Monthly Archives: September 2016

Okay, so what’s actually going on?

I’m currently melting into the bed at my hotel room in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Melting because I’ve just been in airports and airplanes for about 14 hours. And also because it’s definitely warmer here than back in Minnesota.

Tomorrow, after a morning full of exploring potential, I’m hopping back on a plane–this time to American Samoa. There, I’ll meet up with the SSV Robert C. Seamans. 134 ft long. 14 ft deep. Many tons of steel.

It’ll be my home for the next seven or so weeks.

From American Samoa, we’ll make our way to Tonga, then to Fiji, then eventually (after many, many, many nautical miles of open ocean) to New Zealand.

What the heckity heck am I going to be doing the whole time?

One answer goes something like, “Research–on the ocean water and on poetry and on waste management. (The later two being my research projects specifically.) And sailing a boat. Obviously. But also learning about the cultures of the peoples and places we will be visiting.”

Another answer is more like, “Honestly? No clue. Theoretically I’ll be helping to sail a large sailboat. Or tall ship. Which is the technical term. But how I’m actually going to do that? I don’t know. Yet.”

I’ll still be taking classes, and seeing a lot of places and meeting a lot of people and learning a lot about phytoplankton and the salinity of different water masses in the ocean. And probably spending lots of time feeling really tired and confused, especially at first, when I still don’t know what to call all the different parts and places on the boat, let alone how to actually help do that whole sailing thing.

I suspect, too, that I’ll learn what it’s like to be on dawn watch. And to spend part of every Friday cleaning a tall ship from top to bottom. And to use the sun and other celestial bodies as a way to determine my location on this crazy little globe, whose surface is mostly water, we call home.

In the mean time, I’m nervous yes. But also very excited. Like Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods. Excited and scared.

The Contra Dance

Wow. So much has happened in just four weeks.

I low key didn’t believe our professors when they said that the shore component would fly by. But I was wrong. It’s like these past four weeks lasted approximately five minutes. There’s been a lot of book learning, which is interesting. But there has also been a surprisingly large amount of time for exploring. SEA’s campus is between Falmouth and Woods Hole, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. So it’s got a pretty great location.

Besides some late nights in the library, practicing navigational skills on a chart of the coast around the Cape, some of the highlights of the Shore component of my semester included gorgeous bike rides, a trip to Martha’s vineyard, and a contra dance late one Saturday night.

The contra dance was a spur of the moment study break kind of decision. I’d just gotten back to my room just after working out and was still covered sweat when I heard G call my name from the door to our house. “Paige! Want to go contra dancing?”

“What? Yes! When is it?” I asked, looking at my watch. It was 8 pm.

“Now! Some folks just left and I want to join in!” She said, making her way upstairs.

And so after a quick change into a dress me and G got into her car and drove to a little church a solid 20 minutes away, where an unbelievably fun night awaited.

I’d never been contra dancing. Yes, I am on the listserve at Whitman, but I have never gone. Not once. So, honestly, I had no idea what I was in for.

We got there midway through a dance. G and I made ourselves comfortable on the church chairs the dancers had moved off to the sides, watching the folks in the center of the room work their way through the steps as they learned them. And then the dance actually started in earnest. The music picked up. The caller repeated his instructions. And the thirty or so folks winding their way across the center of this tiny church tried their hardest to keep up with the dance. There were some folks who knew what they were doing. They’d probably danced this particular dance a hundred times before. Others were definitely new to this contra thing. They looked as confused as I felt just watching the dance.

So eventually I joined the dance. G and I partnered up for the first round. And after, like, a gazillion mistakes and lots of confusion, I eventually figured out to turn at the right time and spin your partner and move on to the next step.

Actually I was really fun.

Fast forward 45 minutes and I felt like I could probably make a convincing character in one of those essential town dance scenes in a Jane Austen novel. Like, I can spin pretty elegantly around my partner. Must be all those years of musical theatre finally paying off in a tiny church somewhere on Cape Cod.

On the drive back to campus, I didn’t think about all the work I needed to do. Contra dancing was the exact spur of the moment study break thing I needed. Except it was a whole lot more than just a study break. A trying something new kinda nerve wracking experience.  A chance to talk with folks who live around here. Unbelievably fun. Worth it for the fun. For the confidence that grew throughout the evening. For those brief moments, finally figuring out the dance, feeling pretty elegant.



Back at the Beach

I didn’t wash my hair so much as very briefly rinse it yesterday, when I returned from my second trip to the beach that afternoon. So today, it is wild and stiff and sticky, and I understand why things like sea salt all natural hair spray exist.

Yes. Two full trips to the beach on a Friday afternoon. A Friday which had finally arrived after a week that could have stretched a thousand years–complete with more late homework nights in a row than I’d ever endured before. I really needed to go to the water.

S, T, and I got there first and waded right in. It was sunny, and the waves, though big, were gentle enough. And we floated for a long while. Eventually I swam back to shore, picked my way across the rocky beach and sat, wrapped in my towel, enjoying the warm sun and the calm. Only a few hours later I ended up back at the beach, wading among the waves, picking up rocks and shells, chatting with people I’d only met two weeks earlier, though by now it feels like years.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone swimming in the ocean. This does not count just wading in for a bit, which I’ve done at least once a year for the last two years and marveled at how the sand sucks past my toes and makes me feel like I’m rushing backwards. And I suppose I’m also not talking about going SCUBA diving, where you enter the water from a boat. The last time I fully immersed myself in ocean after running from the sand through the waves, I might have been 11 years old. Whatever age I was, I was smaller, and the waves of course much bigger. And the ocean seemed solely a fierce thing. Ready, willing, even eager to knock me over.

The first time here in Woods Hole that I went to Racing Beach with every intention of swimming, I pulled on my cap and goggles, because of course I wasn’t going swimming just for fun. But serious business swimming. Another person in my program is a varsity swimmer, and we’d decided to help make sure we both were training during our month on shore. Which means trying out our hands at open water swimming along the beach.

I eyed the big choppy waves, a surge of apprehension rolling through my stomach. I wasn’t certain if I knew how to swim in water that moved like that. Even after the first few minutes of the swim, those nerves still played along my spine, making it hard to actually enjoy the process of moving through the water. That swim was a short one, an experiment. But I stepped out of the water thinking, “Okay, I can do this ocean swimming thing.”

So on this day, this long awaited Friday, yes, the waves were large in my mind. But they no longer came up to my eyebrows like they did ten years ago. And I’ve learned a bit about moving in water that moves like the ocean. So I waded right in, and spent a good long time soaking in the salt water, far enough out that my toes barely brushed the rocks and I bobbed in the waves.