O tannenbaum.

•November 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Do you think your Christmas tree is nice? Do you think it’s special? Well, the train station in Zurich would like to squash your pride like so many tiny ants. Their Christmas tree is drenched in Swarovski crystals. Yeah, that’s right. It’s also 15 meters tall, or almost 50 feet. That’s 50 feet worth of crystals.

It was a surreal sight as I hustled through the station at 8 a.m. on Sunday on my way to go skiing.

And it reminded me: in the U.S. we have Thanksgiving, and most Christmas decorations don’t go up until after that because, after all, then what would we do with the Thanksgiving decorations? No such problem in Switzerland.

“I swear every year they put it up one day earlier,” grumbled my friend Timothée, who is French. “By the time we are professors it will go up the day after Halloween.”

reality (of) settling in.

•November 16, 2014 • 2 Comments

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By now I’m a pro at traveling and moving. Over the last two years I lived in four different countries; at this point I’m up to 16 months straight where I haven’t stayed in one country for a whole month, whether it means a “permanent” move or a conference or vacation.

When I left the U.S. on Halloween to move to Zurich, things were easy. Packing went more smoothly than it ever has in the past. The travel was no problem; at JFK I talked my way into the U.S. Airways Lounge by charming the front desk lady. There, I enjoyed free breakfast and stocked up on snacks for my trip. I even managed to actually sleep on the overnight flight.

Moving in and settling down, I thought, would be just as easy. Paperwork? I’ve done that before. Bureaucratic rules? Check. Learning where the nearest grocery store is? Yeah, I’ve done that. (Not to mention, I now have an iPhone so I can actually get directions and maps on the fly, which is huge.)

After all, I have been looking forward to this so much: coming to Zurich, working in an amazing institute, living in one place for three years. Making myself a home and finding a community. Traveling with a backpack, instead of a duffel bag and a ski bag each weighing 50 pounds. Having a kitchen; having a living room. Having a bedroom that is separate from those rooms. Having a yard! Having plants. Being able to get into a routine, to have habits like going for a run in the morning. Having space to plan in.

I’m certainly well on my way to those goals.

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But surprisingly, the moving-in and settling-down part is proving harder than I had expected. Way harder. And I don’t mean that it’s a stuggle: most things were checked off my list in the first day. I have a phone number, a bank account, a train pass, some furniture. The main things remaining are university registration (all my documents are in but the University of Zurich inexplicably takes up to three months to process it?) and, once that’s complete, insurance. And the migration board. Switzerland lets you in as long as you have a visa, but then waits to offer you an appointment to get a residence permit – so for weeks, potentially, you’re living with no Swiss-issued permission or ID. Which prevents you from checking a whole bunch of other things off your list.

What’s hard is that every day when I come home from work, I’m exhausted. Totally, completely done with the world. As I recently wrote in an e-mail to one friend, ” I get home and I melt into a puddle of useless sofa-glop.” (At least I have a sofa.)

The things that I want to do in my evenings don’t get done. I don’t go for that jog or do that circuit workout. I don’t read that paper or work on that manuscript left over from my masters degree. I don’t even reply to e-mails from my friends – the act of typing out my thoughts is too much. I don’t write the article for FasterSkier.

Probably, I peruse the internet and, in a haze, read some pop culture news that doesn’t even absorb into my brain.

Why this is so, I can’t seem to explain.

There’s been a lot of discussion in academic circles recently about how we all complain about how busy and stressed we are, but that’s only because we choose to see ourselves as busy and stressed. There have been some fabulous rebuttals, my favorite of which comes from Timothée Poisot:

“the raw volume of things we have to do increases over time; so does our productivity, but with a delay. We are essentially in a Red-Queen dynamics with ourselves: more work to do means that we have to develop a new coping strategy, in the form of more productive habits. Then when we feel comfortable, we take on more work, and become overworked again.”

(If you’re not familiar with the Red Queen hypothesis, here‘s a nice explanation of how a chapter in Through The Looking Glass is related to evolutionary theory.)

Looking back over the last few years, I totally see this in my life. That’s why I think it’s such a great explanation. I’ve gone from producing 50 to 75 to over 100 race reports (of increasingly better quality) for FasterSkier every winter, while simultaneously holding better and more serious jobs – hell, I did a masters degree which involved writing my own grants and administering a field season. I never feel totally comfortable, but as I pile on more things, they always seem to get done with no more stress than the previous, slightly-smaller workload.

Do things get lost in the lurch? Yeah. Personal relationships. But I still have good epistolary (ok, e-mail) relationships with some great friends, and things always fall back into place when I see them. I still wish I was better though, and wish I was closer to some of the people I care most about. And I wish I had more time to exercise – that for sure gets lost. I’m in the worst shape of my life since high school, but on the other hand, I’m still certainly in better shape than most people. It’s just my personality and life experience that keep me saying that this isn’t good enough.

Business, and busy-ness, marches onward, to both ever-new heights and exactly the same height.

What I can’t reason my way around is my sudden crash once I moved to Zurich. If anything, I’m less “busy” than I have been: the grind of the PhD has barely started. I’m still reading papers and trying to feel my way out. I will start seminars and journal clubs for the first time this week; up until now I got out of many of the demands of my position by virtue of being “new” and “still settling in”. Compared to my classmates all around me, life is a breeze.

So perhaps it comes down to this. For the last two years, I have known that every move is more or less temporary. That I need to make friends, but maybe not worry about them too much because I’ll just leave them soon. That the main thing I need to do is keep myself happy from day to day. (And in the course of being happy, of course, you end up making friends who are much more than temporary.)

Now, there’s a lot more pressure. I have to find the things that can keep me happy for the next three years. I have to make better, lasting relationships. If I go for a run, I’m thinking, oh yes, this is how my morning run will be! Which means, wait, what if I don’t like that morning run?

Which is silly, of course.

Yesterday I went for a hike with my friend Timothée (not the same as the guy who wrote the blog post). I randomly picked a place on the map where there were nice-looking mountains (at least according to contour lines) that wasn’t too far from Zurich. We took the train for an hour and set out.

It turned out to be up, for 3000+ feet straight. No breaks, no little flats or downhills as you head for the next ridge. It took impossibly long (well, just 1 1/2 hours with some breaks to look at chamois and sketchy cable cars) to reach the point I had marked on the map as where we could decide which of several routes to take onward. Sweating profusely and out of breath, I’d look at my watch and realize that it had only been ten minutes since the last time I looked at my watch, thinking, we must be getting somewhere by now.

Of course, we eventually got somewhere – somewhere with beautiful views. It was rewarding and I was thrilled to be in the mountains. All of the things that you remember when hiking as soon as the part that sucks stops.

And that’s a little bit like what starting in Zurich is like. It’s uphill and I am more and more exhausted, and I keep thinking, somewhere up ahead is a trail that traverses across the side of the mountain. Sometime it won’t be uphill anymore. It must be right around the next corner.

The bottom line is that moving takes a lot more out of you than you expect. Over the next few months, things will get easier. Routines will develop without me consciously thinking, “oh yes, this is a routine which is developing.” Days will become a blur of office, seminars, meetings, lunch with the lab group, German class, presentations. Weekends will be for skiing and reporting. I won’t notice so much the weird starkness of settling in before you are settled in.

And I will get back to being busy as a student, as a writer, as a crazy-ass human being. You know, like usual. For some reason, that doesn’t exhaust me.

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wedding season.

•November 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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I moved to Zurich! But I won’t tell you about that yet (I don’t know how to describe it yet, myself – still processing). But before I moved to Zurich, I went to three weddings this fall. Whoa.

I have hit the age (27) when all of a sudden weddings are EVERYWHERE. Already this year, I had missed a boatload: my friends Sean and Sarah in Vermont; my friends Courtney and Warren in Colorado. Also this fall was my friends Andrea and Brian, but it was at the same time as one of the other weddings. My college friend Sarah also got married this summer.

Out of the three weddings, I was a bridesmaid in two. I was excited, but I also approached the first wedding with trepidation. I wasn’t really sure what all of this is about.

But as it turns out, weddings are just about friends. And I had a phenomenal, wonderful time hanging out with my middle school friends when one of them, Thomas, got married to Becca. Photos from Becca’s uncle Mark:

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Becca and Thomas were so generous with their time – we spent a lot of happy hours together, along with some friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time. The top photo from this post is me and Harker, the best man, hanging out with Thomas and remembering things from years ago, when Thomas and Becca first started dating. The whole weekend was also an amazing opportunity to catch up with Eric, Lily, and Geoff, among others, who I hadn’t seen in years. They are all doing amazing things, from designing toys to building their own houses and protecting Lake Champlain. We turned out okay, we kids.

Then, a brief break, and on to wedding number two: my friends Lauren and Daniel. We went to Maine and did the whole deal at a YMCA Camp on a lake. Photos from Tori Lee Jackson Photography:

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The other great things about Lauren’s wedding is that it was almost entirely do-it-yourself. We set up the tables and chairs, made the rehearsal dinner food, made the bouquets. That last part was tough for me, as I have no previous flower-arranging experience and little artistic talent.

Lauren was a teammate of mine at Craftsbury when we were ski racing. Longtime readers of this blog probably remember her, in fact. Her husband, Daniel, is great – and I remember when Lauren told me about him for the very first time, back when we were in Craftsbury. I’m so happy to see them together and it was such a joy to be part of their weekend. Again, they were so generous with their time, and with their idea of the camp: it meant that everyone could stay there for the weekend, there was plenty of space for the kids to play (and adults, too). There were campfires at night and horseshoes during the day; some guests took canoes out on the lake. A photo from Nina Murray, another bridesmaid, of us ladies hanging out and getting ready:

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Finally: on to Houston! My cousin Harrison got married. He’s the first Little of our generation to get married, so it’s a pretty big deal (I have not yet succumbed to the pressure… and also I failed as the oldest cousin). And it was a joy to have the whole family together for a happy reason, unlike a funeral.

I also really enjoyed Houston. There were plenty of beautiful parks and outdoor areas to explore, and my aunt and uncle have a really beautiful little place in a nice neighborhood. We spent a lot of time sitting out on their back patio overlooking their pool.

I spent most of my time palling around with my cousins Jess and Emily. It was Emily’s 21st birthday the night of the wedding. We’ll leave it at that.

This is not Emily, it’s Jess:

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And then, that was it. I flew home and soon moved to Zurich.

One thing that I’m really happy about is that these weddings gave me an opportunity to catch up with friends and family from all the different spheres of my life. I’m going to be away for a long time: I got to have a nice goodbye tour.

And while I don’t plan on getting married anytime soon (despite my cousins’ request that I do get married, and have the wedding in Zurich, so they all have an excuse to go to Switzerland), it’s cool to see my friends and cousins settling down. I’m looking forward to that day myself – sans wedding. In fact, three years in Zurich counts as settling down, to me.

olympic memories.

•October 4, 2014 • 2 Comments

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Dedicated readers of this blog will remember all the things I wrote about this winter when I was in Sochi, Russia, for the winter Olympics. What a trip that was! You can revisit it here.

I was thinking about the Olympics this week as Norway withdrew its bid to host the 2022 winter Games in Oslo. Man, that would have been a lot of fun. The whole ski world was holding our breath, daring to imagine how insanely awesome an Oslo Holmenkollen Games would be. But they won’t be. I thought not only about my experience this winter in Sochi, but also a long time ago when my family went to Albertville in 1992 and Lillehammer in 1994 to watch aunt Liz compete.

The result is this editorial, which I am pretty proud of.

When I was putting it together, I flipped through our photo albums of the Albertville and Lillehammer trips, which was super fun. I scanned a few of the photos, which I’m posting here! One takeaway, for sure: I used to smile more, when I was a kid….

The top photo is of a birthday party in Lillehammer. My uncle, father, and grandfather all have February birthdays, so there were always birthday parties at the Olympics. For this one, we brought a book of paper cut-out masks, and colored them all in. Lizzie is hoisting a glass of wine (I can’t remember if this was before or after her competition); I appear to be killing my poor cousin Mary, as my mom reaches across like stop, you insolent pain in the ass…

I have a new plan for 2022, which is that even if the Olympics aren’t in Oslo, that might be the best place to be. We already know that their television coverage is infinitely superior to what we get here in the U.S., so why don’t we all just head to Oslo and watch the Games from there? We can hit the Nordmarka on our skis in between events. Please join me. Oslo, I think this is a big tourism opportunity for you.

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go to northern scandinavia.

•September 26, 2014 • 2 Comments

After our brief stop in Tromsø, we continued on to Abisko. After staying in the main scientific research station for a night, we took a helicopter ride up to Latnjajaure, our tiny field site. It’s only about a 3-4 hours walk, but we needed to bring food for almost three weeks up there, so hiking it up wasn’t a very good option. Plus, I had never been in a helicopter before! so that was a treat.

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I don’t know what to say about the work (it was the same? hard? confusing?), but our time at Latnja was amazing. There is an extensive hiking/trekking trail system in northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland, so we were right on the path of one of the trails. We could hike off into the heath and up the mountains surrounding our station, or we could make huge loops on established trails. Both were lovely.

One day we even hiked to the nearby(ish) Låkta hut, where we ordered soup. Helen and I were getting pretty desperate after not having fresh vegetables, and luckily their soup of the day was cream of broccoli. I ordered a coffee, too. It was perfect. I was amazed to see that you could stay at the hut (without meals, of course) for just 40 SEK – incredibly cheap, way cheaper than any AMC hut in New England or a hut in Switzerland. In fact, there aren’t very many things at all that you can do in Sweden for SEK 40!

So: if the following slideshow doesn’t convince you to go plan a hiking trip to northern Sweden/Norway immediately, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

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Trøndelag.

•September 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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And so, one day, we left Svalbard.

It was sad, in a way, and it had its snafus. We went for one last hike; we drove the car back to the airport, stopping to fill it with fuel along the way but struggling for ten minutes to get the gas cap off. I laughed: what if we missed our flight because of the rental car gas cap?

And then we were off to Tromsø. It had been sunny, but chilly and blustery when we left 78˚N. We flew over the archipelago, seeing the many many glaciers we couldn’t see from town – Spitzbergen is covered 60% in snow (don’t quote me on that though).

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When we landed “down south”, it was t-shirt weather and the sun was hot. We had to pinch ourselves to remember that we were still far, far farther north than most people will go in their lifetime. Tromsø felt like the tropics.

Our friend Cecilie picked us up at the airport and brought us back to her house, where we also met up with our friend Nikoline. Then they drove us out of town to a favorite picnic spot along the fjord. In the back was Cecilie’s bassett hound, panting and shedding adorably.

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It’s hard to describe the sun in the north. I didn’t have a reason to because in Svalbard, it rarely shown. On those few days that it did, it was strong and bright and a joyous occasion.

When you’re merely in normal Scandinavia, the summer sun begins to dip at night. It might not get dark, but it’s not like noon, either. Sweden and Norway, especially in late summer, are encompassed in a glow of dusk – the sun resting at an angle on the horizon, bathing everything in its peculiar light. Amazingly, my camera did manage to pick this up.

We could have sat there for hours in the sun, all night, really. As it was we walked along the shore and the basset’s short legs took him to and fro. Sometimes he’d slip and almost fall, but he gamely scampered on, betraying no sense of the fact that he was not a dog built for anything but flat ground.

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Cecilie made us salmon burgers, the most delicious. And brownies, which we heaped with ice cream on top. She had found Helen her favorite new drink, a special ginger beer that we had never heard of before. The only thing better than the scenery in Tromsø was the hospitality. I really hope that I can offer Cecilie and Nikoline the same in return one day.

Helen and I had to catch a 6 a.m. bus to Sweden the next day, but Cecilie gamely woke up (despite not being a morning person!) and packed our lunchbox with not only lunch, but all the rest of the brownies. When we ate them in Narvik before switching to the train, I had rarely felt so spoiled in my life. Cecilie’s mother is American, so she knows how to make a real brownie.

And then we were off, traversing through the fjords and over the mountains. I had never thought much of northern Norway, but as the bus wound through the alpine landscape, I thought it might be my most favorite place ever. I wanted to jump off the bus right there and wander off into the heath, to climb over the bare rock hills.

It wasn’t just the Tromsø fjord that was so astonishingly beautiful; it was everything going East, too. I definitely have to go back some day.

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methods in ecology.

•July 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hi! I’m actually out of contact completely – we moved to a field site in northern Sweden where the only communication is by satellite phone to check in with the main field station – but here I am, back form the void, with a scheduled post I made before I left.

The work we are doing in Sweden will actually be almost identical to what we did in Svalbard. That’s the whole idea: to make my thesis a comparative study. Thus, we use the same plexiglass OTC’s to warm the tundra, and we do the same measurements of the plant community to see what the effects of the OTC’s are.

Here’s what it sounds like when we are “point-framing”, which means surveying the vegetation composition and height at 100 fixed points within a plot. I took this video on a sunny day in Adventdalen, but you can hear the wind whistling pretty loud – even the nice days always found a way to be chilly.

(and now, I really am off – check back in mid-August when I’ll have lots of photos from Latnjajaure to post!)

 
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