Author Archive

Closing in on zero hour

I like these interesting titles. Maybe they’re the only parts of my posts that are interesting. At least that’s one thing though…
I’m working on my last and FINAL revision of the paper. Val sent me corrections yesterday, and MASSIVE reformatting of my results was in order, chopping down my page total from 25 to 22. Today I’m actually reading over everything again and revising though. I practiced my presentation with Val earlier too, with a grand total of 23 minutes as my speaking time. Not great. And I didn’t even point to my figures or pictures, which Val says I need to do. So I tried to cut out a few things, and I might have to trim my notes a bit, say less because after all, if it’s on the slide, people can read it, don’t NEED to hear it too.
After lunch today I went to the Gato Verde to take my turn bailing out the water from the port berth that it’s leaking into. I volunteered to do so because I felt I should, but I really was not happy about it at all. I don’t think most people take me too seriously about it, and I can’t even understand it myself, but I have a genuine anxiety about being on the boat. Sam came with me to help though, and beyond just pouring out the water when I passed the bucket up to her, she helped me A LOT because her presence was very reassuring and I needed that. It’s not a nice thing to have such a weakness that can make you feel so helpless.
I’m pretty sure my parents and brother have arrived in Seattle by now. They’re staying in Anacortes tonight, but they’re coming in on the 9:300 ferry tomorrow, and I will definitely be there to meet them when it arrives. Being apart from them for 10 weeks is one of…maybe the single most…difficult things I have ever done.
I can’t believe this is really it. I went through a lot of days when the program seemed like it would never end, but it is now almost here…and I’m almost kind of sad. Just walking to the dining hall for dinner earlier, I could see the sun set bathing the horizon in a flood of colors, and I thought EVERYTHING here is like a postcard. Beauty and just really amazing things everywhere. And then the people I’ve met here…after 10 weeks I’m really going to miss some of them. Sam and Ash are already set to visit me soon after the program, which I’m super-excited about. I hadn’t really thought about whether I’d keep in touch with other students from the program when I was applying, but I don’t think I could NOT do that now. While I am more than ready to be done with the research and the writing (which I have to go back to as soon as I finish this) there are a lot of things that will be hard to let go of. And even if no one else cares about anything that I’ve written in this blog because it’s not terribly exciting or germane to orcas or sustainability or general aspects of the program…it’s important to me because this will probably be my last blog, and I think it will be nice to be able to go back to read something like this.
Just got a phone call from my parents, they’re in Seattle now! 😀 And so life moves on.

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It's almost crunch time

I think the first time I ever heard the phrase “crunch time” was when I was working in a microbiology lab in high school for the Intel Science Talent Search contest. It was probably about a month before my final paper was due. This was also around the time that my mentor actually got serious about REALLY working with me. Anyway, different setting, different story, another lifetime.

I’ve been calculating and analyzing, and then recalculating and analyzing over and over, the data that I’ve gathered on vessel noise, both individual and cumulative, and the VaTorecordings of orca calls. I managed to localize 81 calls so those are what I’m using to calculate source levels, and I have 19 individual noise files, 11 cumulative vessel noise files. I’m hoping that these are acceptable sample sizes. Already I’ve gotten calculated numbers, some of which seem so implausible that I almost fell out of my chair when I saw what Excel was showing me, but having gone over my equations several times, it looks like they do in fact reflect the findings of my raw data. Whether or not everything is RIGHT is a whole other story. It’s funny, I used to think that the natural sciences were the only place where “right” and “truth” actually meant something, (because it’s all relative everywhere else), but I’m finding more and more that even in physics you’re not safe (of course I would never be safe in physics). For sound propagation to determine my SLs, I’m using the spreading experiment we did out on the boat a few weeks ago, which gave me what appeared to be a questionable number, but I’m no scientist, who am I to say what makes sense and what doesn’t here? Literally every paper I’ve read involving sound propagation uses a different model, whether theoretical, empirically derived, or computer-generated. So taking that into account, I suppose my method is as good as any other, especially over small distances (or so Val has reassured me).

So now another crazy thing came up today that seemed to throw everything out of wack for a little while, but now I’ve got everything under control. I think. It had to do with some long and rather complicated discussions I had with both Jason and Val regarding the frequency range I’d be looking at for my analysis. Back when I was doing sound spectra, I thought I’d limit myself to the call range of 1-10 kHZ, but now I’m not doing spectra anymore, and it would involve a lot of extra math if I were to zero in on that range for every one of the files I’m including in my data analysis. And also…I don’t like math very much. The most straightforward option that Val suggested was just using the numbers I’ve already calculated anyway, i.e. considering the entire broadband range from 0-25 kHz. So…how do I justify THAT? Read enough papers, as I well know, and you’re bound to find what you’re looking for. While calls are mostly in the 1-10 kHz range, the audiogram extends well beyond that, and the frequency at which hearing is most sensitive is actually 20 kHz (thanks Szymanski). And vessel noise, the really crucial variable in my project, that definitely goes way over 10 kHz, and even over the upper broadband range limit of 25 kHz. So I’ve decided that it makes perfect sense to work with the numbers I’ve already spent hours figuring out…and that is what I am going to do.

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Completed last week on the boat!

It is Monday of week 9 of the program, and I am still marveling over the fact that I was able to get through 4 full weeks on the Gato Verde. My last week did not start out well at all; Sunday night I suddenly started to feel very ill, and by Monday morning I had an unpleasantly high fever. I was pretty out of it for most of Monday, and Tuesday I was still recovering. Kind of unfortunate given that Monday and Tuesday were two particularly good orca days for the VaTo team, we not only got excellent recordings, but the whales swam very close to the boat, affording us excellent photo opportunities. Pretty much all that I really remember about it all was that Monday there were a lot of boats around, but I failed to get any good recordings because I was mostly sitting in the corner between the plastic rain covers and the helm, trying to keep warm and to be available if anyone needed an extra hand. That obviously went well; I couldn’t even help myself, let alone anyone else. Tuesday there were terrible weather forecasts so there were hardly any boats out at all, which was not so great for my data collection, but it was definitely cool to have the orcas a little more to ourselves. That bad weather forecast was completely unsubstantiated; we had gorgeous weather all week (well, as gorgeous as temperatures in the 50s could be), no winds at all, which was bad for sailing, but I absolutely could not have asked for a better week of weather. And really, it’s bad enough being sick while on a boat, how much worse it would have been if it were rainy and/or windy on top of that!
Beyond the lovely weather, the rest of the week in general was really excellent. Thursday we made for Port Angeles, which was pretty cool because we got to see another part of the state. The cafe with free wireless wasn’t a bad touch either. We were all kind of amused because when the connection was down, the barista had ME do the repair on the wireless modem box. But it was my day to be leader of the day, so it was only appropriate, right?
The next day we made for Race Rocks where we saw Steller and California sea lions. This is going to sound silly but looking at them all I could think of was those crazy sea lions in the old disney cartoons, bouncing beach balls off their noses. And the vocalizations they made were similar to the cartoon sea lion sounds too, them and Goofy. I don’t know, maybe I just watched way too many cartoons when I was little. It was really exciting a bit later in the day when we encountered a small group of humpback whales. Did THEY ever make strange sounds, they each have two blow holes (I wasn’t previously aware of this) and every time they surfaced their spouts just made the strangest noises. I thought it might be surface vocalization, but nope. My brother used to have a CD of the humpback song, but it’s been a long time since I heard it. So no data collection on Friday, but what an amazing marine mammal experience we all had.
Saturday was our last day with the orcas. And this time I was able to get boat noise recordings after all! There were maybe 15 boats around at any given time, so that was great for me, though I don’t think everyone else was so thrilled because of all the noise the boats created. Hey, fair is fair, I needed at least ONE day of boat noise data this week. Tim had several days of drive-bys from commercial whale-watching boats, and I was usually running around with the range-finder. At least my loud voice was helpful SOMEWHERE.
Finally, beyond data collection and pleasant weather, I think this was the VaTo team’s best week in terms of the group dynamics as well. We had decided to start this new practice, leader of the day, and that really helped a lot I think. Also, this was out last week out after all, and especially for some of us we had to scramble to get the last of our data together (me!) I think my own attitude improved substantially as well, and that was directly dependent on the weather. I never realized how subject my mood was to the environmental conditions around me, perhaps because I’ve never been thrown into a setting before where those conditions were so in my face. Well, there ends for me what was without a doubt the hardest part of the Beam Reach program. Now data analysis and paper-writing? No problem! That’s the stuff that I live for 🙂

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Week 3 on the boat and evaluations: official, off the record, of the program and personal

I’m writing this blog entry on my laptop at 6:45 PM, planning to post it when I get back to land tomorrow, which I have to admit is an event I have been looking forward to almost ever since getting onto the boat last Sunday. This was a pretty terrible week for me. The weather has become much colder and the seas have been a lot rougher. We did a good deal of sailing, which got me feeling pretty sick a couple of times. Today was the wildest day but I was not as bad as I was yesterday, maybe because it wasn’t necessary to be outside as much. Yesterday I felt so terrible, both physically sick as well as emotionally shattered that I took Ash up on her advice and went to lie down for half an hour, something that I am usually very nervous and reluctant about doing. Today I took my turn at the helm for a while, during which time I peaked at about 8.4 knots and Todd announced that I had broken the record for electricity generation, at 10.1 amps, which made me feel somewhat better about my general ineptitude this week. I think I regressed in pretty much every way that I had started to improve during my second week, and the fourth week is looming in a very threatening way; Val, Scott and Todd keep warning us that these sorts of conditions will be typical, which scares me because I just cannot function well when the weather is like this, and as much as I try I feel so powerless and inadequate.
And we (especially I) really NEED the fourth boat week because in terms of data collection we’ve not done very well this week at all. I’d say that yesterday was really our one data-day of any real substance, when we were chasing whales literally from morning till night, with some great vocalization recordings and photographs to show for it. But for me personally this was almost a lost week; I got no boat noise recordings at all. I had been hoping to switch my focus from individual boats to cumulative vessel noise at this point but there were so few boats on the days that we deployed that it was pointless to do so. There were a couple of instances at which we had really loud tankers thousands of meters away, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to use those, but that wasn’t even what I was looking for. From another angle, let’s face it, as far as policy, it’s a pretty long shot that we could try to get tankers to install quieter engine technologies; I think they’re even exempt from some regulations. Of course the huge shipping industry and the industries that use them (like petroleum) gets off easy, money talks! But anyway, venting about environmental injustice aside, as I was saying, this was a lost data week for me. We did some sound propagation tests on Tuesday, but when I tried to use the files from the orange box, and then from the blue box, to come up with a transmission loss rate, the numbers were a mess. Val helped me see that if I looked at the second number and the last number, the rate was almost perfect, -19.2 (with the theoretical ideal of -20). But I quickly pointed out, those are just two points! That’s not reliable! And Val jokingly called me a pill and said I should be excited about it, but then later admitted that I was right, that if the points between caused problems the test would have to be redone. I mean, that’s something that CAN theoretically be left to the last week because it’s just one number and I can calculate the source level with a stand-in for now, but I’d just really like to know what the REAL source levels are! (Also, what if my retest still stinks? Then what?) My lack of patience and non-stop worrying clearly make me better-suited for policy rather than scientific research. On the bright side (a very small one) Sam has been able to localize some calls, and the calls from yesterday really seem like they’ll be localizable (not a word, I know), so I can at least start working on orca source power density levels this week. Val teased me with the glass half-empty, glass half-full cliché. I’m not usually such a pessimist, but in science I definitely am, and have been every other time that I’ve worked in science research. Another reason science is not the right field for me.
In other interesting news, we had Scott on the boat with us starting Wednesday, we skipped the whale museum talk on Wednesday in favor of dinner at FHL (which was really nice because we got 6 full hours on land and showers to boot), and this was our week of program/peer evaluations as well as our preliminary sailing assessments. Val had to leave yesterday for a personal engagement and Scott has been filling in for him. He brought the program evaluations aboard, and it was supposed to be anonymous but I handed mine in first, so my identity was hardly a secret. I just hope that my comments will be considered helpful and that nothing was taken offensively. My peer evaluations, as it turned out, I had to redo when I learned that my actual comments would be read by the people they were written for. I didn’t write anything awful, but there are different ways of conveying opinions, and my initial form of expression was not what I would have wanted read. I think that you just instinctively try to use more tact when you speak directly to a person, and let’s face it, anonymous? We all have unique ways of speaking so I’ll be able to guess pretty well who says what about me, as others could guess which comments were mine. I really don’t like the fact that we’re seeing what we wrote about each other, I feel like the self-censorship for tact is not the most effective way of getting honest assessments across.
Earlier this week we had Dr. Marla Holt with us. She was very helpful to some of us, including me, she gave me some good feedback on the Erbe paper I’ve been reading a lot and she helped point me in the direction of key concepts. More generally she was also very good to talk to about graduate school admissions, taking time off beforehand, etc. I also talked to Shannon a lot this week about related questions, and particularly about her evaluation of the Beam Reach program itself and how it’s been run. The truth is that after 6 weeks here, I can honestly say that I probably wouldn’t have applied if I knew beforehand everything how everything would actually turn out. Now that I’m here I’m focused on doing as well as I can, but I’m not sure if this was an appropriate decision for me because I’m not planning to go into marine science, or even specifically marine policy, and I never had any interest in sailing, and for everyone else at least one if not both of these elements was a major point. There are other strong positives about this program that I can appreciate. I just wonder if I might not have been able to better use my time these 10 weeks otherwise. Then again, I’ve done a lot of thinking and living and the experiences I’ve had already have really helped me focus my future plans. At the end of the day, I came here planning to make the best of the opportunity that I could, and that is something that I am still able to do and am striving towards. Whether positive or negative, the program has really highlighted a lot of my weaknesses, my strengths don’t seem to help me much here. On the one hand this can help to focus me further, on the other…some of my limitations make me feel kind of helpless and almost dysfunctional. They are certainly hurting my overall performance in Beam Reach.
This has been a long and rather chaotic entry (more reflective of my thought process than of any attempt at organization). I apologize if this has caused any frustration or confusion for anyone who may have read it.

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Data Analysis NOT going well

After shopping with Anne this morning for food (I hope we got enough for everything), I had to run some errands and go into town. When I got back, after dinner I started doing the data analyses for some files that I had gotten from the hard drive that Val brought for me this morning. In the process I came to the unfortunate realization that I had been using a bad background file to analyze almost all of my “best” files, so I ran to Fernald to run the file through the Beam Reach Analyzer again to redo everything. But the one computer with the software on it wasn’t working, even though I did a couple of forced shut-downs. Nothing doing.

Perturbed but still determined, I decided to try to analyze the few files that I DID have good background files for. Or so I thought. For three samples, things look pretty decent, though I’m still worried about the source levels being too low. I’m wondering if something went wrong with the analysis we did this week of the calibration files, because the sensitivity seems off. So, that was with the good background file.

Now I thought I had TWO good background files given that I had just made both earlier today (part of the errands earlier) but when I tried plugging the second one in to the boat recording files to calculate source levels, it made no sense at all. I thought it was a background file because it’s before all my other files, but it’s way too high to be background, so I’m going to have to try another file tomorrow…hopefully the computer WORKS then…There were a LOT of boats around on September 15. Will all of my “background” files be like this? Am I going to have to throw away over 10 of my recording samples? Are all of the rest of my samples going to be like this if I keep using the array? I really need to try using the blue box, maybe because it was the first hydrophone we worked with but I feel a bit safer with it.

That is part of the process of data analysis I suppose, but that doesn’t make me feel much better. On another unhappy note, it is supposed to be cool and rainy most of this week. I hope…that the computer works tomorrow, and I find a good file, and my data makes sense, and that the cold won’t mess me up like it did the first week…I just want everything to work out.

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Week 4, back on land

Wow, with the whirlwind of things that are constantly going on and that we have to stay mindful of, it’s hard to find a chance to blog, much less remember to.  These days I don’t even have time to stay up to date on current events and politics anymore, which is pretty shocking for me. I really enjoyed today’s class though, so I want to make sure to write about it and to mention anything else recent that I can recall.

This morning we had a serious discussion about sustainability, and with Val serious means serious, we literally traced our food energy consumption back to the sun to compare the population levels that could  be sustained on either wholly vegetarian or wholly carnivous diets, the two extremes. The difference was sobering, a factor of 10 that meant either you could sustain 17 billion vegetarians or 1.7 billion carnivores. Obviously most people fall somewhere in the middle, but it’s still way more complex than all that.  We had to write up analyses about our calculations for homework, and it really got me thinking about the sustainability of food production systems overall. I’ve learned a lot about that over the years but especially last year with my environmental thesis. When you really sit and think about it all, from the perspective of energy and way beyond how much energy does each food provide but more how much energy does each food CONSUME and how completely messed up the current food production systems around the world really are…it can really drive you crazy. Or make you very depressed. That’s why I take a break from the environmental sustainability thinking sometimes to look at politics.  Turkey refuses to take the military option off the table for Kurdish separatist groups in Northern Iraq?  Somehow staying aware of as many of the countless calamities going on around the world seems to keep me from losing my mind over a single one.

More relevant to the orca research part of the program, this morning we also finally looked at the calbration recordings from last Wednesday and Val explained some technical points that I was really confused about. Both of these things were really great for me because I needed the calibration in order to amend my data analysis so that it makes sense. And also, now at least I understand what the gain IS, and why it’s so important. Unfortunately I can’t do anything with all my newfound knowledge at the moment because the computer guys have been out this afternoon and so I can’t install the updated version of the Beam Reach Analyzer software that I need to look at my recordings with. And so I sit here blogging.

Last week on the boat was a MUCH better one for me. I think the first week was just really a shock because I’ve never lived in that type of environment before. But this time I was all armed and ready to face the cold, (note the large winter jacket, hat and gloves that I’m wearing in a few of the pictures that Val took)  and I participated a lot more in sailing-related activities. (I still prefer the theory to the practice though.) But the really great thing was that we actually finally began testing our methods! I think my lack of a sense of where I was going with my research during that first week may have made me more anxious too. Now I have actual recordings to analyze! And Val gave me a completely new point to consider in my research yesterday, and I just hope I understand it well enough to make sense when I write it up for the final proposal that’s due Thursday. Remember what I said about that whirlwind of things to think about and do? Well, most of the summer I either had nothing to do or hated what I was doing, and that sure isn’t the case now.

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Methods: Day 1

I had a really great science-experience today and I figure that since those sorts of events are more important to write about than my fascination over the physiology of raspberries, it’s important to get it down now.

Today is the first full day back on the boat. We stayed in North Bay last night, and since we weren’t getting very clear indications about where the orcas were this morning we decided to head southward, usually not a bad place to be for whale-watching. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales today, but perhaps what we did accomplish was more important; we not only started planning out our group methods, we actually did a pretty good practice run too.

Sam and I need the hydrophone array for localization purposes, and Ash has volunteered to help us out with that. We have a whole complicated arrangement; after we’ve all worked together to deploy the array into the water (which was an enormous operation because of how tangled the cable was) Sam is taking bearings with the compass, Ash is taking pictures of the orcas, and I’m going to completely ignore the orcas so I can count and ID all the boats in the area. The array is going to be used with Val’s computer and the orange box, which we were trying to name earlier. It’ll probably end up being called “Ron Weasley, though I think it would be funnier to call it “Bloody Hell.” Somehow I don’t feel like that would go over too well with Val though. Someone needs to be on the computer too, that’ll probably be me since boats really don’t take that long to count. And 400 meters, the radial limit I was originally considering, is actually VERY small! I might have to reassess that distance simply so that I can have a more reliable data pool. Tim and Anne are using the high frequency hydrophone, the “pothead,” I thought Tim’s name “Uber Doobie” was a lot funnier.

The test that we did first was to anchor the dinghy to a certain location and to deploy a speaker from which an S1 call was emanating, we used the array to record sounds from that. Sam got bearings, Ash got pictures, I monitored the recordings. It went pretty well I thought. Then Val did echolocation clicks using two hammers and we got recordings of that, Anne and Tim got recordings using the HF hydrophone also. Finally, Val got into the dinghy and did pass-bys, I had to use the range-finder for that and it doesn’t help that I can’t hold the device steady. But we got some pretty good recordings and data there too. So we practiced methods for orca calls, echolocation clicks AND boat noise. We may not have seen orcas, but I still think today was really great because we were a lot more structured than we tend to be when orcas are around, maybe it’s because it was the first week but it would seem to get a little chaotic whenever orcas were sighted. I was excited about seeing them too, but the cold thing was definitely a damper for me. Speaking of which, thanks to the gear that my mom sent, and maybe a little of my own acclimatization, the weather hasn’t bothered me at all so far, which is really great. Another important thing about today, now when we DO see orcas, we’ll be ready and know exactly what to do.

I’m on science log tomorrow, so I better run to get everyone’s details, then start to put together the crazy puzzle I’ll have to present tomorrow.


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First day at Lacrover!

Today was the first service day for the VaTo group, and I’m doing my service work at Lacrover Farm, a local sustainable-organic farmer. When Jason and Val first mentioned our service projects to us and told us about Lacrover, I immediately knew I’d want that to be my project because I had done a lot of work this past year on agricultural policy with my senior thesis for environmental studied. Monday’s brief trip just confirmed my initial impulse, and being there today was the ultimate vindication.

The farm is owned by a husband-wife team, and Katie picked me up from the parking lot of FHL here at 8:15 this morning. We stopped by the ferry to pick up another girl, Tessa, who is volunteering there, and after picking up some empty cartons and bags from CSA (I think that’s for the “Community Supported Agriculture” people who pay a regular fee and have produce set aside for them), we went to the farm. Katie and Paul put me right to work picking raspberries, which I’d never done before. I never thought about it, but that little hollow inside a raspberry is because the part we eat is hugging this little cone-shaped structure that probably has a name…for some reason that just struck me as fascinating, even if most other people had already kind of figured it out. Other fascinating things picking the raspberries; there was an enormous spider with a bee wrapped up in its web and it was starting to eat it. And I saw a little bright green frog sitting on the raspberry leaves. Maybe this stuff sounds boring to most people but I guess I’m a sucker for being so close to nature like that…OK, so a farm isn’t exactly natural, but you know what I mean.

Then I picked beans with Paul and we were talking about my environmental thesis, he was really interested in my research on soil carbon which was nice because I think he’s the first person I’ve met outside of the environmental department at Penn who wanted to hear about it. And we talked about politics too! I realized just how far removed I am from my Penn political science/politics experiences when I forgot the name of the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania who was catapulted out of office in 2006 by the Democratic candidate, whose campaign I worked on. But I remembered it a little while later, so that made me feel better.

After that I picked 36 pints of strawberries and washed potatoes (lunch was in there somewhere too). The whole day was just such a good one for me, sitting in the warm sunshine, picking strawberries while listening to the music of Incubus, Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana on my iPod, not worrying about the yellow jackets buzzing around my hands or the enormous spiders that kept running up my pants. And getting a bit of time with their cats and dog is really nice for me because I miss my own cat a lot. I bought some of the beans I’d picked and potatoes I’d washed to send to my parents, my mom just overnighted me a ton of warm base layers and other warm gear so this will be like a little thank you. Lacrover will definitely be a very good thing for me here.

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A recap of my first three weeks!

Alexandra Kougentakis 9/4/07

Already into my third week at Beam Reach and I haven’t blogged yet once! But I will try to make this a good long one to make up for all the lost time, and I’m going to do a recap of everything that has happened so far. Getting to Friday Harbor was quite an ordeal for me to begin with, since my flight from New York went to Phoenix where I had to transfer to Seattle, and then from there the long shuttle ride and ferry that pretty much everyone else got to experience too, in total a 17 hour trip for me. It was after I got here though that the real challenges began.
I lived by myself off campus for most of college so getting back into the dorms was a bit of an adjustment, but one that I made pretty easily, the facilities here are pretty well-outfitted, and especially because of how nice everyone in the Beam Reach group turned out to be. That really makes a huge difference in one’s living experience. It wasn’t long before I felt pretty much right at home.
Another thing that helped me with the transition were the instructors. Jason picked me, Elise, Kenna and Heather (my first roommate) up from the ferry, so I got to meet him first, and I was immediately put at ease because of how friendly and helpful he was. Val I got to meet the very next day, the first day of class. Well, really the first day was a trip to the lighthouse at Lime Kiln, which was really beautiful and interesting to see, but just before that Jason and Val did brief bios of themselves. I was admittedly intimidated when Val introduced himself as a former physics professor from Colorado College. Oh boy…physics? Evoking bad memories from 6 years ago in AP Physics…uh oh. Val was clearly nice and had a sense of sense of humor though, which always helps, so I decided not to give up hope yet.
As I’ve come to realize since that initial warning, physics and math figure a lot more highly into the program curriculum than I had originally thought. The acoustics lessons a few days later made that quite evident, and just this past Sunday we had a light primer on statistics (bad memories of AP Statistics), but more on that later. I guess from the readings that we’ve had so far, especially the conservation plan, I was under the impressions that this was more biology-environmental science-policy than it actually is. My reflexive fears in physics and math sometimes make me really nervous that I might not be able to live up to the program demands. But Val has been really supportive to everyone on specific questions like that, so as I further develop my research proposal and figure out just what concepts I’ll need to be clear on, I know he’ll be able to help me with that (I’m lucky that he’s a very patient person). And my current roommate and boat bunkmate Sam, who’s really good in my areas of weakness, has promised to help me out too which is a huge source of relief for me. So hopefully things won’t be as distressing as they currently seem.
On that note, (having just mentioned the boat) I’ll switch gears to talk about that now, and I’m going to be 100% honest about it. The week on the boat (as part of the VaTo team, I got to be one of the first students) was terribly exciting. And by that I mean terrible in some ways and exciting in others. Well…terrible really only in one way, and that is a thing that is specific to me that didn’t really seem to bother anyone else. I’m really really REALLY sensisitive to the cold, and in spite of the many layers I’d usually pile on, I was often still uncomfortable, except during the periods when I’d be sitting right in a patch of blazing sunshine. We were SO lucky with weather, almost every single day was relatively warm and sunny. This week has been pretty cloudy and yucky-looking, so on the one hand I’m relieved to not be out on the water dealing with it, on the other I feel bad for the students in the JaMi team who have no choice. There was only one really bad day, the one windy one where we got a lot of good sailing done. While I can appreciate the “good things” that came of that (learning to sail, getting to see orcas, etc.), between the cold and the rockiness of the boat (and I was also a little sick at the start of the week), I was sort of a wreck. Todd was really great with advice about how to get over my sea sickness, he let me steer the boat for a while and that helped a lot. It’s kind of unfortunate that I’m not a fan of ginger but I managed to force down some ginger snaps and ginger ale and that helped a little bit. It was sort of a dilemma for me though, outside and cold and less sick, or inside and warmer and more sick?
What upset me the most about my problem with the cold was that it prevented me from being able to fully appreciate all of the really exciting things that happened that week. We actually got to see orcas REALLY close on just our second day out! And we saw them pretty much every day after that and got great recordings on the hydrophone. We also saw a lot of other sea life, and Todd was teaching everyone the ropes of how to sail, from handling the anchor to the pumping dock to raising and lowering the sails, etc. But a lot of the time I would get so distracted by the cold that all I could think about was when I’d get to run inside. I think that Todd was getting really annoyed with me at certain points. And during group discussions when we talked about what we observed with the whales and what we thought of the recordings, I usually didn’t have much to say, which was especially unsettling for me because I’m used to participating in class discussions a lot.
My group got back to land on Sunday, and I have to say I’ve never loved being back on non-moving earth quite so much. Yesterday we went to Lacrover farm, a super-land oriented experience that I totally fell in love with and I knew right away I’d love to do my service project there. But the best part for me was during class discussion right before the farm trip, when I was actually able to participate and speak like an intelligent, articulate human being again! And then reading the journal article for journal club and working on other assignments afterward…everything just feels so natural and right again, whereas during the week on the boat I felt like I didn’t really know who I was anymore. I really believe that next week, and for the other two weeks that we will be on the boat, it’ll be easier for me because I’ll be more used to it, I’ll definitely bring warmer clothing, and it will help a lot to have a firmer focus on my research. I’m hoping for sunny days like we had last week but realistically I know it will get cooler and the weather will not be great every day. I’ve never lived on a boat before, didn’t have a clue about sailing before last week, my physics and math skills are not all they could be, and the cold…well, I will just always be cold and that’s the way it is. So I feel like I’m a bit behind in the learning curve in a lot of ways, but after all, I didn’t come out here for an easy 10 weeks. I was looking for a challenge…I’ve definitely found it. Now I just hope I’ll be able to succeed in facing it. More updates on that in the weeks to come…

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