Wednesday, August 29, 2007
September song bump
I started compiling a list of songs about September a couple of years ago but never finished it. I just added some video links to it: September songs
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
A day in the life of a botanist
6:00 am. Drag self out of bed, shower, dress in fancy quick-drying REI hiking pants with zip-off legs and velcro cuffs and a brightly colored t-shirt (so am not mistaken for deer). Pack truck with half the contents of my house, including camping gear, cooler of ice, enough food for several days (bagels, granola, Little Debbies), water, lantern, ziplock bags, clippers, laptop, GPS, various chargers. After crucial stop at Starbucks, husband and I are on the road.
9:00 am. Stop for gas and very important Donettes for me and Combos (new flavor - salsa and corn tortilla; v. disappointing) for him. Central Illinois is not very interesting.
12:00 pm. Arrive in the general region of the field site in the Shawnee National Forest. Miss turn because road is unmarked. Drive a ways on rugged, steep, gravelly, one-lane road with trees or sharp drop-offs on either side. Pray to traffic gods that we don't encounter oncoming cars.
12:30 pm. Based on topo maps and google earth printouts, are not exactly lost, just don't know where we are. Husband asks wary backwoods resident for directions. Man miraculously knows the way (probably has hunted at field site, I would guess).
1:00 pm. Park the truck on a grassy shoulder, put on hiking boots, douse with deet. Hike along the forest service road, which is too washed out even for the truck. Use topo map to navigate. Lovely area, first pine then post oak/blackjack oak, with maple/beech on lower sites. Stop to admire a turtle on the trail. Wince at horseflies zooming past our faces (they aren't bothering us and clearly have important things to do). The trail ends and we head down into the hollow, which was supposed to be a marvel of waterfalls but during this drought is completely dry. Quickly learn to wave in front of us with sticks because spiderwebs are abundant. The hollow meets a second hollow at right angles; this second hollow is our destination. Now, we hunt for basswood trees. Supposedly this is one of the few places in Illinois where white basswood can be found. We find one right away but it's not healthy, and over the next couple of hours we find no more than eight more trees, none of them very green, all of them very bug-eaten and hosting some bug that folds one side of every leaf over like a taco. Some trees are too tall to sample, none are visibly reproductive, and only three are attractive enough to make herbarium sheets out of. We clamber up and down steep terrain, step on treacherous rotted logs, admire butterflies and fish and frogs, and battle spiderwebs. I gaze fondly at some massive beeches and curse several mulberries for looking like basswood. Finally I'm convinced we've found all the basswoods, or at least have found enough, and we begin the exhausting hike up the hill and back to the truck. The water runs out well before we get there.
3:30 pm. At the truck, remove most of our clothes there on the roadside, not much caring if someone comes along, and discover lots and lots of ticks. Get horribly creeped out. Remove ticks and change clothes. Are terribly sweaty and very very tired. Drink a bunch of water. Stash ticky clothes and shoes in bags, hope truck doesn't get infested.
4:00 pm. Return to civilization and have first meal of the day at a state park lodge nearby. Luxuriate in soap and running water in lodge restroom.
5:30 pm. Set up camp, eat Little Debbies. Read (me) and play on computer (him). Swat at bugs.
8:00 pm. Sunset. Climb into hot tent to read because lantern outdoors will attract bugs.
11:00 pm. Wake up freezing. Add more covers.
Next day: Six-hour drive home.
Now doesn't botany sound like fun??
Summer field season wrap-up
Total miles driven: 4800
States visited: 13
Spending on gas: ~$800
Spending on lodging: ~$400
Nights in hotels: 4
DNA samples collected (Tilia): 145
DNA samples collected (other genera): 7
Species of Tilia collected: 23
Natural populations sampled: 10
Gardens and arboreta visited: 4
Mosquito bites: dozens
Tick bites: dozens
Hardee's cheeseburgers eaten: 3
Iced coffees consumed: 5
Scary storms driven through: 2
Populations to be sampled next summer: around 20
Monday, August 27, 2007
Worst Colleges in America
Worst colleges in America
The best part: examples of classes you could take at these fine institutions. At Cornell: Post-National Gastroidentities. "We will attempt to answer the question of how food, cuisine, and gastronomy play an important part both in the strategies to instrument normalcy through the imagination of the modern Nation-State, and the ways in which discourses affirming nation, race, ethnicity, hospitality, and the universality of humanity interact with each other fragmenting the national gastronomic field and undermining the unpolluted self-understanding of the modern Nation-State."
Man, you just can't make that stuff up.
Okay, I'm back.
After several months of utter self-involvement highlighted by a one-two-three punch of painful loss, unrelenting stress, and painful loss, I am shaking off the last few months and reemerging. I am tired of being sad, tired of hating my life, tired of questioning all the decisions that set me on this course. The start of a new school year is like New Years for me, time to make resolutions, buy snazzy school supplies and new jeans, and feel that sense of renewal, of starting over with a clean slate.
I acknowledge the unhappiness and stress of the past year or so, so I can file them away and move on. Last summer, both dogs were desperately ill and we seemed to be spending every minute caring for them. I only took short daytrips to do collecting, and I badly neglected my lab work. Jazzy's recovery took a long time, well into fall. At Thanksgiving, I lost an uncle to cancer. In early December, it was time for Libby's risky throat surgery, and shortly afterward I learned that I needed to entirely change my dissertation project, and 2 1/2 years of work had led me nowhere useful. I was ready to give up on school, cut my losses and get out, but Jazzy's cancer diagnosis just after Christmas and Libby's recovery distracted me. Then after we lost Jazzy, I managed to formulate a new project, show it to my committee, and gain their approval. The frantic lab work began in which I attempted to prove the project could be done. I wrote the proposal and began studying nonstop for my preliminary exam, gazing gloomily out the window at the cool summer days and then turning back to my pdfs, Libby curled up on the pillow near my feet. The prelim came and went, I passed, and I put the whole event out of my mind entirely; now that I had committed to doing this project, I didn't want to do it anymore. But no rest for the weary, and I headed out for field work, spending many lonely and hot days on the road, seeing some interesting places and many more boring places. Libby declined rather quickly in August, and after an early-morning phone call I drove home as fast as I could, but she was gone before I got there.
Suddenly everything is different. I've been accepted to candidacy and there's nothing left to do but the project, I'm back among my friends at school, everything's fine with the house, Mark is happy with his job, and my babydogs are beyond my need to worry about them. I feel like I've put a difficult phase to rest and am embarking on a new one. I'm feeling good about it so far.
Monday, August 20, 2007
I can't write another one of these so soon. We lost our Libbygirl on the morning of August 16. Our hearts are broken, the food dish is empty, the house is silent.
We miss our little marshmallow dog so much.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Where religion and my dissertation collide
"Four stately lime trees ceremoniously planted near a popular Roman Catholic shrine in 1983 for a visit to Austria by the late Pope John Paul II are being uprooted to make way for a large grandstand for next month's pilgrimage by Pope Benedict XVI." -Chicago Tribune, 14 August 2007
(Lime is the common name for various species of European Tilia).
Monday, August 13, 2007
I've been noticing that of all the various webpages and blog entries I have, the one that gets the most hits is the one with the classic Chicago commercials. I was inspired to update the entry today and add some video links. The new and improved list is here:
Classic Chicago commercials
Thursday, August 09, 2007
I'm not ready for this
Please think positive thoughts about our baby girl. She needs them right now. Or maybe it's me who needs them.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Better living through chemistry
Did Barry Bonds take illegal performance-enhancing drugs? Of course he did. Was he an MVP player before he started to bulk up? Well, yeah, which makes me wonder what prompted him to go after Aaron's record with such single-minded purpose. If you're willing to sacrifice your body and your reputation, you too can achieve ultimate success in one narrow part of your job!
The most entertaining part has been noting how many people out there cannot spell "asterisk". It's asterISK, guys, not asterick.
Please retire, Barry, so we can stop having to hear that squeaky voice coming out of that giant head, and A-Rod or Junior can break your record*.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Home again, home again, jiggity jig
Another week on the road has ended. Not the most productive week I've ever had. In fact, I'm going to just sit in this chair and contact people until I'm absolutely positive where the trees will be because I am SICK of driving around trying to find them.
We did a whirlwind tour of the monuments of DC. Seriously, we zoomed into town, parked at a meter, walked around for two hours taking pictures, ate popsicles, got back in the car, and zoomed away. It was freakin' HOT there, 98 degrees on the freeway and probably more on the Mall. The most popular spot was a gnarled tree just west of the Washington monument, offering the only bit of shade for quite a ways. We saw the Korean and Vietnam war memorials. At the Vietnam memorial, I overheard this from a kid: "Wow, there must be a thousand names! Well, maybe not a thousand. Maybe two hundred."
I adore the Lincoln memorial. Being an Illinoisan, I feel some possessiveness toward him, and visiting the memorial is like a pilgrimage of sorts. We walked into the cool interior and were suddenly surrounded by a reverent hush, and the inscription is about as powerful as the English language can convey. "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever." I bought a book after I got home, a biography that concentrates on the role that depression played in his life and accomplishments. (At the bookstore, an employee was helping a middle-aged woman find a book for her daughter, who was in her thirties and "didn't pay much attention in school" and now needed to brush up on her presidential history. She shot down several of the employee's suggestions because "She won't want to do all that reading, you know what I mean?" The employee politely suggested looking in the children's section, and the woman was grateful and scurried off to find an informative book that wouldn't be so crammed full of, you know, words.)
I keep waking up in the middle of the night, not knowing where I am and thinking I'm still on the road. Last night I awoke to the sound of rain, and lay in bed trying to figure out why I was lying on the ground in the woods but not getting wet. Then I wondered why the tent wasn't up and who was lying next to me. I was pretty sure I was in Maryland but had no memory of stopping for the night. This crap is starting to scare me and I really hope it stops soon.
Libby continues to eat badly and is still so thin. I'm very worried. Also, she's developing a separation anxiety and is destroying things in her room during the day. This doesn't make me any more willing to get back on the road; at least when I'm around, her time in the room is shorter, and of course she's happier when both parents are around.
I felt nauseous and out of sorts for much of the day, and finally just took a long nap. I hate naps, consider them the hallmark of the weak and lazy (despite various evidence that they're good for you, which I am skeptical of), but when I don't feel well, I give in. Now of course I'm not tired, but maybe if I read for a while...