Monday, January 11, 2010

1541 Miles Traveled

Denny announced that today would be a free day for us to journal, read, and wander. I began the day by finishing the first assigned book, Measuring the World. Afterwards, Nate and I started to take a walk beginning at the island outside of the Shrine. Instead of taking the gravel path up to the point near the church, we wandered on the lower part of the island through the ferns and the evergreens. There was a small shrine to the victims of abortion, where people had set mussels and clams and little pieces of seaweed in a seeming offering. Apparently, the shrines to Jesus and Mary didn’t warrant the same kind of respect.
We made it to the tip of the island, just below the rocks where the ocean breaks. We wandered back up to the church on the top of the island, and found Matt, Mike and John. They had been irreverently exploring the unlocked church, and had been trying to find a way up to the bell tower. When we found them, they had been joking about a religious VHS that was for sale for $6.95. I picked up a book called Questions and Answers for the Bible Geek. Among the pressing theological questions explored in this volume were “Does milk go back in heaven?” and “Does God watch horror movies?”
At this point, John left us and the four remaining wanderers walked back onto mainland and up near the road. It was perhaps 11am at the time, and it began to snow. We walked to below a rocky cliff, where we saw fairly fresh bear tracks. No bear, though. Instead, we watched seven sea lions swim just off shore, perhaps 20 meters away from us. We walked back to the Shrine for lunch (sandwiches).
The rest of my afternoon was fairly quiet. It became progressively more windy and cold throughout the day, and so most of us stayed inside. I continued to read, and we had our first literature class and second biomes class. One of my favorite parts of the afternoon was Denny, Ziegred, and David talking about bringing students to East Germany before the wall came down. They told us about being watched by the Stasi (possibly because they were westerners that continued to return to East Germany annually for a few years in a row), and a student’s arrest. During the trip, several East Berlin teenagers had approached a student on the trip and asked to buy his blue jeans. David told us that this student was a very odd fellow and was wearing several pairs of jeans, and sold or gave the pants to the Germans.
When the group went through security in order to return to West Berlin, the Stasi took the student aside and questioned him about the event. It was strictly forbidden to exchange western goods, and jeans were the quintessential western good. It was very interesting to hear about the horrific food (The rice pudding tasted like old bandages, explained David), and the tour guide that led them through the country with no tour guide experience. The guide had originally been a university student who had majored in Portuguese, a sort of pawn in the East German/Brazilian relations that eventually went sour. The government had then repurposed her as a tour guide for Western groups. She was apparently very surly and claimed to love Germany very much, but on the penultimate day of the trip had confessed to Ziegred that she hated living in East Germany and was jealous of American freedom.
Part of me wishes that I had been able to see East Germany before the wall fell, only because (fortunately) that Orwellian type of world is completely unknown to me. It seems almost funny that a government would have that much control over citizens’ lives. I couldn’t imagine living in a country where grocery stores only had access to a single item a day. As David pointed out, the seductive part of the American life is the immense amount of choices that are available to us every single day. I choose to eat anything I want, listen to any music, or wear whatever clothes. Instead of controlling its citizens using laws and a secret police, American imperialism comes from the stuff we produce. Everyone wants stuff: cars, clothes, jewelry, and therefore keeps out dying currency afloat. The American government controls people by the production of enticing goods.
Anyways, that’s totally off the topic of biomes. Like always, we were brought back to the tasks at hand and had a discussion of the journey in literature and Boreal Forests, glaciers, and wetlands in Alaska. Sometime in the next few days, we will be going to the Peat Bogs of Alaska and we’ll do observations there (though they aren’t called bogs… they have another strange name that I’ve put in my field journal).
Denny also reminded us about the individual project we have to write a proposal for – basically, a study plan to outline how we’re going to observe and what we’re going to observe for the next fourteen weeks. These classes are really my first introduction to what Swaffie calls “macrobiology” – the other bio classes I’ve taken have been really been focused on microbiology. Everyone else has individual projects about trees, or animals, or flowers. I’m embarrassed to admit that what I’m really interested in is not as uh… traditionally cool… like whales or monkeys. I hope there is a way to incorporate my love of microalgae into my individual project.
After classes, we were all completely starving. For dinner, we had a turkey-noodle soup made from the roasted turkey from two nights ago. The absolutely best part of our meal thus far was tonight’s Bavarian Apple Torte. It was a buttery pastry crust topped with an eggy custard and spiced apples and it was absolutely amazing. I could have eaten the whole torte by myself.
The crust is made by putting four cups of flour in a bowl, making a hole in the middle, then put two eggs and a cup and a half of sugar into the eggs. Mix the egs and the sugar until they are very mixed. Then mix the flour into the eggs, then take two sticks of unsalted butter, slightly soft, and cut them into the mix. Add the sticks one at a time, cover each with the flour mix. Then using your hands, you mix it well, kneading it until it becomes a ball. At this time, flatten it into a pan and up into the side. Bake the crust in the oven for ten minutes at 375F. The filling is with 24 ounces of cream cheese and three eggs, half of a cup of sugar, and half a cup of almond flavoring. Mix until very creamy with a mixer or whisk. Pour into crust and bake for 375F for 15 min. Then put almond slices, and thinly sliced apples with sugar and cinnamon on top, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 20 min at 350.
I would like to write down what we’re planning on doing tomorrow, but to be honest I have absolutely no idea. Denny and David and Zeigred are extremely organized, and it is nice to just go with the flow and be surprised at the next day’s events. It allows me to really enjoy the present, but I guess I have that luxury because each moment of this trip has been so novel. By the time I left USC this semester, I really wanted to move on to the next event. I felt like I had spent too much time in one place. But now, everything is just a complete whirlwind of uniqueness. In a few days, I will go from snow and cold to beautiful hot Hawaii to lay on the sandy beaches and look at Volcanoes.

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