Tea: An Appreciation

overhead view of teacups and girl scout cookies against a UK flag
2011: Black tea with milk and Thin Mints

1991 or so: An overnight field trip to Wallops Island, Virginia.

The tap water is hot. I convince myself it’s hot enough to make tea, and make tea in my Nalgene. Why did I even have teabags with me? I think I wanted to be the kind of person who is prepared to make tea at all times. I also told everyone about the tea from the tap water. Because I was a teenager and it wasn’t enough to have tea, I also needed everyone else to know that this was the kind of person I was.

1998: Ski trip in Norway (less exotic than it sounds—I lived in Norway at the time) Continue reading

The Precarious Life and Untimely Death of Whooper 4-11

The Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, a patch of restored prairie and wetland in southwestern Indiana, is a a favorite stopover for migratory birds and itinerant birders. On January 3, while driving the grid of ruler-straight county roads around the wetland, a birder saw an unmistakable large, white shape: it was a whooping crane, one of the most endangered birds in North America, and it appeared to have been shot dead with a high-powered rifle.

The birder, who happened to be a volunteer with the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, Wisconsin, reported the find to state wildlife officials. The investigation is now in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the crane’s five-foot-tall carcass is under examination at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in southern Oregon. For the scientists and conservationists who have spent decades trying to coax whooper populations back to self-sustaining numbers, the news of the shooting was crushingly familiar: 33 whooping cranes have been shot and killed in the United States since the year 2000, according to records obtained by Lizzie Condon of ICF. That’s a huge toll on a species with only about 440 free-roaming members.

Continue reading

Wind, the uninvited houseguest

Perhaps 500 yards from my door—up an icy, winding driveway, a short way down a gravel road, beyond barbed wire fences and snow-skirffed pastures and the wind-twisted trunks of piñon and juniper trees—is a barn that shelters two sailboats in the middle of the Colorado desert. I first spotted them on a walk and stopped to stare. The nearest large reservoir is more than two hours away from the house I am borrowing here; the ocean, more than 16 hours away.

But as freezing gusts combed fingers through my hair, grasped and numbed my hands, the sailboats began to make a certain sense. This desert breaks in waves to the horizons like an ocean, troughed with canyons, crested with rimrock and foamed with sage and rabbitbrush. And since I arrived two weeks ago, its surface has been slapped by just the kind of steady wind that would make those sailboats fly across water. Perhaps, I thought, they’re waiting for their moment to take wing through the air, instead.

I came to western Colorado for a brief stint of solitude, quiet, and space after a hectic three months. My home in Portland, Oregon, borders a busy thoroughfare. Cars grind by day and night. Drunk people yell from sidewalk corners. There is no escaping the glare of streetlights. When I’m anxious – as I have often been with recent writing projects and the turmoil that’s followed the presidential election – I can’t sleep until I stuff my head under a stack of pillows, simulating the peaceful, pitch-black rural nights that were the norm in my adult life before I moved to the city.

And yet while the desert has delivered more space than I know what to do with, the quiet and solitude I hoped for have been hard to come by. Because the same wind that clutches at my hair and clothes on my walks is always dropping by the house to visit. Continue reading

Redux: The Wonderful World of Oz…and Science

Adventure! Newfangled flying machines! This book has it all! This post originally appeared here on December 3, 2013.



Lately I’ve been reading my way through the series of Oz books. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is only the first in a series of 14 books, and it’s not remotely the best.

It’s fascinating to reread books I loved as a child. Some are still great. Others have inexplicably morphed into poorly-written, preachy duds. Fortunately, the Oz books are the former type. They were published between 1900 to 1920 and vary in quality, but the made-up world is fun and Baum’s sense of humor holds up well.

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, the seventh book in the series, I was surprised—and pleased—to encounter a bit of science. Even better, it’s totally outdated science. Continue reading

Same River Twice

Since last week, we’ve been watching the weather forecast with something that’s almost joy, but won’t quite let itself be. Often, the weekly report has a beaded string of sunshines, with different ways to describe them. Abundant sunshine. Plenty of sun. Hot. Sometimes, there are clouds. But even when the slot machine lineup of my weather app has a series of rainy days, I’ve learned to wait until I see the silver falling. Ever optimistic, the forecast will show those lucky rainstorms even when the chance of rain is as low as 10 percent.

But now, we’re deep in the river. An atmospheric river carries moist air—a strong one channels as much as 15 times the flow at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi. This influx of water vapor can result in a series of storms that can last for days, or even weeks. (There’s a cool graphic of how they work here.) Over the weekend, forecasters were predicting that this was going to be the most powerful series of storms in a decade. Snow, rain, flooding—some forecasts predicted the Santa Cruz Mountains alone could get 10 inches of rain. Continue reading

Just Have Lunch

I wish I could remember – but I can’t  – the woman who told me a story about how she and other women in her profession had regular lunches, casually, unofficially, no agenda.  Was she a lawyer? A writer? An astronomer?  Just don’t remember.  The thing I’m sure about is that the point was not that the women met for lunch, it was that the men they worked with noticed that they met.  The men didn’t get snippy, didn’t make comments, just noticed:  something like, “saw that you were at one of your lunches.”

Now there’s a thought.  I’ve spent a certain amount of my career writing about women in science and the gender-related issues they deal with, including how to get attention paid to their research, how to get taken seriously, and how to get enough power.  Why even be in a profession unless your voice gets heard and you can do things that you’re good at, things worth doing, the things worth your time on earth?  Even the paleolithics wanted to have the things they made (I stole this idea from Jacob Bronowski, around minute 14:45), show the shapes of their hands.  Continue reading