Something missing

I have ants in my front yard. They are some kind of leafcutter, I suppose. They decorate their hole with whatever flowers are blooming. The ants are mostly active in the late evening, so every morning when I walk outside, there is a new and transient work of art to greet me. Recently the flowers available have been red and purple. The ants compose a new combination of these every morning.


But there is something missing, a color that last year dominated my front yard for a month: the bright, sunny yellow of paloverde flowers that last year I blogged about being the Tucson version of the Cherry Blossom Festival. They are not just missing from my front yard, but from Tucson and the Tucson Mountains in general.

I have taken special note of the lack of paloverde flowers because I am interested in paloverde germination and survival. Last spring and summer seemed fantastic for these unique trees. As several winter storms came through, providing a spring bloom, I thought the trees must have made out even better. Do they not have deeper roots than tiny annual wildflowers? And are they not primarily inactive growth-wise all winter?

Yet as Doug Siegel from Pima County pointed out to me recently, the rains were late and they were torrential and few. One rain gauge, he said, received four inches of rain in one hour. Four inches! In one hour?! Nearly all of that would have run off, and Doug observed the sediment stripped away from the earth, confirming that to be the case. Little water soaked in to the ground, percolating deep enough to be absorbed by thirsty green giants.

And so those giants stand awkwardly about, green and brown and naked of blooms, jealously watching pink froth blossom on the  ironwoods nearby. And the ants work with the palette available to them this year.

Strange and wonderful things

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog. Not because strange and wonderful things have not been occurring in the world of biodiversity and conservation, but because too many strange and wonderful things have been happening.

In fact, my last post at the very beginning of February. Later that month, I began a five week exam called Comprehensive Exams. Passing this exam resulted in me now being a doctor candidate (as opposed to student), a distinction I failed to appreciate until I began grad school myself. Allow me to try to explain.

Comprehensive exams are a common feature of most PhD programs, although just about everyone does them differently. Not only does every subject and every school organize their exams differently, but within a department, different academic committees advising different graduate students may organize their exams differently. Usually they are composed of a written portion and an oral portion. The written portion for some departments is a one-time, closed book, exam-type exam. Like an MCAT or SAT, but harder and more specialized. Or something. That’s not how mine went.

Every week, I was given a question with 3-5 parts, and asked to write a 5-10 page single spaced response, open book. This was repeated for three weeks with a day or two to recover in between.

So I have some fun new ideas from reading scientific studies and ideas to blog about. These have been fermenting for a few months now.

A few weeks after these written exams, came the oral exam. This is a procedure that primarily consists of the student being examined anxiously pacing the hallways of some academic and trying to stave off a nervous breakdown, while the four faculty members that make up her Committee chill out in a conference room to discuss life, the universe, and everything. Or at least that can be how it feels when the committee sends a student out of the room to discuss evaluation and the next line of questioning. One Chemistry student passed me pacing in the hallways a few times, and, smelling the fear in the sweat that dripped off me, finally asked if I was taking my orals.

In between pacing the hallways of the Chemistry Department, I did have some very interesting conversations with my Committee. More fun ideas that have been fermenting since then will surely appear on this blog soon.

Between writing the exam responses and studying general biology to prepare for my oral exam, I felt justified in skipping the blog. If I had failed, and felt I should have better prepared, I did not want to blame this project.

Immediately after the exams, I left to go backpacking to blow off some steam. Then I went rock climbing. And repeated the sequence. The blog remained neglected, collecting dust in this obscure corner of the internet.

In between these fun trips, I managed to help put together a new residential science education program for high school students in the nearby mountains. More on that coming soon, too. And began putting together my summer research.

So the long and short of this blogging hiatus is that while I still am not an expert (yet!), I am one teeny tiny but enormous step closer. I am coming across more and more strange and wonderful things all the time, helped by the new UA Science: Sky School, my exams, and ongoing research I am exposed to.

And strangely, and wonderfully, I’m ready to start sharing that again on this site. 🙂