16 July 2019

Every morning I wake up at sunrise and walk out onto my stoup to watch a big red sun breach the dunes. Usually before my alarm, the sounds of the birds waking up bring me out of my sleep… then the rooster starts. I try to watch the sunrise and sunset every day, and take a few moments after dinner to look up at the stars on my walk back from the farmhouse to my room. This week there has been a full moon so bright that I don’t need my headlamp. I’ve been surprised at how quickly the days have been going by.

Three days a week, the reserve manager leads a yoga class in front of my room. I initially boycotted it and would go on runs instead because it felt invasive of the little space that I have for my own here. But eventually, my stubbornness gave way. After years of promising my body I’d stretch, there seems to be no better time than now to actually do it – and it’s amazing what even a few weeks can do. We practice Iyengar yoga that emphasizes alignment and precision, and we spend a lot of time upside down doing inversions. I laughed when he told us we would be doing poses like the scorpion, forearm stands, handstands and other intimidating contortions. Amazingly though, after a little time to figure it out, they aren’t so hard after all. It feels so good to stretch (obviously) and with sessions 1-2 hours long, it works the body. With the cooler weather, we are playing more volleyball as well. If there isn’t a yoga session, I go for my run along the riverbed. I haven’t seen any new wildlife lately – the reserve is fenced so we don’t have predators (that we know of) or other large mammals besides ungulates. Still though, sometimes if I’m taking a break on a dune and start drifting off – a noise can bring me upright wondering what animal I might find creeping up on me.

The reserve has a lot of hornbills (Zazu – bird character from Lion King) that like to hang around the farmhouse. They remind me of small prop planes when they slowly come in for a landing. They start gliding from far away, get a little tipsy when they’re getting close to a tree, then have sort of a bumpy landing onto a branch or in the dirt. There’s a seasonal crew that comes to the project to study and habituate them, I think they start in August.

I joined in on home brewing with two other managers. Our first brew together was last Friday – I’m not sure exactly what it will turn out to be. We haphazardly threw in a mix of grains (grown in the northern cape, we found some spiky grass seeds in the mix), a wheat beer yeast, and two different kinds of hops (one called cashmere and another mandarin something – both citrus and one that included “resinous” in the description). As we were adding in the ingredients and chatting about how people come up with brew recipes I said – in the end it’s just math. So that is the name of our brew “It’s just math” with “tasting notes: resinous.” I made a label for it during a lunch break. The beer should be ready in about two weeks, hopefully without too much sand contamination.

Every week I send a report on the blood samples I processed and general updates of the lab to my supervisors at Duke, the University of Chicago, and the University of Cambridge. This week I got a reply with some exciting news – my duties will be expanded to include DNA extractions on site! Next to the cell lab, there is another room that was recently built for another laboratory. In the next month or so, I will be setting up the space to function as a genetics lab and figuring out what we can do with the space and resources available here. I think it’s pretty neat that we can do all this cool research in the middle of a desert. I’m really excited to be able to work on genetics projects as well as the immune challenges.

This appointment has shown me that science can be done literally anywhere and that it’s possible to combine a traveling lifestyle with a developing career. Ideas and plans for the next big thing are becoming more possible. I have a call with a researcher in Chile this evening to present an idea and discuss a potential collaboration. It could go nowhere, or it could go somewhere. I plan to be driving my van down to the tip of South America by the end of next year. Now it’s a question of being able to stay for a bit. We’ll see.

Manly Nunn Steps Out – Doctor Turtle

2 thoughts on “16 July 2019

  1. Another fascinating post, Kelly! I should have known you would find a way to come up with a brew! haha Phone calls with a researcher in Chile, dealing with DNA, hoping to drive to the tip of South America in the future -all I can say is WOW! You are amazing. Love and miss you, Aunt Pap


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