Outbreak

A grievous infestation of Gypsy moths has overtaken the woodland trail behind my office. What was once lush and green and populated by walnut trees and raspberry bushes has been transformed by these ravenous larvae into a nightmarish cobweb jungle. The squishy mangled bodies underfoot and the threat of rash-inducing fuzzies falling from overhead is too much for me. I no longer walk through these woods without holding my breath, skipping past fallen branches opaque with silk. Looking up conjures up images of halloween: ghastly naked trees swaying in the wind, defoliated, slowly dying.

I speculate that the unusually cool summer has extended the breeding period of these Lymantria dispar dispar (same root as despair?), causing their continued infestation well into August. I would climb and clean their vestiges from each of these trees myself, if not for the intense aversion and gag reflex caused by the density of these squirming critters. Through my investigation, I discovered a pesticide, Gypchek, which is actually based on a naturally occurring pathogen targeting and infecting only Gypsy moths. The pesticide is made from the ground up bodies of larvae raised and infected in a laboratory setting; the pathogen sets off a self-perpetuating cycle of death, the odor of which permeates the infected area much as the feeling of doom and despair did.

So now, I only have to wait for the local government to recognize this plight and do something about it. This will likely take a few years, at which point there will be no trees left anyway, causing a natural collapse in the regional Gypsy moth population. Yet another lesson in the self-regulating abilities of nature.

(pictures below are kinda hairy, study at your own risk)

People watching

Kites in the sky, ocean in the background, you haven’t changed one bit since I dallied on your coastline as a naive, gawky teenager. Something about summer suppresses self-judgment. It is often more fun to leave fears and doubts indoors and let it all hang out among a sympathetic crowd of half-naked strangers.

Stay classy, OC.

Un-lucky

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Maryland is the richest state in the US. Proximity to DC and the abundance of government agencies lays the groundwork for numerous federal contracts and the contractor companies who take them. Public agency projects spin off grants, patents, and small business ideas, not to mention private research institutions like Hopkins, APL, and Maryland that arguably get a large proportion of their funding through government agencies like the NSF or NIH. The lifeblood here is federal funding.

So I suppose it’s no wonder that people here are feeling the strain. The number of people I’ve heard from lately who’ve been cut, or cut back on hours, sends through me ripples of concern. Is this slow burn really going to be the big deal worst case scenario everyone is making it out to be? It’s a good time to be secure in oneself, that’s for sure. And instead of hunkering down and waiting for the cleaver to drop, maybe it really is more appropriate to joke about unlucky cancer remissions or that one lost opportunity to move to the west fjords some long lost many years ago.

New acquisition

Went to the sheep and wool festival at the Howard County fairgrounds over the weekend: too much yarn and sheep posteriors swinging in the wind, but a welcome break to incessant studying.

In a pile of pamphlets on some antique print seller’s table, I dug out this beauty, a 1930s banana eating handbook, with some of the most imaginative and horrible suggestions for dishes. Such was the novelty of the banana, I suppose, a novelty which I can barely fathom now.

Some winners:

Banana with French Dressing: On salad plates make oval nests of crisp lettuce and place a choice banana in each. Sprinkle with minced parslet, place celery tips at each end and serve with — French dressing.

Salisbury Steak: Select choice bananas and brush over with soft butter. Flatten slices of beef tenderloin and place on broiling rack of hot oven. Place bananas in a shallow pan and cook under the flame with the steak, basting the fruit several times with butter and lemon juice. Prepare sauce to serve with steak by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice and two tablespoons of drained bottled horseradish to half a cup of whipped cream. Place cooked steak and banana on each plate, garnish with potato chips and serve a spoonful of the horseradish sauce in a pimento cup, lemon shell or halved tomato.

Sweet in hand

My new office is full of bakers. Not that I’m really complaining, being on the receiving end of such delicacies, but it’s ever so ridiculous walking out of the kitchen with cookie in hand every time I go to pour myself coffee, or hot water for tea, or for no good reason whatsoever. The holidays are over, largely, and the influx of delicious, fresh pastries is straggling to an end, but the stash I’ve managed to collect is larger than ever. Chocolates from the doctors, cookies from coordinators, and the most amazing cake bites from s5; I am just drowning in sweets. I’ve managed to pawn most of it off on roommates and family, but everyone’s sweet tooth seems to have met their match.

I secretly want to put everything into a shoe box and leave it in the basement for the dormice (they deserve a little reward too for braving subzero temperatures in their furry little blazers), but after learning the hard way with peanuts and crazed squirrels, I’d rather not invite an infestation into my house. So I nibble lazily between meals, trying to explain it off as fuel for handstands or whatever trouble I will get myself into later, and as much as I complain about it, I wouldn’t know what to do if my supply ran out.

Heading on back to Beijing

It’s official! Well, it’s been rather official in my mind for a while, but putting a signature down at the bottom of a page makes things real. I am moving back to Beijing for the next six months and working as part of the expat team of HHS center. This trip already feels so different. Instead of blindly traipsing across half the globe to an unknown place, I’m going to a city that I feel I am starting to know, filled with people, places, and things at once foreign and familiar. My excitement just cannot be suppressed.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

In other news, temperatures in Ellicott City have been above 50F/10C every day this week (I guess I don’t hate this place too much), and I’ve branched out a new food blog, dubbed Another Bite. I’ll be posting sloppy food photos, errant humor, reviews, slices of life, and other non-traveling/photography related news there. More to come soon, of course, you know, counting down those 7 days till my flight back to Beijing.

Location: Ellicott City, Maryland

Lights are silly

Habit is such a funny thing. Moments ago, I was sitting in bed reading, enjoying the end to a way too dramatic and short day. I have two bedside tables, each an arms-length away, decked out with matching lamps. Typically, I only ever turn on one of these lamps, the one at my righthand side (due to convenience, proximity to door, ease of location in the pitch dark, etc). Recently, however, the on/off switch had suffered a bit of a meltdown, working only every third flick or so, and I had switched my nighttime lighting to the left lamp. As I came to the end of a chapter in A Confederacy of Dunces, and stifled a yawn, I decided I was done for the night. I reached out to turn off the light.

Flick. Confusion ensued for the briefest moment as my light popped on instead of off. In my habitual state, I had reached towards the right lamp and flicked it on rather than turn the left one off; instead of basking in darkness, an unexpected multiplication of light flooded my room.

I’m not quite sure why this specific act fascinated me so, but it probably has something to do with the multitude of psychology lectures I’ve been listening to on OCW as of late, or the rather unintentional and silly slips I’ve been making all over the place: forgetting to buckle my seatbelt the instant I get in a moving vehicle, nearly signing a check without tipping, spending ten dollars as if it’s ten yuan.

Some habits build hard and die easy. Running, exercising, staying healthy: it astounds me how much effort people here make to work out everyday, through the sludge and snow and second jobs. Yet other habits build easy and die hard. The habit of staying out all night with little respect for the tasks to come with morning? Gets me every time.

Location: Ellicott City, Maryland

Time grinds to a halt

I’m not quite sure when this happened, when I turned from a mostly introverted person to an unceasing extrovert. I think it was some time in my college years, likely the summer after my sophomore year. I remember making a conscious decision that I would try to alter my social behavior. Ultimately, I think the outcome of that decision was positive, but I still laugh a little when I think about it, how one little thought altered my perspective so permanently.

Nevertheless, I’m a lot worse at being by myself than I was even at this same time last year. I still enjoy aloneness, in fact, I rather need it. But I’ve lost the ability to be cooped up in one place perpetually. It feels as if too many thoughts are stuffed inside my brain, needing a valve to quell the pressure. I can’t remember the last time I accomplished so much, and hated it so.

Well, perhaps I’m just looking forward too much, thinking about where I’ll be in a few weeks (Beijing), where I’ll be in the summer (somewhere else in Asia), and where I’ll be in the fall (which is an absolute mystery yet). My mind is already somewhere else, thinking about exchanges and interactions yet to happen in another space and another time. And as much as I am not listless, I am equally frustrated with now, because it’s just now, and not the future.

Somewhere back there, my realist self lies. But right now, I’m rather content thinking about things that might happen, could happen, or rather, could be willed to happen. Amongst all the twisted tendrils of future realities waiting to be built, I single out the ones in which I am my most productive self.

Then, onwards.

Location: Ellicott City, Maryland

As snow turns to sleet outside…

How quickly it has transpired, this week, mostly lost in a myriad of spring cleaning and petty jet lag.

Yet again, I sit in an airport, plodding along that infinitely long wait between arrival and departure. I am three hours early for my flight. There is nobody here at the gate except these two janitors, who are gossiping animately several meters away, far enough that I can’t make out what they are saying. The only clamor is from the noisy ventilation, droning onwards, interrupted every so often with the soft clanging of metal on metal many meters of air shaft away. The snow which has been falling since the wee hours of pre-dawn seems to muffle the sounds indoors too, and I am left largely alone with my thoughts.

I think this is perhaps why I like traveling so, or rather, the process of traveling. Airports, airplanes, long stretches of hours on the road mostly by myself, surrounded by crowds of strangers who know little and care less. I admit to needing these moments: to organize my thoughts without distractions, to analyze what I have done and what is left to do, to take a breath after too much blind plodding. It’s the only way to clear out the dust, and figure out the next great important thing.

Best to learn fast and forget fast.

Location: BWI, Maryland