Friday, March 31, 2006

Beaver Spit

Warning... the following contains serious bio-nerd material.

I love Fridays, not because it means the school week is over, but because it means plant systematics lab! Yesterday in class my professor was talking about pollination mechanisms. Orchids are particularly interesting: one species has evolved such that the insect drinks its fermented liquid, becomes intoxicated, slides down the flower and picks up some pollen along the way. Another species is slightly bee-shaped and shakes in the wind on thin stems, resembling a swarm of bees. Other bees see this, get mad at it and attack, pollinating the plant in the process.

Back to today... the weather here is unbelievably warm. People have come out of the woodwork and are sprawled across campus in sunglasses and their summer skivvies. For lab we went to the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. What could be better than hiking through the woods on a sunny afternoon while botanizing? Well, maybe getting to see woodfrogs mate. They make loud duck-like sounds during the process which can be heard from hundreds of feet away..

While hiking along the trail, one of my classmates pointed out a tree that had been partially chewed by beavers. The chewed area appeared wet and sticky, and I excitedly thought "Oh cool! We're hot on the trail of beavers - the bark is still wet with their saliva!". This only to feel really stupid when my professor pointed out that it was sap flowing from the tree.

After the field trip, my classmate Allie and I decided to go kayaking on paradise pond. It was beautiful... what else can I say?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Well, I'm back from spring break, and the week is flying by. Break was relaxing - once I was home I didn't do much of anything, except go see the STU jazz concert (good job guys!). Oh how I miss STU jazz... the CD we recorded in 2004 is finally out! On the trip home, I met a PhD student from Paris who was doing a one-year teaching stint at Mount Holyoke College. She was seriously freaked out by the itty-bitty plane we were on, apparently in France they don't even consider the small ones to be planes! The poor girl got even more confused when we went through Canadian security in Montreal. She repeatedly asked the officer: "are you sure you don't want me to take my shoes off?" It was her first time in Canada, so we navigated the airport together.

I did manage to finish mom's birthday present:

It was my first attempt at knitting lace. Yep, this year is all about trying new things...

This week has been tough so far, today was the kind of day where everything I seem to touch breaks or stops working. My lab group spent two and a half hours just trying to get our preparation to work, and the problem is that we don't know enought about the equipment to troubleshoot effectively. Oh, and I think I should have done a different degree. Now I'm going to retreat to my basement cubicle in the library to see if I can make sense of life...

Friday, March 17, 2006

The View From Saturday

So why would a college student be crazy enough to get up at 5 AM on a Saturday morning?
To see this:

Rather, the view of the sunrise over the Connecticut river from atop Mt. Sugarloaf. The air was fresh and the company was excellent. Ah, life is good.

This week has been a whirlwind of schoolwork, but somewhere in there I finished Nanny's ankle socks. Toe grafiting round #2 went much, much better. I decided to do the Family Sock Challenge, which involves knitting socks for family members and a good friend or two. I was all ready to start on socks for mom, when it occured to me that perhaps I should let the wearer choose their sock pattern and yarn, thus avoiding the production of unloved socks... and Dad, I know you don't get the knitting thing, so I have special plans for you.

Meanwhile, I started Opal socks that are supposed to stripe like tropical fish (James Watson included for scale). Yes, I suppose this would be taking the fish collection to a new level...

And randomly, I got to do this super-cool lab last week:
This is an action potential recorded from the nerve cord of an earthworm. It's so cool to be able to visualize what's going on in their little brains! My prof joked that we should make printouts to mail home to mom and dad. Of course, I couldn't refuse the offer...

Spring break is finally here, and tomorrow I'll be heading home. I can't wait to see this little girl:
Rumor has it that she's been rather mischievous lately...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Exhibit A: Canadian Exchange Student

Every now and then, I meet people who are intrigued by my Canadian citizenship, or the fact that I'm a foreign exchange student. This often leads to a barrage of questions, and occasionally they will pull out the "Oh I know someone from Canada" line. When this happens, I always feel a sense of responsibility - what I tell Americans about Canada could either propagate stereotypes or debunk them. (It is sometimes tempting to play a little bit with this one:)

Today was one of those days. As the snow melts, Smith magically transforms into a space for the public to enjoy. Families with young kids and babies galore, dog-walkers, older couples, and skateboarders all take advantage of the sprawling lawns gardens, and paths. I was on my way home from the gym this afternoon when I encountered one of said older couples. This is what ensued:

Man: Excuse me miss, is Smith a coed school?
Jess: No, it's a women's college.
(Couple asks more questions about Smith)
Man: And what year are you in?
Jess: Well, I'm actually an exchange student...
Man: Oh, from where?
Jess: Canada
Man: I should have known, you talk funny. (really?)
Man: Where do you go to school?
Jess: In Newfoundland.
Man: Ooohh, Newfoundland! Wow... we were just Nova Scotia. Yes that's it. Please tell me, what is it really like? It just seems so... out there. (Wife tugs on his elbow)
Jess: (extolls the virtues of Newfoundland and it's physical beauty, and proceeds to answer questions about how to get there).
Wife: So, what do you think of the United States?
Jess: Well...

And so it goes. I actually don't mind this answering of questions. I've found that either A) people have never heard of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, or anywhere other than Toronto and Montreal, or B) people have heard of Newfoundland, but in the context of: "is that the one they always make fun of?" What I tell these people will influence how they think about their neighboring country, and I'm honored to have a chance to set the record straight. It's always interesting to find out how people perceive Canada, and I'm curious to know: how do you perceive the US? And do I really have an accent?

Still nothing on the photo front. I had an alternative planned for today but it will have to wait until blogger fixes this. I'm writing from the Science library where I *will not* be distracted by the lovely row of books next to me. No, I will not succumb to the alluring glossy covers of "Medicinal Chemistry", "Chinese Drugs of Plant Origin", or any of the many plant books. I will not give in... (this is why it is generally not a good idea for me to study in the library). Hopefully the plant books will somehow (through osmosis)inspire me to write my lab report. Just maybe.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tree Embolisms

Yes, trees can have embolisms too! Except, unlike humans, they have neat adaptations to prevent and fix their own embolisms. Yay trees! Anyhow, I seem to be unable to add photos at the moment. The settings on my blog have mysteriously changed, and since I'm a relative neophyte at this it may take a while for me to figure it out. Not much has gone on this week, I've been doing homework at a leisurly pace, reading, and enjoying the warm weather. Have a great weekend!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Spring Splendor

Wow. I think I'm in heaven... the spring bulb show opened at Smith this morning. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview yesterday, so as to avoid the hoards of people who flock to this thing! I've never seen anything like this... Grampy, I wish you were here to experience this - you would love it! When my lab group entered the greenhouse there was a collective gasp followed by ooohhs and aahhhs. So much work must have gone into growing these flowers and putting together the display. Whoever did it is an artist; the color combinations in the displays are stunning.

On a side note, please let me rave about my plant systematics course for a moment! This course was something I begrudginly added at the last minute for extra credits. Yes, I thought learning about plant names would be boring. Perhaps at another school, but not at Smith! This is my favorite course, and it has been enough to make me reconsider my career path. My prof has been teaching us about the history of botany and plant nomenclature, starting with the ancient greeks and working up to Linnaeus. We studied authors of different herbals that were written in the middle ages, and the characters behind them. Imagine my surprise when Dr. Burke brings us to the rare book room (apparently Smith has the #2 collection of herbals in North America), where he showed us actual copies of these books from their times of publicaton! The earliest one was from the 1484, and one of my favorites was the huge english herbal from 1653, which reflected what was being grown in Elizabethan gardens at the time. I love the history behind these... some of the books had notes added in by later owners, who wrote in the proper scientific names after the publication of Species Plantarum in 1753. Maybe I should become a botanist or curator...

So yesterday, Dr. Burke took our lab to the bulb show. I spent the afternoon basking in the warm colors and fresh scents, and took over one hundred pictures. Here are a few, although they don't come close to reflecting the actual beauty of this display!

Is this not the coolest tulip ever? I think it's called a "Guinea Hen" tulip, the patterned coloration is really neat and unusual.

The little bells on this hyacinth remind me of bloomers...

Friday, March 03, 2006


Pensive, that's how I've been feeling lately. I've been thinking about where I am in life right now, and how much I'm enjoying it. At Smith I've found the rare place where I am both wholly content, confident and comfortable, something I've experienced only once before at Shad Valley. I've finally found somewhere that I fit. This post was supposed to happen on Monday, but somehow it's already Friday. Howe cup was an amazing experience (more to follow), and it took a few days to come down from that high. However, now that the season is over, I feel like I have my brain back - I no longer think about squash every moment of the day, and was able to study. I knew life had returned to normal when I woke up Tuesday morning thinking about membrane potentials and ionic gradients...

School pretty much ate me alive this week, I had two physiology exams and a presentation yesterday. Neurophysiology was a tough beast to tackle, but by the time early Thurday morning rolled around, I hit the sweet spot where all the complex, abstract concepts gelled, and I finally got it. That's the moment I love about tough courses - when this happens I want to explain it to everyone around me (this is when one turns to their dog, or James Watson bobble head in order to avoid strange glances from people). It was slightly comical to see my entire class flock to the campus center for hot, caffeinated beverages after Wednesday night's review session...
Monday night I went to see Sarah Harmer perform at the Iron Horse Music Hall. I'm not a close follower of her music, but one of my housemates (who loves Canada and Great Big Sea) asked me to go. Wow. Not only was the venue perfect (an old yet large and cozy resaurant/pub), but her music held me in a trance for the full two hours. Most impressive though is the fact that I conceded to going out on a Monday night during a week that I had a lot of homework - this is really an accomplishment! Those of you who know me will understand this... It also made me suddenly realize that I'm only here for 2.5 more months. That's a scary thought, I don't want to leave this place, and there is so much I haven't done yet!
And now for one final ramble about squash. Howe Cup - it's what we've been working toward since September. Physical training, mental preparation, nothing could have prepared me for the adrenaline of being there. 30 teams, 16 courts (including a really cool free-standing glass one), parents, and some of the best college players in the US made for an intense atmosphere. While I only won one of my matches, the whole experience was great. Some highlights: catching the ball from a match between the #1 from Trinity and Williams (Trinity is the #2 US women's team) - to which my teammate exclaimed "you touched greatness!", meeting a super-cool 8 year old who was the son of the Harvard coach - this kid had loads of personality and mad squash skills that put me to shame, watching a documentary on dinosaurs and the women's olympic figure skating final with a teammate and laughing the whole time, seeing my captin win one of the most prestigeous awards in women's college squash, being in Harvard square on Friday night in a sea of college students (I love Boston!), bonding with my teammates, and oh yeah - seeing a man walking around the squash courts with a Tim Horton's box!!!
When I got back on Sunday my mind was racing from the weekend. Really, who needs drugs? Just play sports and study hard - it will do the same thing to you.
I'd like to end with a little tribute to my teammates: I've never played on a team like this before, where I so fully enjoyed the friendship and company of my teammates. You made me laugh (a lot), you made me always feel welcome and wanted, you made me a better person and a stronger athlete. I learned from you; you exposed me to new ideas and different cultures. You made a good experience great, and I truly value the friendship that you've given me. I love you guys! And so without further adieu, Smith Squash 2005/2006 (photo credits go to my teammates).

One of our many post-match dinners at the campus center

Getting focused at Seven Sisters, Haverford
The infamous squash cake, made out of marzipan (that's supposed to be my coach after a tough match). Someone pointed out that this would be a good place to mention that every time we drove by the pond at Haverford, my coach would open the window and yell to the geese: "Heelllooo.. go Canada!"
Post-Smith Invitational antics - that's a Smith Tennis trophy from the early 1900's...

Getting coached up between games at Vassar invitatonal

Waiting at Vassar (above), and courts at the Murr Center at Harvard (below)

Accepting our non-trophy from the president of the College Squash Association

And a final, lighthearted goodbye to the season:)