World on Fire

I haven’t yet written about the day last year when the sky turned black at midday. It was so dark that my garden lights came on in the dim, orange twilight. But it’s August and we’re in fire season again. I find myself thinking about that day again because I’m cooped up at home with the windows closed as another smoke plume moves over Northern Colorado. Last year, we inhaled smoke and ash from late last summer to several weeks into autumn. The fires kept our skies grey for the better part of two months. But I distinctly remember that day just before Labor Day in early September when I braved the smoky air and temperatures over 90F to harvest my garden in preparation for an unseasonably early snow storm.

September 2020 in Greeley, CO – The day that turned black.
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Zion: on the cusp of transitions

We’re deep into summer and the winter wonderland photos below might be a bit jarring for those living in the Northern Hemisphere. But this post about a trip to Zion National Park is ready to go out into the world. It’s long overdue. Travel is often my inspiration for blog posts. This past year led me to a lot of closer-to-home discoveries in the natural world – but, also, the lack of motivation to write, as we have all struggled to sort out life in a new version of this dystopian world. But here it is: my first visit to Zion.

I love that my first memories of Zion National Park will always be shrouded in an icy haze. Arriving in a new place after dark – whether it’s a rainforest, a bustling South American city, or a natural cathedral carved through the desert over millions of years – always leaves me disoriented. And then it snowed through the night, covering roads and painting still-bare trees in white. The world felt pillow-soft as I stepped out of my cabin. I walked across the grounds of the lodge, and the fog shifted to give me my first glimpse of a canyon wall. I had no idea how far these walls rose up, but I could feel the ones I couldn’t see – in the stillness, and in that sense of being enclosed and protected.

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America, the unfinished

The last time I flew anywhere was back in November 2019 for a 3-day trip to Washington, D.C.

On my second evening there, after a long day in a working meeting, I arranged to meet a friend at the National Art Gallery on the Capitol Mall. My hotel was roughly within walking distance, but I decided to shave off some time by taking the Metro to the Mall, then walking to the gallery from there.

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New decade, let’s make a new world

Listening to an episode of Science Friday recently about efforts to save corals made me cry. I guess you could say my emotions are sitting very close to the surface in the early days of this new decade. Like a lot of people, I usually spend some of this time around the turn of the calendar in reflection. While there is always pressure to celebrate and set goals and aspirations for making life better in the coming year – or coming decade – this particular New Year’s has left me much more contemplative than happy. We have so much work we need to do to sustain this planet and ourselves in the coming years, and the enormity of it all has hit me on an emotional level.

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How do we find hope for a better world?

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Last Stop in Antarctica: Deception Island

Sometime after our first week on the ship, we learned not to ask where we would be going next, or where we would be stopping. Our itinerary was completely dependent on weather, ice, and the comings and goings of other ships in the region. So it wasn’t really a surprise when we were told that we would be making our way back north across the Drake Passage a day earlier than expected. There were two storms coming, we were told, and the captain wanted to outrace the second storm.

Ok – But what about that first storm?

We tried not to think about it too much so we could enjoy one last landing in Antarctica at Deception Island. Because the captain was really eager to get going, we wouldn’t have much time onshore as the ship would be headed out to open sea by 10:30 am.

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Everyone was up and on deck early in the morning for our approach to Neptune’s Bellows, the narrow entrance into the caldera at Deception Island.

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Continental landfall in Paradise Bay

I sometimes like to imagine that the people I have loved and lost are sitting on my shoulders, riding along through life with me, marveling at the world as much as I do.

Last January, I stepped onto the continent of Antarctica. I’m fairy certain I’m the first person in the history of my family to do that. In the months leading up to my trip to Antartica, I thought a lot about my Mom – how thrilled she would have been to go on a trip like this. Or, at the very least, she would have followed every tidbit of news from Homeward Bound about our journey. She passed away five years ago on June 1st, but I clearly felt her with me as we stepped off the zodiac for our continental landfall.

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My perspective, standing on Antarctica. It’s much warmer than I thought it would be.

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Paulet Island: Penguins, penguins everywhere

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The Ushuaia at Paulet Island, and penguins everywhere. Here, they are perched on the ruins of a hut built by the shipwrecked crew of a Swedish expedition in 1903.

The smell was thing I wasn’t quite prepared for. I didn’t realize Antarctica would smell like the end of a fishing pier, where gulls spend their days fighting over rotting fish guts as clouds of seal breath waft up from the water below. Although, I should have expected it. Penguins are not much different from gulls. If their biology allowed it, I’m sure they would be perfectly happy to be trash birds. They certainly don’t mind wallowing in their poop. Continue reading

Off to Antarctica with Homeward Bound in 14 days!

After more than a year of anticipation, the clock is ticking down. On New Year’s Eve I set sail for Antarctica from Ushuaia, Argentina with 80+ women from around the world! Over the past year, we’ve gotten to know each other – through video conferencing, lengthy Facebook threads, and a few in-person meet-ups. We’ve shared stories about our lives, our passions, and our hopes for this world. We’ve been prompted to delve deep into our own stories – the stories we tell ourselves about what we can do, and what’s holding us back. And we’ve been exploring questions about our role in this world – a world that has been tumbling through what is clearly becoming the largest mass extinction in 65 million years.

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Map of Antarctica (credit: NASA)

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50 days ’til Antarctica

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A photo from the first Homeward Bound voyage in 2016. (Photo Credit: HB1)

In 50 days I set sail with Homeward Bound for Antarctica.

This is the culmination of my year-long professional development journey with 80 other women scientists from around the world. In the past 10 months, through discussions, reading, self-reflection, we’ve explored what it to be a woman in science, what leadership means, and what does it take to compel others to take action on climate change. We don’t always have the answers. But we have enthusiasm – and a growing conviction that there are solutions.

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On the palette of extremes: Wilting under Irish Sunshine

We brought all of our rain gear. Jackets, pants, boots. A cover for my backpack. Those super-tough zip-lock bags for protecting odds and ends in case you get stuck in a deluge. The last thing I really expected when our flight landed at Shannon Airport on the 4th of July in the southwest of Ireland was sunshine and warm weather. That’s not the image of Ireland I had preserved in my memory.

Coming from Colorado, we were hoping for some cooler, wetter weather. Certainly, it was cooler, 75 F, not 95 F. From the moment I stepped off onto the tarmac (because Shannon airport is one of those places where you still have to walk across the tarmac) I could feel that coastal dampness that seeps into my pores every time I get near a body of water. My Colorado skin is like a dry sponge – greedy for moisture wherever it can find it. But the blue sky was a surprise.

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Twisted limestone pavement of the Burren, in County Clare, western Ireland.

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