Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Linguists and condors and squirrels, oh my!

Well, I'm back from my conference extravaganza and I have to say it was one of the best conference experiences I've ever had on all fronts: professional, social, tourisitical, and athlethical. (Yeah, yeah, those last two aren't real words, but they sure are fun to say -- try it!) I'll leave the running blogging (the "athletical" part) for last, for those of you who are bored silly by such things (though it overlaps with the "touristical" part -- i.e., the travel blog).

Anywho, I was delivering a paper rather out of my usual field -- it was a historical linguistics paper on sound change instead of my usual literary/cultural studies topics -- so I was particularly nervous about this conference. Actually, I'm always nervous about every conference, and I'm starting to think that I work myself up into such a froth as a way of making the ultimately positive experience seem even more positive by contrast. I need to stop doing this for the sake of my stomach and its health. But for *this* conference, I think some nerves were justified. Linguists can be *mean.* I did get some hard questions and they were really weird for me because they were all about my methodology rather than about the findings or the possible ramifications of those findings. Boyfriend says it sounded like a political science conference that way. At any rate, one doesn't usually get such questions in a literary conference. There, if you get odd-ball questions, it's usually along the lines of "But why aren't you talking about what *I* find interesting." I swear, someday, after I have tenure, I'm going to answer those questions with "Because I wanted to leave something for *you* to work on, of course!"

But apparently I handled myself well in this strange environment, and was complimented throughout the rest of the conference on both the substance of the paper and my poise and coolness under fire (honestly, I don't know where I get that -- it just happens). And some of the other conferencees made references to my paper in *their* talks -- and these were VIP people and *real* linguists. Best of all, they're publishing a volume of papers (peer-reviewed) based on the conference, so I have some place to submit the longer version of my work where "fit" won't be an issue, just the substance.

And even though linguists can be mean in their questioning, they are the *nicest* bunch of academics socially. It was a small conference, so there really wasn't much opportunity to be cliquish, anyway, but still, I was struck by how unpretentious and genuinely friendly the senior people were, and how willing they were to socialize with the assistant profs and grad students. (I got mistaken for a grad student more than once at the conference -- I do look young for my age -- but here it didn't matter at all since everyone was mixing with everyone else.) I think a lot of that was reinforced by the copious social events mixed in with the panels and papers and talks. Since we were in the southwest, there was an opportunity to take a trip the day before the conference to the Grand Canyon, and about 20 or so conferencees went. (More on that trip in a minute -- that's where the condors and squirrels come in.) Long van trips and hikes down narrow trails tend to enforce ice-breaking and socializing. There have been a couple of other conferences I've gone to that have had similar "field trips" and I found they had the same social-leveling effect. Next time you go to a conference with an optional side-trip, take it. The destination is only half the benefit.

And speaking of destinations...what a great time I had at the Grand Canyon! We only got about 3 hours there, but it was enough to whet my appetite to go back and do a big hiking/camping trip all the way to the Colorado River and out the next day. As it was, the group of us who went down the Bright Angel trail (probably the most populated one, but once you get down a ways, the people thin out) only managed to get to the 1 1/2 mile resthouse before deciding we had to head back, but it was still pretty interesting. The view didn't change much, since we were in the same corner of the canyon the whole time, but it was cool to see the rock layers and vegetation change as we went down. (We got down about four layers, I think.) Here's the view from the top of the South Rim:
And here's a picture that shows the Bright Angel trail down the middle of the picture, seemingly disappearing over the edge of a cliff past the really green part:

We didn't get nearly as far down as those visible parts of Bright Angel trail (the greenest part of the trail, btw, is called the "Indian Garden") but we did get almost down to the cliffs above them. Here's a picture from our lowest point down (you can see the same rock formation much farther away and farther down in the previous picture on the left and in the first picture in the center -- just to give some idea of our progress down):

Along the way we got a real treat -- two of the park's re-introduced condors sailed over our heads. Unfortunately I was too busy first trying to identify them (I thought they might be eagles and then vultures and then finally, I figured out they were condors) and then just marveling at them (they seem gigantic even from a distance -- they have wingspans of up to 9 1/2 feet!) to take a picture of them. But you can read about them here.

We did, however, meet up close and personal with this little fellow:

Awwwww! The boyfriend saw this photo and said, "You must have been close because I know the zoom isn't that good." Oh yes, we were close indeed. In fact, the audacious little sucker was running in and out around our feet waiting for crumbs from our lunch to fall. In this picture, he's actually begging. And this was all before one of our senior colleagues decided to break the rules and throw the chubby little fellow some bread. I think it all started because one of us spoke cooing baby-talk to the critter (probably me!). Eventually he got so brave that he jumped up onto the ledge where we were sitting and started snatching food from our hands, jumping in one colleague's lap (!), investigating the contents of our backpacks and bags, and, eventually, running away with a whole bag of chips. That last act caused one esteemed linguist to chase after the critter so that the bag wouldn't end up befouling the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately the sneaky little sucker was too fast for me to catch him in those last brave moves, but I did catch these photos, which show how close he was to us:

And finally, here he is, triumphant, with his high-fat, fried booty:

So much for "let the wildlife be wild." Oh well. But really, how wild are any squirrels, anywhere, anyway?

And finally, while conferencing, I managed to get out for my last long runs of my marathon training (it's less than two weeks away now and I'm getting really nervous!). I skipped my track workout to run on all the amazing trails and bike paths around the campus and town, but I figure I got a serious workout all the same because I was at 7,000 feet above sea level and mostly running hills and bumpy trails. And with the beautiful scenery I saw all around me, who wants to run on a boring old track?! On my 2-hour run, I headed out east of campus and town, under the interstate, on an "urban trail" that hooked up with a long-distance hiking trail that runs through national forest to a stunningly beautiful mountain meadow surrounded by rocky outcroppings, hills of pine forest, and, at this time of year, the most amazing conjunction of colors, from pine and sage greens to reds, oranges, yellows, and golds, not to mention the cerulean blue sky. And all through my run, grasshoppers jumped left and right and tiny little lizards scurried away to avoid me. People rode by on horseback and it looked just like a postcard advertising the place. My shoes are a filthy mess, which I hope doesn't cause me any problems in the marathon, but it was worth it. Simply stunning.

On that note, I need to head over to the Rec Center to use their track before it gets crowded with students. (It's grossly hot and humid here today, so I didn't run outside. What's up with this weather?!)

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