Eulogy for my Backpack

RIPpack
RIPpack

He was a friend and trusted accomplice. Together we trekked across striking wilderness. We conquered smelly and unnervingly crowded Ghanian marketplaces. We cuddled together for many nights alone in our tent on the Antarctic Peninusla, shivering and serenaded to sleep by calving glaciers and unforgiving winds. He straightened me out, supported my crooked spine for endless miles and embraced me like no one else could. He would swell with the excessive baggage I asked him to carry as a backcountry novice without complaint. The very first bit of outdoor gear given to me years ago, he has since sparked a commitment to independence and self reliance. He fostered my confidence to walk long distances in any direction.

Over the years, we became worn and ragged. Yet he continued to support me as I gracelessly fell and bellyflopped in bogs, snow and love again and again on continent after continent. Tossed in the back of public transport with all its pointy edges, he ripped and frayed. This last month I sent him off to the factory for repair. Weeks later I was called with the unfortunate news... big red was beyond repair. Osprey unsympathetically cut a history of ties and sent a  new pack in his place.

Now, an alien sits on my bedroom floor emulating the curves and colors of my former friend. He beckons for adventure, eager to be crusted in sea spray and caked in mud. I miss my old backpack. He was a monument and reminder to past lives. One of the only bits of consistency that loyally followed as I trammeled across the globe. But a decade of loving, leaving and letting go has calloused my nostalgic nature- at least on the surface.  I am ready to wear rugged and dirty this new pack but I must first thank my original friend for the memories and loyalty. Thank you for fostering this lifetime of adventure.

Rest in Peace dear friend. You will be missed and never replaced.

Forever yours, Your frayed friend Bethany

Graduation!

It is official, I am now an Oxford alum! I hope I never forget how challenging and rewarding this year was. We celebrated with drinks and dancing and eggs Benedict.

In tradition that dates back from the second half of the 12th century, Oxford students don silly outfits and flock to the Sheldonian Theatre for a 'solemn' and serious ceremony conducted in latin. Of course Luke managed to mess the procession up (see below) and basically hopped into the lap of the University president before being gestured back in line. This sent giggles reverberating through the ancient theater rafters.

 Luke messes up a tradition that dates back to the 12th century.

Luke messes up a tradition that dates back to the 12th century.

My parents were unable to make the trip over to jolly ole England for graduation. Instead, I was incredibly lucky to be graced by the presence of two best friends from my home town, Annie and Kate.

Congratulations and love to my classmates, my friends, who traveled from all over the globe to spend this year with me. The lectures, field trips and research were all so informative and powerful. However, it was all of you whom I learned the most from. Over truly international dinner parties (9 participants from 9 different countries one time!), drinks, debates and discussions, each and every one of you shared honest and genuine insight into the field we have so passionately dedicated our lives to. Cheers to the next generation of conservationists, and thank you to this lifelong network of friends!

Backpacking in the Lake District, England

Luke,Lynsey Max and I backpacked the Lake District in Northern England for eight nights to celebrate dissertation hand-in. What a smelly, rainy, wet, challenging and mountainous adventure! On our first day we tackled some pretty serious bog-land. Our boots were soaked through by the time we made it to our first camp site goal at Bleu tarn. I managed to fall face first into a bog at one point- no surprise there. I tested what seemed like a solid piece of ground only to find that it was just a floating bit of moss. Despite what felt like endless mist and rain, we thoroughly enjoyed this adventure and found ourselves wild camping in some of the most beautiful and remote sites in England.

At one point (see photo on left) we  hiked through the cloud layer to a sunny scenery spotted with sheep. After a long days hike with heavy packs it felt like we crossed out of this world into a sheep-clad heaven.

We traced a general eight night plan in a pub in Keswick before embarking on our journey. However, we readjusted our route each night depending on our progress and weather conditions. We did not use GPS and depended on our topographical map and compass for navigation. Although, 'trails' are often depicted on the map--they may or may not exist on the ground and are rarely clearly marked. At one point, we fell off the trail and got lost in a misty bog with impossible visibility. We had to 'shelter in place' on a hillside and woke up to a fantastic view of the country side.

Sometimes it's nice to get lost. Sometimes it is also nice to have an excuse not to shower for ten days and instead wash ones hair with Dr. Bronners in a freezing waterfall.

We stopped over in some horrible town once to fill our packs with food before hiking on in smelly shoes with bloody blisters for the second half of our trip. While in town, we were followed by a herd of cows on the road. How delightfully English. 

Although 'free wild camping' is discouraged in England, we managed to find remote sites out of sight and sneak by without being caught for the entire trip.

After a challenging year and an exceptionally difficult summer of research and thesis-writting, this trip was the perfect getaway and experience a chance to experience a side of England we missed from our academic playground in Oxford.

Gastby Marx and Octopus on the River Thames

It's been a busy here in Oxford. Between moving into our new place, night swims in the River Thames, dissertation writing, Marx reading and cooking cooking cooking! We can be down to the wire (with exams and essays and so forth) yet Lynsey, Luke and I never seem to skimp on dinner parties, fresh veggies from the market, culinary experimentation and discussions over wine. If conservation doesn't work out we might become caterers and chefs.

Viola, Logan, Lynsey, Luke and I road our bikes through Port Meadow to Wytham Woods to see the famous forest blue bell bloom.  It was bloody breathtaking! When thesis writing gets too overwhelming Luke takes me to feed the horses in port meadow.

Tenerife- Field trip To The Canary Islands

If the next stage of my life is filled with people just half as sincere and lovely as this class, I will continue to lead an incredibly blessed life. I am overwhelmingly thankful for these friends, the opportunity to study such a forward looking degree at such a challenging and powerful institution. I am also gracious for this course trip to Tenerife. I am also grateful that I am fairly confident that this degree will terminate in a job offer for me. It is a great injustice to Jose's master students (group of Tenerife students we worked with on the island) and the island of Tenerife that these students we met may not find jobs on their home island. Jose exclaimed that one of the greatest and worst exports of Spain currently is its youth. Young talented graduates are forced to seek employment elsewhere at the great detriment to Spain.

Apart from a horrendous ear ache, too much salty fried and often mysterious hotel food and the fleeing of my voice, I will have nothing but beautiful memories of this trip. I regret that photographs and even journal writing will leave so much of this experience lost in translation.

Please remember the moments not captured in photographs- the long bus rides winding through forests, cities and villages and desert alien landscapes. climbing up the caldera, the classmates who ran around the cinder cone just for the hell of it, the inspiring creative and often hilarious creative statements we shared with the class, Viola's smile, Logan's humor and inquisitive nature, the sun!! Black sand beaches, 'the women of the nature', cortados de leche leche, the elderly tourists, drinking drinking and dancing, drum circle on the black sand beach, playing DJ at a bar with ancient dusty CDs, learning so much more about my classmates.

I am so painfully horrible at dying to distance myself from new friends and places- try as I may in self defense to be anti social. I love these people and leaving will rip yet another gaping hold in my chest.

We watched about twelve large yellow-fin tuna being offloaded and iced on the docks. Considering the conservation status of this fish and the absolute massive size of the catch, this opportunity to view a contentious tuna fishery was compelling. Tourists were snapping photos in utter fascination. I found this an interesting comment on ocean conservation- if these were tiger skins being unloaded there would be public outcry yet yellow-fin tuna have been nearly fished to extinction right under our noses.

Lava flow of the 'badlands'