Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 84: Joining the circus

This is CNSC.

With the birdfish logo up and the cranes cleared from the front
of the building, I think it is finally, just about, open!
The Grand Opening is tomorrow. The preparation for it can be described in one word: Circus

The science staff finished putting up the two tents  where
the speech for the opening ceremony will occur and where
people can stand for the ribbon cutting at the front doors
(see picture above! ^). But let me describe the wind here,
on the tundra, in Churchill. It is very windy. The tents came
with these tiny little pegs, like what is used for normal camping
tents, to hold down these massive things that take 6 people
to lift, and could probably have two cars parked underneath.
The winds here can gust up to 70 km/hr! And the way the poles
were whistling (remember the whistling tower down goose creek?)
it was definitely windy. LeeAnn and Cliff, the all around
maintenance guy, fixed up a ratcheting system to thick metal
rods to keep the tent down. The ratcheting webbing vibrates in
the wind like a truck is driving by. I feel like we should have
a camera fixed on these tents at all times to capture the
moment that they flip! 

Secondary proof of circus, the balloons! Lots of balloons!
All in the CNSC blue and white. Caleigh got so light headed
that she almost passed out after blowing up 50 balloons.
There were a few other incidents as well as the balloon prep
team got more and more light headed, but we have yet to pop
any, so I call it a success! Now... what to do with all these
 The third reason it will be a circus:

This is the Polar Bear Sighting board. The bear activity has
definitely increased in the last couple of days as fall approaches
and bear season comes closer. With so many people out here
in the next couple of days, I really, really hope that we won't
have any bears close to the centre! That would be a circus
nightmare as the animals are released.

Past bear records starting at the beginning of June, when
I first got up here. I have only seen a very small fraction of
all the bears out there!

More bears!

More bears!
 I also wanted to show the results of our intense cleaning for the past few days before the hundreds of feet dirty the place up!

This is the atrium! With the Weston Family Welcome Centre
near the windows in the back with the comfy chairs. The
Weston family really got this whole project, of getting a new
building started. They donated a bunch of money, I don't
really know how much but think at least 6 zeros before the
decimal point, but said that the money would only be given
if the centre could match it through other donations. It
really got the centre motivated to begin the process of finding
money to build a brand new amazing building.

Gift shop! Lots of Tees! The plant on the counter is named
Bogart. It is Caleigh's plant from Thompson (I think, it
arrived after she came back from York Factory through

I've spent a good bit of time here after a summer with only
three pairs of pants. It took me a while to remember to add
soap. Thank you Christina for the reminders! (And the
friendly mocking!)

The Aurora Dome, at least the bottom of it. The stairs lead
to the actual dome where you can watch the stairs and the
aurora borealis and polar bears from a warm, bug free safety.
Yes, that is a polar bear pelt, a mother bear that had to be
put down after being aggressive at the old open landfill.

The Seminar Room: I've spent a lot of mornings in this room
during the Walmart 5, the morning staff meeting.

The A/V lounge: Many evenings spent watching Ghost Busters,
Harry Potter, Sound of Music, Star Wars, Wedding Crashers,
etc., etc. If you look behind the poster above the TV, there is
a bit of a surprise!

The Cafeteria! Three times a day, I spend in this room. This is
the place responsible for the bit of extra weight I've managed to
put on this summer! You would think that field work would negate
the food, but the buffet is just too overpowering!

And the ones responsible for the food I eat! Rob and Sara (Rosalind
wasn't in the kitchen at the time, but she is also a culprit!).
Thank  you for the delicious dinners and especially the deserts!
And for putting up with my vegetarianism!

Ahaa, the classic mugs that bring character
to the new kitchen. Where the choice of
beverage is complimented with the character
choice of a mug that matches your mood for
the day. Personally, I like the big, multi-coloured
striped one. But I have dabbled with many a mug!
I thought it was only fair to follow up yesterday's post with a photo, so here it is, my dear mop!

I will miss you greatly! Even if you do
get around with the other staff and

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 83: Dear Mop

Dear mop,

We got to know each other really well today, and it was a great time. I enjoyed every sweep. We first bonded in the janitor's room, when my hand and your handle met. Love at first sight. There literally was music, from my ipod. It happened to be a nerdy science song introducing This Week in Science, but it was a song never the less. We really got to know each other in the exercise room and had our first slow dance in the AV room. The floors shone by the time we were finished. And for those moments, I thank you greatly, my dear mop. 

And then I thought of you while I inventoried the delivery of food, moving boxes of juice and coffee, lettuce and mustard, yogurt and lentils. I thought of you while I interviewed Paige for the podcast, while I ate lunch, while Krista and I picked science posters to hang in the lab, while I packed my samples into coolers.

Do you remember the time when there was two loud bangs and I had to run to the window, knowing that the bangs were cracker shells to scare a bear away? Do you remember when I dragged you to the window so you could see as the bear strode across the tundra and into the forest, so we could work and watch at the same time? It was a wonderful moment.

Polar bear behind the building, there were two, but I only saw
one of them. Four cracker shells had to be fired before it left
the area.

I want to be honest with you, my dear mop, because you may have seen me with others throughout the day. There was the red broom and black dustpan before you, and there was the rag with window spray after you. But don't be jealous, you are my favorite cleaner. The others don't mean anything to me. It's just that you can't do everything, and I don't expect you to, so I have to work with others as well. And don't be jealous of the tent poles, it was really a group effort, not a one on one moment together. The tent poles weren't that interested in me anyways, they just wanted to stick to each other, none of the humans really developed a good relationship with any of them. But they are event tent poles, meant to hold up a huge plastic tarp to protect a couple dozen from the rain during the ribbon cutting ceremony, and being event tent poles, they are pretty stuck up and self-centered, thinking they are the most important. So don't be jealous. None of these other tasks  diminish the moments that we have had with each other, my dear mop. 

I do have to warn you that what we have can't last. You knew that our time was short together, a few rooms, a few hallways. I will see you again tomorrow, my dear, and we will glide across the floor once more before the stampede of people arrive for the grand opening. After that, I don't know where our future lies. You will be ok, though. You have the regulars, the daily cleaning staff, to play with you, clean you, comfort you. 

Just remember the moments we had together, as I will always remember them.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 82: Last sampling day

Today was the last lake sampling day, the summer is coming to an end. Figuratively for me, days counting down, but also literally as autumn begins to take over the tundra. The dryas leaves are starting to change to yellow. The berries are all ripe, mostly eaten. The weather is cooling back down to the single digits. The rain has come back with a cold wind but warm sun. Summer is ending and fall is coming to the tundra.

And yet this last sampling day is still full of surprises as Twin Lakes Road always seems to be. Remember the last few times down Twin Lakes Road? The caribou, the two fox, the Wolf!! Today's surprise was a little different...

Giant polar bear poop! With Carley's hands for perspective.
We found polar bear poop! It really is more exciting than it seems at first. Poop has so many treasures in it for a wildlife biologist - learn about diet, parasites, general health of the animal... So, that's what we looked at! First thing to notice is the size. This is a huge bear poop! Huge! Second thing to notice is that it is full of berries. And mostly undigested berries. I didn't know that polar bears eat berries. I always thought that polar bears were mostly carnivorous. I know that they are opportunistic eaters, from the eaten seats off of the quads and snow mobiles, in fact any oil product left outside is potential food. I thought that was a reflection of their typical diet of seals, so seal oil and blubber and fat are all things that are polar bear food. Other bears eat berries, I've seen black bears eat them. But I never thought that polar bears did. And it doesn't seem like the polar bears get much nutrients from eating them either. So why do they?

The second surprise of the last sampling was also polar bear related. The third last pond that we sample was on the coast. As we were approaching the lake, a mother bear was striding along the opposite coast with a cub in tow. They were far enough to finish our sampling, but close enough to not stick around. But the cub was adorable. It was tiny! Probably only a year old. It was amazing! A bit scary, but safely distant.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 80: Excitement

On my 80th day, I know I've been here too long. How I know? Two things:


Every week, Rob gets a shipment of food to keep the hungry, crazy researchers full and fat. I think he enjoys watching us eat. He seems to know exactly what everyone eats and how much. I think his goal is to make everyone gain 10 lbs before leaving, he is quite successful in this! The grand opening of the study centre is in five days, on the 24th. This weeks shipment was meant to bring in all the food for the opening. Which it did. The problem was that the fresh fruits froze during shipment. Froze! Beautiful fresh fruit were frozen. 

So this is the problem of transport. There is a big fridge trailer that ships all the food. On one side is the freezing unit. Proper packing is to put the dry goods closest to the freezing unit so if it does get really cold then only the dry food freezes, which doesn't really matter. That keeps the fresh fruits and veggies just cool, not frozen. That's not what happened this week, this critical weekly shipment that has all the food for the grand opening. The frozen fruit won't last till the opening and will get thrown out on Sunday. 

Bad news for the centre... but great news for the researchers! Fresh strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, grapes, tomatoes... soooo delicious! I never thought they were so good! After a summer of bland apples, sometimes bananas, and sometimes oranges, this was such a great treat! Northern summers just don't get the southern summer fruits. We have our own berries, but we don't have the strong taste of cultivated southern fruit. That I am writing this post about fruit, fruit!, means that I have certainly been up here too long. It also means that I am gorging on fruit, to the point that the pineapple has burned the skin around my mouth, and my tongue tingles from so many grapes! I still love it!


The setting is again the cafeteria where I am sitting comfortably at the table with the other researchers, finishing off a desert of toast with honey. All the researchers tend to sit at the same table, there are so few of us now that we all fit at one. But the cafeteria is full with almost 80 people, from a university course group, a high school enrichment group, a tourist group, and a construction crew finishing some work on the rocket range before the grand opening. 

One of the university students is standing at the window next to the research table getting coffee or tea or hot chocolate, something around those lines. He shouts to look! Look! And everyone in the cafeteria jumps up, heads whipping to the window, fingers pointing. Everyone is so excited! Everyone except the group of researchers who have been here all summer. No one at our table stood up. One said, oh, I hope it's not a bear. I want to go to town tonight. I casually glanced out the window, still nibbling. It was a silver fox.

This was a bit of a sad thing to admit, not getting excited about something out the window. If it was just the researchers, I would have jumped up and grabbed a camera. I think I didn't because we were with 65 other people who were easily excitable. I find it difficult to be myself with so many people around. It drains energy just to be near so many people in such a small space. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 79: Green Stems

 On July 30th, my roommate and I decided that we should properly move into the new building, after living in it for almost two months. So we unpacked our books, we arranged our rock collections, but something was still missing. Life. Green growing life. On August 3rd, we planted radishes from seeds left over from Vanessa's experiment to see if seaweed is a good fertilizer. She had plots with and with out seaweed, and the seaweed ones were obviously doing much better. I told her about Krista's and my desire for a plant so she hooked us up with seaweed and soil, the planting containers, and radish seeds. This is now 20 days later and they are so big and green.

August has flown by, watching these little guys grow. The second day already poking out of the ground, then a week later poking above the rim of the containers, and now healthy and adding new leaves. How has August gone by so quickly? 

Today, Celia left on the train. Originally, this would have been the day I would have left as well, but I decided a month ago that I would stay an extra week to see the grand opening. Now that is just a week away, the big party, the finale. 

How quickly time goes by, 
measured by the growth of green stems

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day 78: Costs

The last insect transect. This is the story of the last morning that I had to be out the door, jars and gun in hand to collect insects from 5 pitfall traps. It is a sad story. I have already explained on August 11 why I am doing the insect transects for the Godwit team, to gather more data for the mismatch hypothesis. The last godwit chick would have hatched (if the nest wasn't deprecated, predated on) on August 15th. So if it would have hatched successfully, which is somewhat doubtful due to the storms we've just had the last two days and that most of the godwits have already begun to flock, then the collection of insects the last two days would show how much food would be available to these chicks. Not much, as it turns out. Just a few spiders and a few springtails and a few parasitic mites. 

Springtail or Collembola. These can get so abundant during
the season that we don't measure each individual one like
we do for the rest of the insects. We just count how many there
are which can get to several hundreds or even thousands in a
single sample.

The bugs in general have been decreasing in abundance, including the mosquitos. I haven't seen any bulldogs for several weeks and the mosquitos are becoming more an more rare to the point that I haven't seen them the last couple of days. The blackflies are another story. These lovely little things have still managed to maintain large numbers, and surging to higher numbers after the rain we have just received. 

But back to the insect transect. Why is it such a sad story? First, I have to explain something about traps, target species, and nontarget species. Whenever a trap is set up to catch something it is meant to catch a specific animal or plant or fungus or human or what ever it is you are trying to catch, your target species. So you use the right bait, peanut butter of a mouse or a homemade apple pie for a human. You use the right scale of trap, decide on live trap or something that might kill what you are catching, depending on the study. 

For the insect study, the insects are sometimes dead and sometimes alive. I don't like it when they are dead because the information we are gathering doesn't require that they be dead. The length and number could be measured if they were alive as well, though it is difficult to trap insects alive. Though I don't like it when they are dead because it doesn't seem right, I also don't like it when the spiders especially are alive. The spiders tend to cling onto the spoon that I'm trying to fish them out of and then climb swiftly up to my fingers, obviously making me drop the metal and push my chair away from the table. I logically know that they won't harm me, but they still freak me out when they move like that! But that is a bit off topic.

The topic is to explain the tragedy of nontarget species. This is when you catch something you didn't want to catch. So I put a homemade apple pie out and I get a bunch of ants, not what I wanted. But this isn't such a bad thing as an unwanted thing. As far as catching nontarget species, this isn't so bad. The ants get a meal, and I just have to bake a new pie. The worst part of capturing nontarget species is when they die because of the capture.

A researcher up here is trying to capture small rodents to find parasites that can be transferred from the rodents to her study animal, the fox, because the fox eat the rodents. She hasn't caught very many rodents, it is a low year in the cycle of lemmings. However, she has caught a frog and two birds in her trap and only one rodent. Her trap is designed to kill the rodents, so she can study gut parasites. This means that the frog and birds were killed too.

They are so cute too...

So why is my last day doing insects sad, besides killing some insects, which is sad enough? I killed a vole. In the third cup, I found a curled up fur ball. It had drowned in the dilute ethanol. It's the second rodent killed in these cups. The only good thing was that I could give these to the fox researcher. Unfortunately, this death of nontarget species is rather common in capture studies. It's always a balance between the benefits of the study and the negative side effects. Is there enough of a benefit? How can you measure it?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 75: Flying

I received a surprise last night from LeeAnn. Last night, she asked if I wanted to go up in a helicopter tomorrow. I had to ask if she was serious. I had given up any hope of going in a helicopter this summer, so I was blown away and surprised that I might be able to! Ryan and the GeoExplorer group were going out to Wapusk today by helicopter and had an extra spot on the heli, which wouldn't cost them anything extra for me to sit in. 

LeeAnn told me last night that I would get to go up, but having been told that I could go up in a helicopter before and not having things work out, I didn't tell anyone. I didn't quite want to get my hopes up. But at 8:30, when we drove the bus down Ramsay road to the helicopter pad... it was real.

This is a jet ranger helicopter. It is a bit smaller than the long
ranger, seating three in the back and the pilot and one passenger
in the front and it can't take as much weight. This is the one I
got to fly in! A brief safety thing: only approach the helicopter
from the front so the pilot can see you and you avoid the rotor
on the tail. Then you have to bend down a bit to approach the
cabin so the top rotor doesn't catch you in it's dipping path.
Then other details about the seat belts, doors, emergency sat phones,
etc. I was put in the back in the middle because of weight
balancing, but I was in a helicopter! 

We were about 300 ft above the ground and going around
120 km/hr. I thought that the helicopter would be a lot smoother
than the planes, which in some ways it was since we didn't fly
high enough to go through cloud turbulence. But the rotors
vibrated the entire craft and you can feel through the thin metal
walls how hard it is to travel through air. It is absolutely amazing
how a helicopter works! And the landscape was so amazing!

This was our destination for the day, Nester 1, in
Wapusk National Park. You can see the two storage
sheds, the cabin with bunk beds, the one room kitchen,
the look out tower, the solar panels on the generator roof,
the outhouse and normal bathrooms, and of course the fence
to keep polar bears out and crazy researchers in. You
can also see the long ranger helicopter that carried most
of the supplies. I've heard so much about Nester 1 and all the
parties and amazing wildlife that go on there, especially from
Celia, but from Lauren and Jill and Emilie as well. What
an amazing place to stay. A little compound on the vast,
flat tundra. (They also have a basketball net set up right by
the fence. This causes problems because the ball goes over the
fence - I somehow managed not to do that today, though many
close calls while shooting. When it does, you have to go get a
bear monitor, one of the park's guys, to go out with you as you
get it. Otherwise the gate is closed at all times. Polar Bears...)

Above the dinning room table in the kitchen. I obliged.

For the outhouse. Remember to grab the
seat before doing your thing. And don't
to hang it up afterwards - bears have tried to
eat it...

Caribou tracks! I went out of the compound with the high school
GeoExplorers group who were sampling at two sites today. They
are measuring the active layer depth and trying to see if the
surface vegetation can have an effect on the depth of the
permafrost active layer. They measure out a transect and every
meter they probe the soil to find out how far down they have
to go before hitting ice. Then they look at what the vegetation is
around the probing point. Of course, the vegetation and the
active layer depth are predicted to change with climate change
which makes this study really interesting. I wish I could have
done this as a high school student!

Wolf tracks!

Dryas on a slight hillside.

Caribou in the distance, grazing.

I went back with the pilot after staying for a late dinner that I
helped to make at Nester 1. We got back around 8 and the
way the sun shone was so beautiful on all the lakes. It takes
about 18 minutes to get from Nester 1 to CNSC, but it went
by as though it were only 5 minutes.

And back at the study centre! A long day of setting up tents
and roaming the tundra (I may have gotten sun burned....)
and I am quite exhausted. I wonder what further adventure will
come in this last week and a half!
(p.s. I was flying in a HELICOPTER!!!!!!)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 74: Kayaking with the beluga whales

Today's adventure was back on the Churchill River. Today's fix was two-fold, kayaking plus belugas. It was wild.

Being my timely self, I arrived at the beach half an hour before we were scheduled to push off into the river. So I waited, nay, I prepared. I staked out which kayak I would take, watching the belugas on the horizon. I played with my paddle, twirling it and getting accustomed to the weight, like a fencer balancing a new sword. I eagerly went through the ritual of preparation. Splash skirt tightened, life jacket fastened and adjusted, hair pulled back, ready face on. I was preparing for the battle against the waves.

Finally, after signing the weaver, I carried my kayak down to the beach. I maneuvered into the seat with expert balance and skill. I stretched the skirt. I stretched it again. And I got someone else to hold the back and stretch it again to the front. No go. The skirt didn't fit the cockpit. I tore it off, in mad fashion. Resolutely deciding that I would rather go with no skirt than wait another five minutes for the staff to find a new one. So I hoped back in, lifting the boat with my hands to push off into the water - too eager to allow the staff to help, though help he tried. He gave me a bit of a push, which I took full advantage of, dipping strongly into the water with each stroke, I was flying. The strain in the shoulders and back, the delicate grip on the paddle, the rush of water and wind. I was flying and out to the buoy in a minute and past all the other kayakers who had had a head start in another minute. And another minute more... the first beluga.

Like going into battle, I had this fear. Not of my equipment that I had been trained in, had kayaked over a hundred miles in and had complete confidence in, but of the unknown behavior. The first sign of the beluga up close was a burst of bubbles and a streak of white beneath the surface, headed right towards me. Will it ram me? Will it flip me? And then it didn't. Instead, this massive beluga whale swam underneath me and blew a giant burst of bubbles right under my kayak. Like floating to the clouds on carbonation. The fear dissolved with the bubbles, and I became giddy with excitement. 

The next whale that came, I paddled to keep up with. Chasing it and him chasing me. We were led further and further out into the river. Playing with each pod while the rain started to fall around me, the water in the river jumping up at each drop. And I laughed harder. It didn't matter to the whales that it was raining, they were still swimming and playing, so I laughed. And when I laughed, the belugas came closer, maybe responding to the sound. Five together, ten. They swam all around me and I began to giggle and shout. Hello! Hello my friends! You are so beautiful. I love you! Thank you! Thank you! Namaste! 

When the rain subsided, I was soaked but happy. Being far from all the other kayakers who had stayed near shore, I could hear them. The whales. They were calling to each other. Were they calling to me? The vibrations were enhanced within the cockpit, I knew when they were right below me. At one point, 4 whales circled beneath me, calling and calling, so vocal. And I paddled with them. Whistling to them in response, the closest to their communication that I could get. But I paddled with them for 10 minutes and they would surface right beside my kayak, an arm's length away, breathing and taking my breathe away. I kept paddling with them, getting a bit ahead in my excitement and having to wait for them to catch up to me or pass me so I could catch up with them. One pushed his nose against the stern of my kayak as I paddled hard, following and nudging in my wake. Another swam along side me, tilting his head so our eyes met. I stared into the eye of the arctic survivor, the intelligence of water and ice. Then they fed, circling and splashing in the water ahead of me, a fin raised above water like a salute. 

I have no pictures of these amazing whales. For once memory will have to replace a snapped image. For once, the flowing picture in my mind will have to be the one that remains real rather than the one still image that a tourist might be able to capture and then look at for years after, making the picture real rather than the experience. This experience, untainted by lens, will be with me for the rest of my life. Kayaking with beluga whales.

I also had to say goodbye to friends today. I will miss you greatly Sarah and Amy. Firefly will never be the same! Or the northern lights without blankets wrapped tightly around. So many great people I have been able to meet, but they keep slipping away so quickly. I hope to meet you again!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 72

To start out, I thought I ought to provide a few visuals to accompany yesterday's post, so the next few photos are from the insect transects that I walk at 7:30 every morning. This morning was a particularly cloudy day that started out rather foggy. The location of the transects is down a bit of a hill from the centre and then into this tundra area surrounded by forest and willow stands. On the best of days, I carry a firearm and a radio, though it isn't very far from the centre, I am going alone. I'm glad that I am cautious this way because later in the day yesterday, I had found out that a bear was spotted right in the area I was walking alone just a few minutes after I had returned to the centre. That worried me a bit this morning, that and the fact of the fog, so I drove the distance down the hill and to the tundra field so the safety of a truck was just that much closer. The distance isn't insignificant from the Centre to the transect, at least a good 2 or so minutes of walking, the length of a song, if I can measure by converting any unit relatively. Anyway, I took the truck this morning, with no incidents or encounters.

This is the marker for the start of the transect. I've always wondered
what it was, as had Hope who had shown me the site and what to
do before she and the rest of the Godwit team had left. I asked LeeAnn
and found out that this is the thing that people climb up onto to get
into a tundra buggy in the winter. The tundra buggies are just that big.
So incase you were wondering.

The first cup. As you can see, the brim is level with the ground
so insects walking along will fall into it. The flagging tape
just helps me see it from far away. It's a big transect and I could
easily get lost on the tundra looking for these little cups.

This cup had a spider at the bottom of the ethanol which I
scooped out and into a jar to measure the length of back in
the lab.

The next adventure of the morning was to go to my five lakes, collect water samples, and take some measurements of water chemistry (water temperature, conductivity - kinda like saltiness, % dissolved oxygen, and pH). At one of the lakes, Larch, there was this huge area of tundra covered in cloud berries! They were the perfect soft ripeness that just falls into you hand just by brushing the top of the berry, so naturally, Caleigh and I harvested a couple bags full!

They taste a bit like baked apple, which is a really interesting
taste for a berry... The blueberries are almost ripe. The crowberries
have been ripe, but they are really hard to eat with all the seeds, and
I just don't find all that appealing. The wild strawberries are ripe,
but other animals (researchers) ate them all before I got a chance. I've
managed to steal just a few of the flavorful strawberries. The cranberries
won't be ripe for another three weeks or so, so I will miss them. And
the bear berries are ripe, but I don't think they taste like much either.

We also harvested a bunch of Myrica gale or sweet gale or bog myrtle to make tea. It smells really good so I can't wait until it's dry! Apparently, it also makes for a decent insect repellant, though I have yet to be desperate enough to smear the leaves all over me. I've gotten close at times though!

After our harvesting break, we went to Caleigh's sites to pluck the dryas puffs. Another thing that I talked about in an earlier blog post.

The afternoon was mostly filtering and bruising up my shoulder. Obviously the more interesting story here is the water filter, which I do twice a week, so I will now write several thousand words about triple rinsing, the electric pump, the cellulose-acetate filter, the sulphuric acid... Well, I could, except the interest level may be lost. Instead, I will talk about my bruised shoulder and how it became bruised. Can you guess?

I had bad form. That's right, I went shooting! One of the most important parts of shooting a shotgun is getting the butt of the stock snugly into the "meaty" part of your shoulder. That was were I failed. That and probably not doing the teapot stance, as in "I'm a little teapot, short and stout, here is my handle, here is my spout, when I get all steamed up, hear me shout, tip me over and pour me out." In the stance, you have to lean forward from the hips, kinda like being tipped in the song or like triangle pose in yoga. That way, the recoil takes the force from the lean rather than directly into your shoulder. So, I have a nice big bruise there now! But the upside is, I'm getting a lot better at aim! I got 6 holes through the target (out of 14), which isn't too bad! Definitely an improvement over the last time I shot, which I managed 0. It was a lot of fun to go out on such a beautiful afternoon! I also got to fire a 22 semi-automatic hand gun! I really didn't expect to do that, I though it was just shotgun practice day. A hand gun is so different from a shotgun. The recoil is there, but in comparison, nonexistent. And that was just really really cool. You can just keep pulling the trigger (unlike squeezing the trigger on a shotgun) without having to reload, since it does that automatically (unless it gets jammed, which it did rather often). With a shotgun, you have to pump between shots to load the next slug, assuming you are using a pump-action which is what I use here. So yea, super cool! I kept my target paper for proof!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 71: Broken into 4

To make up for the short posts of the last couple of days, I am writing 4 parts today.

Part 1: Spiders

My latest assigned task is to run the insect transects left to me by the Godwit crew who left us about a week and a half ago. Before the Godwit crew left, they had been going out each morning to collect insects from these pitfall traps, daily in some places and weekly in others.

Imagine a plastic cup with ethanol about a quarter of the way up. Then imagine digging a hole into the ground so that it perfectly fits this cup, right up to the brim, so the brim is even with the rest of the ground. Then leave the cup there in your imagination. Walk away. Go about whatever the day has in store for you. You can even forget about the cups for the rest of the day, it's ok, because science is still going on. So what is going on? You are going to have to come back to that cup you put in the ground. And when you carefully lift the cup out, there will now be life in it! No, this is not spontaneous generation, which Louis Pasteur disproved with his meat in a flask experiments. So the other explanation, which is obvious and you probably already know, is that life/insects that were walking along, minding their own business, kept walking only to discover that they suddenly fell into a liquid which they cannot escape due to the slippery sides. Some people use a soapy water mixture to break the water tension so the bugs can't escape that way. The Godwit crew used ethanol to preserve the insects that may die between sampling times. So when you sample them, you have to take a spoon and fish out each insect and put it into a different bottle so you can take it back to the lab and identify the insect to order. This is a simplification, it's a bit broader than insects and includes a wide variety of invertebrates, including spiders and snails and flies and ants, but basically small moving things that a Godwit would find tasty. A Godwit, or the more specific species, the Hudsonian Godwit is a football sized shore bird with a long bill and long legs that makes yearly migrations from South America, such as in Argentina, to the arctic, such as Churchill or Alaska. Their population is in a decline, as are many shorebird species, but no one really knows why yet.

So why do they collect these invertebrates? To answer the question of: how much food is available for Godwits and other shorebirds at a given time of the year? This is really important and forms the basis of the Mismatch hypothesis. The mismatch hypothesis has to be explained in three steps. First, normally or in past conditions, the migratory birds go somewhere to breed and time their breeding so that the hatch date of their eggs will be close to, or match, the same day that the invertebrates are at the peak of their abundance. Second, it would be beneficial for the hatch date and the day that food is most available to match up because the chicks born would get a lot of food in the first few days, critical for growth! Third, the hypothesis says that due to climate change and warmer and earlier springs, the invertebrate abundance peak is happening earlier, but that the birds are still migrating at the same time and breeding at the same time so that the hatch day is after the peak invertebrate abundance day, hence a mismatch. If the mismatch continues, the chicks are less likely to get the food they need to grow, and thus be more vulnerable to starvation, predation, sickness, storm events, cold weather, stress, etc. It's not good.

So this is one of my tasks. I have to walk down to the transect near the Met building (meterological building where weather measurements used to be taken back in the army and rocket days), fish the insects out of the cups with a spoon, some alive, some dead, and then take it back to the lab to id them and to measure them. This allows the Godwit researchers to calculate the total biomass at that location, biomass is used as an indicator of how many insects are available for Godwits to eat.

It is not my favorite job. I have so far found 2 frogs, both luckily alive so they were released and allowed to hop away. I have found a female spider with 20 baby spiders dug into her abdomen! They were all alive which made it really stressful trying to count and measure all of them! The spiders creep me out the most. I put a spoon gently and slowly into the bottle to carefully lift a live spider off of the top of the water and it suddenly jumps up and tries to grab the spoon! Of course I drop the spoon. Of course I spill the bottle. Of course the spider starts its frantic skittering to get away. But I recover faster and block it with the ruler, getting a measurement at the same time. Now she can run away as fast as she likes. I got my data.

Part 2: Bannock

Today was quite special today, though. It was a slow science day, mostly playing around with graphs and reading journal articles, so I got to sneak into the kitchen. I made bannock. Bannock is a traditional Scottish dense bread that was brought over with the Europeans. When it was brought over and introduced to the natives, it just took off! It took off so well in the native community that many people misconceive it to be a traditional aboriginal food. The study centre sometimes makes a special dinner for the tourist groups and learning vacations who stay at the centre. During this dinner, they serve arctic char and bannock. I love bannock! It is so delicious. And having not really cooked or baked anything all summer, I was itching to get into the kitchen, and I was itching to learn how to make bannock. Today, I got my wish.

There are so many different recipes to make bannock, each tasting differently from the last, but meeting the same basic principle: dense bread. The recipe that Rob and Rosalind, the chefs at CNSC, use is a Thompson Cree recipe. It is really simple: flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, water, oil, milk. Mix, knead, poke with a fork, let rest, bake, eat. Well, that's how I made this one, with Rob's guidance and flour dusting assistance. There are a lot of varieties on how to cook it. Instead of baking, the dough can be deep-fried and be more of the consistency of a donut (soooo amazingly good!). Or the dough can be wrapped around a stick and roasted over a fire (haven't tried this one yet, but it has become highly recommended). The ingredients can change as well. Instead of oil, blubber and fat from what ever is available can be used. Or raisons can be added. I suppose you can also add whatever spices you want, but I'm not sure it is necessary since the bread is basically just flour, you can eat it with anything, a hearty stew or with butter and honey or jam, or, which I have Krista and Celia to thank for, with cream cheese and pepper. All variations are delicious! I really like bannock. I think I'm going to have to make it when I get home.

Part 3: Skip if you really liked part 2

I gave you the warning to skip this section. I really think you should if thoughts of melted butter on bread and warm campfires are still in your head. Seriously, you will not like this next section. You have been warned.

To those who do not take warnings seriously, this section is about scent. I am not talking about the scent of a flower, or the scent of baked bread, or the scent of perfume. Well, perfume may not be a terrible example if you think of the perfume made from a murdered girl as in Patrick Suskind's Perfume: The story of a murderer. Really, that is the mind set of this section: disgust. Still want to read on?

I returned from baking the bannock back to the lab. As soon as I opened the door, a wall of air hit me, smelling of fermentation. Stepping into the room with a look of disgust openly displayed, I started to distinguish a fruity scent mixed with the fermentation. LeeAnn was there as well and mirrored my face when I complained of the scent. She thought the same, but didn't know what it was. She had left for half an hour or so and came back to the stench in the same way I had. That's when I started sniffing around the lab benches.

I have never really used my nose to locate a specific small location before. We humans are so smell deficient. We are unable to distinguish scents, and can only track them if they are really strong and becomes visual once you get close. Think of a pie. You smell it, you know it's a pie, you walk in the general direct, nose pointed into the wind, and you look until you see a pie. Now think of a rotten fruit, a tiny thing that can be hidden anywhere in this room, and emitting a strong odor. I had such a hard time trying to pinpoint the location of the scent. It is not a sense that I have ever honed, nor needed to hone. And pursuing a stench by following your nose seems to be such an weird thing to do, sniffing avery few feet to catch the direction.

But after a few minutes, I became acclimatized and didn't notice the scent as strongly. I had to leave the room for a bit and come back to try to narrow the space further. Once I got it to a corner of the lab, LeeAnn and I tried our visual cues. Breaking out a flashlight, looking in every box. I thought that perhaps the squirrel had stashed something somewhere, since it's been running through the lab for a couple days. (The squirrel was found dead yesterday in the old gift shop. It had tried to chew through the wall, which probably killed the poor thing. Why didn't you go into our trap? There was cookie in there, waiting for you. Then you would have been released back to the wild!) Then, I thought that someone had tossed something in the corner, since the scent started sometime between 3 and 4:30, and it was suddenly strong! Or maybe a chemical spilled that was causing this weird reaction. Or something like someone putting on hand lotion and walking out - what a terrible scent for hand lotion! We didn't find the source. My hope is that tomorrow it is either gone, or a stronger scent so we can find it more easily. In conclusion, my olfactory senses need work, and I did warn you. No more delicious thoughts in your head.

Part 4: Yoga

I went to yoga in town this evening. It was a class meant to open the hips. There was a lot of forward bending and groin stretching. It was a pretty challenging class tonight. But I am so proud of myself. I have definitely gotten more flexible this summer. I didn't need to use straps for some of the poses today during some of the forward bends, where the hamstrings are stretched out. I could actually wrap my fingers around my toes and touch the flour without props. The next step is to get my head to the floor! For a brief moment of exertion, I decided to push further on the pose where you sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. I managed, for a second or so, to touch my head to my straight knees! I couldn't hold it, but it is definitely proof of having become more flexible.

Yoga normally begins and ends with savasana, corpse pose. You lay on your back with palms up and legs flat and just relax, melting into the floor. Erin, our yoga teacher (teacher is a much better word than instructor, she was doing much more than giving direction to the practice and demoing poses, she was teaching one on one, focusing on each individuals pose and how to improve that person. Erin is an amazing, caring teacher), played a crystal bowl during savasana. The concept is to create a resonance that will amplify the specific frequency of the bowl until the vibrations seem so loud that they are felt inside the body. It is similar to running your finger around the edge of a wine glass to get that deep tone. The physics behind it is all about waves and oscillations. The player adds energy to the system that matches the natural frequency of the bowl, that can lead to the playing of harmonics. It is so perfect when you hear it. The feeling from these bowls is so uplifting after a long yoga session. I was in a state of dazed peace, with such a strong love for everything in the world. Thank you, Erin.

Added tidbit:
I booked my flight back to Waterloo today. I have mixed feelings. Tomorrow means only two weeks left. Last year, I came up here at the start of two weeks and felt like that was such a long time. Right now, two weeks seems like a blink of an eye, so I don't want to blink.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 70: Barely moved

The day went by so fast, yet I barely moved. But thank you Celia and Brittany for allowing me to interview you! It was a lot of fun and brightened my day!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 69: Once in a lifetime

Last night, the Aurora Borealis:

Over a setting sun at 23:45

Tonight's adventure, walking out to the Ithaca at lowtide.

Our fantastic bear guard, Krista, taking it very seriously! Thanks!

The Ithaca

This is Caleigh and Krista: "I wonder what would happen if I
squeezed it..."

It squirts out!

Matt karate chopping the giant kelp (we were walking on what
is normally under water so there was kelp and seaweed and algae

Ribbon cutting ceremony: attempt number 2

We mad it!

There is a hole in the hull. Hi Celia!

Let's all jump at the same time on a rusting out ship with
holes in the floor. Great idea!

Not what we wanted to see: A polar bear came up on the bluffs
between us, out at the Ithaca, and the trucks. Luckily, it decided
that it wasn't interested in us and wandered away down the beach.
Thanks to Krista, who took charge, we all made it safely back to
the trucks without firing a shot. 

Bright sunsets

And neon pink skies.

Also interviewed the other plover lover, Anne. Thanks for the great interview today!

And found three really cool articles for my research on pigments and their use on the benthic and phytoplankton communities + (unexpectedly but awesomely) a nutrient study combining the pigment analysis! How perfect is that?