Saturday, January 31, 2009

Louisiana in January

It seems every year I get tired of the cold (and for me cold = temperatures less than 60 degrees F) I rejuvenate by simply getting on my bicycle and realizing the beauty of Louisiana in the 'winter' months. As most of you know, I try to bike to school everyday. It takes about 20 minutes and the majority of this bike ride is on a poorly maintained path around the LSU lakes. These lakes are man-made but quite beautiful. They support a wide array of birds, turtles, and plant life. Often times biking to and from campus I had some of the best 'eureka' moments concerning my dissertation. It helps that my study site (Catahoula Lake), the largest, natural freshwater lake in Louisiana, is about 2.5 hours north of Baton Rouge. So all in all the vegetation is not so different from the vegetation I see around the LSU lakes everyday. Now Catahoula Lake has this fluctuating hydrology that causes the lake to drawdown and expose the lakebed on a yearly cycle. The LSU lakes on the otherhand have relatively stable lake levels. There are areas, however, that over the duration of my time spent working on my dissertation, have periodically dried up due to short periods of drought. When this happens I am able to watch and observe the changes that occur with regards to the vegetation.

For example, in this area there is a stand of Taxodium distichium (bald cypress) trees. These trees grow in an area that periodically floods and has standing water. This standing water has decreased the presence of a permanent grassmat and has also encouraged Salix sp. (willows) and algae to grow on the saturated ground. As most people know, my research consists of reconstructing vegetation based on the presence of pollen assemblages. So when I look at this area I see visions of pollen grains floating in my head and often use this 'modern analog' as a way to interpret the pollen I see in my lake cores. I won't bore anyone with the details, but let's just say I love that when I look at these things everyday it causes the wheels to turn in my brain and makes me appreciate the surrounding environment and the subtle changes more than usual.

So in short, I just love this about my bike riding and about my research. So as I spend the last few weeks biking in Baton Rouge I may use this as an opportunity to document the things I see everyday. This will serve as a remembrance to me of my time spent surrounded by the beauty of Louisiana and also possibly inspire others to bike to work and notice the small changes that occur everyday and the things that stay the same.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blog in the making

So I have been druelling over the various knitting and craft blogs that I see on a daily basis and i thought that as I come to the final days of my PhD program, anticipating my defense date, that I would start to put together a blog where I can document the adventures I am having in the world of knitting, cooking, gardening, traveling, and science. I am not sure what sort of things I will talk about and if anyone will read this, but I am realized that when I do finish this graduate school chapter in my life I would like to open a new chapter where I can continue to explore all the things i have placed on the back burner for the past 5 years.

One of the things I have a deep love for is Botany. I must have gotten this love from my father. He is a ornithologist and I used to go bird watching with him. I always had more of an attraction to the trees and plants that the birds were in and my father was always great at telling me about the vegetation surrounding me. He also has an amazing collection of orchids (~30-35) that are growing and blooming. I am not financially ready for the orchid investment, but this weekend I picked up a nice bromeliad, Tillandsia (aka Air Plant). It was only $2 and I just like the idea of having it already. I grows on the nutrients in the air and only requires misting or 2 hour submersal in water every 2 weeks. I may start a collection of these.

Right now, I may simply talk about how I feel as the day to my defense sneak up on me, but as I finish I would like to start traveling down another road. Speaking of roads-- here is a little robert frost

The Road Not Taken (1919)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I memorized this poem for 7th grade english class and have remembered it ever since.