Sunday, August 28, 2016

Returning to Caltech - by Lily

It’s been almost twenty years since my graduation. This is my first time back, to the place where I studied, fell in love, had my PhD diploma and my first child both on hands. The memories are distant yet clear, emotions raw and nostalgic.

The trees have grown bigger and taller, buildings modernized and more. Yet Beckman Auditorium and Millikan Library still stand tall and magnificent.

I’m back to join old friends and lab mates in celebration of my PhD advisor’s 60th birthday. It is a lot of fun to catch up with everyone after all these years. People have diverges into different fields of research. But we all share a common experience of working with a great scientist in the field and the best mentor, Dr. Paul Sternberg, brilliant and kind, enthusiastic and generous, stimulating and uplifting. In many ways we all try to carry on a piece of him in our work. His contribution to science manifested through his students and trainees. The day is filled with scientific talks ranging from fungi to parasites to worms, fruit flies, vertebrates, and humans, with fond memories of life in Paul’s lab and wisdom and life lessons learned from him.

Late into the night, Maureen and I decided we had to go back to the lab and take a look. Guided by Paul’s current student we went back to Kerckhoff building. The microscopies and Nomarski are still there, the lab is still packed, but the worm pattern on the floor is new, Paul’s office has a worm shaped desk and the worm lineages are nicely painted on the wall, a special treat for such a nerdy scientist! :)

Bidding Paul farewell, wishing him happy birthday and happy life, I feel I’m taking a dose of confidence and entrust back home as well. I hope opportunity calls for another visit soon :)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Camping at Outer Banks

Imagine camping on the beautiful seashore,with star filled darkest sky east of Mississippi River, the constant breeze from ocean and the sound of waves -  how romantic it could be! Lily was persuaded easily to camp at Cape Hatteras during the trip.

Two person tent, long tent stakes, a hammer, bug repellents, high power flash light, sleeping bag, .....all camping gears, total weight over 40 lb, were packed into a large luggage case, which was checked in for our flights. Lily did research on the camping sites, and chose Frisco campsite, which was a few miles south from Hatteras Light house, on a small "hill" about quarter mile away from the ocean, separated from it by beach, sand dune and marsh.

We stayed at site 12, which has a sandy pad for a tent, and surrounded by pine trees, which provides much needed shade in late afternoon. The camp was ~ 50% occupied, about just right  - not crowded but not desolated either.  We encountered other campers occasionally on the way to the beach, or at the centralized shower/bathroom area.

The area is full of life,  Deer roams in the meadow, frogs call in the marsh, and jumping on to the wood board walk frequently, birds chirping in the bushes in the morning and running on the beach .....and of course active outdoor persons like us -:) 

The first night at Hatteras, when we got back from our sunset dinner to the camp site it was pitch dark! With tent's canopy removed, we lay on the sleeping bag, hand in hand, looking at the stars in the sky, and listening to the sound of the ocean ..... I quickly fell asleep until being awaken by bird chirping early next morning.

We went to Ocracoke island in late afternoon on the second day at Cape Hatteras via ferry. It turned stormy and we got back to our tent late that night with lightnings and thunders all around us - fortunately they were miles away and the rain at the camp site was light. As we were ready to get into the tent for the night - a big deer dropped by to visit us!!!  

Since we put the canopy on before we left the camp site - so our tent remained dry. But the canopy kept heat in, and I was awake at dawn due to the heat. The rain stopped , and the sky was clear, so I removed the canopy to allow hot air out, cooler air in, and went back to sleep.

When we were awake around 7am, we saw a crescent Moon right above our tent in the blue sky!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sunset Dinner

It turned out that there are many restaurants at Cape Hatteras. Based on Trip Advisor's comments and examination of local map, I picked out a restaurant ahead of time for a Sunset dinner. Breakwater Restaurant is claimed to be the place to go.

It was a sunny day, but the setting Sun was blocked by clouds in the western sky when we got to the restaurant. It seemed that we would not have a real sunset dinner. Nevertheless we asked to be seated outside on a raised deck with a table for two facing the direction of the setting Sun.

It was a good table, we had the view of the harbor and water of the Pamlico Sound, and the light wind from south. We were very comfortable in this hot summer evening. A quick kiss across the table, clinking glasses, we started checking the menu while drinking ice water, chatting about our day. The wind blew the thick clouds away and the Sun came out with a golden glow. There was some commotion on the deck as diners grabbed their phones or cameras to take picture of this scene. We did not have to move to enjoy this beautiful sunset and take photos.

While waiting for the food to come, Lily went to the open deck to take more pictures and I went to the car to get the selfie stick. We had a selfie - no sun in the picture due to sharp contrast, but our happiness was recorded :-). The food was good as well - we shared a grilled mahi-mahi (catch of the day) and softshell crab wrap while enjoying the Sun, the breeze and our conversation.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Kayaking and Windsurfing in Pamlico Sound

Cape Hatteras is adjacent to two bodies of water - the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound. There are many opportunities for recreations in the water. Water sport was our main activity when we decided to vacation there. In addition to our favorite kayaking, I looked into a variety of other water activities  - surfing, windsurfing, kite boarding, sailing, boating  .... 

We started kayaking around 9:30am on our second day at Cape Hatteras from Ocean Air Sport by Spencer Creek - see the location marker in the following map. Paddling out of the creek, we turned left into Pamlico Sound, and against the wind. The sound is so wide here, ~  30 - 40 miles, it felt like ocean except that the wave is much smaller than that in ocean. Nevertheless kayaking in the sound was much tougher than in lakes. Lily was a bit nervous initially but calmed down quickly.  

We paddled along the shoreline. The initial portion of the shoreline is lined by beach houses with a couple channels. Vacationers on the shore waved to us and a couple of them chatted with us briefly exchanging pleasantry. 
area where we paddled
Pamlico Sound near Spencer Creek
We turned into a couple channels.  The water was much calmer there. It was pretty quiet: we encountered no boats in the channels, we only heard mowing at one house, saw buzzing at another. 

After two detours into channels, we paddled in unison toward the "big island", a small island a few hundred yards away from the shore.  Paddling in unison gave us a positive vibe and of course made the kayak moving fast. After one lap of  paddling counter clockwise around the island - a tougher route, we kayaked along the shoreline again. It is all green tall salty grass, beautiful but not much variation. We turned around when we  reached Gibbs point and finally found a small sand "beach" for a break near one channel's entry.

Around 12:30pm, we reached a "large" beach north of Spencer Creek with a tree that provided shade, the only shaded area along the shore, for our lunch break. Further north, the water along the shoreline was very shallow, our kayak got stuck a few times, I had to get off kayak to pull it into deeper water, and paddled away from the shore. Paddling in open water was not much fun because all one could see was water. A compensation of this trouble was that we encountered a big grey ray during one of the kayak stuck, I saw this large ray a few feet away from me and called Lily's attention. The ray momentarily paused a second or two, and then "fly" away gracefully. We also observed a windsurfing class from our kayak, which we would take the next day.

We returned the kayak around 3:30pm - we stayed on the water, in kayak most of the time, for 6 hours!! The longest kayaking we have ever had as a couple.

The next day, we went back to ocean air sports for our highly anticipated windsurfing class.

Windsurfing projects grace, beauty and the elegance of mastery of nature. It is really attractive to us. I was overconfident about my ability to learn windsurfing due to the recent experience with paddle boarding, Lily on the other hand worried about her balance on the board. After a lengthy land lesson, we finally headed to open water to practice, Lily quickly could glide on water with a raised sail, I, however, kept falling into the salty water.

The practice soon got into turning: jive - turn in the direction of wind, and tack - turn against wind. She could do that soon. I quickly lowered my goal - as long I could sail on my own, it was a success to me. I also changed my technique, instead of following the instructor's teaching exactly, I would do what ever I could to keep myself standing on the board with sail up. Soon I could sail transverse to wind - the very basics, and I could jive as well, though clumsily.

As the class was ending we were asked to sail to the dock - standing on the sail board with slightly bent knees, sail up, hands on the boom, eyes on a landmark beach house, Lily sailed in with ease. I followed in a similar fashion,  with some efforts, I sailed in without falling. Afterwards, we kept talking about how we could do better in windsurfing. Windsurfing will become our new favorite water sport soon.

wind surfing in Pamlico Sound

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Strolling on Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National seashore is a portion of outer banks of North Carolina. Lily and I went on a vacation there all by ourselves on the way to pickup Nicholas and friends from TIP summer camp at Duke University last Saturday.

This is a place to engage our senses - the sound of oceans, the calm marsh, the darkest sky east of Mississippi, blue water, green landscape ....

The beaches at Cape Hatteras can be wide and shallow with fine sand, or narrow and steep with coarse sand. A common feature of the beach front is the transition from water to sandy beach to sand dune to marsh, and to land.  Strolling along beaches in the morning, around noon time and in the evening allowed us to enjoy the many facets of the beautiful seashore.

We walked long distance along the beach in the second morning - enjoying the cool sea breeze and quiet beach,  talking to people fishing along the beach, amazed at sea birds diving into the breaking wave to make catches. Observing more carefully at the small streams formed by the receding waves on the beach, we saw small near-transparent fishes in the water!

It was a delight to see beautiful images in the giant mirror formed on sand from receding waves.

It was very hot when we stopped at a section of beach around noon time.  The sand some distance from the water was burning, but it was still enjoyable by the water. We saw many small holes with small sand piles around them on the beach and were curious. Watching around a few more minutes, we saw tiny crabs digging sand out of the holes ! The crabs were very well camouflaged - it was hard to see them if one does not pay attention.  It seems that the larger the crab is, the further away the hole is from the wet beach. I also observed that some of the crabs were trying to do something toward the edge of the waves - laying eggs?  they ran to the edge of water to dig sand as wave recedes and ran away from the wave as it crashes in.

Can you see the tiny crab?
Of course the hot noon time was also a good time to get wet!

There were a lot more people later in the afternoon. Locals came to the beach by off-road vehicles, parking the vehicles by the water, erecting beach umbrellas, spreading beach chairs, body surfing, swimming, or fishing along the edge of water.

Without all the equipment, we still had a good time on the beach, walking on the wet beach hand-in-hand, allowing the waves crashing on us periodically, taking selfies, watching people, and immersed in the view and sound of the mesmerizing ocean.

Note: one big attraction of Cape Hatteras to me was the sea turtle hatching on the beach. Unfortunate the sea turtles come and go in the middle of nights and we were too tired by then to walk on the beaches.