Monday, July 27, 2009

i am captain of this boat with a crew of one

Purchasing a kayak has been on my list of things to do in life for a few years now. It was one of those items that I knew I had to have, but I would always just think I would buy it next year...then that year would come and go I would still be saying...oh well I'll just get it next year. Thankfully, 2009 was that year! As with most things I do, I just decided one afternoon that I was going to buy a kayak very soon and within 3 days I became the proud owner of a 16 foot, bright red Prijon Seayak. As with all boats, I decided that she must have a name...this decision process was the task on the ride home. In the end, I decided on 'Red Tide' and I'm still thinking of ways to somehow get this tattooed onto her body.

Our most recent adventure was at Foster Lake --just outside of Sweet Home, OR (about an hour from Corvallis). I had just gotten back from Boston, MA and Dave and I wanted to get out and on the water somewhere before he left for DC. I was really tired of traveling and it was getting late in the afternoon so we decided on this location since it was relatively close.

Foster Lake is not actually a's a reservoir used for drinking water and electricity for some of the nearby cities in Central/Western Oregon. I remember seeing it when I first drove to Corvallis from Ohio and I thought it was gorgeous and pristine.

Most of the other boaters that were also visiting the lake that day were speed boats with water skiers and jet skis so there were actually lots of pretty large waves (even bigger than what I've seen in ocean bays) for what would otherwise be still water. At first it made me really nervous, but it soon became pretty fun to see the waves rushing toward you and rock the kayak around. We paddled to the other side of the lake to see the dam, but I didn't want to get too close because of my weird phobia of seeing structures that dive deep underwater. Then we headed back to the opposite side where I proved to Dave that there was an island in the center of the reservoir...just kidding...I totally lost that bet.

As it was just starting to get dark we headed up one of the streams that feed the Foster Lake. The water was still and created a glass surface reflecting the trees, which grew right up to the water's edge. We paddled very little in here and instead just became silent observers of the nature around us. This is the part of nature that I like...the kind that comes out when all the loud people, boat engines, and screaming kids are no where nearby. We watched a goose bathe itself a rock, which protruded like an iceberg out of the water. Meanwhile, a group of little baby geese practiced diving and resurfacing near the water's edge. We even followed a beaver for about 15 minutes as he swam along the periphery of the lake and crawled out of the water to gnaw on wood for a few minutes before slinking back into his aquatic realm. Despite our attempt to be discrete, I'm pretty sure he was aware of our presence and after ~15 minutes of watching him, he slapped his tail on the water and disappeared like a magician performing a final act!

That night we were also treated with the most gorgeous sunset! A crescent moon came up just over the silhouettes of evergreen trees and the scene was perfected by a beautiful pink and purple sky.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

fish face

The day before I left for the Coastal Zone conference (see previous blog), I went to DaVinci Days in downtown Corvallis. This is an annual festival celebrating arts and sciences and is probably one of the activities that puts Corvallis on the map. The highlight of the festival is the kinetic bike parade and race that takes place all throughout the weekend. Unfortunately, I missed the street race, the mud bog and the river race, but I did manage to catch the opening parade the day before I jetted off to Boston.

I was amazed at how elaborate the kinetic sculptures were! All of the contestants really, really put a lot of time and creativity into them. I think the theme for this year must have been the ocean because many of the bike sculptures and art pieces around town resembled things found in the sea. There was also a fish gallery on the sidewalk where local people were invited to hang their fish art.

The College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences also turned 50 that same weekend (which may have been another reason that DaVinci Days was ocean themed) so we got in on the action too. There was a big open house where many researchers within the department had displays and interactive activities to share with the community. We brought out Guns'N Roses (the 2 jet skis) and had them on display for people to see how we collect data of the nearshore sea floor.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Coastal Zone 2009 in Bean Town

Last week I went to the Coastal Zone 2009 conference in Boston, MA. It was my first time giving a talk at a conference and to say I was nervous was an extreme understatement. I had practiced my talk a billion times, but I was still afraid that I was going to choke once I got up there in front of an audience of strangers.

I was pretty unenthusiastic about being in Boston for the first 24 hours. I actually think I went through a bit of a culture shock--it's been a while since I had spent a significant amount of time in a large city. It was also super fancy, which was also something I was not used to. When I first walked into the hotel, it was chandelier and American flag overload! Everything was big and extravagant (see below)! It was like performing in a Broadway play!

A lot of the talks given weren't very interesting for me because they were given by policy makers and practitioners in the field of coastal management. However, I think that it is important to attend conferences like this because there is definitely a lack of communication between this crowd and those working on the academic/research side and this is a great opportunity to share information about practitioner needs and research methods.

Once Tuesday afternoon came around (the time of my presentation) I was shaking from nerves! My throat was forever dry so I continuously chugged glasses of water with no effect. There were 4 other talks given at that time and mine was the second one. It goes without saying that I heard not a single word of the talk before me because I was so nervous....and then I heard my name being called up! I walked up to the podium and looked around and the room was packed! There must have been ~150 people in the audience. It was the fullest session that I had seen at the conference! Thankfully, I couldn't see anyone's face except for my adviser's and the other presenters in the front row. They immediately became my friendly faces that I often looked to in the crowd.

Once I started talking it was almost like I was on autoplay. I could hear myself talking very clearly and slowly, which is not how I talk when I'm nervous, so this was a plus. After this I soon gained confidence and was able to somewhat calm down and finished the talk with no major problems!! Unfortunately, all questions for the 4 participants were saved until the end and I quickly figured out that I am completely uncomfortable answering random questions in front of a large audience...hopefully this gets better. Once the session was over, I had an immediate sense of relief and felt like I was now going to enjoy the conference. The 700 pound, rabid gorilla that had been hanging over my head for months was now gone!

The rest of the conference was great! All throughout the week people came up to me and told me how much they liked my talk! I couldn't believe it! It felt really good and motivating to hear that people were actually interested in what I was saying.

The city of Boston was pretty nice. It was much colder than I had imagined it to be and the streets were always quite crowded. We didn't have time for much sight seeing, but we walked along some of the Freedom Trail to some of the historic sites and explored the harbor area.
view from my hotel room

Paul Revere's tomb
statue of George Washington

the harbor from Long Wharf

sunset at the harbor

On Thursday night we had a large reception at the New England Aquarium. They closed it off to the public and the conference participants were free to roam around looking at sea life while hitting up the bar and finger foods located on every floor! They also had Frank Sinatra playing in the background. On the back patio of the aquarium there was a large tent that overlooked the harbor and a band was playing on the inside. It was pretty awesome! I wish I would have brought my big camera because I wasn't able to capture anything that moved behind the glass of the aquarium with my little one. However, here are some shots of some still sea life that I got...

what i aspire to be (on the inside)

me and heather outside the aquarium

Overall, the conference was a great trip and despite my constant belly aches caused from overactive nerves, I proved to myself that it is possible to overcome those fears. It may have been painful and scary, but it's good to challenge yourself because in almost every case (at least I have found) that it is not nearly as bad as your imagination creates it to be.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

i'm leaving on a jet ski

The field work season has finally begun--and this year I will be able to help collect data on the personal watercraft (pwc)...aka... the jet skis. For those that are unaware of what this work consists of, we map the water depths of the nearshore off the coast of SW Washington and parts of Oregon. To do this we drive the PWCs that are equipped with an echosounder, gps, and computer system over pre-determined lines that run perpendicular to the coast, recording individual profiles of what the bottom looks like. The distance is usually from inside the surf zone out to ~2 km (~1.24 mi) offshore.

Last week was the first of the 2009 summer season and we went down to Reedsport, Oregon to survey the area where buoys will soon be put in place to extract energy from Oregon's large wave climate. These surveys are part of study to examine the shoreline changes that might occur due to the waves losing some of their energy from the buoys. Just to help with the visualization of what the surveys look like, below is an actual single profile from the area we were surveying. Imagine this as a picture of what it looks like under the water from a side (profile) view. The water is above the blue line and sand is below. The sand often forms multiple large sandbars such as those that are seen below.

There was also a crew surveying the beach topography by walking profiles similar to the one shown above (except on the beach) as well as driving an ATV to create a surface map.

Overall it was a great week and we once all the equipment issues were worked out, we got a lot of surveying completed. Below are some shots I was able to get of my fellow surveyors as they entered the surf zone (obviously the most dangerous aspect of the work).... the office
the uniform

changing drivers

When we first put the pwcs in the bay at the boat ramp, the water is fairly still and calm because it is protected from the rough seas and wind by the surrounding land and jetties. After starting the boats and heading towards the inlet to go out to sea, we can only go 5mph because of the no wake zone. It is here that the driver has the ability to look at the surrounding scenery. In Winchester Bay (the dock near Reedsport) there are large cliffs that drop into the water and are topped with big evergreens housing the multitude of large birds (eagles, hawks, and vultures) that often sail in and out of the trees. After about 5-7 minutes of this sightseeing you can start picking up speed and can see the rocky jetties just a short distance away. The water no longer is lake-like, but instead begins to take the confusing shape of the sea. As soon as you are beyond the first boulders of the jetties an amazing transformation occurs. The surface of the water forms huge (literally rolling) hills! Some of them rolling faster than you can catch and others disappear under your boat shortly followed by a strong push knocking you to the side as you traverse over their set path.

As waves come in sets through the jetties, they immediately bounce off the walls and interact with the other waves that have found themselves caught here as well. This causes water to approach the boats from all direction and can become a very dangerous situation--particularly in an ebbing tide. This risk is further increased by the existence of a sand bar between the jetties. Its presence causes waves to escalate in height as they migrate over it and often even release some of their energy through breaking. My eyes are probably the size of saucers while this is going on because this watery environment is so foreign to me. I wish I was able to bring my camera to share these magnificent views of water that seems to move in a way that resembles a living body. Trust me---it's amazing. It's awesome in a unnerving kind of way and you definitely have to be extra aware and on your toes until your away from the structures and in a slight more predictable open coast.

This area is also well-known by the local fishermen and surfers to be a place frequently visited by great white sharks because of the abundance of seals and salmon. Because I wasn't planning to spend any extended amount of time in the water I wasn't too nervous about this...I figured that statistically I probably wouldn't run in to one and the sound of the motor would more than likely scare them away in they were nearby. However, we were visited by another form of sea life. As 2 of the boaters were driving a line toward shore, a gray whale surfaced right in their path! Two whales began feeding and hanging out here! I was sooo jealous that I wasn't able to experience it from the boats, but I saw it when it surfaced and spouted, releasing it's long breath of air creating a large puff of sea spray. (NOTE: I did not actually take this picture...I pulled it from the internet just to show the whale we saw)

One other interesting side note of last week happened at the hotel. When we arrived to check in there were about 7 State Trooper cars in the parking lot. Apparently there was a large protest happening in Elliot Forest (also near Reedsport) against the logging of 80 acres of "native" trees. Eventually, all the protesters were arrested, but there were some pretty interesting (maybe even extreme) methods they used in attempt to stop the logging...

We had to deal with a very tight parking lot that week and apparently the rental car we brought with us mimicked a Trooper car so well that they thought it was one of their own. When we were about to leave for surveying one morning, we found it completely blocked in by Trooper cars.
Why don't you leave us a can opener next time?!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

gardens are a form of autobiography

So I am finally able to say that I am a proud parent --of potatoes, not babies. Yesterday as I went out to water the garden I noticed that the row of red potatoes looked really dead and yellow. I could not resist the urge to take my dad's advice and "rob" the side of the plant to see if there were actually potatoes down there (I know the fact that the plant got really big, flowered, fell over and died was a pretty good indicator, but I'm skeptical). Sure enough, as I reached my hand through the dark, wet soil I felt a round, solid object about the size of a tennis ball! I pulled it out and...(drumroll) was a red potato! I was so ecstatic about it that I immediately went back in for more! I ended up digging up 2 of the 4 plants and got ~ 18 decent sized potatoes!! I decided to leave the other 2 plants so Greg could experience the joy when he gets back from his trip this week.
Having a garden was something that I was really unsure about at first. I mean, I know that I'm pretty good about giving houseplants what they need and I was excited about it, but it was going to be a lot of work and money that wasn't a guaranteed success. My skepticism was totally proven wrong! The garden is booming--the plants are numerous and huge and I am always filled with this sense of satisfaction and happiness when I'm among them! Maybe it's weird, but I kind of feel like there's a bond that develops between gardens (whether indoors or outside) and their owners. I genuinely care for these little guys and appreciate their amazing ability to grow at their fast pace and establish their place in the garden all the while producing delicious fruits and veggies with so little instruction from the gardener. I even read a quote somewhere that too much water and attention embarrasses plants causing them to not grow to their full potential.

Their resilience also dazzles me. A few weeks ago a deer ripped up and ate a lot of my tomato plants. I came home to find a few green chewed off stems and straggly leaves left in the pot. I decided to keep them and see if they recovered. Sure enough, they bounced right back (see photo below)! They haven't made a full recovery yet, but they are nearly as tall and full as they were when they were attacked.

Below are some photos of the progression. Kudos,'ve come a long way.