I spent 4 weeks split between road tripping along the Garden Route and studying abroad with a group from my university, learning about local Wildlife Management practices.

Last summer, Rachel and I had the luxury of an entire car's worth of space to cram in everything we could possibly hope to never need and then some. We had an entire bin full of our clothes. Another, even larger, with nearly all the food we'd eat the entire trip. Thanks, Sam's Club! Not to mention, camping gear, computers, our letter writing box, gifts we bought along the way, etc. I honestly think at one point we just walked around my house in New Mexico grabbing whatever we wanted to toss in. SO MUCH SPACE!

Both trips, I surely over packed, but we went everywhere by rental car or vans, so I didn't really have to lug everything around regularly. For this trip everything needs to fit onto my Gregory backpack. I'm unfortunately not sure of the model or even size. I bought it a few years ago at a local shop's sale and did very little research (other than asking the sales man which fit me best). I've used it a few times and had no complaints.

I'll have to report back at the end of my trip on the quality of my packing choices, so by no means is this current list a recommendation of any sorts. I did however check out several other travel bloggers for inspiration: Her Packing List, A Dangerous Business, Travel Fashion Girl. Luckily, since I am so used to packing for research/camping related trips, I am not disappointed by the lack of space for super cute clothes.

Without much further adieu, here is what is coming with me in my Gregory backpack for three months and an unknown number of countries across Europe!

I've already removed a pair of shorts from this original
selection. What else won't make the cut?
  • 2 bras - black/nude
  • 1 sports bra
  • 6 undies
  • 2 pairs wool socks
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair zip-off hiking pants
  • 3 shorts (1 for sleeping & hiking)
  • 5 tshirts (+3 for passing out to Gold Star Hosts)
  • 1 tanktop
  • 1 button up flannel (my token Adventure Shirt!)
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 handkerchief
  • 1 leggings
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 monokini
  • 1 dress
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 pair base layers - leggings and undershirt
  • 1 pair gloves and warm hat
  • hiking shoes
  • chacos
  • I told myself that makeup was the last thing to go into my
    toiletries bag IF there was room. There was! This is all I'm taking.
    Already don't wear makeup daily, but I like options.
  • extra shoe laces
Gear  (Bold Kept in Day Pack)
  • ipad (and keyboard)
  • camera
  • water purifier
  • chargers
  • dry sack
  • compression sacks
  • camping stove
  • mess kit (full or 1/2?)
  • pen & sharpie
  • money belt (mostly for organization)
  • wallet
  • nalgene, insert, and cover
  • travel tea things
  • sleeping bag
  • tent (backpacking style)
  • sleeping pad?
  • travel towel
  • head lamps
  • sun glasses
  • deck of cards
  • lock
  • leatherman
  • REI green day sack
  • First Aid Kit
  • Nifty Business Cards
  • Plug adapter
  • French and German phrasebooks 
  • headphones
This is slightly smaller than a TicTac box.
All my hair do-dads. Hair ties, bobby pins, and 2 clips.
  • toothbrush
  • Dr. Bronners
  • diva cup
  • razor? 
  • make up
  • hair things
  • wet wipes
  • mini hair brush
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Contacts and solution
  • Glasses and case
Important Papers - and copies of all!
  • passport
  • flight itinerary
  • bank statement
  • travel insurance papers
  • Railpass 
  • SCUBA cert papers
  • Kentucky for Kentucky and WHY Louisville Stickers (also for Gold Star Hosts/New Friends)

My two bags all ready to go!
The entire time I was organizing and making/moving piles around in my room it seemed like I was packing SO MUCH. But now that I've gotten everything in my big pack and day pack, I have extra space in both! And it'll lighten as I use things and give away a few shirts. I consulted a few trusted friends and you'll notice that several item did NOT make the final cut. Others I just added moments ago. 

I'm also bringing the book I'm nearly finished with, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, on the bus so I can get that finished and sent off to Rachel. We started it together last summer during our travels and I've been hogging it! Also an extra envelope and some paper because I owe a letter to one of my pen pals (and previous CouchSurfing host!).

Question of the Day:
What do you think of my packing job? Should I chuck anything out? Did I forget anything? You've got 2 days!

As a sidenote, the majority of my future blog posts will be typed/posted from my iPad. The blogging app has improved lots, but still doesn't lend itself for much in the way of photo arrangement. I'm also not sure if there's a spell check. I'm secretly a horrid speller. Hope you can excuse some less than perfect posts. I'll be going back and prettying them up as I am able. I appreciate you, gentle reader!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Low Impact Travel: Snow Mt. Wilderness

Preamble: I feel some of these "Low Impact Travel" posts are going to get a little repetitive in their environmental action content.  Unless I have a striking new tip or experience, I'll just include ways I generally lower my impact into the narrative and sum up at the end.  As I do more different kinds of travel this summer (travel for conferences, going home to Kentucky, or driving for work) I'll write more posts with more specific tips.  As suggested in the comments, I'll bold some of the basic tips/suggestions throughout the post.


I wrote on Wednesday that I needed to re-up my commitment to make time for nature before the month ended and I inadvertently killed my 2013 streak of monthly nature outings.  In the middle of writing that post, I sent an email out to a group of my friends about organizing a hiking trip or adventuring some other adventure.  I got a reply from two of these pals about a potential camping trip already in the works with a few mutual friends.  I'm super duper shy and was a little nervous about spending the weekend with numerous people I don't consistently spend time with (but I did know almost all of them...super duper shy).  But, my friend A (who I went to the snow with) and another friend J were going to be there, and honestly I knew everyone else going was fun and nice, so I decided to get over my irrational reservations and do what I wanted to do:  go camping!

The other nice thing about tagging along on someone else's adventure is that I had to do very little planning.  The ring leader of the operation, M, had us all over to her house for dinner on Friday night where she made us delicious food and we worked out the details.  A had already picked out a great spot, the Snow Mountain Wilderness in the Mendocino National Forest.  I do my work along the coast in salt marshes, where there aren't really any trees and even less mountain action, so I love exploring in areas like this.  There were nine of us leaving together on Saturday morning and planning to return early Sunday evening, with another person meeting us up later on Saturday night.  So, we split up meal/beer duties and decided that we only needed two cars.  Everyone would sit close, but we would use way less gas, which, in a group of ecologists, is a prime concern.

I headed from the lovely dinner straight to the Co-op to get food for my meal, Saturday dinner.  I was going to make burritos with guacamole and my dinner counterpart planned to make roasted vegetable packs to put in the burritos or eat on the side.  I got my supplies and went home with the best of intentions intentions to make everything for my food contribution that night.  Instead, I went to my room and set my alarm for early...I'd do all that stuff in the morning.  We were planning to leave at 8am, and I didn't roll out of bed till 7:20.  I hadn't packed a single thing.  Oops.  Lucky for me I keep most of my camping gear in a single location and this was only an overnight trip.  I quickly threw all my stuff together in my backpack, went downstairs and threw all my food in a bag.  No coffee yet, ugh, but I rolled up to M's house only 15ish minutes late, just as everyone was bringing their stuff outside to pack in the cars.  Perfect timing actually.  And M had coffee.  A good woman.

We blew a tire on the way to the campsite,
but with our powers combined overcame
We piled into the two cars and began our caravan out to the Ranger's Station closest to our end destination.   Meridith wrote last summer about how we love to talk to park rangers and get their recommendation on what to do in the area.  We planned to ask this ranger where she thought we should camp, and we needed to get a campfire permit.  I actually didn't know that, in CA, when you are camping outside of designated camp grounds you must have a campfire permit to start a fire or use a camp stove.  It's a cool practice because they go through a bit of basic fire safety with you and make you state (cross your heart) that you will abide by certain cations to minimize fire risk.  If we want to keep enjoying the wilderness, we need to make sure and follow the rules.  Fire permit in hand, we headed to the recommended Summit Springs Trailhead.  Along the way we drove through the remnants of a forest fire, which A (a forest ecologist who studies fire!) told me happened in 2009.  We pitched our tents at the informal site along a flat about a quarter mile short of the trailhead.

The light green looking clearing in the center is a
serpentine outcrop
After an awesome lunch, we headed to the trailhead around 2:45 for a 4 hour hike about the wilderness.  We saw tons of really cool native flora and some awesome vistas.  One set of really cool ecological features we saw were the serpentine outcropings.  These unique geologic formations result in the very unique serpentine soils.  These soils are the result of the erosion of metamorphic rocks which contain high levels of iron and magnesium.  Due in part to the unique mineralogy of these rocks (and in part to some other ecological characteristics about which I am certainly not an expert), this soil has very characteristic properties and supports a specific group of native plants.  The really cool thing about serpentine outcrops is that they represent small discreet patches of habitat for theses specialized communities.  As a result, these soils and their associated flora and fauna have been used to study many ecological theories (island biogeography, meta-population structure, meta-community theory, just to name a few).  Plus, these are just really pretty rocks.

Forest Frisbee
Old Forest Fire
We arrived at an open glade around 5:00 pm, and everyone was pretty ready to turn around and head back for dinner prep before we lost the light.  A little game of frisbee broke out, and a few of us wandered a little past the open area, and around a meadow to attempt to get another good view.  Meadows are really cool ecosystems as well.  A lot like wetlands, they are periodically wet and walking through them can cause subtle changes in elevation, which alter hydrology and can impact the native species.  Public service announcement:  when you are hiking, always walk around a meadow.  We found our final view, which was a great glimpse of the valley and part of the Coast Range, and we also passed through another, older (according to A) forest fire.  Seeing all the burned trees standing there, stark white, with little saplings popping up underneath was really cool and moving for me.  Seeing the natural cycles of nature, and feeling like I understand even a small part of what is going on is humbling and exciting.  We headed back to camp, made an epic dinner, had an killer bonfire, drank some adult beverages, and ate (at least I did) one too many s'mores.  As the night wound down, we dowsed our fire with a substantial amount of water, stirred the embers, and headed to bed.

Informative Sign
The next morning after breakfast, we packed up our camp and headed back down the road.  We wanted to get another short hike in, but weren't sure where we wanted to go.  One of our party had a really poor night's sleep and another had long standing knee issues.  After a full day of hiking the day before, we were looking for something low key.  Luckily, on the way out, we passed a sign for Letts Lake.  We snacked by the shore then took a short, hour long hike all the way around the shores of the lake.  I, naturally, poked all around at the edge of the water and took a picture of the lake from every angle.  I love ecology in general, but when you add water to it, I'm in my element.  I saw some cool dragonfly exuvia on the emergent vegetation and a pretty interesting informative sign.  I wish there had been a little more information as I could infer a lot from this sign, but I think the general public would have been interested in a  bit more information.
Letts Lake
And that was that.  Adventure success.  And, despite my initial shy-girl reservations, I had a great time with this group of people and think I will hang with them again in the future.  It's hard for me, but I always feel so great after making new connections or expanding on ones that are already in place.  I'm excited to see what will happen in June as that will be the half way point for this new year's resolution.

Last Word:  After feeling sort of despondent after a few weeks of pretty intense work, getting out into nature totally recharged my batteries.  As usual when traveling, I tried to make sure we took as few cars as possible.  We brought and cooked almost all our own food (we stopped at a little Mexican joint on the way back out of the woods) and were careful to LNT (leave no trace) when we packed up our campsite.  We also were very careful about our use of fire in the woods and made sure to get the proper permits.  I also took lots of pictures and made sure to get thoroughly wow-ed by the natural splendor of the area.  A very successful trip indeed.      

This is me, glorying.
What do you think?  Do you get nervous going on trips with people who you don't know super well?  What are some of the best nature facts you've learned on the trail?  Any awesome "wow, this is beautiful and makes me feel small, which is AWESOME!" moments to share?   

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cool Stuff Sunday 8

Really cool week, so some really Cool Stuff to share with everyone! I've got another wide range of articles and videos for everyone. One article was actually sent to me by a friend who knew I loved these types of reads and shared them with everyone. Thanks! Everyone is encouraged to send submissions for Cool Stuff Sundays!! Doesn't even have to be something you think would specifically interest me, if you think it's Cool Stuff, then it is!

Unknown mathematician (Yitang Zhang) published paper that takes us
leaps forwards in understanding twin prime conjectures

(Thanks, Mike for sharing this one!)

I'm also very VERY excited to share with everyone a recent publication from an
 Ecology friend of mine, Colin  Kremer. We studied together in 2007 at
Kellogg Biological Station, where he has since continued as a PhD student.
His paper: Coexistence in a variable environment: Eco-evolutionary perspectives.

Usually I have Stuff that primarily relates to STEM fields of interest, however this Cool Stuff is a
 book recently published by an old college friend. I remember being in awe of his poetry at slams
 and can attest to his talent and voice. 

Filmmaker, Samuel Orr, has been working on a one hour documentary on Cicadas 
since 2007, and now has a Kickstarter to help with funding. I really hope you 
check out this moving video and consider donating to his cause!

Credit: ACS Nano
RNA laced bandages could treat wounds on the genetic level. What?!

Question of the Day:
What topics interest you? What would you post in your own CSS section?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Won't Miss You and I'm Fine With That

I always get very anxious right before a big trip. Lately, (read: since graduating from NMSU with my master's and becoming a happy basement bum at my parent's house) I haven't had any stress in my life and I generally try to not be one to borrow trouble. But something about the few days prior to leaving on a major journey really winds me up. 

The excitement of everything to come. 

The concern that I'll forget something. 

The fear that I'll make a huge mistake and ruin part or all of my trip. 

The pressure of packing, moreso for this trip than any other. 

I thought I'd lost my beloved Nalgene bottle and carrier the other day. Assumed I'd left it somewhere and it wasn't there! Made me abnormally anxious. I got that bottle and carrier from my friend Cabrina when we graduated together at WKU. She knows I'm not capable of drinking from a wide mouth one, so she got me the narrow mouth. I started texting different people asking if I had left it in various places. No luck. 

Of course it was just in my car. In the back seat instead of the front. 

How embarrassing (yet relieving)! 

But even with all of that going on, I cannot properly express my excitement for this trip. I am often asked if I am scared. Fear is not what I'm feeling. I will learn so much about myself and the world. I will be careful and safe, yet open to so many possibilities. Usually people would tell their friends and family "I will miss you." But for some reason that phrase just doesn't sit well with me. It doesn't reflect the excitement and positivity involved and is really more sad than anything. Perhaps that sentiment is better suited for when someone or something is truly gone. I'll be so connected via the marvels of technology that I won't actually be removed from everyone's lives. And then I'll be back in a few short months. I've given some thought on a more adequate parting phrase. Right now I am really digging "I will be happy to see you".  Just as short and sweet, but, to me, conveys more excitement. 

Of course, when you aren't sure about how to say something with words, music will be glad to help. Been a while since one of my super hip 8tracks mixes, but here's one for those of us that will be happy to see each other again in the Fall. 

Question of the Day:
How do you feel before a big event? Excite like Christmas Eve or nervous like meeting your girlfriend's angry dad?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eco-Inspiration 7: Making Time

Echo Lake Snowshoeing Weekend, Feb. 2013
Don't worry, this post isn't just complaining about being busy, there is totally a point!  But, these past two weeks have been tough for me.  One of the hardest parts of graduate school (in my own opinion, and I think others would agree) is applying for grants.  Grant writing is an art.  You have to propose enough work that it sounds like you will get interesting results, but you can't propose so much that the granting agency knows you will never be able to accomplish your stated objectives.  Then, after you figure out the question you want to ask and how you want to address it, you have to tell the reviewers a nice story. 

The usual. Eva' day.
This is what science is all about really, and I don't think many people realize it.  Just like in many other fields, at the end of the day, I'm a story teller.  Sure, I support the details of my story with data and I do my very best to remain objective, but unless I can convey why my work matters and how it fits into our current understanding of things, I'm basically wasting my time.  Because, you know, lab and field equipment don't grown on trees and I need someone to pay for this stuff.  True story, I'm not independently wealthy.  But, I digress. As the summer (and the field season) roll in, I've been putting all my creative efforts into writing grants and developing project that could eventually end up as chapters of my dissertation.  The result of this, however, is me sitting at my desk for hours and hours each day reading, writing, drinking coffee, and repeating.  

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally academically stimulated (and slowly becoming some sort of zombie creature), but this time last year I was finishing up my MS and getting ready to head out on an epic summer road trip!  In fact, my partner in crime from last summer, Meridith, is heading out again in just a few days.  This summer, she's solo traveling around Europe for three months.  Can I just say how insanely jealous I am and how all of you should read her blog because she is beautiful, brilliant, and hilarious!  At the same time, my little sister (who just graduated with a BS in Biology!) is about to head off on a two month adventure to hike the Appalachian Trail.  Jealous again.  Jealous, jealous, jealous!  So, after stewing in this little pot of extreme stress (looming grant deadline) and mild (or less than mild...) travel envy for a few days, I realized what the heck my problem was.  

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry

Rocky Mt. NP, Summer 2012
I know I said this previously, during my very first eco-inspiration piece, but I think that it could stand some repeating:  It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it (thanks Edward Abby!).  So, as part of my New Year's Resolution to "be a better person," I decided to commit to making time for nature each and every month.  And so far in 2013, I have totally succeeded.  In January, all of my college roommates were visiting me and we went on a pretty amazing hike near Auburn, CA.  In February I went to the snow.  Over Easter weekend in March, D Lo and I took his cousin on an overnight camping trip in the Cache Creek Wilderness.  And in April I went on an amazing hike with my Conservation Ecology class along Oat Hill Mine trails near Calistoga, CA (nerdy ecologists+volcanic pinnacles+endemic plants=great times!), and then the next day I ran my sprint-triathlon along the shores of Lake Berryessa.  
Auburn Recreation Area, Jan. 2013

Oat Hill Mine Trail, April 2013
So why have I been feeling so mopey lately?  Well, I think it's because it's been over a month from my last outdoor adventure.  I agree with Wendell Berry wholeheartedly.  I find peace among wild things, and when I'm stressed, I don't make space for things that bring me peace.  Silly really.  

So, I just emailed a bunch of my lady-ecologist gal pals and tried to find a hiking buddy or two for this weekend.  If no one can come, I'll go on my own.  Life gets busy, and I feel that after starting this program, it has become even more so.  I can only imagine what it will be like when I graduate an get a real job.  For this reason, I think it's really important for all of us to actively choose to make time for things that we enjoy.  And making time to be in nature will only strengthen your resolve to do right by this planet we are so fortunate to live on.  

Cache Creek Wilderness, March 2013
Last Word:  Finding a work-life balance is very difficult, and probably a life long learning process.  I'm re-resolved to make time for the things that I care for.  Especially being outside.  OH, and less you think I'm a huge jealous jerk, let me plug Meridith's blog yet again (  She is an amazing writer, and if you go back to some previous posts you can read her take on some of our adventures last summer.  She might also be writing a guest post for this blog while overseas... stay tuned.  

What do you think?  What things do you make time for that bring you peace and fulfillment?  Do you schedule in your "nature" time?  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cool Stuff Sunday 7

Everyone's favorite Sunday smashup of cool and informative news and videos around the web is finally back for week 7! I tried to cover all pertinent topics: space, science, mathematics, travel, as well as a very inspirational video from a fab Woman in Science, Mayim Bialik.

I haven't forgotten about the HI-SEAS mission. It's well underway!

Col. Christ Hadfield is currently back on Earth following Command of Expedition 35 aboard the International Space Station. This was his last video before departing. Space. Baller.

Say what you will about Big Bang Theory as a show, this woman is inspirational and hilarious.

A 2010 study published online suggests that gentle electric shocks to the brain can improve mathematic skills.

I recently came across a new (old) concept that I must try while traveling around Europe. Sharing home-cooked meals should appeal to everyone!

I originally heard Abraham Verghese talking about this TED talk on NPR. Immediately looked up the full talk when I got home. So interesting and, if you'll excuse the obvious wording, touching.

Question of the Day:
What dish would you cook for others if you were hosting a home-cooked meal?

Edit: May 20, 2013 - It was pointed out to me that the article about electric shocks to the brain was published in 2010. Not quite recent, but still fascinating!

Friday, May 17, 2013

How to Minimize Their Worries

Tell friends and family you're planning on traveling around Europe for three months and you will likely elicit several "are you insane"s, a handful of "please don't die"s, and hopefully a few "oh wow, may I come along"s. People are going to worry. It's unavoidable, and while there's nothing you can do to stop it entirely (hey, people care about you, deal with it) you can minimize their concerns by being a conscientious and prepared traveler.

Share Your Travel Itinerary

Whether you prefer to meticulously plan your trip, or keep things flexible as you go, it is still beneficial to keep track of several vital details concerning your adventures. I have found that a Google Drive excel document is a great way to organize your thoughts and plans, as well as an easy way to share them with friends and family. You have the option of allowing for editing or just viewing privileges. When Rachel and I planned our 2012 National Park Road Trip, we had to communicate from different states and while on very different schedules. We could work on the same file independently or together as we found time.
My shared Travel Itinerary. Other tabs in file include Budget and Packing List.

Have Some Travel Experience

While this summer will be my first solo traveler experience, I have been around the global block a time or two. I would not feel comfortable going on this trip alone had I not spent years learning how to be a responsible world traveler during trips to Spain, Greece, Italy, South Africa, and Thailand. During my 2013 summer travels I hope to stay in hostels, CouchSurf, and do a little camping along the way, all of which I have used before as primary means of lodging. I made sure to update my CouchSurfing profile, and thanks to spending time as a host, I have several recommendations from surfers and fellow travelers.

I don't want to discourage anyone from going for their ideal vacation or any wild, exotic adventures.  Dream big. So big. But once you have your own grandiose plans for world domina...err, travels, then don't be afraid to build up to them. Or at least find a partner-in-crime whose experience you trust. 

What you want is a genuine comfort with both how your travels should go and, perhaps more importantly, could go. The best you can do is to show others and yourself that you can hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Reconnect with Friends Abroad 

Part of my initial comfort with this three month long trek around Europe was the offer from a dear friend to let me crash at his flat in London whenever I needed. He became my safety net during early planning along with a built-in companion for several outings. My friend has since moved back state-side, but your safety net may still be living abroad studying, traveling, volunteering, turning in their dang work visa forms on time. Don't be afraid to dig down deep in your friend/acquaintance reserves, especially if they are also away from home. I messaged friends I'd studied with at different internships, friends who had lived in New Mexico, even an old high school friend who has been studying/living in France! She had lots of great advice to share. Don't underestimate how refreshing even a little bit of familiarity can be when away from home for long stretches of time.
Wild tree critters in Redwoods National Park.

Don't know anyone abroad yet? Now is the time to start looking for extra special guest stars for your adventures. I admittedly dropped the blog updating ball last summer, so you didn't get to hear about Rachel's and my visit from our friend Chelsea for a short leg of our road trip (Portland to San Francisco)! It was a real test to rearrange our mound of luggage in my car to leave a nook for our third party member, but Chelsea brought a freshness to our adventures (as well as lots of great rock tidbits). This summer, Chelsea has agreed to fly out and meet up with me in July! We're hoping to meet up in Vienna and make our way to Prague. We've known each other for years (and years and years) and when we were wee little Chelsea and Meridith, trying to coerce my parents into letting me go places/do things with the reassurance that "It's ok, Chelsea's parents are letting her go" was a bit more difficult. Now, instead of fearing I'll lemming my way off a bridge after her, they will rest assured (for at least a week of my journey) that I have another smart young woman to travel with.

Check in Occasionally

We all hopefully learned this lesson in high school right after finally getting that drivers license freedom we'd been craving. If Mom wants you to call and check in if plans change, then you had better do that. I don't know how my mother could ground me at the age of 26 from a continent away, but I know she has ways and I still fea...respect her enough to not cause her and the rest of my friends and family any unneeded, additional stress. Skype, iMessage, FaceTime, and even mail (e- OR snail) are all glorious modern marvels that can help facilitate communication provided you have WiFi (or postage stamps and patience).

Your parents (and/or other older relatives) don't know how to video chat? Sit down with them before you leave and help then set up an account and do a few trail chats. You do not want to try and walk them trough the process from abroad in the middle of a hostel common room. I plan on bringing my iPad along with me as my main means of communication and interneting, but if you don't want to drag along any extra technology in your pack try and find hostels/hotels that offer internet access or even politely ask your CouchSurfing host if they'd mind if you sent a few email updates or tweets to reassure those waiting to hear from you back home that you've lived to see another magnificent day.

Travel Insurance

I was admittedly on the fence about this purchase at first. Mostly because obviously nothing could possibly go wrong with my trip, right? A little bit of research and talking with other travelers led me to the decently priced World Nomads travel insurance. For three months of coverage I paid less than $200! As a general disclaimer, this choice may not be for you. Be sure and do your own research that incorporates your own destination(s) and planned activities. Don't forget to print out pertinante insurance information and keep it on your person while traveling!

Restart Your Blog!

A great communication tool, but also a challenge to keep up with, blogs can be a great way to share your adventures and lessons with readers at home (or elsewhere abroad). I admittedly do not have the most solid of track records with keeping up with this blog, but I'm trying and therefore nobody can criticize me. If blogging isn't for you, there's a myriad of social media outlets you can use to update everyone. Twitter. Tumblr. Instagram. Youtube. Facebook. Get creative! Of course, you do want to find a nice balance so you can experience everything and everyone around you.

Question of the Day:
How do you keep in touch with friends and family when living or traveling apart from them?

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