Thursday, July 29, 2004

We are overwhelmingly interested in cephalopods

So. Bermuda. Here I am. And where is here? Nowhere. I mean really nowhere. Bermuda is about as nowhere as you can get and still be somewhere. And that last part is doubtful. No, where is it really, I hear you asking. Well, it's in the middle of the Atlantic. Right above Atlantis. On the Gulf Stream, if that helps. About the same latitude as Carolina. Which one, I don't remember.

Enough of me being a smart-aleck. On with the story. The Story begins Sunday evening at 6:00, when I decided to check what time my flight was going to leave on Tuesday. I discovered my flight did not leave on Tuesday, rather it arrived on Tuesday. It left Monday evening. Tomorrow. So I panicked quietly for a few minutes, and went to work.

The work I've been doing this summer is a continuation, and I hope a culmination, of the theoretical ecology work I started last summer. The idea was to culminate it by the time I left for Bermuda. I did the best I could. I worked Sunday night until my brain fried, at which point I went home and packed.

Now, my friend Kira was coming to visit me on Monday, at 4:30 am to be precise. When I was thinking ahead at 6:01 on Sunday, I thought I would simply stay up until it was time to pick her up. But at 3:00 on Monday morning, that potential one hour of sleep was looking good. So I took it. I woke up an hour and ten minutes later and lept out of bed, frantically scrubbing the sleep from my eyes, to call Jay. Jay was driving to the bus station with me to pick up Kira. Because he's amazingly cool like that.

We got Kira. We went to Carrow's. We drove home. We all decided to go to sleep. Even me, though I knew I had to go back to work. I took an hour nap, got up, and biked to work. I stopped at Starbucks on the way. It was going to be a long day.

I finished the paper as much as I could, sent it off to my boss, and came home to hang out with Kira and finish packing. A number of friends came trickling over, so in the end there was quite a large party to wish me well. Jamie, the lovely, drove me to the airport.

From Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to New York to Bermuda, and all on an expired passport. No questions asked. I'd read somewhere that Bermuda only requires proof of U.S. citizenship, for which an expired passport counts, so I hadn't been expecting trouble. But that doesn't mean I wasn't praying every time I handed it over to an Official Person.

Bermuda! I saw the long fish-hook island through the airplane window, lost in the middle of the Atlantic, hours by plane from any other land, and I knew it was going to be good. When we stepped into the airport, we were greeted by a smiling reggae band, whose music accompanied the long wait in Customs.

In the fondness for reggae as well as in other respects, Bermuda is very like a chunk of the Caribbean which broke off and floated up the Gulf Stream. The heat of the Gulf Stream keeps the island warm and wet, tropical as tropical can be. But in other ways, it's more like a little bit of England that broke off and blew down on the trade winds. When I got out of the airport, to my embarrassment, I tried to get in on the wrong side of the taxi. I had known that they drive on the left here; I'd just forgotten.

They're also mad about cricket. This weekend--Thursday through Sunday--is a national holiday for the Cup Match. The two ends of the island play a game against each other, and Bermudians take this as an excuse to close every single shop and restaurant, camp out along the coast, play loud reggae, and drink gallons of Bermudian rum. This is not entirely strange to me, as I became acquainted with the obscure importance of cricket in the Commonwealth while in Australia. However, I must say that it's just about the stupidest sport I've ever heard of. Except golf. But golf is not a sport.

Just to confuse things, the Bermudian dollar is equivalent not to a British pound, but to an American dollar, and the two dollars are perfectly interchangeable. It's quite nice for American visitors, and leaves me very curious to see if I can use Bermudian quarters in laundry machines, parking meters, etc. when I get home.

So the taxi took me to the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, my new home for this trip. I checked in, got a key to my room, and moved in. All of the students in our class are housed in Visitor Housing, which looks more like a rather large house than a rather small hostel. The rooms are quite nice. The first thing I noticed--and was grateful for--were two large, industrial-strength fans mounted to the walls.

There are three beds, but I was only going to have one roommate, and she hadn't arrived yet, so I took my pick of beds (closest to the glass doors), drawers (closest to my bed), and closet space (er . . . wherever).

Then I changed into shorts and started walking. There was nothing planned until an orientation the next morning, and I was exhausted, but why waste good time recuperating from travel when there's an entire island to explore? First I wandered around the station itself. Along a dirt path that led right down to the water, I met a very nice groundskeeper named Wayne. He told me that the students often went swimming right off the path where I was standing, but that the water was nicer and there was more of a beach further on down the island, about a twenty-minute walk.

So I changed into my swimsuit, and went walking. Bermuda, it goes nearly without saying, is beautiful. The sea is blue, the land is green, and the air shines. It's overgrown with colorful tropical imports like hibiscus and oleander. As if this weren't enough color, most of the houses are painted in surprisingly bright blues, pinks, and oranges.

After ten or fifteen minutes, though, I'd stopped appreciating it as much, and come to the realization that the key to a tropical island paradise is the island part. There is no such thing as a tropical land paradise, because tropical land, without tropical sea, is actually a steamy jungle hell.

Eventually, dripping and panting, I reached the end of the road and found my blue heaven. The water was just cool enough not to be too warm but no cooler, and so clear I could see the staghorn corals ten or more meters below. I floated on my back, letting the sun pound on my eyelids and work on the first edition of Danna's Bermuda Summer Tan.

I learned after dinner that I had actually walked a bit further than necessary; there was a turnoff earlier that led to Whalebone Bay, where our course teacher, Ruth, took us for a lovely evening snorkel. Afterwards I showered, and fell immediately asleep.

My roommate arrived at about 1:00 am, an event for which I awoke very briefly.

The next morning we had an orientation to the station, and to Bermuda, in which we learned that the island's only source of freshwater is rain, which is caught on the roofs and stored in tanks. They have reverse osmosis to convert saltwater to fresh if straits become dire, but water conservation is very important, especially as it's not the rainy season right now.

Less than an hour later we were huddled under an overhang while the rain poured down as only tropical rain can: a warm, drenching weather event than lasted about ten minutes. We had another ten minutes of rain this morning. If this continues I'm going to start taking longer showers.

Our class consists of two instructors, one TA, and eleven students. We are from Austria, Holland, Cuba, Venezuela, England, and America. With a few exceptions, we are overwhelmingly interested in cephalopods.

The course has morning lectures, but the focus is on research, and teaching us how to conduct our own research projects, and the afternoons are spent in this pursuit. This is a relief as the lectures so far are almost exactly the same as half a dozen other lectures I have had in half a dozen other classes, only with an Austrian accent.

We are divided into groups for the research projects, of which there are four. One is on octopuses, one on squid, one on filefish, one on fish guilds. Guess which one I'm working on.

Wrong! I'm doing squid! Hah!

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