This is my 20th summer of doing field research in Bahía de los Ángeles. I started back in the summer of 2000, working with Gary Huxel and Paco Piñero, trying to keep things together (on a number of levels) following the deaths of Gary Polis and colleagues Mike Rose, Shigeru Nakano, Takuya Abe, and Masahiko Higashi in a tragic research accident.
A lot has happened in the last 20 years. We moved back to San Diego; we both have jobs we love, have forged new friendships and collaborations while strengthening those we already had, welcomed a wonderful daughter into our lives, and had to say goodbye too soon to some friends and family. Through it all, Bahia has been a constant, both as a source of renewal, my second home, a nexus for creating scientific and personal relationships, and as a natural laboratory for exploring ecological questions.
So, not only was this a great trip for many of the usual reasons (exciting research, working with friends, amazing students, and a stunning location), but it also reminds me of just how lucky I am.
I have always been a huge fan of McNair - both the program and the astronaut (please watch that linked video). They are so relentlessly devoted to championing young scholars whose talent might otherwise not be fully expressed.
I have been fortunate to work with the McNair Scholars program at USD for a few years now, and through that have been lucky to work with some bright, driven, and delightful students. We have published papers together, worked on their science skills (and my mentoring skills) together, and enjoyed countless hours in the field, the lab, and even the zoo (ok, that last was just for fun, not work).
I am proud to say I was awarded the McNair Faculty Mentor of the Year award at USD, but I also feel the need to be 100% honest - that award (and the cool trophy) was made possible by having these great students, who then went to the trouble of nominating me. It is easy to look like a great mentor when your students are amazing.
As I said when I received the award, I am not being humble - heck, NOBODY loves me more than I love me - but this is another one of those cases where the laurels fall to the wrong person. If anyone should be getting an award, it is people like Ramiro Frausto, Director of the program at USD, who makes it easy for me to do my part, or the students with whom I worked, because I mostly just stayed out of their way and let them flourish!
I regret that I never had the chance to meet Ronald McNair, but I am thrilled that I get the opportunity to add a tiny bit to his legacy of great work.
This is just to say
I have said no
To the thing
You wanted me
To do for free
you were probably
I’d think was an opportunity
I am too busy
And it is
Not a good use of my time
I had the great pleasure of working with the artist behind Butcher Press Studio, Katy Yeaw, on a piece celebrating my favorite fish.
I love how this turned out - I was, not surprisingly, a HUGE pain in the ass about how Fundulus are depicted, so they had to be in the right habitat, not in imminent danger (ha! not today, snowy egret), and the color - well, I was a real plague as far as the color. You probably can’t tell from this low-resolution photo, but she went back over the fish with an extra coat of paint, and in person they have just the right shimmer and depth.
Katy’s screen-printing technique is an absolute marvel to me, and I even convinced her to show me some of the screens and explain the process. Her work does such a nice job of capturing the feel of the organisms and places she paints, and yet the look is SO iconic and representational at the same time, I just love it.
So, while I own #1 of 25 signed and limited edition prints, and nobody could pry that away from me, you could get your own - just contact Butcher Press. Or you could settle for an amazing painting of some lesser animal or subject, if you are so inclined.
So, one of our talented students, Davis Luanava, took it upon herself to start a podcast, interviewing professors here at University of San Diego. She was nice enough to let me ramble for a half hour or so about my pathway through college and career. If you are interested, the link it HERE.
Full disclosure - I cannot bear to listen to myself, so I can’t vouch for the quality of my blathering, but I am hopeful that she edited out any dopey stuff I said and made me sound wise!
Also - she asked me what music I wanted as an intro, but I couldn’t think quickly enough, and lamely blurted out “uh, blues?”. Now that I have had time to think, I would have suggested something by Tom Waits or The White Stripes or Trio Calaveras or Muddy Waters or….well, pretend when you listen that one of those artists was playing for my intro.
I was seemingly the last person to learn that “Hamilton” is wonderful, and now I see that am late to another party. I just learned how effective and talented the Climate Science Alliance is.
If it is something I care deeply about, chances are the Climate Science Alliance is engaged and effective in that topic. Climate science? Of course. Integrating climate science with common core standards and using it to teach thousands of kids in the US and Mexico? Sure. Bringing together talent in Art and Science? Undoubtedly. I could go on and on, but the short version is, you would be hard-pressed to find a more effective, talented group focused on bringing climate science to the public.
How do they do it? Well, talented leadership is one way - Amber Pairis, their Director, is a skilled scientist, fellow of the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, and a leader in climate science and education. Alexandria Warneke is their Deputy Director, and is also a skilled communicator and accomplished scientist. And Martha Aidé Escalante Garcia’s leadership in Baja California led to more than 7,000 kids getting climate science in their lives last year alone.
Visit their website and check out their work!
This is a really interesting article about hijab. I consider myself reasonably well informed, but learned a lot. And am going to work on not calling a headcovering “a hijab”.
And on topic, please Donate, Organize, or Show Up - a good list of ways you can try and help after the horror in New Zealand. To steal a quote from John Hodgman:
So, there are these two phenomenal artists (Joey Rose and Alexandra Underwood) who were working on an art project related to climate change and ocean acidification. They were wondering who some of the key scientists are in the field, past and present, and I put that question out to a bunch of fellow scientists.
A few names kept reappearing on people’s lists (maybe a future post here). But one of those names that kept showing up, but is probably NOT on the radar of the general layperson, is Dr. Lisa Levin, who ALSO happens to have been my PhD advisor.
I have mentioned Lisa before - recently, in fact, in this post. But I could not state her achievements better than the artist, Joey Rose did in his instagram post:
Joey’s portrait of her is just too good not to share, so here you go! What an incredible display of talent.
Went out to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to take a look at the “superbloom” we heard so much about, and while it was beautiful, I feel like “super” might be overstating it. I vote we just call it a “really good bloom”. But is was gorgeous.
I had a lot of fun talking about food webs, habitat connectivity, and (of course) Fundulus with an excited but polite group of 3d and 4th graders at the Ellis School in New Hampshire. The asked some really thoughtful questions about how humans impact the ocean, what they can do as individuals to lessen their impact, and why I love Fundulus. They also asked some really tough ones, like how many species of fishes are in the sea (I had to look it up - there are close to 34,000 species identified), and what the average day is like in the life of a scientist. Interacting with groups of engaged, inquisitive, and sincere students like these always fills me with optimism about our future.
I also would like to thank Sarah McAnulty (@SarahMackAttack on Twitter), Founder of Skype A Scientist, and these students’ teachers, Erin and Hannah. It is thanks to Sarah’s hard work these long-distance classroom visits exist (plus her twitter feed is awesome), and it is teachers like Erin and Hannah who do so much to prepare our next generation of scientists, decision-makers, and informed citizens. Thanks you guys! And I hope you get to see some Fundulus heteroclitus (“mummichogs”) the next time you go to the beach!
Here is a screenshot from our Skype Chat!
So nice to hear a thoughtful, powerful woman in STEM talk about diversity and inclusion in our local paper. Marlem is a wonderful, articulate young scientist. She, her husband, and her brother are all making the world a better place.
Click the picture above to go to the article.
I had a fantastic time this morning with some budding scientists from Rosa Parks Elementary School in City Heights; a couple of their dedicated teachers; Staff from Ocean Discovery Institute, and a few parents. My goal was to talk to them about my (highly non-linear) career path, and get them excited about wetlands and ecology. The story of trematode infections in horn snails/Fundulus/birds is always a fun one, since it involves alien-like possession, poop, and charismatic critters.
After I told them about how much I struggled with math as a kid (and how I leaned on friends, teachers, and other resources to get through!), I told them the parasite story, but used the marsh as a “prop” - we held Fundulus, Cerithidia, we ooooh-ed and aaaah-ed, and then when I was looking around for nearby birds as examples of final hosts, we were lucky enough to see a flamingo - yes, an actual, living, flamingo in San Diego Bay.
Working with great educators, in a wetland, surrounded by ~60 excited 4th graders, playing with Fundulus, AND seeing a flamingo?
Now THAT is an awesome way to spend a morning!
[warning - long customer service rant ahead]
I really want to like AT&T. My grandfather worked for them back in the days of telegraphs, and I still have an old telegraph unit he was given on his retirement back in the 1960’s. And I have fond memories of our old Bell rotary dial monstrosities from my childhood. But unfortunately I have had nothing but bad experiences with them for the past several years.
I used to have cell service through them, but coverage was spotty, and customer service was poor. Still, coverage is very location-specific, so I wrote that off as just a function of where I traveled, and moved my cell service to Verizon (which has been great for me, especially with my Mexico fieldwork), but kept my ATT landline. I know, I sound like a luddite maintaining a landline, but I have done so out of safety concerns - I like the comfort of knowing 911 operators know exactly where I am, and having a landline that works even during power outages is comforting. We had an incident a few years ago with an active shooter, and it was nice knowing that even if I dropped the phone, police would know where I was and what was happening. So we have dealt with the crazy cost for a basic landline ($50+/month for the most rudimentary line they will give us).
And then - a couple of weeks ago, our landline dialed 911 in the middle of the night. We didnt know it until two police cruisers showed up, asking to walk the premises to be certain there was nothing nefarious going on. The police were professional and friendly, but also clearly perturbed that they were taken from other duties to come wander through a house at 3 am. Our phones had been acting up the last few days, so we unplugged them, thinking it was our wireless phones, and used an old corded phone.
The next night, the same thing happened at midnight. The police were still professional and courteous, but a bit more put-out by the interruption. So the next morning, I tried AT&T’s online help service - as soon as you select “connection problem”, you get told to call their service number. So I tried their service number, which yields a long series of phone tree decisions that ultimately lead to…an automated system that sets a service call appointment. Ours is set for Jan 8. Thinking that is a long time to be harassing the police, I turned to Twitter. I have had great luck with Cox and Verizon using Tweet-based customer service, and AT&Ts Twitter handle is “ATTCares”, so how could I go wrong?
Apparently, their naming scheme is irony-based. They responded reasonably quickly (a few hours), asked for my account number, and said “You came to the right place, Drew!” followed by “give us some time while we look into your account”. That was two days (and two police visits) ago, and not a word from ATT, either on email, Twitter, or my cell phone. But this story does have a happy ending. Since I already have Cox for internet (Gigabit internet, no less), adding internet phone service will cost me only $3 a month over my current payment. SO I save over $50 a month by being able to dump AT&T. And with e911, dispatchers will know where I am calling from, AND the IP modem has a backup battery, so works in a (reasonably short) power outage.
Saving $50 a month, saving the police from making needless trip to my house, saving sleep not having to let them walk the house in the middle of the night, and knowing that I am not sending >$600 a year to a company with such awful customer service? THAT is a great way to start 2019!
We have our older traditions (pajamas on Christmas Eve), newer ones (Colbert Christmas, Elf, and Die Hard as holiday canon), but one newer personal tradition stands out:
Every year I re-read and share John Gruber’s wonderful, short thoughts about the holiday. You should too.
Last weekend was pretty monumental for me, and I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the path that led to where I am, and the way forward. And smiling a lot (well, you know…for a curmudgeon like me, anyway).
This weekend I was putting away some old research notebooks, and noticed an entry I made in Bahía de los Ángeles in 2003, while there with Dave Sandstrom and some people from The Nature Conservancy doing some research. I noticed this entry:
“Sun Nov 16. Decamped in Cataviña, checked out the cave paintings, then drove to BdlA. Set up boats for quarterly sampling with Sammy. Road out to BdlA was very very green (as was the rest of the trip down). Bahia itself looks verdant. Shara Fisler is in camp with Travis, Melissa, and one other girl to check things out for the next summer.”
OK, first, excuse my “one other girl” comment. That was Lindsay, who is wonderful, and certainly a woman not a “girl”. I have become better about weird language use since then.
This was my first time in Bahía de los Ángeles with Ocean Discovery Institute (neé “Aquatic Adventures”). I had no idea at the time how much Shara, Travis, Melissa, Lindsay, and the program would become a part of my life.
Last summer was my 15th summer in Bahia with Ocean Discovery Institute. Students from the very first year are to this day friends (some more like family) and colleagues; my daughter calls Shara “Aunty Shara”, and has learned a lot about diversity, nature, and feeling grateful through our relationship. Ocean Discovery Institute and my family have gotten grants together, written papers together, and dreamed together. I recall one conversation in Bahia, maybe in 2007, sitting in the sweltering staff house working on schedules and proposals, where Shara turned to me and said “Wouldn’t it be amazing if one day we were an institute? And you had former Ocean Leaders who were your grad students working down here, and we had a facility in City Heights?”. Of course I agreed, but I also thought it was akin to wishing I would one day be a Nobel laureate - fun to dream about, but not very likely.
Clearly, I underestimated Shara and Ocean Discovery Institute.
As time went on, I became more involved, eventually becoming the Science Director for Ocean Discovery Institute. Ocean Leaders went on to college and careers in large numbers, the programs expanded to include the entire “school shed”, in City Heights, and several years ago Anai Novoa, an Ocean Leader, completed her Masters degree with Theresa and I, doing work *in bahia*.
Last weekend, I watched the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Ocean Discovery Institute’s new “Living Lab” in City Heights. The place was filled with supporters and well-wishers - political leaders, scientists, community members, donors, volunteers, and Ocean Leaders. Visions from last Sunday keep coming back to me…my daughter, not even born that first summer, was playing with the children of Ocean Leaders who themselves were children when I met them in 2004. Another Ocean Leader, Rudy Vargas, is now himself a political force in San Diego and beyond, while others are students in STEM, conservation scientists, and community leaders.
Let me be clear - I had only a tiny role in this incredible success. But I am super proud of being there and touching lives to the extent I have, and also very grateful for the ways Ocean Discovery Institute has impacted my life and my family.
I can’t wait to see what happens next!
If you can go see this tonight, do it. I absolutely love her books, and her artwork is wonderful. As The Nat says:
Click the picture below to get your tickets! Tonight at 7pm.
Sure, he is among the most famous and talented marine ecologists, has an amazing family, is a wonderful friend, champion of the underrepresented, and has had a richer life immersed in natural history than anyone could hope for.
And now he is an award-winning author of a children’s book? That hardly seems fair.
Check out Liebres y Ratas, Aves y Semillas, Cactos y Árboles: Plantas y animales en interacción en El Pinacate, Desierto Sonorense, México, winner of one of the 2018 Latino Literacy Now’s International Latino Book Awards.
putting the finishing touches on my slides for this talk at the San Diego Natural History Museum.
Excited? Yes. Nervous? Also yes!