The graduate students are retreating!

How’s it going, human beings?

I'm sorry for being a specious species-ist. Welcome to my reptile readers, too!
I’m sorry for being a specious species-ist. Welcome to my reptile readers, too!

I’m lazing around Seattle on this Sunday afternoon after a fun-filled weekend spent on San Juan Island.

Island life moves at a pleasant pace.
Island life moves at a pleasant pace.

Each year the graduate students in my microbiology department spend a weekend together away from the lab at our annual retreat on San Juan Island. We always have a great time getting to know one another, talking science, and exploring the pastoral paradise on Puget Sound.

Gorgeous, love it, wish you were here.
Gorgeous, love it, wish you were here.

I love our retreat–it’s a great opportunity to make connections with the other graduate students and have some fun together in a non-science setting. It certainly helps that the particular setting we choose for our get-away is a mind-blowingly great place. I’ve been attending this event for four years, and each time I discover some new and interesting thing to do on San Juan Island.

For instance: this year I found Sponge-Bob Squarepants' summer home.
For instance: this year I found Sponge-Bob Squarepants’ summer home.

We kicked off our adventures Friday morning by loading up a fleet of UCars and making our way to the ferry terminal.

IMG_6258
Graduate students on some OFFICIAL UW funny business.

A brief moment of panic ensued when it appeared that there would not be sufficient space for our merry crew on the ferry. Luckily, even though we were sailing standby, we were able to embark upon the good ship Sealth, and cast off into the well-charted waters of Puget Sound.

She's a trustworthy vessel.
She’s a trustworthy vessel.

The ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor takes about an hour and a half. Luckily we had on board activities to keep us occupied.

It's like the fates set this puzzle on the ferry specifically for me.
It’s like the fates set this puzzle on the ferry specifically for me.

The University of Washington maintains a functional marine-biology research laboratory on San Juan Isand, called Friday Harbor Labs. We stay in the dorms at Friday Harbor Labs every year. In addition to being just a generally gorgeous place, F.H.L. is home to an important bit of scientific history. A sizable chunk of the early work on isolating Green Fluorescent Protein (one of the most widely-used fluorescent tags in molecular biology) was performed under F.H.L.’s roof. The protein comes from a tiny jellyfish named Aequoria, which is native to the northern waters of puget sound. We don’t need tons and tons of Jellyfish to get the protein anymore, now that we know the sequence of the G.F.P. gene, and have mutated it into all the colors of the rainbow. However, it’s cool to see the origins of an important tool (that I, in fact, have used in my own research).

These Bacillus are green because of GFP
These Bacillus are green because of GFP

After arriving at F.H.L., we unloaded our belongings into the dorms, and set off to explore the beaches on the east side of the island. You will never find a happier (nor nerdier) group of individuals than seventeen microbiologists let loose among intertidal pools.

Anenomes!
Anenomes!
Nice mussels, dude.
Nice mussels, dude.
Feeling crabby?
Feeling crabby?

On Saturday morning, I got up early and went for an 8-mile run, which is the longest I’ve been out since recovering from my (second) stress fracture this past fall. I had a moment of frustration, because last year at this time I was running 14 miles, at a significantly quicker pace. However, I quickly reminded myself that: incremental progress is still progress, it’s important not to overdo EVERYTHING all of the time, and any time on the road is better than no time at all. I also snapped a quick photo of the island’s resident camel when I reached my turn-around point.

Her name is Mona. She lives at a vineyard. She has a good life.
Her name is Mona. She lives at a vineyard. She has a good life.

After I showered off and shoved some oatmeal in my face, it was time to continue my explorations. Three other grad students and I decided to go check out a State Park for some hiking. On our way to the trails we spotted this delightfully romantic yard display.

San Juan Island: why NOT have some cow statues eating dinner?
San Juan Island: why NOT have some cow statues eating dinner?

The State Park offered some spectacular ocean views. Apparently Orcas traverse the surrounding waters during the summer months, but we didn’t see any marine mammals during this particular visit.

Gorgeous, love it, wish you were here.
Gorgeous, love it, wish you were here.

 

 

Does this count as harassing a whale?
Does this count as harassing a whale?

San Juan Island used to be an important shipping hub for both British and American industries. The Park Service still maintains an active lighthouse to guide vessels through Puget Sound.

If "science writer" doesn't work out, I want to be a lighthouse keeper.
If “science writer” doesn’t work out, I want to be a lighthouse keeper.
We got to go up and see the signal light!
We got to go up and see the signal light!

The Island also used to have a limestone quarry. We walked to the retired Lime Kilns, which were used to burn away impurities from the raw stone to yield calcium carbonate.

IMG_6307

 

Quarry workers would shovel limestone into the top of the kiln, then heat it to over 1000 degrees Celcius. The cooked rock would then get loaded onto ships and distributed to manufacturers all over the west coast.

It's getting HOT in here!
It’s getting HOT in here!
Lime's-eye view
Lime’s-eye view
Hey other Sam!
Hey other Sam!
Limestone in...chalk out.
Limestone in…chalk out.

We explored the retired kilns for a little bit, and also wandered around the trails. I’m always blown away by the lush, unearthly greenery in the Pacific Northwest.

IMG_6316

The mosses ARE bosses
The mosses ARE bosses
Jelly fungus!
Jelly fungus!

After our adventures we returned to Friday Harbor Labs and proceeded to engage in some SERIOUS, INTENSE, HIGH-PERFORMANCE….relaxation.

This is a GOOD place.
This is a GOOD place.

Overall it was a phenomenal weekend. It’s always fun to escape Seattle for a little bit, learn about my colleagues, and take in some pastoral pleasures on the islands. I hope everyone out there in internet-land is having a GREAT Sunday!

OK- I gotta ask: I spent my February 14th having fun with friends and co-workers. Bacteriology is my Valentine. did anyone do anything romantic for V-day?

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “The graduate students are retreating!

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