Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My True Love in Borneo

Eventually, I will write a blog post about the biodiversity in Borneo. But today, the bigger story was with the people that I met and fell in love with.

My adventure in the airport started in THE.BEST.WAY. I actually met some people, and I really, really liked them. I usually hate people, but these people were better than that. They were kindred spirits. Did you know I was actually nervous to come to Borneo and depart from my Africa peeps? Shhh...don’t tell them that I had a friendship affair with you :) It will be our little secret <3. Each one of you is amazing.

This class picture makes me happy! It represented so many of my favorites. A water-baby will always take a day on a boat, but add amazing learning and unparalleled macrofauna, and I was in heaven. I also have to give a shout out to Ron Swanson. I think he is the first teacher I have ever felt comfortable enough to give call by a nickname, and he is totally willing to collaborate with others to improve the course. He is definitely a favorite of Borneo and the reason I will send my friends.

Does Haji’s selfie beat Ellen’s? Did I really call this person “forest” in their own language for several days? Haji is the best. She loves the land, she understands the problem, she supports the people. She is one of those people that everyone likes and probably for different reasons. Her multi-faceted awesomeness earned a place in my heart.

A happy picture of me. Why am I so giddy in this pic? Look at these bananas. Take a long, hard, look. Our van had a brief, but interesting convo about God and evolution and families on the way to the airport. I’ve decided that these bananas are one of the reasons that I_solidly_believe_ in_God. Look at them. They are ridiculously sized, delicious, and don’t make me use an EpiPen. I love them. Maybe more than I love you (just kidding...but, seriously). These could have only come from someone bigger, and wiser than me, and who has a tremendously brilliant sense of humor.

Look at these women. #lifegoals   If you spend an hour with these women, and don’t feel in complete awe of their dedication, physical strength, and kindness, you might need a fresh teddy because you have lost your bearings. (((See what I did there? Did that even make sense? It just came to me in the moment…)))

This was the night that three wonderful neighbors showed up to take two orphans to the prom. In this moment, Laura and I felt whole and accepted. We felt like two women who had survived on nothing but boiled eggs and partially-cooked rice for a week and were about to get "other" food.***Pause*** We felt validated. We were finally apart of a family; or, at least, a part of a neighborhood without boundaries. After we asked each of them several times if they were our mothers, using various voice inflections, we realized that these women didn’t speak English. Laura and I decided to communicate through modern dance, acting out the birth of a child and the gift of motherhood. I am still not sure that they understood our art, as you can see from the look on their faces.

Why would I include a blurry pic? Because it is my best selfie with my Borneo Bae, Max. True, untold story about the bonding of Max and I: Max, Owen and I were in the kitchen chatting and sneaking some late-night snacks. Max was wrestling to the point of defeat with a jar of jelly. I took it from him and somewhat effortlessly twisted the lid open. When Owen shot Max a look of pity that can only come from having a middle-aged woman open a jar for you, I knew I had to step into comfort my good friend Max. I said the only thing that came to mind, “Don’t worry Max, American women have naturally burly arms.” When I could see that Owen was still looking at my Max with doubt, I decided to cite a source, “that’s how we managed to hand your British butts to you in the Revolutionary War.” I knew then, that we were forever friends.

Did a number of the Weasley cousins crash our trip? Ummm, yes. Photographic proof. I know you are jealous. Though I do not remember their names (surprised?), I appreciated their energy.

Python guy was not really into “field selfies,” which was my first indication that he was probably not American. He also didn’t take me up on my offer to paper-rock-scissors him to get to hold the python bag. He can, however, spot a python with laser vision and wrestle Negini like a boss. He might be a Debbie-downer when you try to engage him in Pictionary, but this guy had his own level of dedication and #skills.

In case it wasn’t clear earlier, I really appreciated and even loved the uniqueness that each of my classmates brought to the program. As I have walked each night with my husband, I have told him about my zoo friends, my research buddies, my friend who helps with college applications on the side, my education colleagues, my photog ladies. You made me laugh to tears on most days, and left me with the gift of stories I will be able to share for a lifetime. Who else knows people who work with primates, or has their own Texan zoo (or owns a sizeable chunk of the state), or people that have videoed and traveled the world, or people that would be willing to alter every, single component of their lives to help this planet? Not to brag, but I.know.a.lot. Just sayin’

Friday, September 23, 2016

I got to see Nudibranchs!!!

While envisioning myself in Australia, I had pictured myself interacting with all kinds of animals and seeing all sorts of natural wonders.  So many of my visions became realities, but there was one reality that I never dreamed of.  For years I have told my students about nudibranchs, and Australia delivered some colorful NUDIES!

Nudibranchs (thrown in with sea slugs) can take on different area toxins for defense when they are in a new area. I confirmed with Julie at Reef HQ that they also have an adaptation where they can migrate spines from echinoderms (like urchins and sea stars) into their own back for defense. How awesome is that? They free form where these spines go, and do not necessarily follow a common species pattern. Plus they are absolutely beautifully colored.  I've had a long-time obsession with nudibranchs, but have never seen them in my Southern California dives.  


Monday, September 21, 2015

Adventures in Baja

My trip to Baja this year had several fantastic facets.  When our group met, we got to know each other a little, and were put into vans.  I totally thought the van ride would be quiet and awkward, but somehow, our group seemed to laugh and talk right away.  I knew that the trip was going to be at least decently good at that point, just because I liked the group that I was with.

The food generally pushed me outside of my comfort zone.  I think I only told this story to Jone, but I will put it for everyone here--- WARNING:  This story will push YOU out of your comfort zone :).  Breastmilk quality depends on the nutrition of the mother.  I had to pump milk every 3 hours or so while I was out.  By the second day on the ranch, my milk went completely clear.  In other words, I was pumping out water.  Yes, I said it, STRAIGHT WATER.  It was sort of weird, and even one of the cats refused to drink it.  It made me think of the nutrition level of moms and nursing children in the area.  I happened to have some iron and prenatal vitamins in my medicine bag.  I started taking them daily so that my milk wouldn't dry up altogether.  I was grateful for Jone who checked in on me throughout our stay.  She was encouraging.

I loved how many different types of things that we saw in the ocean at the Vermillion Sea Station.  I wasn't expecting that.  I have been on dives in some really great places, and so I wasn't expecting much from the Sea of Cortez.  My low expectation was totally shattered by the fantastic diversity that I got to experience with some new friends by my side.  I got to experience "Baja Sea Lions" (not at all like California sea lions, in personality :), I got to see and swim next to whale sharks, see orcas, experience devil rays (seriously one of my new favorite animals...they were adorable!),  watch sea turtles, corals, blue-footed boobies, mangroves, a possible fin whale and tons of dolphins.

Again, the diversity was fantastic.

I camp a lot.  I mean, A LOT.  But, for whatever reason, I had never camped outside of a tent before.  That was a new experience, but it was really a good experience for me.  I am not sure that I will rush to do it again, but good.

I made a few new friends along the way as well.  I had so much to say about them when I got home.  There were people that brought such a wealth of knowledge with them, and many of them were so willing to share their experiences with others.  I was really grateful for so many of them.  I have retold my stories a few times now, and so many people have cemented their places in the legends of Baja.