Wednesday, June 27, 2012

more from the bitterroot

Another look at life in Wyoming.

Every evening, the horses in the stables are let out to graze overnight. Our wranglers make sure they go in the right direction, depending on the field they're being let out into, and the horses will stay there and eat grass until they're stuffed overnight. In the mornings, they're all (or, rather, some of them) herded back into the stables for riding during the day.


campfire dinner with the guests

this is penny, a miniature poodle, being bloodthirsty and devouring an elk leg she found

the staff of bitterroot, summer 2012

So, my time at the Bitterroot is coming to an end soon (only a few more days, in fact), although I hope to post more pictures and videos before I leave. I have an action-packed summer ahead of me; instead of being in Wyoming until October, I'll be leaving early to go to Denver, then to Comic-con in San Diego, and then to Seattle (a first!), San Francisco, and Dallas, before heading back to Antarctica in August!!!

Yes, that's right. I had to break out of my winter contract because of health and family reasons, but I'm going back for another season this summer! I've done a summer on the Ice before (South Pole, 2010-11), but never a McMurdo summer, so this will be an interesting experience. And instead of working Supply, I'll be a Lead Dining Attendant, which will be a whole new experience.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

bitterroot ranch, dubois, wy

I'm currently in Dubois, Wyoming. No, that's not true. I'm half an hour north of Dubois, down a 16-mile long dirt road, surrounded by mountains, fields, forests, and rivers. This is the Bitterroot Ranch, a working dude ranch on the edge of some of the most amazing nature you can imagine. A fast-flowing river puts me to bed each night, and towering, snow-capped mountains greet me when I walk out of my cabin.

This is where I'm spending my summer, working as a housekeeper (-slash-cook-slash-waitress-slash-occasional tourist). It's not glamorous work, but they payoff makes it worth it: hiking mountains and dirt trails, swimming and fishing in the nearby ponds, and, of course, horseback riding.

This is the Bitterroot:

looking down at (left to right) the goat barn, duck pond, stables, parking lot, main lodge, and some guest cabins

This land is stunning. It's home to a variety of wildlife (deer, elk, rabbits, bears, and coyotes*, to name a few), plus horses and sheep from the ranch. There are old buildings that are filled with history dotting the landscape, from a hide-out cabin used by Butch Cassidy and the former home of the Sheep Queen of Wyoming.

(I haven't been to the Butch Cassidy cabin yet, but hopefully someday soon!)

the cabin of the sheep queen of wyoming

an old airplane hanger

But it really is beautiful here. The weather is unpredictable-- snow one day and overwhelming heat the next-- but that doesn't keep us inside!

highland cattle grazing

a storm moves in across the plain

sunset over the mountains

It's been a busy few weeks, so I'll get more photos up later, including the Transit of Venus and more pictures from around the ranch and the local towns that I've visited!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

annular solar eclipse

I posted recently about the upcoming astronomical events visible in North America. The super-moon earlier this month was gorgeous, although I heard that clouds blocked the view in a lot of the country. But the big event for May was the Annular Solar Eclipse on May 20.

I was supposed to be driving to Wyoming on that Sunday evening, to start a new job on a ranch (more on that later), but decided to detour through Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was right in the path of the eclipse. It added four hours and a few hundred miles to the journey, but the end result was a view that couldn't be beat.

My dad was traveling with me, and we decided to go up to the top of Sandia Peak, 10,000 feet above sea level, to watch the setting sun as it was eclipsed by the moon. A few hundred people joined us, and it was a small (very nerdy) party on the mountain top.

looking up at the sky

the show starts. the complete eclipse will be several hours, but we're all just waiting for the four minutes in the middle

getting closer, the moon now looks like an upside-down crescent moon

totality. stunning. the crowd literally went wild... or as wild as a bunch of astronomy nerds can get.

the sun started getting closer to the horizon, so it was bigger and redder, even through the eclipse glasses.

the sun started to sink below the horizon, still in the middle of the eclipse, and the show was over as the temperature dropped on the mountainside.

I'm currently on a ranch outside of Dubois, Wyoming, where I'll be working the summer (and maybe riding a bit!). Next up: road trip to Wyoming, and then a post about the ranch itself... with horses!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

upcoming astronomical events!

As an amateur astronomy geek, I love hearing about upcoming meteor showers, eclipses, and other astronomical events... and there are some really amazing events coming up in the next month!

First up, on May 5: The biggest full moon of the year will occur this weekend! Also known as a "supermoon", this is the time when the moon is at its perigee (when it's the closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit), and also when it's full. What this means is that the moon is going to be bigger and brighter than average, and may give some spectacular views as it's rising!

the march 2011 supermoon as seen in washington (credit: tim mccord @

On May 20, an Annular Solar Eclipse (when a ring of sunlight will be visible around the eclipsing moon) will be visible for China and the Western US, although those in Northern California will have the best view. NASA has an interactive map, which allows you to view eclipse times in your location. The next full solar eclipse visible in the US won't be until 2017!

an example of an annular eclipse (credit: NOAA/SEC)

And finally, saving the best for last, on June 5 in the US (or June 6 on the other side of the world), a very special event: the Transit of Venus! This is the last time this will happen in our lifetimes, so it's a definite can't-miss event. A Transit of Venus occurs when "Venus passes directly between earth and the sun" and "we see the distant planet as a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the sun". The last Transit was in 2004, but the next one won't be until 2117.

the 2004 transit of venus, seen in grand rapids, mi (credit:

And finally, a reminder:


Companies like Rainbow Symphony sell affordable Eclipse Shades (starting at under $1/pair), and these will mean all the difference between going blind or not!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

road trip: california, north to south

Road trips are magical; somewhere in between the changing scenery, radio stations fading into static, and the open road stretched before you, there's a point where you realize that this is the way to travel. None of the stress of flying, cramped in a tin can. No, if you have the time and the tunes, the highway is the only way get from point A to point B.

I rented a car last week and drove from Palo Alto, down the California coast to San Diego, with a stop in LA for the LA Times Festival of Books. Round trip, it was just under 1,000 miles.

highway 101 as the sun sets

the la times festival of books

desert landscape north of la on i-5

The trip spanned only a few days, but it was a chance to visit friends who I haven't seen in two years (one of whom was graduating from law school, congrats Hannah!).

And then there was the LA Times Festival of Books, a two-day literary celebration with authors, booksellers, and readers of all ages. I was fortunate enough to see some really amazing panels with some really brilliant authors, including Lev Grossman, Anne Rice, and John Scalzi. As someone who considers reading a valid lifestyle, this was a 'can't-miss' festival!

It was also a good test for an upcoming road trip: in just under a month, I'll commence another adventure. This time, I'll be working on a ranch in southern Wyoming for four months! I'll drive from Texas (where my car is stored) to the ranch, a trip of about 20 hours-- to be spread over two days, thank goodness!

(my phone was wiped halfway through this trip, so I unfortunately lost a few pictures... you'll just have to take my word on it, the trip was beautiful!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

washington d.c.

Only a week and a half late!

There are only a few major cities in the U.S. that I've never been to (Seattle, Boston, Indianapolis, Washington D.C., and Baltimore), but I can scratch one item off of that list now! I spent a few days last week in our nation's capital, seeing the sites and catching up with a couple of friends who live in the area.

the capitol

D.C. is majestic. That's really all there is to it. The city is white marble and granite, Doric columns, and beautiful domed ceilings. It's art and history and sweeping parks. Even if you're not interested in the government and political part of D.C. (though it's hard to ignore!), the architecture alone is more than worth the trip.

And the museums! If you're interested in something, Washington has a museum for it, and it's probably free. The Air & Space Museum was definitely my favorite, although I missed the arrival of the Space Shuttle Discovery this morning (link to National Geographic's beautiful photos of the shuttle's arrival at Dulles airport).

I was short on time, so I did my best to pack in as much site-seeing as I could.

cherry blossoms in front of the capitol

This spring marked the 100th anniversary of the gifting of the famous Cherry Trees that line D.C.'s parks and buildings. My first full day in the city began with a parade for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

And then it was off to the monuments. It was a beautiful day, and I spent it walking from one end of the city (the Lincoln Memorial and surrounding war memorials) all the way down to the Capitol.

lincoln in all his majesty

the beautiful and serene WWII memorial

the national monument; cracks can still be seen in the side from last year's quake

And then I was lucky enough to get on a tour of the inside of the Capitol, which was not only beautiful, but blessedly air conditioned.

the inside of the dome of the capitol

My second (and last) day in the city was spent in museums; specifically, the Air and Space Museum, and the American History Museum. As I mentioned before, the former was amazing, full of famous aircraft (almost all of them originals!). A tour guide took us from the beginning of flight (the Wright Brothers original flyer) to the first passenger planes, early rockets, and moon landing rovers.

the lobby of the air & space museum, with a fighter jet and rockets looming above me

an original wright bros. plane

This trip definitely wasn't long enough to see everything that I wanted to see, so I'll have to come back some other time to see the rest!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

literary challenge: the orange prize

For the most part, literary awards mean very little in the US, unless it's an Oprah Book Club sticker on the front cover1. Most Americans can't tell you who won this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction2, or what the Man Booker Award is3. Even most self-proclaimed bibliophiles (and by 'most', I mean most that I've encountered) have read surprisingly few literary award winners.

I have been informed that things are different overseas. Book awards in the UK, for instance, have more impact, and a nomination for short-list can be enough to propel an unheard-of author into the spotlight.

With the recent announcement of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners, I've begun to realize my literary short-comings. It bothers me, a bit, that there's so much amazing fiction out there that I've passed over in favor of "bubblegum" lit: fun, but of no real literary value.

Since I'm currently unemployed, I've decided that I have the time to read more. And with that realization, I've set a goal to read an entire list of award winners. And after a lot of thinking and researching, I've decided that the list I'm going to work through is the Orange Prize for Fiction.

There are two reasons for this:
1. The award is only given to female authors.
2. It's only been around since 1996, so there are a lot fewer books to read than, say, the Man Booker (est. 1968) or the Nobel Prize for Literature (est. 1901).

Here is the complete list of Orange Prize finalists:

2011: The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
2010: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
2009: Home, by Marilynne Robinson
2008: The Road Home, by Rose Tremain
2007: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
2006: On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
2005: We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
2004: Small Island, by Andrea Levy
2003: Property , by Valerie Martin
2002: Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
2001: The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville
2000: When I Lived in Modern Times, by Linda Grant
1999: A Crime in the Neighbourhood, by Suzanne Berne
1998: Larry's Party, by Carol Shields
1997: Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels
1996: A Spell of Winter, by Helen Dunmore

I haven't read a single Orange Prize finalist, and I've only read one of the short-list selections (Oryx and Crake, Atwood, absolutely fantastic read!), so this should be a good challenge!

1 I don't understand why this is, because I disagree with most of the books Oprah selects, and also the senseless fervor that surrounds her selections as millions of housewives flock to the bookstores.
2 No finalist was selected for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award.
3 I'm not actually sure what it is either, but Wikipedia informs me that it's "a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe". This is the next award list that I plan to tackle.

Friday, April 13, 2012

in transit, looking back at nyc

There is something incredibly soothing about sitting on a train, listening to good music (fun., if you're curious), and watching the beautiful northeastern US fly by outside your window. After a week in New York City, I'm excited to be heading somewhere new: Washington D.C., one of the few major cities in the US that I have yet to visit!

But since the train has wifi, I suppose I should use this time to be productive.

The last few days of New York were action-packed. Okay, maybe just plain 'packed'. Whether it was uncovering amazing new bits of my family tree (genealogy research was a big reason I came to the City this week), seeing friends from Antarctica, or getting lost in Central Park, every day has been full to the point of overload.

Here are a few pictures from the last few days, in no particular order:

the high line, a section of abandoned elevated train tracks that have been turned into a park

a t-rex in the museum of natural history

central park

a giant wildfire rages on long island

the new world trade center

a nerdy side-trip to watch 'doctor who' film in central park

Next up, the nation's capital!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

randomly delightful moments

You're walking through the City on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It's almost 3:00, and you're on your way to catch a train back to Long Island. You think, "I saw a park nearby earlier, I should cut through there." So you go to the park, and there you notice something strange.

It's not the crowds that are strange; it's a nice day, and people are enjoying it. No, you realize, it's the sheer, overwhelming number of people. People wearing funny costumes. And rabbit ears. And every single one of them has a pillow. "What on earth," you wonder, "is going on here?"

The clock strikes three and you get your answer. In unison, hundreds of people thrust their pillows into the air en masse, give a mighty war cry, and proceed to pummel the ever-loving snot out of each other. It is, you realize, a pillow fight in the middle of Washington Square Park.

It is randomly delightful. And that's really all there is to it.

a crowd gathers

some people are more prepared for the looming battle than others!

the call comes, pillows are thrust into the sky...

...and the fight begins!

feathers, feathers, everywhere

what a wonderful day in the park

Thursday, April 5, 2012

in the big apple

New York City is, to me, like that older cousin you looked up to when you were young. When you're a kid, it's magical and big and it can do no wrong. As you get older, you realize that it has its flaws; you still love it, but you start to notice the rudeness and the way it always seems to busy for you to just stop and relax and say "hi" to it.

Okay, possibly I'm taking this metaphor too far. The point is, I'm shocked by how much my opinion of the city has changed over the years. I was twelve the first time I came to Manhattan , wide-eyed with the naivety of a child who has never been in a big city before. But now, alas, the magic is gone. Which isn't to say that I don't still love this city; just that it no longer shines quite as brightly.

Some people are born to love New York City with all their soul. I'm not one of them. It's the crowds, and the buildings, the constant traffic and honking of cars. The guys hawking their goods on the street, and the smell of exhaust. It's the people and the attitude. It's the noise, which you can't escape. I don't mind playing tourist, but I can't enjoy the city the way I did when I was younger.

I have a lot of memories of NYC though: seeing my first Broadway play; eating a slice of pizza the size of my head; seeing a concert at Madison Square Gardens; getting lost in a bad part of town after dark with a friend; breathing in ash and crying at the WTC site shortly after 9/11. New York is a part of my history like no other city I've ever been in.

In fact, New York is a part of my history in another way: my family comes from here, going back to the 1800s when my ancestors first came over from Europe. And this is why I'm here this week. Some people go on vacation to see the sites; I go on vacation to sit in libraries and dig through musty old books and reels of microfiche, and to wander cemeteries.

This week is also Passover, so I'm happy to be able to join my family on Long Island for the holiday and to see cousins who I haven't seen in years.

Since I felt it was wrong to come to NYC and only sit in the library, I took today to walk around the city and see a few landmarks. Mostly I wandered Central Park and read in the sun, though... you can take the nerd out of the library, but she'll still be a nerd!

the empire state building

the ceiling of the new york public library

times square

grand central station