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Scorpion hunts and rattle snakes instead of research September 9, 2007

Posted by vettithoughts in Science, Texas, Travel.
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I finally got back home and believe me when I say, I am so glad to see my dear apartment (with all the mess that has accumulated during the last 3 weeks of weekend travel). The tons of laundry that have accumulated does nothing to hamper my bliss at being able to plonk myself finally into my sagging couch..

The first weekend was ‘friend-time’ (Austin, Texas), the second weekend ‘family-time’ (Columbus, Ohio) and this weekend was ‘work-time’. Work-time constituted professors and students of my department retreating to a place in the Hill Country calledCanyon of the Eagles’ (COTE) to discuss the research work of their respective labs. It was numerous sessions of professors presenting the work done in their lab and disinterested, whining students trying to act interested in it (we listen to the same stuff from the graduate students from their lab every year).

COTE is an interesting place. I have been there for departmental retreats in 2002, 2003. That is not one of those places that undergoes numerous changes to become unrecognizable. First timers can find lots of interesting stuff to do there. Sprint does not have signal there. Cingular cell phones picks up signal at the rooms/cabins (my battery was dead by the time I reached the retreat and I did not have my charger). There is no internet in cabins. An exception is the conference hall, where we never went when there is no session. No televisions in the cabins (that did not bother me). On the positive note there is a nice pool where you can laze around, an observatory with telescopes to observe the night sky (I will come back to this later), country band (The Ham band: never heard that before) that played at Saturday night, a person who comes to show different frogs/toads/snakes/insects etc to visiting people.

Friday evening after an early dinner, we had two sessions with four speakers, every one of whom went over their alloted half hour (few unfortunate students had been roped into the [best or boring] job of chairing session aka being the one with the timer {insert: an evil grin}). Then it was party time where water, beer and margaritas flowed. Professors got drunk and continued discussions about sciency stuff. Students got drunk and discussed what students generally talk about…everything under the sky. My usual partners in crime (C and L) and I slipped off during the last session to gaze at the night sky. Okay, now comes the difficult part. As this natural park is home to the observatory, there are no lights anywhere outside. It is pitch dark. We were all warned to bring flash lights and these are necessary to go from one cabin/room to another or to go between the conference hall/dining room/cabins. So we had to get into the car and the headlights were kind of sufficient to guide us to the vicinity of the observatory. There are no signs after a point and we ended taking the wrong othai adi pathai or othai car pathai in this case. We turned back with difficulty and took another othai car pathai opposite to wrong one we took. After a long drive, we came to the spot where there was a sign that asked us to turn off the headlights. Hurray we were finally there. After this we managed to see the Jupiter and 3 of its moons. We could even see the rings or whatever Jupiter has. Then we saw milky way galaxy with naked eye (the sky was so clear) extending between the Cassiopeia and Sagittarius constellations. We could also see the Andromeda galaxy, which is the closest to our Milky Way with the telescope. So that was one lovely experience.

On Saturday morning I found out that C and L had no sleep during the previous night as L found a scorpion on her bed sheet. This was the topic of conversation during the breakfast. I had forgotten that we stayed in the midst of numerous crickets, praying mantis, fire ant in their anthills, spiders of various colors and sizes, and insects I know nothing about. But scorpions were too frightening, not that brown recluses were not frightening enough. The rest of the afternoon, we sat through sessions. After that we were free for the rest of the day and night. A group of us set out to hike though one of the trails that had been cleared recently. It was hot and the trails had spider webs extending that we got on our hands and face. Some of us took pictures and so we went on our merry way. Once the end of the trail was reached, many of us went back to our cabins and three of them set out for the next trail. Apparently they saw a rattle snake lying across the path. That frightened them out of their wits. L is crazy about reptiles. I think she regretted not continuing the hike with them. C was just glad that she did not have to put up with nightmares of rattle snakes in addition to scorpions. This is not at all funny, but what really took the cake was that there is a outlook called rattle snake point near C and L’s cabin. We found out that there is a rattle snake den under the rocks if one was interested in having a look. The rest of the evening we lazed by the pool where we heard  more people had found bigger scorpions in their rooms. As it became dark we did sky gazing and tried finding different stars. As we were looking we saw a shooting star. That was the most exciting thing in that entire trip. I have never seen a shooting star and for L it was the second time in her life. We even saw what people said was a satellite go across the sky. After that it was back to the cabins to sleep. I went to C and L’s cabin to look for more scorpions and thank goodness there were none in the bed sheets.

But we were a little too early in declaring our thanks. C saw a small one heading towards her bed. L courageously put a plastic disposable plate over it and stomped it to death. L and I went on a victory parade showcasing L braveness to any who would listen to us. L then walked with me to my cabin and we checked for spiders and scorps. Man, none of us had any sleep that night. We kept waking up and checking with flash light for any of these creatures.

Finally it was Sunday, the last day of the retreat. Two sessions were scheduled and then we were free to go home. I was the student chair for the first one. And finally, it got over. C was glad that it was over. L and I hope that this is the last year we have to do that and we would be very happy if we never set foot there.

On a final note water bottles in the cabins are just for show. It is $3.00 for a small bottle and we were questioned if we drank any out of it. Vegetarian food served there was better than meat according to C , who was happy to do the comparison between my veggie food her meat platter.

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