Instructions on Not Giving Up, by Ada Limón

Yes, this! We all need to hear this some days…

Instructions on Not Giving Up

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out

of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s

almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving

their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate

sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees

that really gets to me. When all the shock of white

and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave

the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,

the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin

growing over whatever winter did to us, a return

to the strange idea of continuous living despite

the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,

I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf

unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

– Ada Limón

House geckos in Kenya

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Look at these amazing feet. This is how geckos can run along ceilings

Mandatory TED talk

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Close up on the beautiful eye

I’ve seen house geckos on four continents now (Australia, South America, North America, Africa). However, Kenya (and sub-Saharan Africa in general) is their native range! We were all quite fond of the geckos at the research camp because they ate all sorts of pest insects. Plus, it’s always fun to hear their little feet ticka-tacking around your tent. When I was tidying up my tent on the day I was leaving camp, I picked up my pillow to see if I’d left anything behind, and a gecko stared back up at me.

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Talk about smug lizards, geez
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He’s a little chubby, plenty of good meals at the camp toilets

Because we had drop toilets in the research camp, the geckos’ favourite place was the bathroom. A fly buffet every day! When I worked at the zoo, we introduced tiger geckos to control the cockroach problem…then we had a gecko problem. But no one really minds having geckos scatter when you turn on the lights.

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The view from inside my tent, including resident geckos
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Keeping the tent safe from cockroaches
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Another researcher found and hatched some gecko eggs. Human finger for scale!
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Freshly hatched gecko babies!

Some Kenyan lizards

I’ll have a separate gecko post (of course), and I’ve already written about the chameleons (1, 2), but here are some of the lizards I regularly saw around the research camp in Kenya.

I think this is a Somali Painted Agama, but I’m not sure:
Somali painted agama?

Our most common lizard was the Red-headed Rock Agama. This is the female:
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Red headed Rock Agama

And the extremely noticeable male:
Red headed Rock Agama
Red headed Rock Agama
Red headed Rock Agama

We found this skink at the research center…I’m not sure what species it was but it sure was smug:
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That’s my friend Gloria, grinning behind the camera.
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Skink, you skank
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Spying on us in the kitchen
Skink

Links to share

Don’t be fooled by cheap visualization tricks! If you’re a person who digests graphs from the media (i.e. anyone), make sure you know the ways people can lie with graphs: https://flowingdata.com/2017/02/09/how-to-spot-visualization-lies/

I think it’s fair to call me a minimalist, given that everything I owned fit into a suitcase a couple of weeks ago. But once you settle down to live in a place, it helps to have a few things. In other words, don’t romanticize minimalism*: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/29/style/when-the-gospel-of-minimalism-collides-with-daily-life.html

This is alarming. You may think fewer insects smashed on your car is a good thing, but entire ecosystems are built on the foundation of arthropod food: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/05/where-have-all-insects-gone

Cuttlefish battle! I love cuttlefish, but I missed my chance to see one in the wild in Australia. At least I saw an octopus! Check out this video of two male cuttlefish fighting over a female: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/05/science/cuttlefish-fight-video.html?emc=eta1&_r=1

Debunking the myth that humans have a poor sense of smell…this is SO interesting! Of course, I, like many others, have always been taught that dogs have a sense of smell many hundreds of times more powerful than our own. As it turns out, there isn’t strong scientific evidence behind that claim. The sheer relative volume of brain space dedicated to olfaction may not be the only thing at play here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/11/science/human-sense-of-smell-nose.html

Arthropod biodiversity inside North American Carolina homes (though this study claims biodiversity inside homes is high, 579 species of arthropods is actually quite low in terms of biodiversity): https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160119073618.htm

Painful. The accidental destruction of museum herbarium specimens, some hundreds of years old: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/world/australia/rare-plants-destroyed.html

Lovely images of pollen and flowers…I never get tired of more flower photos!: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/24/science/pollination-power-photography.html?_r=1

*There’s gotta be some happy medium between hoarder and living out of your car (which I have also done)

Foxes in my backyard

Foxes

Stop the presses! There are no fewer than three foxes napping in my backyard* right now.

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Turning around three times

Every once in a while, one will get up and yawn and stretch and they do a lot of itching, then they turn around and go back to napping. Ah, the life of a clever fox who has found a walled and locked yard.

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Foxes
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Foxes

There are a lot of foxes in Dublin. I have seen seven in my two months here. That’s fine by me…I adore foxes.

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They noticed me crawling out on the roof to photograph them from afar
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Foxes
https://flic.kr/p/UN7dzv

This is the same species as the foxes living in the meadow behind my parents’ house in Maryland (USA). And, in fact, the red fox is the world’s most widespread mammalian carnivore (aside from humans).

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The foxes in the meadow behind my parents’ house
https://flic.kr/p/UN7JgK

*Ok not really my backyard, but the yard beyond my backyard, which is the excess parking area for a sports centre. It is surrounded on all sides by high walls and gated at all times when not in use. So I have a strong desire to wander around in there but have no access.

Radiator Stop Leak

When I lived in upstate New York, my favourite thing to do on the weekends was to cycle the 35 mi to my friend’s farm and throw hay bales all day. His hay business completely relies on ancient (and faulty) equipment. His youngest tractor was made in 1963 (that’s 54 years old), and the oldest is a 1936 John Deere B* with no electrical components (you have to start it with a fly wheel). Naturally, all of these tractors are constantly breaking down in the middle of the field. When a tractor breaks down, he throws his hat on the ground, shouts a few curse words, stalks around the tractor, pulls out a pocket crescent wrench, and starts the thing right up again. It’s very impressive to watch.

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The B…we like to joke that we both like bees

One day, as I was riding out, he called to tell me one of the tractors** had sprung a leak in the radiator, and asked if I could pick up some radiator stop leak on the way. Because he lives way out in the country, there was only one gas station on the way, and it was a tiny little country store that sold a small selection of groceries in addition to the standard gas station fare.

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Stinky old beast…cousin to the D-14 (Fort) this is the D-45 (unnamed). I can’t tell the darn things apart though.

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This is a stolen photo of the D-14

After cycling about thirty miles, I reached this store.  Seeing there was nowhere to lock up my bike outside (why don’t gas stations have places to lock up bikes???), I took it in with me. The moment I walked in the door, everyone’s eyes turned to me.

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We named the youngest tractor (i.e. 54 yo) Sexy because it has a new paint job. It’s a D-19. And yes, that’s my farmer friend making monkey faces at me.

I was sweaty, red-faced, and dirty from the road in my cycling equipment. I was also still wearing a helmet. All that, plus the obvious clue of my bicycle, surely tipped them off to the fact that I had not driven a car there. Yet the first words out of my mouth, directed at the woman behind the counter, were, “Do you have any radiator stop leak?”

She stared at me, open-mouthed, for a moment before saying no. I shrugged and left the way I came in, clipless shoes click-clacking on the cement.

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We have to pick all these bales up off the ground and stack them on a hay wagon. This is why I love this work…mindless, good hard work.

*Currently on loan to a museum…that’s how old it is, haha
**Probably the tractor we call Fort (well he calls it Fort, I call it Fart)…it’s an 1957 Allis Chalmers D-14 that causes endless amounts of trouble and spills out poisonous black smoke that makes you cough. He’ll never get rid of the darn thing, though, because it belonged to his father.

Take a hike! (With me?): Kenya edition, Sagalla Hill

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Sagalla Hill overlooks the agricultural area where our field station was located and where I did the majority of my field work in Kenya. Every morning, I’d jog on the red dirt road and watch the rising sun stain the hill, usually wreathed in clouds, from down below.
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I wanted nothing more than to hike the hill myself, but I was told it would be dangerous for me to go alone because a) I don’t speak more than a couple words of Swahili and b) there are plenty of dangerous animals that could do some damage to me if I was alone and far from camp.
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I finally managed to persuade a local friend and a Brazilian researcher to hike the hill with me. I had trouble getting a reliable estimate of the distance, but my guide, Paul, told me in the morning that it was 15km each way. I don’t know how accurate that was, given that it took us just under 2 hours to get to the summit (albeit at a breakneck pace). As a veteran hiker, I know it is not trivial to cover 15 km up steep slopes in under 2 hours. He later said the whole trip was 25 km, which might be more accurate.
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The other confusing thing about this hike was that my Kenyan friend, Esther, said, “Okay see you tomorrow night!” before we went to bed the night before. She’s not an early riser, so she wasn’t expecting to see me before we left at 6am the next morning. But I couldn’t do the calculations…even a 30 km hike wouldn’t take me 12 hours.
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My hiking buddies
We set a blistering pace up the mountain in the morning, so I don’t have many photos from the hike up, but I can tell you that I was sweating an embarrassing amount. I’m a pretty good sweater normally, but this was beyond ridiculous. I was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and the sweat was just pouring off the brim. I have no idea what was wrong with me, other than the fact that it was oppressively humid, but Paul actually asked me if I was okay. I felt fine, aside from the fact that I couldn’t keep my glasses on because they fogged up like I had just opened a hot oven.
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Crops at the top of the hill
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All the dogs followed us up the hill. I wasn’t planning on them coming. They followed me everywhere, but I thought they would head back before long. I ended up giving them half my water and food.
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These guys, good hiking buddies in a pinch.
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Classic SOIMF* boot shot
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After we reached the summit and rested for a bit, waiting for the clouds to clear enough for us to see the land below, I learned why Esther had said “see you tomorrow evening.” Because, of course we had to stop in and see Paul’s mother, who lived on top of the hill. Then we had to have tea with her (because you just have to have a cup of tea when you visit someone in Kenya). Then his sister-in-law invited us for a cup of tea…then his auntie. Before I knew it, we had spent four hours drinking tea with Paul’s friends and relatives on top of the hill.
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So, yes. In the end, we spent about three and a half hours round trip hiking…and four hours drinking tea. A true Kenyan hike. 🙂
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Rewards

*StandingOutInMyField