Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'm back. In high school?

I'm teaching one section (24 students, lecture and lab) of an introductory biology course for majors this fall at our local community college. I'm both excited and nervous about it. Not really about the material, more so the amount of time it is going to take to do a good job at it. I picture myself trying to use methods other than straight lecture, and that will take a bit of time to prepare.

I'll have to carve out time in the evenings and weekends, and more or less gave up one visit to AZ in order to be here for class each week. I do get the week of Thanksgiving off from teaching, but CB's going to be in New Zealand. Thank goodness for Skype.

When I'm stressed out about something, I have anxiety dreams. I am amazed at the consistency of content of them. The play out in one of two scenarios. In one, I am back at my old job in Toledo, where I did environmental programming for kids. I've shown up for my first day, the group is coming in 30 minutes and I need to come up with activities right NOW. There is the feeling that I've been away for a long time, and it's great to see everyone, and I'm a little surprised to be having to do this, although clearly it's my job and something I'm supposed to be able to do.

The other one, and this is the one I've been having lately, is that I'm back in high school. Yup, I'm me as an adult, and it's the first day of school and I'm supposed to be there, and, guess what? I don't have my schedule, can't find my way around, and I keep wishing I would have prepared a little better for this. It's high school, and we are in our uniforms. Sorry for anyone who I went to high school with who is reading this, but I never recognize anyone in these dreams.

I think the dreams are mostly harmless, a way to give voice to the anxiety I feel over trying to add another thing to my already somewhat complicated life. But I have an understanding partner, an flexible boss who just wants my "real job" not to suffer, and Mr W's dad has indicated that he'll be flexible as to the parenting schedule. Just need to add the proper amount of caffeine in order to squeeze an extra hour of coherent thought out at the end of the day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saw it a little. Heard it, though

I'm in AZ for a few days. Yesterday we drove south to Sierra Vista, AZ to see a rare bird, a Brown-backed Solitaire. The devotion of birders to the pursuit of a bird that is outside of its normal range was fun and a novel experience for me.

I should perhaps back up a bit. Birding appeals to a lot of people, and of course people vary in the degree to which they participate in the activity. There are people like me, who know a few birds, have spent some time looking at field guides, and would be classified as something like an advanced beginner. At the other end are people who keep track of every new species they've seen, and have a "life list" of birds. These are the folks who have been known to drop everything and hop in the car to drive several hours in order to add a bird to their list.

For me, the fun of birding is being outside with friendly people, looking at the habitat, checking out the plants, and looking at the birds. That's about as far as it goes. Keeping a list seems to be a little too much trouble, although I'll keep my options open and say that maybe someday I'll start one. Maybe it's because CB doesn't keep one that I'm not motivated to. But the two people we rode down with had AZ birds lists of several hundred birds. That is impressive.

There can be a huge element of luck involved in spotting a bird that is outside its normal range. On the one hand, a couple of years ago a rare oriole showed up at a feeder not too far from where I live, and spent a couple of weeks there. It was the beneficiary of the homeowner being an avid bird watcher who put out all sorts of tempting goodies (like grape jelly) for the bird to eat.

On the other hand, as was the case yesterday, the bird might move around a lot and sing its little heart out, but not be within view for more than a second or two before it flies off and is heard down the trail aways.

The fun and lucky thing about yesterday, was that we were literally just about to leave when we heard it call. It was hot and we had been looking for it for about three hours. You should have seen peoples' reactions. We were talking about leaving and then it sang and they (I didn't realize it was THE bird) rose as one body and walked/trotted over to the spot where the sound came from. It was a cohesive movement that was fun to watch.

We spent the next hour stopping and listening, up the trail and down the trail, with people pointing. It was truly a group effort, which I liked a lot. It works that way when people go out botanizing as a group, too. The song is really amazing, akin to glass wind chimes. It makes me wonder how their voice boxes are configured to allow such sounds to be made. Apparently they have the ability to make two sounds independently, which you can sort of hear if you click on the link to the song in this link. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to get to the sound files.

Today, we are off to Flagstaff to visit with one of CB's coworkers, and we'll drive further north to the Grand Canyon to try to see condors. Sweet!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A rare bird indeed

I flew to AZ this morning, after getting my butt kicked by a week of fieldwork. I don't know what I was thinking. Actually I do, since I brought my knitting and not one, but two skeins of yarn expecting to make good progress on my summer sweater (as the summer races by).

And a rare bird has been spotted in southern AZ, a Brown-backed Solitaire, so we're going to see if we can spot it too. There will no doubt be a bunch of people trying to do the same, and the process can turn into a social event of sorts.

As far as seeing a particular species goes, I have learned that there is a difference between seeing a bird in its native range, and seeing it as a rarity in your state. So, even thought CB has seen this bird before in - I'm guessing - Mexico, saying you've seen it in AZ is still a big deal.

I'm along for the ride. It's fun to hang with birders, the scenery will be nice and we'll see other stuff too, maybe an assortment of hummingbirds, possibly some good plants. Now, if the bird will only cooperate and be kind enough to stay put until we get there...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I've been doing fieldwork in western Colorado this week. 12-14 hour days are good for banking hours, but I'm tuckered out!! We set traps in the afternoon, let them go overnight, collect and break them down the next morning, and move on to the next place.

Two more days. I'll write more about what we do and what we've found another time. What impresses me is how friendly and trusting people are. Sure, we've got the government van and our name badges on, but everyone we've asked so far has willingly let us onto their property to set traps.

With the exception of one lady who gave permission but didn't want to talk, most other people have asked questions and been really nice. Good reinforcer that most folks are just folks.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Plant Geek

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became a plant geek. Probably when I was working in Toledo, and came across some Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), just growing in a wet are in our woods at the very urban park that I worked at. No one had planted it, it was just growing there, and it was a beautiful scarlet color.
And ever since, I've been amazed at how certain plants grow in certain places, and I admit I'm a sucker for color - I love colorful flowers.
Denver has a nice botanic garden. They also do a lot of education and are one of a handful of places that a person can get a certificate in botanical illustration. I took their intro course a few years ago and liked it a lot.
I had been down there a few years ago to meet with people about my research, but hadn't just visited, ever. So I hauled Mr W down there today. He was sort of lukewarm about it all, but I thought it was fabulous.

They're in the middle of a capital campaign, so they've got all this new construction and big plans for research and conservation of plants - really where my true interests lie as far as professional work goes. So I'm going to write up a letter of introduction, and send my CV down there in case they're looking for a population geneticist to come on board. You never know.

But they have these wonderful gardens, and lots of water features, which is so attractive on a hot day like today. I'm don't really care one way or the other about Japanese gardens, but theirs was this amazing respite of calm. Dark water with lilies and lotus on it, turtles, gravel, sculpted pines - it was so tranquil, I just wanted to sit there and do nothing for a long while.

Mr W and I talked a bit about living in a bigger city, where there was a lot of stuff to do. He liked the idea until I said, "well, you'd have to switch schools". But I added that his buddy would only be an hour away and that wasn't so much. Who knows, who knows.

So if you have a botanic garden near you that you haven't visited yet or for awhile, go visit and soak up the tranquility. I was so glad we went down and I'm looking forward to going back. I bought a "me plus 1" membership, so I can go back again and not have to worry about the admission fee. I did that too with our local science museum. The nice thing there is that it gets me into the Denver science museum for free as well. It's almost paid for itself - yea!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Turning a Corner

I've been neglecting the blog lately in favor of knitting. At the moment, I'm working on a pair of socks, a sweater that has been taking up most of my knitting time, and a tank top that should fit, but sure looks like it won't, so I'm losing interest.

After a weekend with Mr W, I always feel like I've done a lot of parenting. I guess it's because he's an only child, but I feel sometimes like I work a little too hard at making sure he's got fun stuff to do. I do still need to intervene because if I don't, he will play on the computer for hours. Literally. So I ask him to take a break and he does and I suggest something else. Sometimes I'll play with him, but he's also got to entertain himself because I try to get house work done.

I've noticed a couple of things about him lately, though, as he settles into being 8 1/2. The first thing is that he doesn't want to sleep with a lamp on in his room anymore. This was his idea, I didn't really have an opinion one way or another. A couple of weeks ago asked me to turn the lamp off one night. OK, I said. He fell asleep without a peep (good thing about summer camp, it wears them out) and stayed out for the night. I did slip in and plug in a small night light, in case he had to climb down in the middle of the night to pee.

The other thing was that he's finally getting comfortable being in the water. This is the kid that has passed exactly one level of swimming per summer for the last two summers, when they have the opportunity to pass three or more. At the beginning of the summer, I told him this is the last summer he'd be able to use a mask and snorkel for swimming lessons. He did not take this well. I don't know if it was because I said that, or if he was just ready, but he's been making more progress with the lessons, and he practiced holding his breath during his bath the other day.

I'm proud of him.

Oh, this struck terror in my summer-loving heart: we were are Target a week ago and they were starting to put up the back to school supplies merchandise. Holy Toledo.