Marching for Science

Yesterday was the “coming out” event for the Boulder Pod of 500 Women Scientists, an organization promoting diversity and inclusivity in science, and the application of science to problems within the social sphere. I can confidently say that I am proud to be a part of this group of passionate women scientists who are ready to make a change.

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500 Women Scientists Boulder Pod and allies at the March for Science in Denver, Earth Day, April 22, 2017.

We marched for science. We marched for women in science. We marched for ourselves, and for each other; we marched with our allies; we marched with the killer banner one of us made on her own time with her own crafty skills; we marched with signs made at our team’s sign-making parties hosted by one of our members; we marched with the capes ordered by another member. We marched and we chanted:

Show me what a scientist looks like.
This is what a scientist looks like!

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We hosted a very busy booth where we ran out of pamphlets and stickers, had to keep adding pieces of paper to the sign-up sheet for more information, educated and entertained with trivia focused on women in STEM written by our members (I learned something new from every card), and handed out coloring books of women in STEM to girls and boys and parents and educators.

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We were thanked for our work. We now have materials to post online once we have a place to post them, and a need to raise funds. This is what a grassroots effort looks like!

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El Hierro Day One: Travels and Tribulations

For context, the Canary Islands are part of Spain but are off the northwestern coast of Africa, in the Atlantic. Apparently the name Canary does not refer to the bird but instead derives from the root of the word canine, after large dogs, and the birds are named after the islands. Nor does the name El Hierro, my destination island, refer to iron (it’s literal Spanish translation). It possibly comes from the native word for cistern. But I digress. Already.

My host father drove me to Madrid, where he goes every day for his work with Rotary International, and dropped me at Moncloa, where I had planned to take the metro all the way to the airport. Aaaaaaand… the metro line to the airport is down for repairs. There are signs everywhere about it. Linea 8. The red line. Fortunately, my host father had looked up the train option the night before, which had actually slightly annoyed me at the time because I thought it would be easier to just take the metro. Huh. Easier, indeed, if it were running. I was rather glad, as it turned out, that I had taken a picture of his computer screen. I was also glad my flight left at the rather respectable hour of 11:55am. That’s almost technically not even the morning anymore.

The metro took me to the train and the train took me to Terminal 4 (the dreaded Terminal 4!) and from there a bus took me to Terminal 2, which is where I needed to be, and I was glad I had started the journey early so I could end up getting there just on time. And, good thing I only had carry-on.

The first flight was to Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. I had paid extra for a window seat. I was quite happy with this arrangement. Although, as it turned out, I found the early part of the flight a bit disappointing. As I wrote in my journal:

Spain, you’re lucky I love you for other reasons.

Flying over much of the Iberian Peninsula is relatively dull. Headed west, the land is relatively flat, the topography subdued, the land browns and dull greens, pinched up in rumpled but localized hills. Waterways stay at the surface rather than digging down into canyons, meandering across a semi-arid land in similar tones of gray and flat green, and brown where heavy with sediment.

So, not particularly inspiring. The coastline flying over the southwestern corner of Portugal was interesting, though, as coastlines often are. Portugal. Still on the list.

Leaving Madrid, in browns and greens and with it’s iconic four towers.

And then, ocean, and then, Tenerife. The island is known for El Teide, a prominent and massive volcano, rising to a height of 12,198 ft (3,718 m). According to Wikipedia, El Teide’s summit is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic. Not bad. But, like Portugal, a destination for another time. It’s last eruption was November 18, 1909. I’m headed to where the activity is a bit fresher.

Approaching Tenerife, with El Teide dominating above the clouds and through the haze.
The influence of topography. Dense development, meet canyon and volcanic cone.

We got into the Tenerife airport on time and I saw people queuing for a flight to El Hierro. I was booked for a flight two hours later, to be on the safe side. But could I make this one? I’d heard the flights around the islands were pretty relaxed. So, I asked. And was rebooked. And stepped right into line. (So, this went smoothly.) I was concerned about not getting a window seat on this flight since I was a latecomer, but, never fear, on a plane this small every seat is a window seat.

The formidable El Teide again, from the west.

El Hierro was skirted by haze when we approached. Still, it was a dazzling, beautiful day. The tiny airport was right on the coast. This was convenient, since the rental car acquisition did not go smoothly. At least I had the water to look at.

I’d reserved a car, but for my original arrival time, and there was not yet a car ready for me. Fair enough. I was told I’d be able to get tourist information in the airport, and I’d been told right. The island is a UNESCO Global Geopark, and is set up for tourists like me looking to explore it. I actually had no idea. I spoke with the woman staffing the booth and was elated. She gave me a map of the island in its Geopark context, highlighting the nine visitors centers. Nine visitors centers! For a mere 22 Euros, I could buy a “passport” to all of them. And have it stamped upon visiting each one. Say what you will, I was excited to have a goal. All nine? In three days? No problem. Oh, the places I’d go, the things I’d see, the things I’d learn! She also gave me a trail map for the island. It’s rife with them! There’s even a trail that runs all the way from one end of the island to the other, which can be walked in about nine hours. Shoot, so many things to do. Maybe, I thought, if I can get some good conversations in and check out all the visitors centers in two days, I could hike the length of the island on the third. So many things to do and discover. Maybe I wouldn’t seek out any conversations after all. Maybe I would just cruise around and explore the whole time.

Eventually, there was a car for me. The woman called me over to claim it. She asked for my driver’s license. I was a little nervous I’d need an international driver’s license, which I got last year and had forgotten about and failed to bring. Fortunately, I didn’t. But I did need something else. I’d reserved my car through a third party, and the third party did not communicate a small detail, which is that a driver needs to have had a license for at least two years. Well, of course I have. *However*, my license only shows the date of issue. The date of issue is July 22, 2016, because I had to renew it last year. So, as far as she could see, there was no proof I’d had my license more than one year, let alone two. Cripes. She wouldn’t budge, and I didn’t want to put her in an uncomfortable situation.

So, problem solving. Is it solvable? I texted my housemate back in the States. Could she perhaps find my expired license and send a photo? I was hoping I might reach her just in time, but no, she was already at work. (Plus, I had no idea what I’d done with my expired license. I would have directed her to the dangerous private world of my top dresser drawer, which it turned out not to be in anyway.) Hmm. I went outside. I was frustrated. I was stuck. The woman at the tourist counter had told me about the bus system, so I went back inside to get yet another map.  I went back out to catch the bus. Perhaps I didn’t really need a rental car. I could save the expenses and bus it around the island. I could at least bus up to my hotel today, and bus back down tomorrow to pick up the car, saving some money. Since I had to wait a half an hour, I had some time to keep thinking. I was within wifi range still of the airport and looked around on the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles website, on my phone. I found that I could get my driving record. Surely that would work as proof of my 2+ years of licensed driving? Distracted, I missed my bus. It was short. I was expecting full-sized. It drove away without me. Back inside, I asked about the bus size. Small. Oops. Confirmed. So I called the Colorado state government (thank you international plan) and talked to a very helpful public servant and paid the $9 over the phone. Within 15 minutes, my driving record was in my inbox. Technology. Technology! Wifi, international texting and calling, digital records. Boom. And me, able to rent a car. Yes, she accepted that document, shown to her on my phone, as proof.

I was exhausted though. Some of the excitement had been drained out of me. Nothing like a two-hour ordeal to quell some of that fervor. Plus, I was a little nervous about the drive. Before about a month earlier, it had been years since I’d driven a stick shift. Fortunately, a friend had coerced me into driving his stick just a few weeks before as part of a car shuttle. I wasn’t sure at that point that I could still do it. I told him I’d get in and see how I felt, and would call if I needed him to come get it. As it turned out, no need. I left the driveway. Thank goodness for muscle memory. Made it to his place no problem. I win. Otherwise, I would probably have been stuck with the bus on El Hierro anyway.

My hotel, from the side. Nothing glamorous. I mean, where’s the view of the ocean? Not to mention the wifi… But, it’ll do.

My point of real arrival was a hotel in the closest real town to the airport, Valverde. It always feels good to get to wherever I’ll be sleeping and check in, if it’s a hotel. Done. Home base. Grounded. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly happy with my accommodations. The room smelled funny. I’m not a particularly finicky person, but I was hoping to find a room to be a bit of a sanctuary, and this one smelled like… cigarettes? Did they actually give me a smoking room? I was disappointed. I wouldn’t be able to hang out in my room, and write, as I’d envisioned. How could I fulfill my dreams of being a traveling writer when I was given a stinky room? Even worse, possibly, was that the wifi didn’t work. I really just wanted something to work. (The overpacked faux carry-on I’d been lugging around that I had to force into the narrow overhead compartment while people waited to board behind me had broken a clasp on the shoulder strap, meaning that half the time I picked it up it slipped out and I ended up pulling it by one end with the other dragging on the ground.) I went back downstairs and asked reception about the wifi not working, suggesting that perhaps the password was wrong, and she said that no, the password was right and that the router is right by my room and so it should work just fine. (But it *doesn’t*!) She went upstairs to reset the router. Then it worked. (See, I’m not crazy.) I checked in with the online world and then, somewhat dejected, set out to take a walk.

I was scouting out the town for places I may want to go to talk to people the next day, and just getting acquainted with it. What is this place all about? I looked at the tourist map and headed up the street, to the church. Made of volcanic rock, like the one in the town I worked in at the base of a volcano in Ecuador. Using local building materials, that’s the only choice here. Everything on El Hierro is volcanic. *Everything.* Wonderfully, wonderfully everything. But more on that later.

For tonight, it was just a walk past the church, which was busy in a relaxed sort of way with children playing in the square. I walked past the city hall, which I noted for the next day, and past an outdoor stage area with some kids who yelled a somewhat cheeky hello. I walked past a promising-looking bar that might be nice for a drink or a coffee, but which was closed. I was impressed by a deep and lush ravine cutting up to the town from the sea. I noted palm trees and narrow streets. Storefronts. I stopped into a bar for a coffee and free wifi. I was hoping for a spot that felt open and had a view of the ocean, but those aren’t on the menu in Valverde. Instead, I had a view of the street, across to other buildings. And a nice enough bartender serving mainly the regulars.

Church and moon. Hard to tell, but the rock is volcanic.
Lush ravine.


Palms and whitewash.


Steep streets on a steep island.


I went back to my hotel room. I decided to go to dinner. I wasn’t the only one with that idea, or apparently with the same recommendation. I went to a place called El Secreto that was recommended by my friends in Madrid. El Secreto was no secret. There were three other groups there, all foreigners. I was admittedly disappointed. The place felt very much like a traveler’s joint, hippy and cozy and playful and very much like a restaurant I attached myself to in Baños, Ecuador, when I was there also talking to people about living with an active volcano. The same one with the volcanic-rock church. Around the world, common cultures cultivate common spaces. It’s like how every highway exit in the U.S. is like every other highway exit in the U.S. Of course, the menu here leaned to Spanish cuisine, and the place is not a chain, but there was still a strange feeling that it could have been anywhere, especially with the foreign clientele, which of course I was a part of.

I went for comfort food instead of local food. It had been a long day. A rich ravioli in cream sauce. At least, I figured, I was closer to Italy than I usually would be.

Walking back, I decided to try a different route. It was very dark, and I wondered as I found myself getting seemingly farther from rather than closer to my hotel and down a street that felt a little sparse on the lighting if I had made a mistake. But as I walked along another gully cutting up through the town, I was rewarded with this view. This is why we explore new spaces.

A view back to town. Not as striking in this photo as in life.

I arrived back in my hotel room hoping to spend a little more time as a writer on my Spanish island, but once again the internet was not working. Instead, I curled up in my stinky room for a stinky sleep. I may as well get an early start tomorrow.

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Hello, Madrid – But Already Preparing for the Next Adventure

I had but one day on the Iberian Peninsula before heading off on my next adventure. I had things to do, people to see, issues to resolve, and a bag to pack. On the list: See family, see Madrid, meet with volcanologist friends, and unlock iPad. Not necessarily in that order.

First, I needed to sleep in a bit. My host mother had invited me along to see my sister in the morning, leaving around 7:30am, and fortunately my host mother understands that 7:30am is not everyone’s thing, especially after a day of travel. I slept in enough that I missed catching a ride to Madrid with my host father, and instead had breakfast and went out to catch the bus. Oddly, I misremembered where to catch the bus, yet following instructions went to the right place, caught the right bus, got off at the right place, and made it on and off the metro in the right places on the first tries, too. I’m pretty well versed in getting around by bus and metro, but somehow this time things seemed to go wrong often enough that I’m rejoicing in the successes.

Here ends the lackadaisical days of Finnish cabinning. (I don’t know why spellcheck keeps telling me that’s not a word.) My vision for Spain was to do more of what I very happily settled into doing last year.

Dreamy last year interlude:

Picture this: It’s February, the off-season, and I’m traveling with my friend Nancy for a week, mostly in northern Spain. We drink coffee at least twice a day and sangria at least once a day, and walk around without an agenda save moving to new pre-booked locations every couple nights and having a vague idea of a few key things we wanted to see. The one thing we schedule online doesn’t actually go through, so we end up having to enter as walk-ups anyway. Then, Nancy leaves and I stay on in the Madrid area for another week. I’m gripped with the shoulds. I definitely get traveling anxiety, based on my natural tendencies toward indecision and fear of missing out. I know I need to DO something. Go back to the coast! See something new! Take advantage of the time! Be interesting! So I go on a day trip to Toledo. I walk around all day from one thing to the next trying to hit everything on the tourist passport I buy upon arriving to gain entry to most of the main churches, temples, and museums, trying to figure out what I should be doing and seeing and feeling and being and learning and at the end of it all I haven’t stopped for a coffee, let alone a sangria. I haven’t even stopped for lunch. So. Fail. And I know it. I take the train back to Madrid, arriving around 6pm. Before rushing off to anything else, I make myself sit and have a coffee in the train station. The barista is unfriendly and the cafe generic in that train-station way, but it completely turns my mood around. When I am done, without rushing, I get up, gather my things and my self back together, and walk to the Prado. It’s free the last two hours of the day. I spent a fantastic hour and a half visiting my favorite pieces in it’s halls–Las Meninas by Velázquez, Goya’s The Dog and Neptune Eating His Sons–being joyfully anonymous with the crowd. Afterwards, I take myself to a very nice dinner. And have a sangria. And then, relaxed and happy, I bus home.

The rest of the week, I stay in Madrid. Instead of going off somewhere, I spend precious time with my host family and wander the city on my own and met up with wonderful friends old and new. And I absolutely love it.

End last-year interlude. Lesson: Less is more.

This time, I had ten days in Spain. A pretty long stint. I felt with that long of a stint I could probably go somewhere else and have time to explore Madrid without either feeling too rushed. Or, spend the whole time in Madrid and feel good about that, too. I could put on a black turtleneck and frequent the cafes for coffee and vermouth, with my iPad, and be a writer. (For the record, I hate wearing turtlenecks.) (Also, my iPad was still not working.) But there was also something else tugging at me.

I had gotten a volcano bug last year. A friend from work e-introduced me to a wonderful Madrid-based scientist studying volcanoes and she and I made plans to meet for coffee, but then she said her group was interested in learning more about UNAVCO and could I give a presentation, and as a sucker I said yes and in the process fell in love with her team. They expressed an interest in improving communication about volcanic hazards in the Canary Islands. Sounds right up my alley, I said. (Volcanoes, communication, island, sign me up.) The more they talked about it, the more interested and excited I became, and it’s been in the back of my mind since then. So, this year, I got back in touch, and they were my main destination on Monday. We had coffee, had lunch, and talked up a storm.

A walk through Retiro at lunchtime, past this beautiful gentleman.

They gave me advice on where to stay and what to eat. I wrote it all down. I’d already booked my ticket, from Finland.

Mainly, I was going to be a tourist. I wanted to be on vacation. But I also like an excuse (like, for example, seeing the northern lights), and somewhat of a purpose, when I travel. So, I’d be a tourist with a little bit of a purpose. With a bit of a mission, if you will. The mission was to learn about the island as a volcano, and its people as people living on a volcano who had been through an eruption in 2011. Before the eruption began the earthquakes were centered under the island and there was some uncertainty about where the eruption would occur, and thus who would be affected. When the eruption began, underwater and offshore, many were relieved–including the scientists.

I had no idea what a special place I was headed for. Every place is special, granted, and any place with a volcano is inherently interesting in that it offers a window to the mysterious, the violent, the forces of creation and destruction. Really, volcanoes are just cool. I guess really what I mean, is that I knew very little about El Hierro before going. And I learned a ton.

Check this beauty out. Erupted underwater, cooled and expanded on the way to the surface, scooped up and into a boat. The rocks floating on the surface of the ocean were still steaming. Still steaming! Even after rising through that water! And yes, I said rocks floating on the surface of the ocean, which sounds funny, because rocks, but also because air bubbles.

Since I know you must be very concerned about the iPad debacle, I’ll close it out for you. My volcanologist friend very, very kindly spent… one hour? two hours? … with me after lunch, online and on the phone with Apple support (in Spanish), trying to figure the thing out. The bottom line was that I was going to lose anything on the devise that hadn’t been backed up to the cloud. The bottom line was I didn’t really have a choice and there was nothing different staff would do if I went to talk to them in person. So we reset it (with a few glitches, of course, including that the passcode sent to my phone didn’t arrive probably because it was an international plan, yadda yadda), I thanked everyone profusely, and I left with a piece of technology that actually functioned. Even if it didn’t have everything on it that it did before. Lucky that I hadn’t had time to create much on it, I guess. As it turned out, I did have an iCloud back-up, and was able to restore everything. Everything, that is, except that brilliant, life-changing children’s book about whales. The one thing that I’d remembered having made…

That afternoon, I took the metro to my host brother’s house north of Madrid. It was easy. It worked. I called him as I exited the station and could see him waving from the top of his building. It was right there, kitty-corner from the station. So easy. (Thanks Mom for encouraging me to get the international plan.)

I adore him, his partner, their daughter. What joy. What energy! It’s good to see family. To snuggle with a toddler. To watch a little person express themselves so strongly. Personality, man. It starts early.

It was also good to get back home, pack, and get some sleep. Tomorrow, off to a new volcanic place.

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In Transition

I woke this morning to a whisper of, “Bye bye, Bethie,” from just inside the hotel room door.

Pause.

“Are you leaving?” – me

But I was already too late. Click. Door closed. I’d heard my travel companions of the last week moving quietly around the room in low light, getting themselves and their things ready for departure, but had assumed that they would wake me up when they were ready to leave with more than a whisper, for a heartfelt goodbye and a warm hug. They’re too kind for that, apparently. Continue reading “In Transition”

Day Eight: Our Last Full Day of Cabinning

I awoke to the sunrise, and dozed, and woke, and dozed again. I probably read on my phone, curled under the soft blanket in that dreamy window. When we all got up, we went through our last morning routine. I put the bacon on and beat the eggs, Marijke seasons the eggs with herbs, saying her version of whatever Finnish word is on the herb packet and sounding as much like a muppet as I look in my puffy. Continue reading “Day Eight: Our Last Full Day of Cabinning”

Day Seven: In Which I Actually Motivate to Leave the Cabin On My Own. Oh, and That Other Thing…

The days start to blend together. One cabin day after another, distinguished by the dinners and maybe an event or two. The big event for Day Seven: I leave the cabin. Of my own volition. I decide it must be done and, eventually, sometime in the late afternoon sun, I do it. (Actually, the bigger event comes later, but I don’t have pictures of it, and, unlike the walk–which actually required some degree of motivation–it was outside my control.)

Continue reading “Day Seven: In Which I Actually Motivate to Leave the Cabin On My Own. Oh, and That Other Thing…”

Day Six: In Which the Car Gets Rescued and We Get a Special Dinner

There were two things on the agenda for Day Six: Get car unstuck, and go to the store. The latter could not happen without the former. After, yes, sleeping in and having breakfast, we tried getting some advice from our hosts again. Marijke had sent a message the night before but we hadn’t heard back, which led us to think that now that we’d become a problem our once-responsive hosts wanted nothing to do with us. But Eeva-liisa came through, and not only offered advice but called someone for us before we had a chance to. She said he didn’t speak a word of English but the price should be reasonable. Continue reading “Day Six: In Which the Car Gets Rescued and We Get a Special Dinner”

Day Five: In Which We Relocate to Dream Cabin #2

Another road trip day, but for moving on. I felt mixed about leaving. Our main motivation to relocate when we planned the trip was because we wanted to balance maximum aurora viewing with a sweet cabin. Location 1, Nuorgam, maximized the former. It was as far north as we could go in Finland. But we weren’t so hot on the looks of the cabin we’d booked, as the one that we fell in love with was not available. So we booked a mediocre-looking cabin for the first part and then agreed to transition to a different, sweeter cabin much farther south. But then, our northern dream cabin opened up at the last minute. Continue reading “Day Five: In Which We Relocate to Dream Cabin #2”

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