Reconstructed journal: Worst day in undergraduate

Sometimes, certain days stand out to me.  It was five years ago, on June 1, 2007, that was arguably among my worst days in my undergraduate career.  The re-constructed journal, going from bullets to paragraphs, is below, and then the “appendix” of the post has the original bullets from the journal.  Comments will be attempted to be gleaned from five years ago based on my tone of writing from the original notes.  Let’s see how this works!

Friday, June 1, 2007
I woke up at 06:30 like I always did this summer for RUTE [Research for Undergraduates in Theoretical Ecology].  The sun was shining brightly.  Preparing for the day, I equipped a white T-shirt, though I forget the exact shirt that I was wearing, as it was supposed to be a hot day.  I also caught up from my journal on the previous day, and then headed down to the Selleck dining hall for breakfast once it opened at 07:00.

Breakfast was a donut, hash browns, and unremarkable cereal.  That was the case during most of the summer thus far, but I won’t complain–at least it is available from the dining halls… it’s better than the beginning of the summer session when the dining hall wasn’t even open!  While eating, I did my usual watching of the TV for the news and Good Morning America, but nothing really stood out to me.  Granted, though I read and/or watch the news every morning, I don’t focus on it.

It was an easy walk across campus to Manter Hall, as Frances, Heather, Beth, and I prepared for the day, with preparing our equipment for fieldwork, slathering on sunscreen, and filling water bottles.  We left the office at about 08:30.  [Since the original journal didn’t have any times written down, I have to re-construct when I think some of these times were.]  One research vehicle leaves the campus at the same time, heading south.  Today was the second day that the research vehicle did NOT include Professor Brassil or Jeremy, our graduate assistant.

Our first pond of the day was the Spring Creek North pond, just southwest of Denton, Nebraska.  It is a large pond in a T-shape, and it was especially difficult today.  My task on the first few ponds was to walk around the pond with the GPS in order to find the perimeter of the water, as it was one of the ways to consider the duckweed density.  There was a lot of mud, and for some reason, I did not use waders but simply used boots as I walked the pond.  This pond took about an hour to take all the data in, including area, photos of the duckweed, and abiotic data like pH and conductivity of the water.  My legs started to itch, but I thought it may have just been “wader burn” from yesterday.

Spring Creek

Not too far away, the next pond was Twiggy Pond, which we had to navigate past a barbed wire fence (it was easy to avoid the barbs).  The pond itself was small, and there was no duckweed there, but we still had to find all the abiotic data.  On the far end of the pond, Frances and Heather got stuck in muck while looking for the duckweed, and after we left, I noticed that my leg was itching.  There were a lot of insects in the area, though, so that’s what I thought it was.

The next pond was Moto-X, which we named because of a nearby house that owns the pond that had a sign “Moto-X” on the driveway.  This pond is a pretty large one, and walking around the perimeter, with GPS and camera so as to trace the pond and take population samples of the duckweed was a task for me.  At some point, I set aside the GPS and used the camera in order to take a sample of the duckweed in some different areas of the pond.  Thinking that I had left it in the pocket of my waders, I continued back to the entry point as everyone else had finished.

We took a break for lunch in front of the Storz-Hebets house, and there was way too much food, especially since I wasn’t very hungry.  I still had some lunch, including an RBTLP (roast beef / tomato / lettuce / pickle), chips, and an orange.  I guess I still needed some refreshment, since we have more ponds to go.

To the east of the house, a few ponds awaited as we drove through the grass to get close to the fence where the Sister ponds were.  As we headed to Sister South, I went to reach for the GPS, in both the research bag, my waders, and everything else on me.  IT HAD GONE MISSING!!!  Beth and I thus made a reverse drive to Moto-X pond, and luckily I remember where I had forgotten the GPS.  So, I frantically returned to that area on the northwest side of the pond, and searched high and low.  The GPS did NOT show up!  This is not good…

By the time we returned to the Storz-Hebets house, the others had finished their data collection of the Sister ponds.  Neither of those have had any duckweed thus far, and no-duckweed ponds take a lot less time.  At Storz East, I walked the perimeter, and found 15 fronds of lemna minor in the pond, isolated.  This was the first time that duckweed appeared in this pond–makes me wonder if it may have appeared from introduction through our research methods?

We drove around a path that had been mowed from the tall grass to get into the backyard for the Storz North pond.  The research part for this pond went by pretty quickly, as the only duckweed were 6 isolated fronds near the HOBO (the device that logs the temperatures in the water and in the air).  Since the HOBO is in the pond, this puts a strong suggestion that the duckweed in this pond was introduced through contamination through our waders, perhaps on a previous time.

As we tried to leave the pond, the wheels of the car were stuck in mud!  We spun our wheels (literally) and tried to push the car to get it moving, which was not working.  I was completely unhelpful, because the irritation on my leg sapped my willingness to do that kind of work.  We got the car unstuck by taking some grass and attaching it to the wheels in order to provide some traction against the mud.  This got us out, as we safely got back to the road.

Back on the road, we walked the up and downhill to get to the Post Pond.  I complained [yes–a rarity has happened!] of my leg pain, and tried popping some of the pustules that had appeared, as well as scratching the red areas.  I was strongly admonished to ignore it instead, but irregularities always make me obsessed.  This was a bad thing.  After opening the gate to Post Pond, we headed down the hill, avoiding cows and cowpats, before taking measurements of the pond.  There were only a few fronds of duckweed near the drainage ditch, but because we didn’t have the GPS, the time we spent at this pond was pretty short.

Our pond research was done for the day.  We drove back to the lab at Manter Hall, and poetically, as we got onto Rosa Parks Way, a certain R.E.M. song came on the radio.  Geez–that makes two times that I have associated R.E.M. with unpleasant times!  The song, quite coincidentally, was “Everybody Hurts Sometimes.”  Maybe this wasn’t a coincidence!  Once we returned to the lab, we did some “end of day” tasks, and I then headed back to Selleck to retire from work for the weekend.  It was a really hard day!

Obviously, after a hard day in the field, a shower feels pretty good.  I was quite meticulous about paying attention in cleaning my leg, in case it got infected or something.  It continued to sting and show the pustules.  I hope that Dad will be able to identify what it is, but I won’t be able to find out until after services.  So I finished washing up, and then drove back home to Countryview Lane, before changing clothes.

The services were early tonight, at 18:00 for Erez’s בר מצוה [bar mitzvah].  I sat next to Aunt Lori, Carly, and Emma, as the rest of the Weiss family had not shown up yet (not like I expected that to happen, since I am the most frequent attender of services of my siblings).  Ever since Emma’s בת מצוה, some of the tunes during קבלת שבת [Kabbalat Shabbat] have been different.  In particular, לכו נרננה [L’khu N’rananah: Psalm 95] and מזמור שיר ליום השבת [Mizmor Shir L’yom HaShabbat: Psalm 92] had different tunes from what I learnt. [They were not the Carlebach tunes that I would learn two years later at Northwestern].

[There’s nothing wrong with new tunes… after all, some of those psalms say שירו לה’, שיר חדש [sing to the Eternal a new song].]  The service went by pretty uneventfully, and I noticed that my mind drifted away from the irritation on my leg.  It may have something to do with an aura of being around my community during Shabbat services, as a way to divert my mind.  The דבר תורה [D’var Torah: sermon] was about the מנורה [Menorah], though I recall nothing about the specific details about what was considered.

Well, despite me trying to ignore the irritation of my leg, I couldn’t avoid noticing it when I stood for the עמידה ועלינו [Amidah and Aleinu].  I hope it’s nothing major, but we will see what Dad says about it.  After services, there was a קידוש עונג [Kiddush oneg] with the usual snacks and such.  We stuck around for a little bit, but Mom and Dad said we would go out for dinner tonight.

Before dinner, when I asked Dad about my leg, he said that it was due to poison ivy.  UGH–so that must be why I started itching at Twiggy Pond!  And there’s nothing that I can do about it other than trying to ignore it.  Dinner was at Culver’s, and I had my usual burger and fries.  I didn’t write down anything else about the day in my journal, and it was largely non-contributory to my story regardless, so I will end my reconstructed account here.

Two take-home messages:

1) If this was the worst day of my undergraduate career, I am [insert adverb here] lucky!

2) If you have a positive attitude, any bad day can be spun such that “this will make a great story someday.”  Ever since this, I have usually been able to positively spin negative occurrences, such as Masada or the car crash.


APPENDIX: Original journal

Friday, June 1 [2007]

*Donut, hash browns, cereal for breakfast

*Nothing too exciting on the news today

*To Manter, and then to the fields on our own…

1) Spring Creek = Evil Pond.  Impassability, layers of muck, and poison ivy when I wasn’t walking with waders on!  [Supposedly I was in pain from “wader burn” yesterday—but it would have been better than pustules!!]

2) Twiggy: Frances and Heather got stuck in the far part, because of that terrible muck.  I don’t like this pond very much, and here is when the itching started.  I thought it was just the insects!

3) Moto-X: It was innocent enough, until a little later.  I walked the perimeter with the GPS and measured the duckweed with no trouble

*Lunch Pond: In front of the Storz house.  There was way too much food: a RBTLP, chips, and an orange, but I wasn’t too hungry.

4) Sister South: I didn’t get that far!  I realized that THE GPS WAS MISSING!!

-> So Beth and I returned to Moto-X to try and find it… and we FAILED to find it…

6) Storz East: Found 15 fronds of lemna minor, isolated

7) Storz North: Found six fronds near the HOBO, which I’d assume were introduced

*THE CAR GOT STUCK IN THE MUD! Attaching grass to the wheels worked, but I was mostly just standing there, because my legs hurt.  Not very manly of me…

8) Post Pond: There was what appeared to be dirt at the bottom of the hill, so we left the car at the top to avoid the possibility of getting stuck again.

-> My leg was red and had tons of pustules near where the top of my socks were

-> Cows were in the water, and I found 5 fronds of duckweed in the western drainage area

*♪ Everybody hurts ♪

* Finished and returned to Selleck—a shower felt good

* Changed at home and then did a quick turnaround

* Services were at 1800 (!) for Erez’s bar mitzvah

-> He went rapidly, and used a lot of the “new tunes”

-> Sat next to Aunt Lori and Carly and Emma

-> It hurt a bit to stand, because of whatever happened to my legs

-> The D’var Torah dealt with the Menorah

* Good desserts and conversation at the oneg

* Dinner at Culver’s–had my usual

–> [Line has been redacted: opinion of specific person]

* Dad’s diagnosis: I was poisoned by ivy!  Don’t mention that name…


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