We left the SUB on a cold, clear Saturday morning, and I sat like a zombie through the car ride, munching on my container of kefir and Uncle Sam cereal.  This was to be my first Habitat for Humanity “build,” although technically there was no building involved, just a lot of hauling, dumping, shoveling, raking, wiping, painting, and washing.  Since the build site is not just a house but a whole development (a “gated community without the gate,” as one future resident told me) there was ample work to be done for every stage of the process.  Many of the tasks called to my mind and muscle memory the work that I did this last summer, picking up odd jobs all around the Tacoma area.  It was fun to get back into the rhythm of manual labor, to be in a place for several hours with the sole intent of putting as much of my sweaty efforts into that development as I could.  Well, I guess not the sole intent.  Along with a sense of well-being, the other volunteers and I got paid in baked goods and good company.  The homeowners who were working with us were very friendly and appreciative of our work, and the ones I met seemed happy with the process as a whole, even though it involves a big investment of time and work.  There is time spent waiting to get approved, the time it takes to build a house, and 500 hours of work they are required to put in.  Even though the housing is designed to be affordable, it is still out of reach for many.  Nonetheless, it feels to me like a substitute for the old-fashioned helping one’s neighbor raise a barn.  I’m told the world’s getting smaller, so it seems reasonable to help some neighbors who live a couple towns away.


Here’s a picture of some volunteers from the University of Puget Sound chapter, in front of our pet dirt pile that we were shoveling out to make nice, even lawns.  There will also be a big park in the middle of all the houses – I like all the green space!  Anyway, that’s one way to spend a Saturday morning and afternoon that will get you outside the college bubble, while still hanging out with some college friends.


It doesn’t have a name, or a gender.  If you’re around campus you may know it as the blue Centurion LeMans waiting for me outside Thompson, missing some of the foam padding that came with the seat, the handlebars mostly bare metal at this point, the derailleur bent out of shape from being dropped too many times, with broken baskets for my feet and, if you look closely, two spokes on the rear wheel popped loose.  I’m working on getting these things fixed.

The seat (mostly unnecessary anyway):

It was only recently, when I started racing cyclocross, that I got into the habit of standing up when pedaling up a hill.  Or at any time.  My new trick is standing up without holding on to the handlebars, which only works on a downhill or briefly on a flat.


The handlebars (grab life by them):

When I woke up this morning it was dark, I mean inky middle-of-the-night dark, which I am getting used to on my early Friday mornings.  It has been so cold these last few days that I was tempted for a moment to drive the five blocks to the SUB, before realizing that my boyfriend’s car was covered in frost and it seemed like too much trouble to scrape.  Instead, I got my bike from the garage.  As I was wheeling it out, I noticed something strange.  Stars.  Bright stars, shining in close proximity to a half moon.  The frigid clear air made their light so piercing that I woke up out of my zombie state to say good morning to them.  And I pedaled to work, holding my back light behind me and looking over my shoulder at the moon, and I was the only person on the street, the only person in the world to observe the hidden treasure of an early morning skyscape.  By the time I reached my destination, the hand on my handlebar felt frozen on, a claw that I could hardly unclasp from the icy metal.


The baskets (make a little noise):

I bike around campus a lot, end when I round the corners my foot baskets tend to graze the ground, because they’ve devolved from baskethood to pieces of metal that are tied to what should be the pedals on my bike.  They’re good for alerting pedestrians, who dart glances at me to find the source of that ungodly noise.


The rear wheel (heading in a different direction):

I went in to get my wheels tightened and trued at the bike shop on campus, only to find that Friday afternoons are apparently a rush time for them.  I curled up on a couch with a friend who happened to be there and watched Daniel fix someone else’s bicycle for about an hour, before telling me that he would stay late to fix mine.  I tried to protest but he insisted, lifting it with care to the operating table, by which I mean the clamp that holds the bike in the air (I’m really bad with these terms).  I told him about the bike’s significance, how it’s my first road bike, salvaged from a garage sale, used to commute to work and school from high school onwards.  How it took me from Seattle to Portland with my four siblings and brother-in-law during the 2011 STP.  How it doesn’t have a name, but its value to me is far higher than whatever someone would pay for it, and so I’m going to go on fixing it and keeping it alive as long as I possibly can.  He nodded, understanding, and made it rideable once again.


The gears (clicking into place):

When I came home this afternoon, after hours of work and class and homework and play, the sky was a hazy shade of winter.  Not as striking as the stars in the morning, not a spectacular vision of colors, it was just enough of a sunset to ride off into on a broken-down bike like mine.

Bats and Bacon: Behind the Scenes

Warning:  This post includes references to dead animals in edible and inedible forms. 


One of my regular duties as a student worker at the diner (aka the SUB) is making bacon on Friday mornings.  The methodical laying out of sheet after sheet of bacon and putting them into the oven has turned out to be a perfect way to start out my morning.  I was doing this last Friday when I had a weird, sleepiness-induced déjà vu moment, as if I had dreamed about these bacon pans the night before.  A few minutes later it struck me that I had indeed been lifting pans of a similar shape two days before, except instead of containing bacon they were full of bats.

Let me explain.  These bats were specimens that had been prepared for the Slater Museum of Natural History on campus. We had taken them out of their cases for Bat Night, an open house event where we showed off our many bat specimens, a live fruit bat from Pt. Defiance Zoo, and even some guano that visitors could look at under a microscope.  It’s fun getting to be part of these events as a Slater volunteer, even if I felt a little underprepared for the questions of a few genuine bat experts.  My station consisted of two large trays filled with big brown bats (eptesicus fuscus) from Oregon, most of them from 1974.  Examining these preserved, stuffed skins made me wonder about the future of the skins I have prepared.  When properly cared for, these specimens can last a mighty long time and hopefully be of service in education, outreach, and scientific investigations.  Through natural history museums like Slater, scientists have a physical record of how species can vary over time and geographical location in response to changes in their environment.

The usefulness of natural history impresses me greatly, but I’ve been impressed by Slater since a friend who works there gave me an impromptu tour freshman year.   There is so much wacky and beautiful and awesome (in the awe-inspiring sense) to be found in the collection that I knew I wanted to spend more time there, which is how I ended up volunteering.  It’s always great to discover another little world inside the bounds of campus, and this has happened to me again and again.  Working for the diner is another example.  While I have obviously eaten there hundreds of times, I never had any idea who the chefs were or how all the food gets made.  Outside of the kitchen, you only get to see small quantities of each dish at a time, and I never really thought about the mass of food consumed by the student body every day, the trays and trays of bacon, the spices that get measured in by the cupful rather than by the teaspoon.  I’m sure that many students walk by Slater every day without having any idea of the trays and trays of bats and other animals inside.  Our campus is not large, but there is so much that goes on unobserved by many, and much for the curious mind to discover.


And the winner for best teacher goes to…

A few weekends ago Clearcut, the women’s ultimate frisbee team, had our first tournament.  I had mixed feelings going into it: at most of the previous practices I had been devoting most of my energy to catching our newer players up to speed, and had been neglecting my own improvement.  My monologue went something like this:

So here’s this pie plate, okay?  Well, it’s a plastic disc that has evolved from a pie plate.  And you can throw it by spinning it with your wrist, not your arm, holding it level like you’re spinning it off a table.  When you’re not holding it, just keep running up and down the field like mad, stopping only briefly as you plant your foot to turn around and cut in exactly the same direction as you came from.  Also, there are picks to think about, and tapping the disc on end zone line, and soft cap and hard cap and universe point and… and… have I shown you how to force forehand yet?

Most first year ultimate players join the sport with minimal background knowledge, not really aware of what the rules are, or how to throw properly, or what the basic strategy of the game is.  I’ve been trying to impart some of my great wisdom to these players, and I’ve realized that there is a heck of a lot for them to learn. It was difficult to imagine how it will all come together under the pressure of facing an opposing team for the first time.  Well, our first tournament (Beaver Brawl in Corvallis) was a testament to the power of learning from doing, and over the course of three games and a scrimmage I saw our rookie players improve by leaps and bounds.  Running around looking confused evolved into…Catching the disc!  Getting D’s!  Making assists!  Scoring points!  By the end of the tournament they were all presences on the field and threats to the other team.  We managed to field two teams, and our combined score at the end was 3 wins, 3 losses.

Despite my efforts to be a teacher, I’m no match for the learning curve of competitive play.