And So Begins A Beautiful Summer

This summer I am delighted, honored, and freakin' excited to have a National Science Foundation-funded research internship at University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs.

How did I get this opportunity? Listen close all you undergrads, both present and future: apply for an REU (Research Experiences for Undegraduates) or two. Or five (like me). Or ten (if you're that dedicated!) Yeah, the odds are slim and the competition is stiff, but the worst that can happen is you don't get the job. And the best that can happen is, you do!

Months before the internship began I was already making friends over e-mail with my groovy (as he would say) mentor Nick and my bitchin' (as she would say) lab partner Anna. Being from Missouri, Anna needed to fly into Seattle and I was graced with her presence a few days early. I got to play tour guide!

We hit up all the best local sites (Theo's Chocolate sampling room, Gasworks Park, The Essential Bakery) but this trip was particularly fish-themed with the Seattle Aquarium, Pike Place Market, and an extreme low-tide at Carkeek Park. We didn't even have time for the Fish Ladder at the Ballard Locks!

We found lots of cool things at Carkeek, like this (ironically very small) Big Skate (Raja binoculata) stranded in an eelgrass bed. At the end you can see how fascinated the kids were by this "baby sting ray."

We also discovered that Carkeek is ground zero for the deadly and mysterious seastar wasting disease.

All the ochre seastars (Pisaster ochraceus) looked like they'd been melted in a microwave.

When the disease gets really bad the legs detach and walk away from the body.

Real-life intertidal zombies!

We didn't see a single healthy star.

Luckily, we did see lots of other healthy intertidal life.

Dog whelk eggs.

And their dog-whelk parents!

An empty moon snail shell.

A branching red algae we named "Sea Tangle."

A mossy chiton.

It was Anna's first time at the Pacific Ocean, so we had to taste the saltwater. 

A chestnut-backed chickadee -- not a common sight!

Before we left the beach, Anna got the full Seattle package when a train carrying dozens of unfinished Boeing airplane fuselages trundled past.

When it was time to head north to Friday Harbor, we turned the two-hour drive into an all-day road trip along Whidbey Island. Birds, food, and breathtaking Pacific Northwest views -- what could be better?

A ferry pulls out of Keystone Ferry Dock near Coupeville, Washington.

A gelatinous sea jelly  beached on the rocks.

A male goldfinch goes out on a limb.

Anna and me at Deception Pass, the moment before we fell to our tragic death! Just kidding.

Deception Pass.

A man told us about the times he and his friends used to scamper across the underside of this bridge as teenagers in the night!

 And we were terrified of walking across the top... 

When we finally made it to Anacortes and said bye to my mom, I was sad but glad that I would get to see her many more times over the summer. (San Juan Island is much closer to home than Ohio or Ecuador!)

Anna and I got to meet our fourteen fellow REU interns on the ferry. We got to know each other as we spotted harbor seals, bald eagles, and log cottages nestled within wooded islands.

Welcome to the San Juans.

And so begins a beautiful summer.