Sunday, February 8, 2015

Deep Oprah Sunday

It’s half-past four in the afternoon. I’m sitting in my living room sipping tawny port and listening to “Grantchester Meadows” and watching the sun go down.  Every day it lengthens its arc just a bit longer towards Esther Dome; by April it will sail right over Ester, and by June it will sink into the hills beyond Murphy Dome in a big flaming pool shortly past midnight.

Today was my 'spa day:' sleep late, eat whatever I want, enjoy the returning sunshine, take a nice hot shower, read Oprah magazine, have a drink at sunset, listen to good music.

I still have to pass my comps, and still have to continue gathering germination data through the microscope, work in the lab 20 hours a week, train and supervise the student helpers, and get trained myself on other new tasks. And still find time to water my greenhouse plants, go grocery shopping, clean my house, and split and stack firewood on the porch on a regular basis so I can have a warm house each morning. 

But none of that counts if I can’t look in the mirror each day and be OK with who I am and what I’m doing.  The last three months have been more difficult and stressful than I could ever have imagined. And it’s still not completed.  If I am to remain happy in my choices, I have to forgive myself for the fact that I’m growing older and may not be as swift as I once was, and not to worry if perhaps that’s what my committee is picking up on. I know that how you carry yourself is important. It’s as important to a scientist as it is to an artist or a businessman or a politician.  If I act like I know what I’m doing, perhaps I can convince people it’s true.

Of course the first person I need to convince is me, and that has really been the one thing I’ve been working (struggling?) with my whole life.

I may never really know how other people see me, but I can choose not to care so much. Whenever I see a video of myself I see a person who is deeply, un-fixably nerdy. And I guess this is a trait that people will either find endearing and want to be my friend or to help me, or they’ll find it annoying and either want to avoid me (if they’re normal) or see an opening to be mean (if they’re mean).  The latter could possibly explain why I feel some people just don’t care for me, or at first think I’m one way, which they seem to like, but then they change their behavior and become less friendly.

This morning I stood outside in the sunlight and realized the sun takes the same path in February as it does in October. Which means January is the same as November, February is October, March is September, April is August, and May is July. June is just June. 

I stood for a while just looking at the trees. It’s noisy walking in -25 F snowpack, like walking on Styrofoam, and I don’t enjoy taking walks in the winter because you can’t really appreciate how silent it really is if your boots are squeaking all over the place.  So I just stood and made like a tree.

I realized that as much as I want to sit there thinking about daylength, or air temperature, or climate change effects on seedling germination in the Arctic, it’s only a faint scratch upon the surface of things.  The trees stand as trees have always stood as long as trees have been trees.  Being in Alaska has allowed me to realize that nature contains a truth so deep and matter-of-fact, we will probably never get to the bottom of it. We try to use language to describe nature, but even our words are a feeble attempt to come to terms with what it really is. That thought gave me comfort, because no matter how much more we uncover in our studies, the trees and everything else will always get to retain their mystery. Of course, they don’t care whether they do or not, and that is why I love them.

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