Where I am

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It’s 9:08 am and I’m sitting in the downstairs portion of the lab at the Center for Whale Research on the island of San Juan, WA. The water outside is choppy, riddled with white caps from a cold front that moved in over night. Leon Bridges is playing in my headphones…have you heard of him? He’s got this soulful sound that’s real cool.

This island brings back a lot of memories. I was nineteen the first time I boarded the ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island, WA. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, but I knew that whatever it was, it didn’t involve staying in the small town in southeastern North Carolina I had grown up in. I had big goals, as most teenagers do. And like most aspiring marine biologists, I had always been interested in ocean science as a kid. Something about that big, blue ocean just intrigued me. I remember spending time on this one pier in particular as a kid, talking with fishermen, feeding the pelicans scavenging for fish bits, and sitting with my feet dangling off the end of the pier getting lost in thought in the waves. As soon as I was old enough, I applied to a research program through the University of Washington to study the ocean and its inhabitants. The program gave six students the opportunity to study and live aboard a vessel researching a resident orca population that frequent the waters surrounding the island chain, and, despite being younger than everyone else on board by a few years, they let me in. Everything was new and exciting…life was an adventure and I was along for the ride. SAM_3886_DxO

I’ve done a lot since then. I’ve studied rare beaked whales in the Bahamas, been at sea with every type of marine mammal relative to my latitude, I’ve studied dolphins off the gulf coast, cut open the world’s largest animal (a blue whale) after it got hit by a cargo ship, helped rehabilitate sea lions plagued with domoic acid poisoning, and lead exploratory trips 26 miles off the coast in search of white sharks and elephant seals. No matter where I’m at, I always find myself returning to these islands every couple of years or so to work at the orca lab on various projects. Things are different now then they were. In some ways it’s a good thing, in other ways it leaves me feeling a bit somber. There are students here in the lab that get so excited about the whales. I remember that. Over time you rein in this unbridled enthusiasm and try to channel it into something more productive. Hanging out with marine life is one thing, researching it is different. In the process of trying to become one of the tens of thousands of marine biologists around the world (of which maybe a few hundred are really needed), you get stepped on and looked over, elbowed out of things, denied funding. Everyone is gathered around a dripping faucet of funds waiting for a rush that never comes. And we’re all educated, more now than ever. Having a masters degree or phd is a given. Better tack on a few low paying post-docs to that phd to look more appealing when entering yourself into an applicant pool for a stale government contract you don’t really care about anyway. Marine research is seen as a luxury science by the people who matter the most. It’s not like biotechnology where research is leading to developments in treatments for terminally ill cancer patients. I read a paper the other day in a popular marine journal about dolphin ejaculation and how they close one eye when it happens. You know, it’s just not exactly vital information that the world is readily throwing fistfuls of money at.

Sometimes I find myself looking for that passion I once had for the field, a lot. How it felt to stand on the end of that pier looking out as a kid, or the first time I went diving. Yesterday the whales came up the west side of the island near this reef close in by the labs so I took the kayak out to see them. I paddled out fiercely to the kelp forest just off shore to get alongside them. A big male surfaced just a few meters from my kayak. It was cool to feel the adrenaline coarse through my veins. I read this post from a marine biologist who used to be a contributor to a blog I regularly read. He posted his “resignation to the field” after hitting his thirties and finding it harder and harder to support himself and a family from the meager contracts that became fewer and far between. I remember reading it and thinking I’ll never be like that. I’ll make it all work even if it gets tough. Sometimes I can’t help but find myself writing the same resignation in my head.
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I used to view a career as this exponential thing. You studied hard, got a job and every year expected yourself to be 2x farther ahead than the year before. But it’s not, not in this field. With every contract you start again at the ground level, your work experience and education obsolete. The last job I took, someone at the lab who had been there for 12 years (they had started as an intern and worked up to lab manager, foregoing a formal education and worldly experience) told me I was “at the bottom of the totem pole” when I arrived.

I’ve found that working is, like a lot in life, linear. You have to keep moving forward. Even if it isn’t in the direction you originally planned.

Where I go from here is where it gets a little blurry. I’ll continue to document my life on this blog, of course.  I fell in love with being a biologist to begin with for the documenting part of it. Observing the world and taking notes. The discovery of it all, the discovery of self. It feels innate to do that in all areas of my life whether it’s home life or work life. I’m interested in what lies outside of lab work and a life that depends on research grants. Maybe I’ll make some short films or do something creative. Travel more, maybe. Or maybe I’ll just write jaded blog posts for a while until I figure it out (spoiler alert: I won’t).

Photos c/o of my new friend Stewart who somehow managed to convince me to get out of bed at 5:45 am to explore the cool parts of the island this morning.

Field work

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This morning we are departing for San Juan Island, a small island off the coast of Washington state, so I can continue working on an ongoing project studying the endangered southern resident orcas (killer whales). I couldn’t be happier to return to the island. Last year I documented some of my time there with this video. The place is just pure magic.

This space has never really been one I’ve come to for talking about my work life. Mostly because I see this as a place to be creative and document my home life, and also because my day-to-day work routine can be rather boring, with a lot of writing and being behind a computer screen. But, I thought since the project I’m about to embark on is fun and exciting, I would share it here as well. And, Trey and the dogs are coming too! I’m a lucky girl. We’ll be driving Lola, our Landcruiser, up the west coast through Oregon and Washington, stopping along the way to ooh and ahh over some places. Then we’ll take the ferry over to the island and live at the lab for a few weeks. We even got new speakers installed in the truck yesterday so we can play music and listen to podcasts on the way up. I’ll be taking a lot of photos that I will share here and over on Instagram, if you’d like to follow along.

See you soon!

Lake Tahoe with Merrick

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Last weekend we went on a road trip to Lake Tahoe for some hiking and summer fun. There’s just something about summer road trips that are so refreshing. There’s music and laughter, adventure and the joy that longer days bring. The dogs were psyched to hop into the truck and after a few minutes of hanging their heads out the window in unbridled happiness, they settled in for the 3.5 hour trip ahead and fell asleep across the bench seat in the back. Processed with VSCOcam with 2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset Processed with VSCOcam with s3 preset Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

We made it to the lake a little after mid-day and decided to drive a bit further to stay along the Truckee River since we could practically back our truck in next to the water. It was more secluded than the campgrounds on the lake given the summer traffic, and it really gave us the feeling of being “out there”. Here we spent time looking for fish and throwing sticks down the river for the dogs to chase after. Jack and Keeper would both bring back whatever stick we had thrown…as a joint effort… it was really entertaining. They make a good team. Keep even surprised us by swimming in a deep part of the river…her first time swimming! When the sun started to set we made our way back to the campsite and started a fire. We made a margherita pizza in the cast iron, while the dogs ate their fill of Merrick’s Backcountry protein-rich kibble.  IMG_6646 Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with 4 preset IMG_6735 Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset 11168558_867670893322444_5000091431486426410_n

Then it was time to towel off paws, brush teeth and get settled in for the night. Our truck bed is the best, it’s so cozy yet there’s plenty of room for all of us. Keeper rarely cuddles… she often gets too hot and does this zombie-walk to the end of the bed once she’s decided she’s had enough. Jack on the other hand is a professional snuggler. Anytime, anywhere…boy loves some snugs. This particular night Keeper decided she wanted to sleep between us for the first time. Trey managed to take a grainy iphone photo to document it without scaring her off. It’s my new favorite. Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset IMG_6885

In the morning we took a stroll down by the river, picking wildflowers and letting the dogs explore before packing up. Then we moved on and went for a hike around Emerald Bay to take in the views. It’s just the most gorgeous place. IMG_7352 tahoe3 IMG_6987 IMG_5212 IMG_7155 Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset

Once we had taken in the scenery, we headed down into South Lake Tahoe for some food. We fed the pups some of Merrick’s Backcountry wet food for lunch in the truck while we dangled our feet off the back tailgate eating sandwiches from Sprouts, a popular deli in town. We headed home shortly after, narrowly escaping some afternoon rain showers. On the way home, I turned back to see Keep asleep in the backseat with her tongue out (like always), and Jack with his head out the window clearly just loving life. We’re loving summer and I can’t wait for our next adventure!

This trip was sponsored by Merrick Pet Food- thank you Merrick! We only promote brands we’ve tried and recommend. 

Palm Springs + Joshua Tree

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Trey’s last day at his job was a couple weeks ago, so we celebrated with a trip down the coast to hang out in LA, then drove out to the desert and spent a few days lounging in Palm Springs and gawking at the giant trees in Joshua Tree.

In LA we stopped by the General Store and Deus Ex Machina in Venice, then got coffee and walked along the Santa Monica pier in the morning and played on the giant jungle gym at Muscle Beach. We always come and do the rings here whenever we’re in town. Jack came along everywhere with us, of course. He isn’t a big fan of walking on the pier…he knows there’s water underneath and crouches down all low. We had a lot of fun being the big kids we are.

From LA we drove east to Palm Springs. We lounged around the Ace, drinking fruity iced drinks and swimming in the pool. We were the least tattooed of everyone there, despite us collectively having a few. The chill vibe was cool there. Then we had the best mexican food and watched the prettiest sunsets. At night the stars were so bright and we hung out by the fireplace on our private patio. The next day we drove out to Joshua Tree national park and walked around the desert. We climbed the rocks around Skull Rock and looked at the huge succulent trees that towered over us. No one was out there. It felt otherworldly. Then we said goodbye to the 106 degree heat, drove home to the Bay and picked up Keeper. We’re gearing up for a weekend in Tahoe soon, then we’ll go up north to Washington for a month. More on that soon. Yay summer!

Burney Falls

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Over Memorial Day weekend we went camping up north. We loaded up the new-to-us vintage steel coleman cooler we got off craigslist and spread out the blue tie-dyed sheet we made last summer across the backseat for the dogs.  Then we headed four hours north to Burney Falls.

The truck doesn’t have a lot things. It doesn’t have air conditioning or a reservoir for windshield wiper fluid so when the bugs get bad you have to pull over and squeegee their guts off. The radio gets about 3 talk stations once you get outside of town if you’re lucky and only the left side speaker works. So we play the question game a lot. The kind of game you play when you’re getting to know someone, except we know most of the answers by now. “What’s your favorite kind of cheese?” type of thing. Other times we sit in silence, lost in thought, staring out the window, him with his eyes on the road in front of him.

“What’s one thing you’d change about yourself?” Trey asked me, glancing over from the driver’s seat.
“Hmm”…”Maybe the scar on my arm” I responded
“Well, you could make up a cool story about it” he said “How about….a riot broke out at a fast food drive-thru after they ran out of some combo meal and you got stabbed trying to break up a fight.”
I laughed, “I think that’s how River Phoenix’s character dies at the end of Stand By Me”.

We made it to Burney Falls and hiked down to the bottom, sitting on the rocks and looking up at the water gushing down into the large ravine in front of us. Then we drove into Lassen National Park and found a spot along the river to camp on. We made fish tacos and sat on stumps close to the fire talking about life and if we’ll ever live on Mars. I poked at the hot coals on the wood, sending sparks high into the air. Keeper dug a trench and sat in it. Jack monitored her.

After the fire had died down we watched a movie, like we do every night, in the bed of the truck. It was about this girl (played by Brie Larson) who works at a foster home for troubled teenagers. It won the SXSW film festival last year and is a new favorite of mine. The main characters reminded me of Trey and I. After it ended I laid awake looking at the stars outside the back window for a while. Maybe I’ll write about it in depth one day, my story. In some ways it feels like enough time has passed, but in other ways it feels like scar tissue – healed over and tough, but still sensitive if hit just right. It’s funny how your twenties can still feel a lot like your teens sometimes if you let them. Trey tells me I should write about the experiences I had growing up because they are so different from who I am now, and maybe people could relate. The abbreviated version is I was what you could call a “troubled youth”, getting kicked out of public and private schools and shuffled around alternative places until they found a place for me. My grandma was my was saving grace. I lived with her a lot and she believed in me. To outsiders I was that angry, rebellious girl that didn’t want to cooperate. Inside it was a different story. I am the youngest of 2, though it was meant to be 4. One brother, a foster kid, his real mom came back for him, another brother died in childhood. The brother I grew up with dropped out of high school and moved away before I ever really got to know him as an adult. He wanted to forget things too. Meeting Trey’s family was a bit of an enigma, like seeing one of those wild animals you grew up reading about in books and watching on TV. You knew they existed somewhere out there, you just hadn’t seen them yet. Maybe sometimes you doubted their existence, if something so great could really be out there. And then by some extraordinary circumstance you find them and get to experience them up close. And now you know they really do exist in the world.

In the morning we drove home with the windows down because our clothes smelled like campfire, then stopped and got food from a drive-thru. I ran my fingers over my scar smiling, thinking about Trey’s stabbing story. Keeper howled loudly into the drive-thru window and made all kinds of friends. It’s how we roll.

This weekend was what I needed in a lot of ways. It’s easy to look ahead and be in the moment when you’re on the road going 80 mph into the unknown. But sometimes you have to look back, even if reluctantly, to remember where you came from. I used to be obsessed with Jack Kerouac and the idea of escapism. Over time it’s turned into something more, a sophisticated freedom of sorts. No matter how old you get, how your life changes for better or worse, what mistakes you make, there will always be the option to go. Somewhere, anywhere. A road ahead. And that’s comforting to me.

On the Road: Big Sur

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Last weekend we went to Big Sur, a stretch of coastline about 3 hours south of San Francisco. It started the same way most weekends start around here, with me looking up the weather on my iphone and scrolling through saved locations until I see a place that has a full sun icon. Living on the coast of northern California, the weather is always subject to change at a moments notice. The fog loves to creep in and linger like a bad fart. So, I saw it was sunny and 70 degrees in Big Sur, so we loaded the dogs in the back of the car and headed down the coast.
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On the way down we stopped off along Hwy 1 to stretch our legs and look out at the ocean. We watched a mama gray whale and her new calf swimming just past the tide. This is the time of year they migrate back after spending the winter down south in the warm lagoons of Mexico. This mama likely gave birth to the calf and raised it for a few months in the warm shallows before making the long journey north to feed for the summer. We sat for a while on the cliff watching them until they passed out of view. We talked about how it was rather fitting for Mother’s Day.

Then we came to Bixby bridge. I love this bridge. It’s just so iconic and the view of it against the cliffs and water below is just too rad. Keeper had to stay in the car because she’s too wild and I could just imagine her running right off the cliff (some days I would be ok with this). Jack followed at our feet with that huge toothy grin on display.
We kept driving along the coastline until we came to McWay Falls. There we hiked along the trail on a cliff that lead to a great overlook where the waterfall empties into the prettiest turquoise blue cove below. Later a 3 year old told me I should read the sign that said “No dogs allowed”. I told her it was fun to break the rules sometimes and she ran away.
Then we headed to the River Inn for some lunch. Oh this place. It’s right on the river and on Sundays they fire up a grill on the lawn in the back and cook barbecue. There’s live music and everyone plays in the river. They even put wooden lounge chairs in the river so you can eat with your feet in the water.
Before going home, we had one last stop: Pfieffer beach. We had went earlier in the day and got turned away because the parking lot at the beach was full, so now we had come back. It was cool to be there after the the crowds, when we had long stretches of the beach to ourselves. It’s about a 2 mile drive to get down to the beach, and along the way there were horses so we got out and said hey to them. On the way back to the highway, we came across 2 people with their thumbs out needing a ride up the road. So we put Jack in the very back of the car and invited them in. They were visiting from Italy and were such happy people. Keeper licked their faces and they told us about how Big Sur is famous in Italy. We told them how we had visited Italy’s Amalfi coast last summer and it was like their version of Big Sur. Then we kept driving and came across another guy with his thumb out. So we put Keeper up front with us and invited him in too. He was from India. We all laughed and told stories as we drove along. One of my favorite parts of traveling is how random strangers can become new friends so effortlessly. 2 dogs, 5 people and a car filled with joy. I’ll always be that girl who loves talking to strangers. I snapped a quick photo with them and then we parted ways.
 
On the way home I looked behind me to see two sandy, exhausted dogs asleep in the backseat. Trey and I joked how we could never lease a car because ours are so “lived-in”. How we pile bikes and wet dogs and camping gear in every weekend and how we fixed the broken bumper ourselves with a drill and some screws (and how it fell off in Texas that one time we were driving across the country). Then we got home and all passed out like a bunch of tired ham sandwiches. Life is good. 

 

Boulder Creek

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It’s 7:14 am and I’m sitting at a coffee shop near my house. This pea coat-over-pajamas ensemble I’ve got going on has me slightly aware, but not enough to really care. I’ve convinced myself it’s the “I live across the street and I’m just getting coffee to-go” look. It could also be called the “I was too lazy to get dressed” look, but ya know, tomatoes to-mah-toes.

Continue reading…

The river

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This weekend was loads of fun. My birthday was on Friday so I got to spend it with a big group of friends at the Greek theatre at UC Berkeley for the Alt-J/Tycho show. Afterwards we all walked/danced across campus like we were college kids, then down to Shattuck Ave where we ate at this bbq joint and played drinking games until everyone had to catch the train back to the city. 

The next day Trey and I drove up north and camped in the back of the truck next to the Russian river. The dogs chased each other through the woods and then Jack ran off when it got dark. Someone down the way yelled that they had him…bet they gave him a hot dog. I didn’t ask. He’s always on hot dog patrol when we go camping. He can’t resist. People always say the same thing “what a friendly dog!”…yeah, yeah he knows how to work it…waits until it gets dark then walks around campsite to campsite flashin’ that hot dog smile to see what he can get.

There’s no place like being on the road. I love the freedom of it all. Driving wherever, sleeping wherever. Living, feeling alive. Moving forward, being in the thick of whatever gets thrown at you. Short trips, long trips it doesn’t matter. Different countries, another town, I’m always down. It’s not the life everyone craves, but it’s the life I’ve come to know and love. Gotta do what makes your soul feel good.

You know what’s nice? Knowing the carnitas you slow cooked last night in that lime-citrus marinade that’s so good are waiting for you for dinner tonight. Hay hay. Not a bad start to the week, right? Anyone else dream of dinner before you’ve even had breakfast? Just me? Alright.

Hope you all had a happy, rad weekend as well.

field day in napa

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This past weekend we drove to Napa and went walking through some fields with the dogs, then grabbed some food at a diner. It felt nice to sit in the tall grass and play with flowers, lay underneath a big tree and just get away from things. Watching Keeper and Jack race through the fields was really entertaining. They would jump like little foxes one after the other, disappearing until one of them darted out onto the path again.

Other than that, highlights from the past few days included giving the landlord notice to leave come the end of May, dancing around the apartment with a block of hard cheese while planning a trip on the phone with my best friend, and satisfying that I need Bridget Bardot bangs right now impulse by chopping them off. They make me feel very femme fatale, all rawr-rawr and stuff (she says while wearing a disgustingly old baseball tee and overalls).
Anyway it’s Monday night now and I’m up waiting on a thunderstorm with Jack. It says on the radar that there’s one brewing offshore. California has a lot of things, but good thunderstorms aren’t really one of them. Growing up we’d have violent ones in the south with heavy winds and thunder so loud it would make the ground shake. I’d sit out on the porch with my dog, Sugar, and watch them until I got yelled at to come inside. Here’s hoping there’s lightning.

A Trip to Vegas

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One of our best friends, Wes, turned 30 last week and invited a bunch of us to Vegas to celebrate. I didn’t really know much about Vegas prior to going. Most of the loose assumptions I had were based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and its film adaptation starring Johnny Depp and mescaline. And the Hangover movies, of course.

We left San Francisco Thursday night and drove south towards LA, staying in some random hotel that night. Cheap hotels are the best. Will there be hard water? Probably. Do all the lights work? Kind of. Let’s take that top cover off the bed, ok? Is that old guy at the ice machine making eyes at me? 2 star hotels are a part of traveling I’ve come to find oddly comforting. Those just-passing-through joints with the shady characters. Right on.

The next day we drove East towards Vegas and stopped along the way at some old abandoned houses and other stuff people had randomly left in the desert. Then we went through a stretch of desolation in the Mojave desert until what seemed like a mirage on the horizon came forth. Big buildings, bright lights, Vegas. We met up with Wes and the others at Caesar’s Palace and he showed us around the crazy big suite the sixteen of us would be living in for the weekend. It was a good time. I won’t dive into too many details of our raucousness, but there was dancing, drinking, hanging out at the pool, drinking, hanging out at the bar, eating, drinking, laughing, and drinking.

One memory I won’t forget was on the last night when the birthday boy Wes passed out early with his shades on and we all tried to Weekend at Bernie’s him downstairs for his birthday dinner. I haven’t laughed like that in a while. Also when a member of our party got lost, was found in a gutter, and wheel chaired back to the hotel.

I thought I was going to hate Vegas. Kind of like those frat parties I’d get dragged to by girlfriends in college that I’d hate my life at. It was always the same routine- stand in a corner with a pabst I had brought in my purse while quietly surveying the room like a mars rover looking for any signs of intelligent life. Nope, nothing here. But here’s the thing, I actually liked Vegas. Mostly because of the people I was with. You can go just about anywhere with friends and good people and have a great time. You don’t go to Vegas to have good conversations, but I kept finding myself immersed in them with some pretty rad people and it was nice.

On the last night I remember laying on the floor buzzed in the middle of the suite at 4am watching basketball highlights and laughing with some new friends I made. And it was happy. And that’s all you can ask for really, isn’t it?