Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Go Outside

I’m now in my second month of the job I’ve spent about 11 years training for: I’m an assistant professor at UMass Boston (I'm only counting the years after which I'd decided I wanted to be a professor - not the preceding decades). I’m completely thrilled and also terrified (do I really know whatI’m doing?). These competing emotions have driven me to spend practically every possible moment hunched over my computer, reading and writing and thinking and reacquainting myself with old data and looking for grant opportunities and figuring out what I need to buy to set up my lab and planning new projects and choosing a textbook for next semester and planning upcoming classes, and…phew. It’s exhilarating and wonderful, but also dizzying.

The one thing I haven’t done enough of is be outside, looking at the study system I care most about: the ocean. Today on my way to the office, I was making lists in my head of what today will entail, when the view from the bus stopped me. Boston harbor is a calm sheet of molten metal reflecting the sun hiding behind wisps of thin clouds. The harbor islands look almost surreally shrouded in mist, like something from a fairytale movie. Instead of walking to my temporary office, facing a cinderblock wall with no natural light filtering into the cubicle, I came down to the Harbor Walk ringing the school.
I think I'll just make a little office right here, thank you.

 Here, I can see gulls lazily drifting on imperceptible currents, wading birds looking for snacks on a sandbar slowly being exposed by a falling tide. Tiny waves from boat wakes jostle dark and glistening kelp fronds that cling to the steep rip-rap wall of granite buttressing the fill material on which the University is built. I can see through the water closest to the edge, shallow dark sediment with white shapes dotting the surface – shells? On top of a granite block holding a safety chain along the edge of the rip-rap wall, the remains of a crab are strewn; evidence of what those birds are looking for on the sandbar.

It’s surprisingly warm for a place that by some accounts will be covered over by a glacier 37 feet thick in a few months (I think New Englanders thrill in trying to scare people like me, with no real experience living in snow, away from here). Being outside in the sun and the fresh air is not just uplifting – it also reminds me why I care about this thing called the “environment.” And why I got into this career in the first place – to help other people understand what they are looking at when they go outside, with the hope that this will spark them to care deeply enough to help protect it. I also try to do my part to protect the environment through better understanding how the natural world works, and how humans are unraveling the normal mechanisms.

So I propose: whatever the weather and whatever the location, go outside today and look for something that startles you or intrigues you or otherwise makes you care a little more about this beautiful planet. 

And then go vote


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