Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Life Updates

Alright, let's jump right in and drop a few bombshells, shall we?

Davo and I are getting married!

At this point, no date, no plans, no problem.  Someone suggested that we get married on a mountain or hanging off a cliff, a la Lynn Hill.  Sorry, I can't put myself in the same league as Lynn-freaking-Hill.  Plus, my mother would kill me.

photo © bob d'antonio, 1989
This was decided almost a month ago, but I've been fairly inconsistent about writing here, which is going to have to change because...

...I just bought a one-way ticket to Managua, Nicaragua.  Leaving on Monday.  Three days from now.  Ok, well, I decided to go last week and bought the ticket on Saturday, which was a full 8 days before departure.  Good thing I already have a passport.

My current plan is to start in Nicaragua, where I'll work on my Spanish language skills at a school for foreigners in Estelí.  They're arranging a homestay for me, so starting Tuesday 4/3, I will not speak or hear English for the foreseeable future (way to throw myself into the deep end).  When it's time to leave Nicaragua, I'll go overland via Honduras, El Salvador, or both on my way to Guatemala.  Dave will meet me in mid-May for some outdoor adventuring in Guatemala and southern México.  Back to Ithaca, New York, together, in June, for the next chapter of our lives.

For the past three years, since leaving Peru in 2009, I have coped with the aching desire to go back to Latin America.  Through a combination of this-and-that, I ended up back in the States when I felt like I should have been south-of-the-border.  I finally have a chance to correct my course...

...because I have resigned from my job.  For the second and final time.  I've typed and erased sentences trying to explain the conclusions I've drawn, what I've experienced, where that puts me in life and my ability to serve my community, blah blah blah.  The bottom line:  I love the organization, I love my colleagues, but it's time to move on.  I'm ready...  onward and upward!

Three major life changes in the past three weeks.  Eh, so it goes.  :-)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wee Stinky, Flower of Death

The big stinky flower of death bloomed at Cornell!

This "little" guy has a few names.  The Titan Arum, for us English speakers.  Amorphophallus titanum, for the science geeks.  And Wee Stinky (no, seriously), named for a small glen on Cornell's campus, for us locals.

The mad scientists up at Cornell grew this specimen from a seed produced by a plant in Wisconsin in 2002. Some people get dogs, which live about a decade...  other people grow rare Sumatran rainforest plants, which take a decade to bloom then flower for 48 hours.  Different strokes, different folks, etc.

Being Upstate NY (where not much of note ever happens), pretty much the entire town (ok fine one-third of the town) turned out to see Wee Stinky's Big Moment.  It was like Wegman's on Saturday morning, just as surreal and slightly more smelly.

Wee Stinky had the potential to be big, as some Titan Arum top 12 feet tall with a storage tuber weighing 200 lbs.  We visited Wee Stinky on its second day in existence, and I'd say it was about 7 feet tall.  I doubt Wee Stinky's tuber was 200 lbs, as Wee Stinky was living in a large plastic pot (like the kind you'd find at a big-box hardware store).

Wee Stinky's insides heat up to nearly 100F (98.6F, actually, same as our insides) in order to disperse the stank of death, hence the nickname "Corpse Flower."  By the time we met Wee Stinky, the stank of death wasn't so strong, more like a faint odor of fish rotting in the sun.  Indonesia's reputation for producing smelly things (durian, anyone?) disappoints again.

looking down wee stinky's insides--where the smell was the strongest
If Wee Stinky were in the Sumatran rain forest, its native environment, the stink would attract pollinating carrion flies.  Apparently Ithacans have more similarities to carrion flies than you'd think, because Wee Stinky attracted 10,000 humans during the two days it was in bloom.

That's right--Wee Stinky takes years to grow from seed, only to produce a bloom that lasts 48 hours, not to bloom again for decades.  I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere, something about rotting fish and Sumatran rainforests, the ephemerality of time and gawking at all of nature's freak shows.  Something like that.

Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Science took an amazing time-lapse video of Wee Stinky's moment of glory.  I can't get their direct link to work, so here's the video hosted at YouTube, but you should also go to the Cornell Titum Arum blog to show them some love.  One hundred percent of the credit for this goes to the awesome plant masters hiding in the greenhouses up the hill (what are they growing under those lights?).