Today I received an email with the subject title 'Proposal for Geotechnical Exploration' - a title that made me laugh a bit, since essentially all the email contained was a description of the cone penetration test and 4' surface soil core that would be taken to assess my subsurface soil - something that is required prior to putting in new pilings...oh, yes, and a price quote -- for two cone pentration tests at two sites (taken at 20' and 40') and one soil core. Interestingly, a neighbor said they went down to 60' and the heavy clay bed (marl-like?) was at about 45' - so I'm going to need to doublecheck that with the folks I got the quote from. I'm waiting from one more quote.
I like soils. I also like how, last Sunday morning, the edge of the tidal pool (although not technically a tidal pool, I'm pretty sure) on Sullivan's Island looked like a soil profile - and this made me laugh again: my primary educational training is in soil science, and one of my current doctoral students is a soil scientist as well. We're at a university that - well - doesn't have soil scientists and has probably never hired one before (and probably never will again) - and so this student and I, on ocassion, have little 'soil appreciation moments'. One such moment came recently, when I told my student about my pending soil core - and we both decided that we needed to keep the soil and preserve it - that we needed to make a soil monolith. Again I laughed - I can see it now, perhaps hanging in the dining room? The guest bath? A 5' foot mahogany board fitted with an epoxyed soil core (see, it's easy). All this 'soils talk' reminded me of the Smithsonian Soils Exhibit (which is still obtaining funding) and the state soil monoliths - did you know that each state has its own soil? South Carolina's state soil is the Bohicket...and who knew that on October 18, 1881, the New York Times had an article on mining phosphates in South Carolina - in Charleston no less. Strange (and unsettling) reading.
Yesterday the laboratory celebrated it's annual laboratory ritual of thanks-giving - and like last year, this ritual involved cold beer, a poem, and a table filled with individuals from all around the planet, converging simultaneously for a multi-year stay in my 1000 square foot laboratory space. Different individuals with common - and passionate - interests. We gave thanks for each other, for the freedom to read poetry, for jobs, for working autoclaves, for interesting questions, for past students that paved the way, and for talks that helped during difficult times. I am grateful each year that my lab will do this - that they will spend a few hours sitting around a communal table taking turns listing what they are grateful for amidst the day-to-day routine of an often tedious scientific life.
We have much to be grateful for.
I learned today that 95% of the bottlenose dolphin mortalities is attributed to respiratory diseases. I learned that little is known about these diseases. The author of this article has signed on to be a co-PI on the grant that I am writing (due 12 December) - I was thrilled because he will contribute so much to the depth of our project - and provide us legitimacy, since I haven't a background in marine mammal research. Another co-PI called to say how excited she was about the project - and a 4th co-PI signed on - someone with predictive modeling expertise. Bingo! The team is together - now we just have to write and rewrite and deal with all of the details. But as I said: I learned today that 95% of the bottlenose dolphin mortalities is attributed to respiratory diseases. That's a compelling opening sentence for a proposal focused on characterizing the microbial diversity of dolphin respiratory track microorganisms.
So Katherine, as is our tradition, sat at the table in the bar and read us a poem - a poem written by her spouse, Richard Garcia, a poem that is about gratitude of a different kind, reluctant gratitude perhaps, or gratitude realized after a bit of complaining or disgruntlement - but gratitude that arises nonetheless. Perhaps this is Richard's very own acceptance speech, written the evening before his predicted win of the gold oscar, given to him by his peers for thankfullness of the unexpected. Although it's not August - and the heat and the love bugs are long gone - this poem, as I listened to it, made me realize that I might even miss that most warm of southern months - and that these years spent in the south have become a part of me. Banana spiders and all.
August by Richard Garcia
First , I’d like to thank the warm rain, lightning,
mosquitoes, love bugs, cockroaches in the kitchen,
the marsh rat strolling through the living room
who said, Damn, it’s hot out there. I’d like to thank
the red-tailed hawk for swooping down on the cat.
I’d like to thank God for not noticing me at 3 a.m.
and clouds seen from airplanes, the sheets of heat
lightning turning their pages, without which
I would not be the man that I am today.
I’d like to thank today, and that hospital room
made up to look like a hotel room
and the hotel room made up to look like a cave.
Most of all I want to thank the ghost of my mother.
Don’t thank me she says, thank the plaster hand.
It remembers every day to thank you after all,
so show a little gratitude where it’s needed most.
I’d like to thank my wife who stood by me
all August, month of my birth, August,
when Elizabeth Taylor paces the bedroom
in her slip, and Orson Wells wipes his brow
with a silken handkerchief, August
when the tourists have almost gone home
and banana spiders seal the doorways
with the military secret of their silk.
I’d like to thank my agent for believing in me
and, once again, I know I’ve run over
but thank you August, for your homicidal
breath on the back of my neck, and all of you,
you know who you are, and the clerk
at the Piggly Wiggly who led me to the Gatorade,
and you, August, for being almost over, the sizzling
snare drums of rain, the electrical creaking of cicadas…
And as for brussel sprouts, I love them. I'm heading to Virginia tomorrow, to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family - and one dish that I'll be serving is Nina Liu's marinated brussel sprouts. If you've ever wandered her gallery (and home) during a downtown art walk, you might have tasted them - I think she makes them a bit differently now - brown sugar instead of the superfine sugar, the sesame oil is roasted, the vinegar can be plain white vinegar - but boy are they good. I highly recommend them.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful that my mother is feeling well, that she is asking me what kind of stuffing that I am making (and volunteering to make her own), that she is complaining that I'm planning to make too many side dishes, and that she is looking forward to a day spent with family taking over her kitchen. I am grateful that for this Thanksgiving, her lung cancer will be kept outside, in the cool Virginia mountain air, while she is inside her home, safe and warm.