Past Snapshots: Magic Gardens


Since we’re not going out much, I’m trying to continue working through old photos, cleaning out a lot of them and posting a few favorite memories. This one is from a trip to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens over Thanksgiving weekend, 2013.

Guten Tag

In which the author spends a lot of time perfecting her deer-in-headlights expression

I recently applied for and got an offer for a research position based in Germany, with additional fieldwork opportunities in Finland. I’ve never even visited Germany—I have a German last name, but very little heritage to go with it—but my partner and I decided to take the leap and move overseas. This decision was followed by the requisite months of packing, paperwork, spending time with family and friends, and squeezing in a three-week trip to Nepal, for reasons.* Just after Christmas, we started off on our newest adventure. 

After a rather long sequence of security lines, plane flights, more lines, more security, more flying, taxis, trains, and general confusion, we arrived at a place where neither of us spoke the dominant language, hauling precisely 112 kilograms of luggage.** This luggage (6-8 bags, depending on how tightly we packed things into other things) spent the next three days piled across half of an otherwise respectable hotel room, as we wandered around town, picked up the keys to our apartment, and waited for the New Year’s holiday to be over so we could buy a few things. Like bread. And lights. And a bed. ***

The nice thing about moving to a place where you are completely clueless is you get to learn a lot really quickly. In our first week here, we’ve learned that when you step on the bus you’re expected to name the exact stop you’re traveling to; that despite its pronunciation “rathaus” means the city hall; and finally that just because you know how to say “I would like bread and water please” does not grant understanding of the first sentence pleasantly babbled at you when you walk into a restaurant, which might be “would you like a table for two?” or “please choose whichever seat you like” or “isn’t it cold out today” or even “if you’re too stupid to understand German then we’d really rather not deal with you today so please leave.”**** 

We’ve also learned that to get a phone plan you need a German bank account, and to get a bank account you need to be certified at the city hall^ as a resident, and to be certified by the city you need a special signed piece of paper from your landlady that she didn’t give you with the normal rental contract. See? We’re making progress, even if most of it is backwards. 

All of this is to say that upcoming posts will likely be Europe-dominated in pictures^^ (and clueless-traveler-dominated in text). The style of this post (with footnotes) was inspired by Robin McKinley’s blog, except for the subtitle which is A. A. Milne. Tschüss!


*Photos to come soon. ish. 

**Plus of course a little extra, because we figured they probably wouldn’t weigh our backpacks so that’s where we carried all the heavy electronics. 

***The bed and light acquisitions took one day longer than planned (see note about New Year’s holiday and every store being closed) so we spent the first night in our apartment cooking and eating by flashlight, and sleeping on a rug that was hauled back from IKEA via two long bus rides. Much warmer than our last camping trip! 

****Nor, in fact, does it successfully acquire you normal water in a glass, but rather various iterations of sparkling water or tiny bottles of mineral water, none of which you actually wish to drink. 


^^Yes, yes, and Nepal

Fly away home


Once again I’m staring at a calendar, watching my final days on the Olympic Peninsula flash past me. As excited as I am to return to my main research work and life in California, this place excels at being hard to leave. I’ve never called Washington home, but these mountains, and particularly the project on the Elwha, capture my heart.

My focus on this project is the vegetation, but as wonderful as it is to see valley turning green and the trees shooting skyward, I’ve been even more amazed by the transformation of the river itself. Now that the dams are completely removed and the silt has washed down to the delta, the Elwha has come alive. Each section of fieldwork I wrap up is a bittersweet victory, as I prepare to leave this shining, shifting river, which after almost a hundred years of constraint, is finally flowing free.


Photo: Mt Shasta, taken on the trip up here. I am in fact not flying home, but driving for fourteen hours, past some very pleasant scenery.

Diwali at the Chapel

My school’s Hindu Life Program holds an annual Diwali celebration within the university chapel. It’s a wonderful celebration of the Festival of Light, full of color, thoughtful words, and uplifting song. I was honored to participate as the primary photographer, and had an incredible time working with these vibrant people. (click on any picture for a full slideshow)

Gift of Sport

For two weeks we were in the water every day except for the two days spent traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. We would spend two hours snorkeling in the morning, break for lunch, and another two to three hours snorkeling in the afternoon, and oftentimes when we did get back to land I would spend another hour or so playing in the waves. So when we finished our fieldwork time and had a day to spend working on analyzing our data, I was initially really excited to relax. But by mid-afternoon, the hours behind a computer began to blur into a mass of floating black letters. Finally I gave up and walked outside, desperate to do something active–go hiking, go swimming, play volleyball. Oh how I wanted to play volleyball. To let go of circling statistics and roommate drama and focus entirely on encapsulated moments: serve, pass, set, spike.

The only things stopping me were that we were in a beach town in Panama, with no access to net or ball, and most of my classmates had taken a taxi to the other side of the island: so really everything. But the more I thought about how my chances of playing volleyball were pretty much zero, the more I was desperate to get on the court and out of my head. I had all of this pent-up energy humming on my skin like a build-up of static electricity, which was driving me to go anywhere just to get moving.

I went for a walk, and when I found a beach I pulled off my shoes and started running. For many people this might be a normal thing to do, but I’ve never been interested in running for exercise. This time, though, the impact of my feet on that hard-packed sand grounded me, pulling together all the loose energy and leaving it behind. I told myself I would run the length of the beach, and though I was gasping by the end of it, I kept going the whole way. And there, by some fantastic blessing, was a volleyball net set up in the sand, and even more importantly, when I arrived there was a full game in progress.

I stopped and stood there next to the court, entranced by the movement of the ball back and forth, the good-natured talk bantered around in a mixture of English and Spanish. It was so wonderful just to see people playing that I didn’t even realize I was staring until the game ended. All at once I felt shy, concerned that they already had an even number of players and probably wouldn’t want a random girl in jean shorts inserting herself into their group anyway. But even as I worried that asking to play with them would be rude, I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave without giving it my best shot.

Fortunately, one team was willing to let me join them. A couple passes and a string of serves later, they seemed quite happy to have me there. And I was ecstatic. I had some good plays and some bad plays, and even took a hit to the face from a spike that squeezed over the too-low net, and I was blissfully happy. I had so much fun I kept playing until the sun had begun to set, at which point I realized I was late for dinner. With lots of protesting from tired muscles, I ran the whole way back, and got back sweaty and smiling swith just a few minutes to spare.