Since I’ve been thinking about eagles and Ohio quite a bit recently, I thought I’d share this excerpt from one of my thesis essays, titled “I Put My Faith In Birds.” Continue reading
Exciting news: one of my thesis essays, “Scattering Blue,” has been published on Entropy as part of their “The Birds” series! Continue reading
An excerpt from a recent paper I wrote for my creative non-fiction environmental writing class. Continue reading
A Few Things That Make Me Happy
A List In No Particular Order
savoring a cup of tea while wrapped in a blanket in front of the woodstove.
waking, realizing there is no real reason to be up yet, and staying in bed, eyes closed, half awake/half asleep, dreaming.
the smell of walking through a pine forest in the cool just after dawn.
the sound of woodpeckers tapping and hammering on branches.
getting sucked into a good book for hours, and only coming up for air when you desperately have to pee. Or eat.
having progressively logically ridiculous conversations, that are in turns creative, silly, and in a strange way logical.
Like planning our post-apocalyptic commune, or our skunk ape/NASA/unicorn conspiracy theory, or pretty much any time Meghan, Patrick, and I opened our mouths.
the smell of a rock wall, on the 2nd or 3rd pitch of a multi-pitch route.
singing along as loud as I please to a good song on the radio.
snuggling with my dog in my tiny bed
riding my mountain bike down Game Creek trail, where I discovered one of the meanings of the world “exultation.”
And here’s a video of what is probably a Ruffed Grouse on Game Creek. It’s a good thing I ride slow, otherwise I might have run it over. These birds could definitely use some street-smarts.
Look both ways before you cross RUGR!
In May of 2014 it will have been five years since I graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University. Five. That’s a long time, and yet not. I feel like I haven’t done that much. Which is silly. I’ve done a lot. Which is why it took me so long to write my Reunion Note. I love how they gave three lines to “describe what you have been doing since your last reunion (use back side if needed).” Hahaha…. Right. I’m not even sure I could list all the places I’ve lived in the past five years on three lines, let alone what I was doing in each place.
I spend a ridiculously long time writing this reunion note, mostly because I allowed myself to get distracted by what-have-you on the internet (and by working, and by climbing things). I’m not sure if this is a good sign for grad school, that it takes me three days to write less than a page about myself. How will I manage to write actual papers on topics that aren’t me? Oh man. Guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
So I thought I would share this with everyone here, since I’m assuming that most of my audience won’t be purchasing the OWU Reunion Yearbook this year. It was also a great excuse to go through some old pictures.
Ohio Wesleyan University Alumni Weekend 2014
Reunion Note Form
Classmates can find me on Facebook:
(If you’re feeling extremely bored, just search “Lauren Smith,” and see how long it takes you. I may or may not be in the first 3,000 people that come up).
Please describe what you have been doing since your last reunion.
Since graduating from Ohio Wesleyan in 2009, Lauren has been all over the place. She has only once spent 6 months straight living in the same state, and it was a very odd experience. Working as a field biologist and an environmental educator, Lauren has lived in eight different states and one Canadian province. Most of her jobs have involved working with wild birds, though she has also been known to walk dogs and scoop ice cream (and no, she did not go to a special ice cream scooping school, she’s just that good).
When she’s not climbing trees to study red-cockaded woodpeckers, getting charged by moose, explaining bird migration to small children, or getting pooped on and/or bitten by songbirds, Lauren is usually outside.
When she’s outside and not working, she likes to climb rocks, go for long hikes, and look at birds. Sometimes she does go inside, and then she usually writes things, mostly for her blog: Tales from a Wandering Albatross (@wordpress.com)*.
Lauren tends to travel as often as she can, both domestically and internationally. She is particularly fond of road trips through the American West and of trekking to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. The other parts of Asia she visited were also pretty cool.She also really likes southern Utah.
This summer (starting May 2014) Lauren will be going back to Jackson, Wyoming, to work with the Teton Science Schools as an avian research technician, where she will be primarily banding songbirds and secondarily educating visitors about bird banding and migration.
In August of 2014 she will start graduate school at The University of Montana in the Environmental Studies program, with a focus in Environmental Writing.
*Yep, I totally just put a link to my own blog in there. Which hopefully you found, since you’re reading this on said blog… But, you know, just in case you needed help finding the home page, or wanted it opened in two tabs. You’re welcome.
What is your favorite Ohio Wesleyan memory?
I’m particularly fond of my memories of banding birds in Jed Burtt’s backyard. I have no idea why I decided to sign up for his freshman honors tutorial, The Microbiology of Birds. At the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in birds or their microbiology (and I might not have known exactly what microbiology referred to), but it sounded intriguing and I didn’t know any better, so I signed on.
I can say with absolute certainty that this particular class influenced both the rest of my time at OWU and the rest of my life. It was that class that sparked my interest in birds, a spark that has turned into at least a Medium Fire Severity burn (standing trees are blackened but not charcoal; roots are alive below 1 inch; duff is consumed—I like birds, but other things can be interesting too).
The research project I started in that class led to a number of ornithology conferences, where, in addition to learning about extremely useful things like hummingbird wing morphology and duck penises, I became much more confident in my public speaking and was exposed to the ornithological research community. That project also led to my zoology departmental honors thesis on parrot feather coloration (I’ll spare you the details), which hasn’t really led to much yet but sure looks good on my resume.
I had no idea then that I would go on to spend the next few years after graduation studying birds all over the country. Every time I set up a mist net or hold a Black-capped Chickadee in my hands, I am reminded of Jed and all that he’s done for me. Thanks Jed. You’re awesome.
Jed also makes superb spice cake, which may or may not have been the main reason I agreed to come back and mentor the freshman tutorial as an upper classman. I’m not ashamed to admit that I can be motivated to do a great deal for food. Especially Jed’s spice cake.
Please include a current photo with your reunion note.
Let’s go OWU!
My sister Megan is the Queen of Goodwill. That’s a fact.
Abba even did a song about her:
*The song was written a few years ago, she’s not 17 anymore. ** These might not be exactly the lyrics to the song. But they should be.
Ooooo she’s a Thrifting Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen*,
Thrifting Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine (oh yeaaaaahhhh)
You can shop, you can buy, having the time of your life, (oooooo ooooo oooo)
See that girl, watch that scene, digging the Thrifting Queen.” **
And now hopefully you have that extremely catchy tune stuck in your head. You’re welcome.
She took part in the Something to be Found blog’s March Reader Thrift Challenge. Check out her entry, and then vote for your favorite! (Which is #4, Megan. Obviously.)
Here are a couple pictures of her entry:
And here is the link:
Vote for Megan!
Cause she’s awesome and finds cool junk at Goodwill and makes it look pretty!
Which does indeed take some skill, let me tell you.
Meg, you rock!
Not to brag or anything, but when you search on Wikipedia for “psittacofulvin” and “Bacillus licheniformis,” a scientific paper I co-authored is cited in the sources. How about that? I think it’s pretty nifty.
(Click on the links to read articles about our research.)
In case you were wondering (and I know you were), psittacofulvins are the red, orange, and yellow pigments in parrot feathers. Bacillus licheniformis is a soil bacterium that degrades bird feathers. Click on the green links up in the first paragraph and read about it on Wikipedia.
If you’d like to read this world-famous paper, here it is:
Recently, a friend of mine asked me what I say when people ask where I’m from.
Ohio, I promptly replied. That’s easy.
It’s where I was born and raised, and where my car is licensed, and where my family lives. I still consider it home base, even though I haven’t lived there in a few years. That keeps the answer simple, since I’ve been moving around so much and have lived in something like eight different states and a Canadian province in the past five years. The longest I’ve ever stayed in one place since finishing my undergraduate degree was six months.
Which makes the upcoming prospect of grad school, and being stuck in the same place for two years, somewhat daunting. I try not to think about it that much.
I’m also trying to work on my vocabulary, and to use works like “have the privilege of living in ___ place” instead of “stuck.”
It’s all about the vocab.
And speaking of vocab…
For the past few weeks I’ve been reading my way through Siberia, via Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. It’s a great read, the only reason it’s been taking me so long to finish is that I keep getting distracted by other things, like Christmas (just one more page Mom, then I’ll come down and open presents!), New Years, family, driving back to Colorado from Ohio, starting a new job at an ice cream store here in Boulder… I know, I know, excuses, excuses. (But if you’re in Boulder you should come visit me at Glacier Ice Cream, I work at the Baseline store).
I’d read some of Frazier’s other writing in various magazines (most recently in Outside Magazine’s 25th anniversary book, which came out in 2002- since I get my books at used bookstores and Goodwill, they’re not usually recent releases. But good writing is timeless, so who cares?), and so when I saw this book at Goodwill, I snatched it up.
And yes, the guy on the front cover is in fact missing a few clothing items from the waist down. Which I imagine would be a bit chilly, given that he’s hiking in snow-covered mountains. Good thing he has boots on. And no, I didn’t pick the book based on the cover photo. I didn’t even notice until I got home, actually.
Now, you’d think a book called Travels in Siberia wouldn’t mention Ohio all that often (or maybe never), but you’d be wrong. Frazier grew up in Ohio, and mentions it a number of times throughout the book, including comparing the smell of Russia to that of Akron, Ohio in the 50’s. He also mentions Hinckley, which was part of my school district, and Buzzard Day:
Then one day I remembered a notable fact about the small rural town of Hinckley, Ohio. Every year in March, on or near the same day, flocks of buzzards [turkey vultures, for those who need to be scientifically accurate] arrive in Hinckley. Tourists gather annually to watch this event, and over the years it has given the town some small fame. People in Hinckley say that this convocation of buzzards began back in the nineteenth century, when Hinckley was a frontier town. The local farmers, wanting to tame the still-wild neighborhood, staged a big encirclement and drove all the predators to the center, where they killed them in heaps. Soon news of this bonanza reached buzzards all over, and they came to Hinckley and feasted. They’ve been coming back in March ever since, just in case.”
Ian Frazier, Travels in Siberia
Frazier also remarks on the frequency of Ohioans who ended up in Siberia and wrote books about it:
In these early railroad years, when the Trans-Siberian was being built and just after, a lot of people from the American Midwest traveled in and wrote books about Siberia. As a Midwesterner myself, I pause to take note of this phenomenon. Adventurous sorts from Illinois and Indiana made trips by land, river, and rail, mostly for business but some for pleasure. The number of travelers from the state of Ohio alone is statistically off the charts… [lists Ohioans who have traveled to Siberia and written books about it, which I’m not going to bother typing out as it’s about half a page]…
That’s five people from Ohio visiting and writing about Siberia in the space of fifteen years, or an average of one Ohioan every three years. How can this oddity be explained?…
…perhaps something unknown in the flat, open landscape of the middle of America produces in a few of its citizens a strange affinity for the vastness of Russia.”
Ian Frazier, Travels in Siberia
Or, perhaps there’s another explanation.
Remember the picture going around the internet about the number of astronauts from Ohio?
Before the moon was an option, there was Siberia…
Now I love Ohio, I really do, but I am writing this from Colorado. It’s not Siberia, or the moon, but it’s not exactly next door, either.
Don’t be offended Ohio, but you don’t have any real mountains, so I can’t stay. Sorry.The mountains are calling, and I must go. Or stay, rather, as I’m already here and can see the Flatirons out the kitchen window from where I sit here at the counter.
And to leave you with a song that always makes me think of home:
Ohio, by Over the Rhine
Hello Ohio, the backroads,
I know Ohio, like the back of my hand
Alone Ohio, where the river bends
And it’s strange to see your story end
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
— Frederick Buechner
1. Not everything in life has to be hard.
Sometimes the easy path is the one you’re supposed to go down. Sometimes it’s the universe showing you where you’re supposed to go.
2. If you throw the candy wrappers away in the trash, Mom will never find them.
If you stuff them in the couch she will find them and you will get in trouble.
As in, the microwave/car/laptop/whathaveyou that is malfunctioning will probably start working properly again if you let it alone for a spell. Granted, this doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. I have in fact “fixed” a microwave and a few car problems this way.
4. A sense of humor will take you far in the world.
I honestly don’t know how you’d get by without one. Life is ridiculous, there’s no getting around that. So just enjoy it. Laugh and be merry.
5. Go camping.
If you want to get to know someone really well, go camping with them. Hopefully you realize that they’re awesome, ‘cause if not it’s going to be a looong weekend.
Traveling is imperative for any well-rounded individual. Even if you can’t physically travel to far-off lands, mental travel can be enough. Read a book, or watch a documentary/movie that transports you somewhere else and teaches you something about other people and the world around you. The world is a large place, but not as big as it seems. The people living on the other side of it are just like us. It is not as scary as you think out there. GO!
7. A good book is always worth its weight in your checked bag.
These are your reserve books for the travels home, because of course you will have finished the books in your carry-on bag. You should have a book to read on your person at all times.
8. It’s better not to tell Mom what you did until after you make it back safely.
Or ever. This includes skydiving, almost getting arrested in Washington DC for sleeping in your car, and picking up hitchhikers in foreign countries. Especially that last one.
9. If you make cookies, they will be eaten.
Especially if you live in a bunkhouse with other field biologists. And especially if they are male.
10. If you simply expect things to work out, they probably will.
The world does not have it against you. It might not happen exactly how you planned, but it will work out in some fashion.
11. Going for a walk is an excellent way to generate thoughts.
12. There are many people in this world who do not know how to put toilet paper on the holder.
Perhaps they purposely didn’t change out the empty roll because they wanted you to have the joy of doing so.
13. Not speaking does not mean not caring.
Or not being intelligent. Sometimes we just can’t speak, or don’t know what to say.
14. Just because that’s how it’s been for a long time doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be forever.
15. My family will always be odder than yours.
Therefore, there is very little you can do to weird me out.
16. It is very hard for me to be happy if I can’t go outside every day.
Sunshine, trees, fresh air, blue skies, and some mountains would be preferable. That’s all I need. And some birds.
17. Sometimes you just want to do nothing.
And that’s okay. You don’t have to be working on something all the time. It’s okay to take a break every once in awhile and just breathe.
18. Though sometimes you might think otherwise, it’s probably better that you didn’t actually say what was on your mind.
Stupid can’t be taken back, and neither can unkind words (no matter how deserved they are).
Darn it, if only my parents hadn’t raised me to be such a polite and respectful person…
19. Climbing up a mountain on your own steam is a powerful feeling.
The view is always better when you work for it.
20. Be excited about something every day.
I learned this one from my dog, who, for all of his 14 years, was excited to the point of backflips for his food. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that excited about food, and, thinking about it, I’m not sure why not. Food is exciting stuff. Life is exciting stuff. So get excited about it, and don’t bother with what other people think.
21. You can’t outrun your past. Or a charging moose.
And of the two, I can personally attest that the charging moose is much more terrifying.
22. Birds are cool.
Like really cool. For instance, migration. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. RTHUs weigh 2-6 grams (0.1-0.2 oz) and are 7-9 cm (2.8-3.5 inches) long. At elevations of 2,000 to 5,000 feet, in 11-18 hours, the tiny birds fly 600 miles over the Gulf. Woah.
23. Send postcards.
Everyone loves to get mail. I mean really, is anyone going to say “Don’t send me any more mail, I don’t like getting a little personalized note that lets me know you’re thinking about me”? No.
24. People leave their brains at home when they go on vacation.
On that note, the middle of the road on a blind curve is not a good place to stop to take a picture when there is traffic coming from both directions.
Also, when the sign on the visitor center says “Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.” that doesn’t mean we employees want to sit here another half hour while you use the bathroom, ask detailed questions about the refuge, and browse the gift shop. But by all means, go right ahead. I get the equivalent of 87 cents an hour for this internship, and no, I have absolutely nothing better to do with my time right now. I really don’t want to go home and eat dinner or anything like that.
25. Make music.
Sing. Play an instrument. Music is the language of the soul. And it just feels good.
Especially when it involves boomwackers and Call Me Maybe.
26. Love like sunshine.
Love should warm you, brighten up your day, help you to see things you didn’t before. It should be everywhere, illuminating everything.
Also, I wanted to mention that I have learned a great deal of other things in my 26 years, this is only a sampling. Just wanted to clarify.
In honor of my little brother’s birthday yesterday (22, you’re making me feel old here Eric!), here are of some of his more recent quotes– as in, these are the only ones I can remember off the top of my head. I could write a pretty good series of Things Eric Says, and I’m fairly certain one of these days that will probably happen. So perhaps consider this a preview of epic works to come. They say that as a writer you should mine your family life for material. Pretty sure I’m set for writing material for the rest of my life. For a kid with selective mutism he sure has a lot to say when no one else is around, and most of it is hilarious.
Selective mutism is defined (by Wikipedia) as “… a psychiatric disorder in which a person who is normally capable of speech is unable to speak in given situations or to specific people. …. Children and adults with selective mutism are fully capable of speech and understanding language but fail to speak in certain situations, though speech is expected of them. The behaviour may be perceived as shyness or rudeness by others. A child with selective mutism may be completely silent at school for years but speak quite freely or even excessively at home.” This describes Eric to a T. It can be a challenge, but hey, we’ve all got our issues. Some are just more obvious than others. I’m sure some of his teachers, who I don’t think he ever spoke to during his 4 years of high school, would be astounded at at the Chatty Cathy he turns into as soon as he gets home. One never knows exactly what will emit from his vocal cords, so it’s never boring (see below).
Things My Brother Says
- “I’ll bet this metal pole would float.”
Dad: “Are you in shape yet?”
Dad: “Well then we better keep biking until you are.”
- “Don’t make me turn on my synthetic lightning.”
Mom: “The bison like those dry spots to hang out in.”
Eric: “They should try my lips, they’re pretty dry.”
- “Look at that wad of goats over there.”
- After farting in the kitchen directly in front of me, just before leaving the room: “Here’s your gift of Christmas stench.”
- As we approach a waterfall on a hike: “I hear the pitter-patter of falling water. Or 100 mountain goats peeing at the same time.”
- “I think my ass geyser just exploded.”
Happy Birthday Eric! You’re the best little brother I’ve ever had, and I can’t imagine how boringly-normal my life would be without you. You are one of the most righteous dudes I’ve ever met, and I’m so proud of you.
Rock on, bro.