How’s it going, human beings?
I’m lazing around Seattle on this Sunday afternoon after a fun-filled weekend spent on San Juan Island.
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.
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.
We kicked off our adventures Friday morning by loading up a fleet of UCars and making our way to the ferry terminal.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After our adventures we returned to Friday Harbor Labs and proceeded to engage in some SERIOUS, INTENSE, HIGH-PERFORMANCE….relaxation.
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?