It all started in the spring semester of 2008. (Spring semester is a huge misnomer; it is mostly winter in Ithaca. That is at least the case until finals happen.) I was a wee little sophomore starting to blossom academically and recover from the naive mistakes of freshman year. I was exploring the wonderful course offerings at Cornell and eagerly found myself taking Chemical Ecology. The field of chemical ecology has a rich history at Cornell, and the class was taught by a stellar lineup of active researchers. Assuming not everyone knows what chemical ecology is, chemical ecology basically studies how naturally occurring chemicals govern ecological interactions. A classical example is how monarchs eat milkweed, sequester chemicals from the milkweed, and then become unattractive prey to birds. Also…Pheromones…you got it…chemical ecology. This course explored a world of chemically mediated interactions that was unknown to me, and it was awesome.
Dr. Anurag Agrawal was heading the course (He was/is a fantastic lecturer.). Within a month, I became a member of the Agrawal Lab. Working in the Agrawal Lab has been the single most meaningful part of my Cornell academic career. It is now three years later…I have spent the last three summers in Ithaca with the Agrawal Lab. I have completed an honors thesis. I have graduated Cornell. And now…this is my last week working for the lab. I have a hard time letting go of good things, and this is one of them.
As for now, tomorrow is DESTRUCTION DAY! My research has been focused on a single project that was the subject of my honors thesis. Without getting into all those specifics, the physical project is a garden plot of common milkweed plants. There are 17 rows of 33 plants, which are planted in 1 gallon pots that are sunk into the ground. I have been with these plants from beginning to finish. I put seeds in Petri dishes so that they would germinate. I transplanted them into plug trays. I planted them in the field. I have spent countless hours collecting data and maintaining the site. I will see to the very end of this site tomorrow as I remove the landscaping fabric, tags, and pull the pots from the ground. The plants will be no more. The project will come to an end (aside from writing the paper).
Outside of this being some sort of closure to my time at Cornell and in Ithaca, reminding that I have graduated and it is time to move on, I can’t do anything but stop and reflect. I spent a considerable amount of my free time in the garden taking pictures. If there is a single geographical place where I have grown the most as a photographer up until now, it is my field site on Freese Road. (It is also why I have an abundance of milkweed and milkweed insect pictures in my portfolio/photostream.) So in lieu of the intersection between growing as a photographer and researcher, I spent one last day at my field site before the finale. It was a day like any other summer day. I collected data (this time samples for DNA). It was hot out. I managed to get a sunburn that will leave weird tan lines. I did not drink enough water. My hands were dirty and my hair was in my face. And it was all followed with a good old picture taking session. That is the way it ought to be. There was an abundance of red milkweed beetles and so I took an abundance of red milkweed beetle pictures…these pictures are the result…
Venation just never gets too old for me. Especially not on charismatic milkweed.
My milkweed plant from Urbana, IL is taller than me. These guys were planted in June 2008.
Thanks for reading or more letting me pour my heart out.