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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On Bear Paparazzi and food for the soul at Yellowstone National Park

I was recently reminded how bears can turn ordinary people into a frantic band of smart-phone wielding paparazzi. Why are people so fascinated by bears? We imagine them as vicious killers (just google ‘Stephen Colbert’ and ‘bears’, and your will be reminded of how he often joked about them as ‘Godless killing machines’), but I think we also find them cute and cuddly. A bear with cubs at Yellowstone National Park will back up traffic for miles, as we discovered on a recent trip to the park.

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Nature paparazzi, after the perfect shot of a small black bear along the side of the road.

People will leave their cars in the middle of the road, emergency lights flashing, tripods and cameras in hand, and RUN to a better view point. While people tend to keep the required distance of 100 yards from the bear, I think the road gives them a false sense of security. Surely, a bear won’t cross a road, will she?

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Chocolate is not going extinct

In the wake of Valentine’s Day earlier this month, I thought I’d say this: No need to panic, people – chocolate is not going extinct. Earlier this year, Business Insider published the horrific headline: Chocolate is on track to go extinct in 40 yearsThis juicy click-bait flooded Facebook news feeds, and probably sent many people on post-Christmas chocolate-feeding-frenzies  I have to admit, at first glance, that headline sent a chill down my spine and spasms of pre-chocolate-withdrawl pain through my head – even as my conscious mind was forming the words ‘This is bogus!’. I remembered my experiences making chocolate in Ecuador, and what I’ve learned since, and started digging to back up my suspicions. (It didn’t take long, Snopes has already done the work.)

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This is what chocolate (well, cocoa) looks like in it’s ‘natural’ state – right off the tree. The cocoa beans are covered in a slimy, tangy white coating that’s not all that different from a lot of tropical fruits that grow in pods with many seeds and have tangy centers.

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The stranger in town

In all stories, either a hero goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Sometimes the stranger sends the hero out on a journey. The stranger doesn’t have to be human. It can be a meteor hurtling toward earth, a tornado roaring across an open prairie, or a bear stalking a house. But it can be even more elusive than that. It could be an idea – one that flitters around until it settles on a host, then spreads like a virus.

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NASA’s Climate Time Machine lets you view global temperature anomalies going back to 1884. This snapshot shows anomalies in 2017.

We are all in the midst of a story right now – set on a global stage. The stranger is much more elusive than we could ever have thought. He flitters around the edge of our day-to-day consciousness. Some people see him clearly. Some deny that he could exist. He infiltrates our daily lives just beneath our consciousness, gradually unthreading the balance of the world we’ve built our lives on.

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Antarctica Bound with Homeward Bound

I have some news I haven’t shared with too many people yet: One year from today, I will be crossing the Drake Passage on my way to the Antarctic Peninsula with a group of about 80 other women scientists from around the world. It will be the culmination of a year-long professional program for women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) called Homeward Bound. How cool is that?

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Homeward Bound is a major, not-for-profit initiative to equip 1000 women scientists over 10 years with skills in leadership and strategic decision-making in the context of global climate change science. The goals are not only to help women understand themselves as leaders, but also to help them understand how they can have a greater impact together – and then strategize ways to have an impact – to help nudge the world back onto a more sustainable path. My program starts online next month, and culminates in a 3-week expedition to Antarctica, sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina on December 31, 2018. My group will be the third cohort to go through the program. Continue reading

Letting the Condor take flight

There are two things that seem to stand out the most when my students recount their memories of our trip to Ecuador (based on their collection of blog posts): the intensity of the Amazon, and the open friendliness of the the Agato community in Northern Ecuador.

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Overlooking the community of Otavalo. Towering above the town is the ancient volcano, Imbabura. (A recent grass fire had turned the top of the volcano black.)

I wanted a component of our journey to Ecuador to include an experience of life in the rural Andes. Our agent at True Ecuador Travel recommended a 2-night homestay with the Agato people, near Otavalo. I had no idea what to expect. I visited Otavalo briefly on my first trip to Ecuador. It was a cloudy day. We took in the famed Otavalo market on a Saturday, and visited the rainy, socked-in volcanic crater of Cuicocha, just outside of town. Looking back on that first trip, it seems strange to me to think about how much I missed just passing through.

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Summer Hike #8 – Quilotoa Crater

The wide, dusty trail is packed with people and mule trains and slides 1000 feet down from the rim of a crater to an emerald blue lake. We were warned the trail would be challenging. But I was seduced by those glassy waters that ripple with new colors as the sky shifts and turns from blue to grey.

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The moody looking waters of Quilotoa shift from blue to green to grey, depending on what’s happening in the sky.

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Standing under the shadow

I know everyone is writing and posting about the total eclipse last week. But I still feel the need to put it into words, mostly so I can remember it in the years to come. Viewing a solar eclipse is like going on roller coaster ride in a very busy amusement park: You wait in line for hours, enjoying the scenery, the snacks, and the company of friends. Then you strap into a cart and whoosh! It’s over in 2 minutes, before you even know what really happened. Afterward, you have the choice of hopping on the slow ride to watch the sun wax back to normal, or heading to your car in hopes of beating the traffic home.

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The moon’s shadow, clearly visible over the South Pacific Ocean, on the March 9, 2016 total eclipse (NASA image).

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Summer Hike #5 – Lake Agnes Tea House

I’ve been called a tea snob. Yes, I’m one of those people who buys organic fair-trade loose-leaf tea in fancy, boutique tea shops. It’s my weakness (along with chocolate). You can imagine how excited I was when I heard about the Lake Agnes Tea House above Lake Louise. Combine hiking, fabulous views, with a break for tea and biscuits, and it sounds like a recipe for a perfect day.

We saved the Lake Louise area until a bit later in our week in Canada, and I was glad for that. This is probably the most popular place in Banff, and it’s one of the few spots in the wide-open Canadian Rockies where you might encounter a sea of people.

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Tourists milling about on the edge of Lake Louise – everyone trying to catch the splendor.

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