March 26, 2012

Spring Quarter

It's a blustery first day of spring quarter.

I missed sunrise...just barely...and it's a shame 'cause I could see the whole sky lit up with red and purple when I walked out of my apartment building. I'm sure the event was spectacular. I wish I had been there, but I'm also glad I slept in as late (5:53 am) as I did...

I've got one main goal this quarter:


Of course I have other classes I'll need to pass, I'm going to play as well as I can in orchestra, excerpt class (yup, looks like I made it in again), solo class, performance practice, and lessons, and I'm gonna try to make some spare change here and there (a gig or two and more science experiments), but if I don't pull off a recital, I'm kind of sunk.

I hope to broadcast it live again--I'll keep you posted.

March 23, 2012

Stuff to See

Whenever and wherever I walk I always seem to be looking down. My eyes scan the ground for anything out of the ordinary. I watch for pennies, quarters, or the odd $100 bill (yes, I did once find a $100 bill in with a bunch of trash collected at the base of a chain link fence in Hawaii...but that's a story for another day), and I'm often distracted by little movements in the periphery of my view. Movements that might give away the presence of an interesting critter...

Sometimes I look up too. It's kind of hard not to when passing such bright clusters of spring blossoms...

...and besides, there are lots of interesting animals that find their way up high as well, like these ants exploring the innards of a flowering pussy willow...

Looking down into the reflected depths of a still bog can give the illusion of another world opening up beneath your feet... the attentive eye even ordinary dead leaves betray a subtle elegance...

...and surprises are everywhere.

Rob and I stumbled upon this little guy while leaving the Cornell Ornithology Lab's Sapsucker Woods...

I'll be taking off for Evanston tomorrow morning.

There's a lot I'll miss here, but I'll keep my eyes open wherever I go--there will always be neat stuff to see.

March 22, 2012

One farewell

Because Rob will be moving to Ohio this summer this will likely be my last visit to Ithaca in quite a while. There are so many things to love about this town and Rob and I have re-experienced a few of them this week as sort of a last little farewell.

A couple days ago we drove out to Taughannock Falls and spent the afternoon walking along the river side trail that leads to this "great fall in the woods." The river bed here is made of gray limestone left behind from an ancient sea that once submerged a good portion of the eastern U.S. and the shale walls that form much of the surrounding gorge are hardened layers of silt that were once deposited above the lime mud. Here I caught a picture of the slightly veiled sun reflected in a solution pool on the river bed.

These features formed through chemical weathering of the limestone. Rain is naturally a little acidic and puddles left behind after a storm gradually dissolved the limestone till the whole area was dotted with undulating little hollows.

(the above explanations are paraphrases of trailside informational signs we stopped to read along the way)

And here's the falls...
(for a sense of scale, there's a man sitting near the lower right of the photo)

Most of you have seen it before as I've photographed and written about it several times over the years, but it never ceases to amaze me how different it can look depending on lighting, season, and camera angle. Of course one of my favorite features is the oddly geometric shale cutout to the right of the falls. I've watched this feature in particular change a good deal since I first saw it back in 2008...

And here it is in 2012...

I guess this distinctive formation might eventually erode away entirely. Maybe I'll have to come back in a few years to see how things progress...

March 21, 2012


Today I am the featured photographer on EPOD! (by now my page has been archived. You can still see it HERE) They've used a picture I took of Lake Michigan at sunrise last year and wrote about in my blog here.


March 19, 2012

Amorphophallus Titanum

I'm not sure I have a real "life list," but if I did, smelling a giant Indonesian corpse flower would definitely be on it. In an unexpected twist of good fortune, I can now say that I've been-there-done-that...but no, I did not get the t-shirt.

This morning Cornell's own Amorphophallus Titanum (a fancy name for enormous deformed penis) bloomed for the first time in its history. These plants flower only once every several years and each bloom only lasts a couple of days so when it was clear the big event was imminent, excited emails went out to all Cornellians inviting them to visit the unusual plant. You can tune in too via a live video stream (the live stream is now disabled, but you can still view time-lapse sequences of the Titan's bloom at Cornell's Titan Arum Blog). The flower's giant phallus will likely wilt soon, so check it out while you can.

Rob and I went to the greenhouse yesterday when the flower was still closed.

Titan Arum is given the nickname "corpse plant" because of the awful rotten meat smell it sends out to attract its pollinators: carrion flies. The giant phallus growing out of the bloom helps to disburse the putrid perfume far and wide.

Inside the greenhouse we waded through an excited crowd--all eagerly awaited their turn to get up next to the sleeping titan and try to get a whiff of dead animal...

The plant was heavily monitored by cameras and smell sensors meant to track the plant's growth and maturation as well as measure its odor's intensity from pre to post bloom...

In its final stages the phallus can grow 2 inches daily and reach a height of 10 feet before blooming, but it looks like Cornell's Titan is kind of a little guy in comparison...

Here's a Cornell grad student making sure the smell monitors are staying in place.

She said that even in the greenhouse it is difficult to maintain the needed level of humidity here in Ithaca--notice how the leaf is dry and wilted along its edges. Looks a little like old lettuce...

Last night after we were back home from dinner and practicing, Rob pulled up the live video stream and we were stunned to see that over the space of an afternoon the Titan Anum had bloomed. To accommodate curious crowds the greenhouse's public hours were pushed back to 11:00 pm and they estimated 2000 people streamed through last night alone--I guess we humans go just as gaga over a rotten smell as a swarm of carrion flies!

Rob and I went back in to the greenhouse this morning. There was an impressive line, but people were pretty chill about everything and we moved up quickly.

Finally...the sight and smell we'd been waiting for! As soon as we entered the display room I caught a faint whiff of the Great Salt Lake--nothing too overwhelming--but wow! What a beauty!

I love the plant's deep red interior, and the giant sweeping fan of a leaf that surrounds its namesake inflorescence.

Even up close the smell wasn't nearly as intense as I'd imagined. According to the workers there it was a lot stronger last night when the bloom was new and it had not yet been pollinated.

Here's a view of the flower's innards...

And there are much better ones HERE...up close it reminds me of a sea anemone, or what I imagine some strange alien plant life could look like.

March 16, 2012


Sorry about the prolonged silence. Up through Tuesday of this week I'd been utterly swamped with end-of-quarter and teaching-job application to dos, but now all of that's done and I have a few days of spring break to breathe a bit and get myself geared up for my final quarter at NU. There's been so much going on I can't possibly fill you in completely on everything, so here are some blurbs and pics to give you a rough idea of some of my recent activities.

Monday evening the U.S. Navy Band came to NU and delivered a spectacular crowd pleasing concert. Particularly exciting for me was the fact that Eileen Bedlington--one of my awesome roommates from my summer at Aspen--plays trumpet with the band. After the concert I went backstage to say hello and was completely surprised by how excited she was to see me again. We were able to take a couple hours and have lunch together the next day and it was great to hear about some of the things she'd been up to since I last saw her in NYC about 10 years ago. I was reminded that not only is she a fabulous trumpeter, but she's also an incredible artist, inventor, and builder--catching up was a whole lot of fun!

Rob flew in to town on Tuesday afternoon and the next morning we began the long drive back to Ithaca where I'll be spending the rest of spring break. That's boyfriend came out to Chicago just to drive back home again...and that's a 12 hour drive...what a sweetie!

Well, actually, there's a little more to it than that. The big news is that Rob was recently hired as an assistant professor of physics at Oberlin College--a prestigious liberal arts college a little ways outside of Cleveland. By chance, Oberlin just happens to be right at the halfway point on the drive between Chicago and Ithaca, and we stopped for a night so he could show me around a bit and take care of a couple logistical details.

We took a peek around the music building (Oberlin is home to a very reputable conservatory) and were surprised to see that I am pictured on a poster advertising the AIMS festival I played in last year. Unfortunately I didn't bring my camera so you'll just have to trust me on that one.

Rob also showed me through the science center and we poked around a bit in the physics building. The next morning we met one of the other faculty members for breakfast and walked back to the physics building again so Rob could inspect a room that's going to be used as office space for his future students. Later we were given a tour of a house Rob will likely be renting for the year. A faculty member is going on sabbatical and needs someone to look after his place. It's gorgeous--fully furnished with 3 floors plus a basement and a lovely forested backyard. The whole thing is just so thrilling and overwhelming I hardly know where to begin in describing everything. If I don't get the teaching position in Georgia, I'll be joining Rob in Oberlin and the place would be pretty much perfect for me as well. I'd be able to start up a teaching studio and work toward gigging in Cleveland, and the town and surrounding countryside is just the sort of environment that could feed my cravings for natural beauty. There are a few good astronomy clubs in the area, and--this is just too cute--the town's central park is inhabited by a small population of albino squirrels...

We arrived in Ithaca just a day ahead of Cornell's infamous dragon day. I'm tired of typing and need to get into the practice room again so I'll just show you pictures for this one. Follow the link above for more information.

I will say looked like quite a party!

March 6, 2012

Crepuscular rays

A new website I've been paying attention to these days is EPOD: the Earth Science Picture of the Day. It's an especially nice companion to APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day), and features photos of everything from interesting geological formations to refracting spider webs.

Crepuscular rays (sometimes called "God rays") come up pretty frequently on the site. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they have a simple and fascinating explanation as well.

This morning there were some nice ones over Lake Michigan...

I guess these are more subtle than most you usually see on inspirational book covers and stuff, but look closely and they are still gorgeous.

March 5, 2012

What exactly are they trying to say

Most of you probably know that Rob and I are pretty into crosswords. We own twin copies of a collection of New York Times puzzles edited by puzzlemaster Will Shortz and have spent many a lazy Sunday afternoon snuggled up to our phones working together to solve them ( cuuuuuuuute!).

Anyway, a while ago I noticed the back cover for the first time...

...That's "Smart, stylish puzzles for smart..." Hey! Wait a minute, what exactly are they trying to say here?!