Rock Gazing

I feel pretty lucky that my work takes me to the far reaches of the state. Our most recent stops for The Leo on Wheels were Escalante and Tropic. Both high schools (spanning 7th to 12th grade) had maybe 100 students, with only one science teacher for the entire school. The combination of small town charm and heart-stopping wilderness made me really reconsider possibilities for future places to live. Let me show you some highlights:

Our truck and trailer bathing in the morning light, parked between the school where we worked and the gas station that fed us. (Most cafes and restaurants were closed for the season).

This is what the landscape looked like for miles of driving. Nothing but geologic history on all sides. I have never had a harder time keeping my eyes on the road while driving.

We learned that the air is so clear here during the winter (when inversions are trapping pollution in the big cities) that it’s possible to see up to 200 miles in distance…or an area the size of New Hampshire!

AND (!!) We were invited to watch the Escalante High’s theater production… a captivating murder mystery.

We also visited Bryce Canyon. I had no idea that place was so magical. Looking at this erosion art felt like a combination of wandering through the ruins of an ancient civilization and cloud-gazing. Here is the castle where I would set up my homestead:

And behind this bush is the cathedral where I would go to worship, and probably yodel too:

And deep in this cavern is where I would store my seeds over the winter:

And here is the daddy-long-leg tree that will teach us to make music with the earth.

And this is where our wise ancestors wait to tell us stories:

And here is the guest house where you can stay if you come visit me:

And when we awaken in the morning, we will use pine-needle brushes to paint with the sun:

Wouldn’t that be lovely?


welcome spring!

Photo collage from my Vernal Equinox hike overlooking Salt Lake valley.
Happy Spring everyone!

Bananas to the Rescue!

When I heard about this recent discovery on NPR today I shrieked for joy. The University of Michigan Medical School published a study this week revealing that a chemical naturally found in bananas is just as potent as two already-existing anti-HIV drugs. It’s exciting because it’s a potentially cheap source, it’s mode of action is pretty efficient in that it blocks the viruses’ entry into the body (and does this well enough that it will hopefully take many mutations for the virus to get around the trick), and it gives me one more reason to love this fruit.

I went through a banana-crazed stage many years ago. I gave a speech in my freshman English class about “the perfect ripeness of a banana”, I learned the entire Chiquita Banana song (see below), I wore the fruit to school- wrapped into an elaborate bun on top of my head, and I convinced my high school cross country team to design our yearly t-shirt after nature’s golden beauty.  It was the first fruit for which I memorized its sticker number: 4011. Finally, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I first visited Ecuador and ate red ones and purple ones and tiny ones and huge ones fresh from the garden. In honor of these happy memories and the happy news of the day, enjoy the Chaquita banana’s original commercial:

“Greatest Earth on Snow”

This past week I took our traveling science museum to Orderville, a town of almost 600 people nestled alongside the Muddy River. We were out of range of cell phone service, but we were just a short drive from some of the most spectacular land in the nation: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Escalante National Monument, Cedar Breaks, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon… in fact, some 96% of the county is public land. I also learned that after Brigham Young established this city in the 1870’s Orderville become one of the most successful and long-lasting examples of the United Order in Utah. It was a completely self-sustaining, egalitarian community.

It’s still quite the lovely place. The custodians (who cordially helped us unload and re-load our science carts from our ice-covered cargo trailer) knew every kid in the high school by first and last name. AND, get this: the town is participating in a DONKEY BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT in 2 weeks. They will ride around on their donkeys right inside the high school gymnasium! That might just merit another drive to the bottom of the state.

I just wanted to share some pictures from some hikes my coworker and I took after our school visits were over. They include snow-covered Zion, Moqui Cave, and Coral Pink Sand Dunes. I was most struck by the latter. I had no idea there where pink sand dunes right outside of Zion National Park. It was amazing to traverse the fine-grained sand, knowing that millions of years ago the surrounding cliffs of pink Navajo Sandstone were once just as free-flowing. I love how the wind writes its history in the cross-bedding. This land carries the tag line: “Greatest Earth on Snow” – my footprint here showed that it is absolutely true.

In Celebration of International Women’s Day

I am proud to be a woman. I may have even overlooked this important holiday this year if a dear friend had not invited me to her beautiful ‘celebration of women.’ This international holiday is not widely observed in the US.  I learned that in the following countries March 8th is an official holiday which merits a day off (at least for employed women): China, Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, and it is a highly recognized holiday in dozens of other countries.

I will, unfortunately, be working all day. BUT, that will not keep me from celebrating the achievements of women past, present, and future. We have come a long way in this country, still American women make up only 2.5% of the world’s population. The majority of the world’s women (comprising half of the world’s population) do not enjoy the same basic rights and privileges I take for granted.

It is to them that I dedicate my thoughts and prayers this day.

I am indebted to a multitude of valiant and strong women.


In the midst of a great failure in my life, I have been spending considerable time pondering this topic. Three documents have been most influential in directing my thoughts:

1) This Harvard Commencement address by J.K. Rowling (I recommend you read or listen to it):

Click here to see the video.
Click here to read the text.

2) The December 2009 issue of WIRED Magazine (also highly recommended)

3) This book of scripture (brilliant book)

I have spent the bulk of my life fearing failure. That fear misguided my motivations in school; with regret I admit that too often what kept me up late studying was not a desire to learn but a desire to avoid any wrong answers. I have spent far more effort worrying and conjecturing about others’ perceptions of me than I have spent determining whether I myself was living authentically. This preoccupation with perfection too often kept me silent when I had questions to ask and thoughts to share.  My misunderstandings about failure contributed little to self-improvement. I am quite convinced that these fears of failure have done more to thwart my personal progression and growth than any other force outside of me. In her commencement address I cited above, J.K. Rowling stated eloquently, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” In the wake of my most recent heart-wrenching failure,  I have learned more about the human heart, more about the sacredness of human relationships, and more about our relation to God than any success of mine has ever taught me. Would I ever want to go through this again? Not a chance. Would I give up what I have learned from it all? No way. I believe I have no choice but to embrace failure.

Outside of my own inner-workings, I am also on a mission to inspire the middle-schoolers of Utah to embrace failure too. In attempting to encourage these budding young people to just play with our interactive science exhibits, I come against so many walls, so much resistance to just explore. My favorite question to ask right now is, “What have you discovered?”  How can we have hope for discovering anything new if we are not willing to take risks?  I was ironically comforted by studying science  because I thought of it as a rock of objective certainty. I say ironic because in the field of science, I am continually learning, the vast majority of time is spent failing. I doubt this is unique to just the field of science. But, anyone interested in a science-inspired-fist-pumping-heart-pushing-mind-expanding read about the value of failure in the scientific realm should check out the December 2009 issue of WIRED magazine. I read the entire thing on my last flight home to Wisconsin. Even though it was a gift for my brother, I couldn’t help highlighting inspiring thoughts and folding over pages I wanted to revisit. The goal is not to avoid failure. The goal is to understand why something failed and to use that new knowledge to our advantage. Many of the worlds greatest inventions and discoveries were born from utter failures.

I was given some wise guidance a number of years back: “Success in life is not measured by an absences of problems, but is measured by your response to those problems.” This same  person assured me my life would be full of problems and difficulties. Just what you want to hear, right? I am slowly coming to accept (and trying to embrace) that a life ‘full of problems’ is not really a problem at all. If the focus is to avoid failure, the result will be an avoidance of life. In the parable of the talents one man took the single talent he received from the Lord and buried it in the earth because he was afraid. God called this guy “wicked and slothful.” The sin was doing nothing. He was afraid and didn’t try. I presume it would have been fine with the Lord if this guy had just lost the talent in an honest attempt at growth. Instead he was punished for doing nothing (Matt 25:14-30).

This month I read the book of Job. I thought if I reminded myself that my life is not nearly as bad as his was, maybe I would feel a little bit better. What I learned from the reading is that God’s manner of teaching is unlike any other. ‘God is great, and we know him not.’ Most of the chapters in this book are dedicated to conjectures on why bad things happen to good people. In response to all this hypothesizing on why God does something or allows another thing to happen, God responds with a slew of questions that makes Job ‘lay [his] hand upon [his] mouth’. Here’s the first line of God’s questioning, “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding…” The questioning continues through chapters 38, 39, 40, and 41 . I read them as if this beautiful onslaught of questioning was directed at me. Try it yourself. It’s humbling to say the least. Our human understanding and our vision are limited. Our reasonings very often just fall short. We must trust God. With this trust we can confidently move forward. We will inevitably fail. But who cares? That’s not the point. If we open ourselves to learning, we will inevitably grow. Success demands failure.