Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 24 (Aug 22 2012)

Today was a strange day, with a peculiar frenzy of work that began to take place in the late afternoon, just before a contingent of visitors was due to arrive from NTNU for an official dinner.

Myself, my frantic day began after 3.5 hours of sleep, when, immediately after breakfast, I went out (with Juli, I think... the day is a bit of a haze to me now) to collect water for a large volume, multiple size fraction filtration from 4 mesocosms (should really have been 8 or 12) for a colleague in Denmark that there simply had not previously been time to squeeze in (and could not be put off for a single other day).  That kept me frantically juggling carboys of water, beakers of water, squirt bottles of water ("pissettes" as the French would say), filters, filter towers, sieves, cryotubes, and graduated cylinders until close to 6pm, without more than a 10 minute break for lunch.  When that was done, there was just enough time to dispense the daily 36 liters of nutrients into their 24 clearly labeled 1.5-liter soda bottles, change into the hand embroidered Mexican peasant blouse brought along strictly for diplomatic emergencies.

In the meantime, the labs had filled up with the aggregation team trying to start an experiment, the zooplankton team trying to finish an experiment and get their water filtered and do their egg hatching counts, and the calcite team frantically trying (if I remember the day correctly) to either set up or take down an experiment as well as prepare their calcite addition for the evening.  In the midst of all this were Marja and Julia, setting up and taking down grazing and egg production experiments and picking copepods without undue fuss but with non-stop superhuman effort at the same time.

And then, boom!  The visitors were here.  "They're upstairs," someone told me, then left me to my fate.

Jussi had just come back from the mesocosm raft for some reason (someone must have been out their collecting something, like water or zooplankton for an experiment) so he took most of the group straight out for a tour.  Two of them stayed behind and I found myself on the front steps of the institute making the sort of small talk you make with visiting dignitaries, except that often the conversation turned to fecal pellets.

Simultaneously, there was a crisis in the lab because dinner was schedule for 8pm and there was no one free to add the nutrients to the mesocosms before then and the calcite team needed more time to get their calcite ready to be able to take it out at the usual time of 9pm to add to their mesocosms.  And of course, there was no  way dinner was going to be over by 9pm.  And, accustomed to a 5pm dinner now, we were all gnawing on the table legs and benchtops with the extra wait to feed.  Trying to coordinate that, while being unruffledly diplomatic and charmingly conversational, all on less than 4 hours of sleep and after a frantic, non-stop, 10-hour workday, was well beyond my capabilities, which barely extend to coordinating things during a normal workday after a full night's sleep.  I remember only two things strongly from this chaos- Richard repeatedly zooming back and forth, in front of where the visitors and I were clustered, saying, Busy, busy, busy..., with his headphones on his ears and his gaze focused into the zone, and myself mentally throwing my hands up in the air in defeat when I asked for an emergency nutrient team to go out NOW in replacement of the normal nutrient team which was tied up upstairs with the aggregation experiment and everybody saying, yeah, okay, when I'm done here in twenty minutes or so maybe I could go {twenty minutes being too late to start to finish in time for dinner}, and then just remaining sitting as uninterestedly as possible in their seats, no one jumping up to take responsibility and me too exhausted to muster the energy necessary to kick anyone in the pants to get it done (and not really wanting to kick anyone in the pants anyways because everyone has been working 12-18 hour days, 7 days a week, essentially, since July 31).

At some point it got too cool and too full of biting insects to remaining standing on the steps, so the visitors and I moved inside to the lounge where we sat around signing official bits of paper that needed to be signed and discussing the previous mesocosm experiments done at this site, and work studying the hydrodynamics of the bay here, and a long term experiment that fertilized the entire little bay here (taking advantage of the massive inflow of water through the narrow inlet during each incoming tide to dispense a large quantity of nutrients into the bay, the result being unuually large, yummy mussels and therefore happy locals).  Then they started telling me about their other international collaborators and, as always, the scientific nomad won the name game.  It was funny to watch their surprise mount everytime they named a mid-career scientist they had close ties to and I was like, "Oh, yeah, Person Y!  Isn't he fantastic?  Is he still working on such and such a topic and is he still at such and such a university?"  and "Person Q!  She's great isn't she?  She did her PhD with so and so, didn't she?  Is she still out on the East Coast?"  After ten minutes of this, they're jaws were on the floor with disbelief and I was having a grand old time.  In truth, though, it's not that I am stupendously well connected, it's just that after having hopped through a series of 6 universities/research institutes in 4 different countries during my career, been out to sea on American, British, and German research vessels, had working visits to more than 6 research stations/institutes ranging in locality from 63°N to 70°S, and been invited for more department seminars/job interviews than you could shake a stick at, at some point, everybody has crossed my path enough for me to have an opinion about them.  Plus I hear the news from the places that my significant other has worked down through the years that I have known him.

Finally, finally, finally it was 8pm and we could haul our growling stomachs down to dinner.  The cook (whose name sounds like but is definitely not spelled "tour-ra") and the friendly woman who swaps in for him from time to time had superceded even our wildest expectations.  The tables had been moved together to form one grand table, beautifully bedecked with purple napkins boasting butterflies, skillfully laid out place settings, and vases holding roses of every vibrant color you can imagine.  The starter was thin slices of salmon (well, don't trust me 100%, because as a vegetarian, my slices were of brie) on hearty bread, with various delicious adornments, and homemade lingonberry preserve.  The main course was a hearty casserole of fish and vegetables, the cheesey sauce roasted on the top to a crispy brown perfection.  The vegetarian version was full of eggplant and it was fabulous and even the carnivores tucked into it, until the entire mass of it was gone.  Dessert was strawberries, hand picked by the cook himself a couple of days before; the cold, awful weather this summer has at least resulted in a glorious prolongation of the strawberry season.

The nutrient team, which had missed the first half of dinner, came back to hand the baton to the calcite addition team, which then missed the second half of dinner.  But everyone was back  in time for the rounds and rounds of toasting with Aquavit, something which took a heavy toll on everyone involved (the following day was the day of the Walking Wounded, except in the case of those who had to take to their beds for a few hours in the afternoon).  One dignitary would give a toast, which would be answered by one of our group, which would be answered by a different dignitary, and in the end there was just Morten booming out Danish (then Norwegian) Aquavit drinking songs in his unexpectedly resounding baritone.

After this, came the speeches.  I was handed a piece of paper with a list of key words that had been scribbled down in secret during the later, more sozzled hours of the previous evening's birthday party.  Speech!  Speech!  Speech!, the pounding hands demanded on the table.  What was a fearless leader to do, but give a silly speech in front of visiting dignitaries?  At least most key words were quite pertinent (tired, massage (as in, we all desperately need one after all the hauling and heavy lifting and craning our necks down microscopes while counting things), coprohexy).  It was a bit harder to work in "granny pants".  I'm sure the dignitaries are still wondering about that one.

My silly speech was followed by a serious speech from the professor from NTNU.  So I was compelled, when he was done, to hop up again and yammer out a more official "thank you for having us and thank you team for being so awesome" sort of speech that was heartfelt, if not particularly eloquent.

After this, there was more sitting around and conversing.  At my dignitarified end of the table, we slogged through scientific visits to India and China and trying to set up collaborations in such places.  From the other, significantly undignitarified end of the table floated peals of German laughter and French singing and Danish toasting (and the happy birthday song sung sequentially in three or four different languages).  When the dignitarified conversation turned to matters of Norwegian politics that required knowing things about particular Norwegian policies and politicians and past political acts, and my vision remained obstinately unfocused and it took all my remaining reserves of stubborn to remain conscious and unfaceplanted on my half finished glass of Aquavit, it was hard not to gaze longingly in the direction of all the fun.

At nearly 11, when the visitors finally remembered that they still had to face a 2 hour drive back to Trondheim, the dinner party slowly broke up.  The French sent the visitors off with a rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne from the steep front steps of the field station, with coordinated goodbye waves and French lyrics about saying goodbye to a companion.  It was surreal, like living in the Sound of Music.

With the visitors finally gone, we all returned to the loung upstairs.  There was still one full bottle of Aquavit to contend with.  For me, there was no question about participating.  It took all of my remaining strength just to crawl back to my dorm and into bed, so that was all I did.  But everyone else stayed up and had some fun;  when I came back at 6:50 the next morning to prepare for our 7am sampling expedition to the mesocosms, I found that all the tables and chairs in the lounge had been pushed to the perimeter.  Dancing!  And I had missed it.  :(

Aug 22 2012a-  The day after-  All that remains of the pure and concentrated evil.

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