The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Swimming in slow motion...

November 21, 2009

Today has been yet another really interesting, drug induced surreal sort of day. I haven’t taken any more sleeping pills since yesterday morning, but I continue to feel the effects. I still fill ridiculously emotional. I just got up to go to dinner, but took such a long time to wake up from my nap (fifteen minutes) and walk over to the kitchen area that the other wanifunzi had already eaten everything. I almost burst into tears on the spot because it feels like a ridiculously personal insult that they didn’t leave me any food – obviously that isn’t really the case and they probably just didn’t realize I wasn’t there or thought I wasn’t eating – but I’m just so exhausted and out of sorts that everything feels like its directed personally, you know?

Instead of crying, I grabbed my laptop and headed back to the baanda and I hear I am now, trying to catch up on the past couple of days and try to talk myself back into some semblance of a normal emotional state and remember that everyone doesn’t hate me and the only reason I just had a Coke and some Juicy Fruit gum for dinner was because of my own slowness and laziness.

We went out to the reef this morning around nine. I was able to lay down and sleep in the boat all the way to Maziwe, though when we got there, I was the last one in the water because it took me a minute to wake up and then get all my gear on. Of course this meant that my research partner had disappeared into deeper water looking for octopus and schools of fish and Mwalimu Ken and I had to spend more than an hour trying to locate him as no one really wanted to leave me swimming around unattended!

I was still definitely under the influence of something, as I really felt like all of the fish were moving in slow motion and that I was swimming in slow motion too. It was kind of fun, but also kind of scary because I felt like I was working so hard, but I was still swimming so slowly. I was really worried about falling asleep in the water because it was so nice and warm and soothing, but luckily I never did. I wasn’t very aware to begin with, but Mwalimu Ken caught up with me pretty quickly and reminded me to clear my mask, helped me adjust my snorkel (it had been all askew) and defog my mask. Breathing/coughing through the mask was difficult and hurts my chest quite a bit and diving is nearly impossible because of the incredible pressure that it puts on my sinuses, but I still loved being back in the water snorkeling.

Once I finally got in touch with Kai, we swam around and looked at two species that were possibilities for our independent studies, sand perches and bird rasses. Kai preferred the bird rasses – the males are big, blue and flashy with long noses, but mainly I think he just liked them because they go in and under corals that Kai could feel into in the guise of seeing one, but in actuality hunting for octopus. I preferred the sand perches because they are very intricately camoflagued and often spend lots of time hanging out on the sandy bottoms areas of the reef before swimming off to fight or court or feed, which means that they were easier for my slow motion self to keep up with! I was going to just go with studying the wrasses, since I pretty much picked the zebras for the terrestrial project, but after his assessment of the situation, Mwalimu Ken suggested we do the sand perches because they would provide a more close parallel to the sorts of male dominance observations we’d made during our zebra study. Also, I think he was probably aware that our study is more likely to be a “Hillary watches perches while Kai hunts octopus and lobsters” sort of study and wanted to make sure the organisms I was watching would be ones I would actually have a chance in hell of keeping up with.

I slept all the way back into shore and didn’t wake up once until the boat had already dropped anchor and everyone was gathering their gear to get off. Sleeping on the boat is amazing – the rocking of the waves is so soothing and the breeze skimming across the water is a pleasant and cooling contrast to the otherwise sticky day.

After lunch (and another quick nap, for me), we were instructed to swim out to the reefs offshore and take a look around. I went out with Kai and the nesting girls (Lydia and Rachel – who are currently observing the creation of nests for eggs by damselfish). It was a very long swim. It took us almost forty five minutes to get out deep enough and find the reef and the surf was pretty high so it made keeping track of each other difficult. Rachel actually went in just before we found the reef as she was getting worried we never would. I stayed out for about an hour and a half, but then had to go in because I started yawning a lot and was worried about falling asleep again. By this time, there were other people out swimming there too, but no one else wanted to come back yet, so the swim home alone was a little nerve wracking!

I made it back to the beach and Rachel was quite relieved! She’d been wondering how I’d managed to stay out there so long. After a much needed shower and a change into semi clean clothes, I took yet another nap. Rachel woke me up for dinner, but I was too lazy and slow and missed it.

I feel bad because Lydia is giving her presentation on warthogs right now and I should be there, but I’m still irrationally really upset with the group for not leaving me any food (which I guess is good in a way, because it means my appetite must be back?) and everyone has had more than their share of crazy Hillary for the time being, I’m sure.

Temporary insanity aside, I’m really happy to be back at the coast and so excited to start working on the sand perches. Its very exciting because not a lot is known about sand perches, especially in this part of the world (though some research has been done in the Great Barrier Reef), so we really will be finding the answers to questions other people haven’t even asked before. I’m really in love with the whole question asking part of the scientific process. It reminds me a little bit of creative writing – that you start with wanting to know the whole story, but instead of waiting for whatever sort of random inspiration you just set up the procedure correctly so that the world can tell you the answer.

Tomorrow, I’m going to start following around individual sand perches for ten minutes apiece and recording what behaviors they exhibit and for how long. We’ll see if Kai does too - he made himself a wooden octopus hunting spear today, so he might be otherwise occupied.

Lala salama – I’m exhausted already!
-Hill

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