and you thought awesome bugs were only in the rainforest

Okay, so maybe I’m the one who thought that Washington bugs would be pretty uninteresting compared to the beauties I was enjoying in Costa Rica and Panama. (By the way, “bugs” is a totally scientific term for anything that’s eight-legged, six-legged, or no-legged and can be described as creepy, crawly, hard, soft, and otherwise spurned by the squeamish of society. Scientific. Really.) I was sure the only bugs worth knowing in Washington were the mosquitos, spiders, and anything else that was more identifiable by the bite that it left than it’s actual appearance.

Sometimes, it’s pretty awesome to be proven wrong.

Yesterday, I was staring at plants (which is basically what I do all day, in a systematic and science-y way) and happened to notice this beauty.

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sitting picturesquely on a driftwood log, of course
such a cute face
such a cute face
I love the rainbow effect, and the texture with the stripes
I love the rainbow effect and the overall texture of the outer wings with the stripes

And just as I was debating whether to go get my camera, this diva flew right past me and landed two feet away!

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it’s like the Cruela deVille of beetles
there's something very classy about that little white spot below the larger black circle
there’s something very classy about that little white spot below the larger black circle
Check out the length of those antennae
Check out the length of those antennae

So I grabbed my camera and snapped away until they both wandered and flew off, respectively. Clearly I am going to have to start paying more attention to my local bugs.

Edit: The beetles are aptly named the Green Metallic Beetle (Buprestis aurulenta) and the Banded Alder Borer (Rosalia funebris).

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The ex-lakes

I have yet to find a good phrase to refer to my two work sites. Both were once lakes that have drained down as the Elwha River returns to its natural flow. However, there are no names associated with those particular stretches of the river, only for the lakes that used to be. Calling them “Lake Aldwell” and “Lake Mills” is now a misnomer, but “Former Lake Aldwell” or “the Lake Mills Basin” just seems to take too long to say. I often default to calling them the abbreviated “Aldwell” or “Mills,” but feels like a cop-out, like when you can’t decide to call someone by their first name or last name and so avoid calling them anything at all. Which, honestly, I do all the time. But it’s a lot easier when you’re talking to someone, and a bit harder when you’re talking about someone or some-geologically-and-ecologically-defined-region.

Consequently, in my head I have taken to referring to these regions as “ex-lake Aldwell” and “ex-lake Mills.” Slightly disrespectful, perhaps, but it fits in such an amusing way. One day it might be nice to name the for what they are rather than what they used to be, but standing in them now, looking around at the still open expanses being slowly conquered by brave, pioneering vegetation, they truly feel like something that was once a lake, and is now only barely beginning to figure out what it will become. Ex-lakes, healing with time and moving forward in succession.

The two have very different personalities. Ex-lake Aldwell is narrower in a way that makes it appear smaller, as the majority of it is out of sight at any given time. Exposed for longer, it’s greener and feels more welcoming to seeds, birds, and the wandering researcher. Mills gives off quite a different impression. Where Aldwell welcomes visitors in, ex-lake Mills rises up imposingly, presenting expanses of flat sand dropping away into steep cliffs. It is fantastic, awe-inspiring, and feels enormous no matter where in the reservoir you stand.

The two also present different challenges to the researchers working on revegetating them. Ex-lake Mills has large stretches of coarse sediment, more sand and rocks than soil, which challenges any plants to survive with little water or nutrients but lots of sun and wind. In contrast, ex-lake Aldwell is perhaps too friendly, embracing a variety of highly invasive species that threaten the establishment of native species.

To me they’re these incredible beings that have been given the chance to begin again, to be reborn and returned to a healthier, more natural state. I will have very little to do with guiding that rejuvenation, but I have been amazingly inspired by these budding ex-lakes, and I love them like they’re children taking their first off-balance steps.

Self-employed researcher on the loose

I’ve been working long hours this week, so by end of day Thursday I’d already clocked over forty hours, a good majority of them in the field. In this case, the field is absolutely gorgeous, but also quite hot without any shade, and I’m constantly moving around, hauling gear up and down slopes. So when I got up this morning with plans to go out for another full day, I was feeling pretty tired. And as I wished that I could switch my schedule around, I realized that I in fact could.

It was a pretty astounding thought. I’m in charge of my own schedule, and if I wanted to make today my “office day” for entering data, looking up rare plant species, etc and spend Saturday in the field, I can. Oh, the power.

Instead of running around in the sun today, I spent a few hours entering my data from the week (okay, the bulk of the day, but it’s a lot of data!), and I’ll run around in the sun tomorrow. I think the switch will actually help me be more productive on both days. My favorite part of it is that next week if I want to change back, or sleep in on Saturday and work on Sunday instead, or any other crazy combination, I can. The person who cares most about my work getting done is me, and in a wonderful coincidence, I am the only one responsible for getting it done. Which, from my perspective in the middle of all of it, is pretty awesome.

When the walls take you further

I’ve always been amused by the cliché of enjoying long walks on the beach, but there’s something about being so near to the ocean, that undeniable power stretching out past our view, that is quite captivating. I stare at the moving water until I’m caught up in the pull and crash of the waves, the not quite predictable patterns of the little waves that ease in politely and the large ones that rear up and rush in greedily. I love that every time I go near the ocean the feeling is different, as weather and colors, wind and tides shape the mood of the water. So when a trip to a nearby beach was proposed for my free afternoon and birthday celebration with relatives, I was happy to agree.

The water was blue, heavy deep blue like if you scooped some of it up in a bottle you use it to flavor snow cones, and when the waves stood up they were clear enough to reveal their seaweed innards. But despite the show the ocean water was putting on, my attention on this trip was captured by the natural art on my other side, where the sand rose up in yellow clay bluffs.

The clay was soft, and frequently moving as sections eroded or chunks sheared off from the cliffs. As the afternoon sun moved lower, the crevices lit up, shadows forming  patterns that reminded me at times of desert canyons, Egyptian monuments, and otherworldly cities. I took picture after picture after picture, trying to capture the bluffs not as they really were, but as I could imagine them to be.

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First Look

I’m spending this summer at a place I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, the Olympic National Park in Washington state. Even more exciting, the work I am doing here is completely my own: I’m conducting field research for the senior thesis I will write next year. The place I am working is undergoing a major change: two large dams on the Elwha River are being deconstructed, and areas that have been submerged for almost a hundred years are now open for plants to colonize and grow. For my research I will be exploring the regenerating site, and picking apart how these plant communities are affected by different soil types, surrounding areas, water availability, and more.

I first began to investigate this project as an option for my thesis in mid-November, and the more I learned about it, the more interested I became. By the beginning of the year I had convinced one of my professors to advise me on the project, and began to contact people working at the site. I turned in a formal proposal for funding in March, and in May I spent three weeks writing a paper reviewing the relevant scientific theory and related studies. I have spent more time than I can track pouring over maps, anxiously coordinating logistics from outside the country, scanning through published papers and books, and thinking intently about my question and project design.

And today, for the first time, I got to see my project site. Two newly opened river valleys just beginning to be populated by grasses, flowers, and young trees. What words can possibly encompass the beauty of that first sight? It took my breath away.

The northern section of former Lake Aldwell. All of the bright green is new growth.
The northern section of former Lake Aldwell. All of the bright green is new growth.
Some of the grasses are quite tall already
Some of the grasses are quite tall already
The remnants of the dam blocking Lake Mills
The remnants of the dam blocking Lake Mills
Approximately one-third of the former Lake Mills area. My pictures do not begin to capture how large and deep these areas are.
Approximately one-third of the former Lake Mills area. My pictures do not begin to capture how large and deep these areas are.