Notes from College Town

(I've given up trying to keep track of how many days I've been here, though I'm reasonably sure Sunday will mark three weeks from my arrival. If you want to call this "College Town, Day 20" in your head, go for it.)

*I finally snapped and got my hair cut today. It wasn't the cheapest I've ever gotten, but given my well-documented issues with the barbers at home, I'm not complaining about getting what I paid for.

*On Wednesday night, my Spring Field Ornithology class was given a tour of the CLO's Vertebrate Museum, which features hundreds of specimens, some of which were prepared by heavy hitters like Arthur Allen and Louis Agassiz Fuertes. (In fact, the latter's personal collection, which he left to Cornell in his will, was what started the museum.) It was educational, to say the least. I was able to see for myself the surprising difference in size between the male and female raptors, particularly in the cases of the Peregrine Falcon and the Cooper's Hawk, and I was astonished at the tiny size of two birds in particular--the Saw-whet Owl and the even tinier Black Rail, neither of which I've seen in the wild. I was not surprised by the fact that the maroon ring around the neck of the Ring-necked Duck is just about as invisible in the hand as it is in the field; in fact, if Steve Kress hadn't picked up the bird and turned it over, for me I wouldn't have been able to tell it had a ring around its neck. He still thinks it's unlikely that the AOU will see reason and change the name to "Ring-billed Duck," though.

*When I'm not working on copy-editing or proofing the spring issue of Living Bird (which we're taking to the printer on Tuesday--field trip!), I'm getting some writing done--with Tim's permission, I should note--on the new bird book. This one is centered on my ongoing quest to see a life bird in each of the 50 states, but after I submitted a query to an agent who thought--correctly--that it read too much like a travelogue, I've been focusing more on the philosophy underlying the whole quest. What does it mean to see a new species? What does it mean to cross a state line? How have my travels affected my view of the natural world and the human systems we use to understand it? I'm a long way from finished, but I can safely say I'm around a quarter of the way into what is now looking like a deeper and more interesting book than it used to be. The current working title: The Verb 'To Border'.

*I'm still eating pretty damn well. Ithaca's variety in the matter of restaurants is fairly impressive even in the abstract, and when you compare it specifically to that of Orange, it's even more pronounced. So far I've eaten at least three times at the Ithaca Bakery (and its sister establishment, Collegetown Bagels), three times at the cheap Thai joint at the mall, twice at Wegman's, twice at Dunkin' Donuts (when streaking by to get a bagel to eat on the way to the Lab), and once each at Capital Chinese, CC Bento (Japanese), the State Diner, Gimme! Coffee, the Ithaca Alehouse, and A Taste of Thai. I'm not bored with the menu yet, that's for sure.

*And no, I'm not always eating out. I've eaten almost every breakfast at home, made my own lunch close to a dozen times, and have actually COOKED. Last weekend I made a very simple Hoppin' John (using fresh shalottes and the seasoned canned black-eyed peas and collards that I found, to my amusement, in the "Southern" part of Wegman's international section), and on several occasions I've whipped up a pretty nice faux-Sicilian sauce for pasta. (Sautee shalottes, green peppers, and one or more cloves of garlic; add sun-dried tomatoes; toss in capers and lower heat; serve over penne and cover liberally with asiago or some variety of parmagiana cheese.)

*I shouldn't really be surprised by this--I am working in a town on one of the Finger Lakes, after all--but this place is a smorgasbord of waterfowl. Even with the Rapidan River and multiple ponds on campus (plus the new lake), my typical list of waterfowl observed near my home is pretty brief: Canada Goose, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Wood Duck, and occasionally Ring-necked Duck. If you want, you can throw in the Great Blue Heron, the Ring-billed Gull, and the very occasional Bald Eagle. By contrast, the various lakes, ponds, and rivers near Ithaca have so far yielded all of the above, plus Snow Goose, Black Duck, Greater Scaup, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Canvasback, Redhead, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, and Common Merganser (of the true waterfowl), plus Herring Gull and Greater Black-backed Gull. And when you add the Fox Sparrows and Rusty Blackbirds I spotted on last Saturday's morning excursion, it's looking like this spring is going to produce a sizable list of species.

*Though I haven't lost any noticeable weight since I arrived here, I have altered my diet in a couple of useful ways. For one thing, I've cut way back on caffeine; my four-cups-a-day pace at Woodberry just isn't necessary here. I'm starting most days with a cup of tea (Irish Breakfast or Earl Grey), then having two big cups of coffee or tea at work. I'll drink the occasional cola, but in general, I'd say that the overall caffeine intake has been cut by 25-35%.

*My Monday Night Seminar talk went well, thanks to some helpful (and occasionally pointed) questions from the audience after my PowerPoint presentation. They seemed to enjoy most of it, but they were particularly pleased to see the photo of the Kirtland's Warbler that I logged in Michigan last summer, one which I called, with some degree of confidence, "the worst picture of a life bird ever taken":

100_3117.JPG(Hint: look to the left.)

*The Borders here is going out of business, but despite the 30%-40% off they've been offering, I've actually been somewhat restrained, purchasing only a copy of John Scalzi's delightful and improbable The Android's Dream,  Edward Humes' excellent account of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Monkey Girl, a couple of graphic novels, and Peter Gabriel's CD of orchestral cover tunes, Scratch My Back. Okay, granted, I did find Angry Mom records on the Commons, and I walked out with CDs by the Jam, Sarah MacLachlan, and Forro in the Dark, but they cost only twelve bucks total.

*I'm not missing the home itself, so I guess I'm not exactly homesick, but I'm definitely reaching the "I HAVEN'T SEEN MY WIFE AND CHILDREN IN FOREVER" phase of my stay. I mean, I knew it was coming--we all did. But still--ouch.

*Today I explored Collegetown, a small district high up the hill and just across the gorge from Cornell. In a two-block area, I saw a generic "Asian" restaurant, two Chinese restaurants, two Indian joints, two Korean places, a Japanese eatery, and a Vietnamese place. I decided to eat at the latter, which presented me with two enormous spring rolls and a huge bowl of pho ga, the Vietnamese chicken noodle soup that I've long favored. There was no way I could finish both spring rolls, so I brought one home. Woot!h

*Tomorrow it's off to look at more waterfowl. I better hit the sack.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on April 1, 2011 10:42 PM.

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