Category Archives: science

Taking a walk on the Wild Side: My adventures in radio

I have found myself doing a lot of unexpected things over the years–singing in an a capella group, for example, and moving to England–but one thing I certainly never anticipated was having my own radio show.

My father is a radio journalist, so perhaps I should have seen this coming. When I was younger, I used to spend quite a lot of time at his office, where I would sit in the recording studio and pretend to be on air. I remember being particularly enthralled with the act of erasing old broadcasts from previously used tape cartridges. I also recall learning how to sort through old press releases and decide which ones should be broadcasted for a second day, and which should be tossed. I was even on air a couple of times–once because I won some sort of writing contest and was recorded reading my piece aloud, and another time because my dad had recorded me playing piano so that he could use the clip as “natural sound” in the background of a piece. With that kind of history, I was practically destined to grow up and become a radio personality.

The thing is, pretty much everything about radio broadcasting goes against my natural inclinations. I dislike speaking extemporaneously because, when I do, I say unbelievably stupid things. I’m not funny. I am not very good at interviewing or chatting with people. I can’t juggle too many things at once, so I don’t feel comfortable switching between CDs and microphones or doing fancy things with the sound. Really, the only thing I’ve got going for me is the fact that I can’t stand the idea of avoiding something because it scares me–well, that and the skill of being able to speak at length about things even when I don’t precisely know what I’m talking about.

So how in the world did I end up hosting my own radio show? It was suggested by a colleague at the University of Exeter who knew about my interest in science outreach. He had done some guest spots on some previous science-themed broadcasts at our local station, The Source 96.1 FM, so he knew the people in charge and had an inkling that they might want to host a show devoted to science. Before I could think twice and say no, he’d sent an e-mail to the Powers That Be, and I found myself signed up for a training day.

This is what I found when I arrived at The Source for my introduction to the studio (although this particular photo was taken later–station manager Matthew Rogers wasn’t picnicking outside on that first day). The mobile office units were donated to the station by construction companies at the University of Exeter; they allowed Source to move out of their quarters at the University College Falmouth and exist independently. While they may not look too exciting from the outside, they were a pretty big step up for the radio station; besides, the magic results from what happens within.

This is the main studio, from which the majority of shows are broadcasted; there is also a smaller second studio that is mostly used for pre-recording (on the rare occasions when it is necessary). On the training day, I was one of 4 people who showed up to the station to find out about possibly getting a show. We heard a little bit about Source’s origins and scope, then were quickly ushered into the studio to get our first lesson on how to work the equipment. That was when I realized that thinking about having a radio show is a very different thing from actually having a radio show; staring down a microphone and resting your hands on the soundboard very much help turn a mere concept into a reality.

I tried to drag my feet as much as possible, but after a couple of follow-up training sessions, there was not much more I could learn about operating the soundboard–basically, you play a song by pushing up one switch and pulling down another, then do the reverse in order to go back to talking. Once I had that mastered, I really had no excuses to put off my first show any longer.

To make things easy on myself, I decided that the theme of my first broadcast would be the topic on which I am (theoretically) most expert: birdsong. Conveniently, I was also in the midst of writing a magazine article on that very same idea, so I was able to use the written piece as a framework for the oral version of the presentation. The one last hurdle I had to clear prior to the first episode was coming up with a name for my show. I toyed with the idea of calling it “Anthrophysis” in honor of my science blog of the same name, but I didn’t want to restrict my scope; “anthrophysis” loosely means “humans” and “nature,” and I anticipated plenty of times when I’d want to talk about the latter without trying to connect it to the former. I’m not sure where my inspiration came from, but I realized that at some point I had started thinking of my show as the “Wild Side,” and that is the name that ultimately stuck.

I was pretty terrified on the day of my first broadcast, to the point where I was physically ill the night before and the entire day of the show. Ditto the next week and the week after that…in fact, things didn’t start getting any easier until my 5th or 6th episode. You would think that after all these years of performing in front of people, it wouldn’t bother me any more, but it still does. It doesn’t matter whether I’m playing an instrument, singing, acting, running a race, giving a lecture, or, now, hosting a radio show; I still feel absolutely miserable. It’s an especially weird reaction to broadcasting because, as far as I can see from my position in the studio, I am completely alone; I’m basically sitting in a room just talking to myself. My mind, however, is aware that there is (potentially) an audience out there, so I still get the nervous adrenaline rush and all the fun side effects that come with it.

One of the things I do to minimize the stress is make my shows as simple as possible. Eventually I may do “fancy” things such as taking calls and interviewing guests, but for now I essentially do a lecture not unlike one I might give to students at the university–only in this case I take occasional breaks to play music. I started off discussing topics for which I already had presentations prepared and/or research compiled, including animal communication, deception in the animal kingdom, and the ecology of urban environments. After that, I had to step out into the great unknown and talk about things that I’d only just researched during the week prior to my show. That was a nerve-wracking transition to make, because I hate saying anything that I am not 100% sure of, and for me, being 100% sure requires doing months and months of reading. Each week, I type out notes that I can use as an intellectual crutch to get me through the broadcast. I don’t read them out like a manuscript, because I’m pretty sure that would bore listeners stiff. I do, however, use them to make sure I discuss things in the right order, say the correct names and dates, and know when to break for songs.

The songs themselves are probably the most fun thing about doing the broadcasts. I have a truly massive music collection, including lots of stuff that I acquired simply because I found it odd or amusing. I now finally have a reason to own all of this music. I prefer to choose songs that refer to the overall theme of each week’s broadcast–for the birdsong week, for instance, I chose songs with “bird” in the title or, where necessary, the name of a particular bird (“dove,” “eagle,” etc.). Occasionally that is difficult to do, and I have to choose songs that express the different topics or themes I discuss throughout the broadcast. That is what I had to do for my show on science history, because, as it turns out, there aren’t lots of songs with “history” in the title.

If there is anything that could be considered my broadcasting kryptonite, it is distracting bird activity outside the studio window. I have had to train myself to ignore all the little house sparrows, dunnocks, wrens, and blackbirds that come and go while I am on air. There was one early episode during which I realized that I’d completely zoned out for about 5 minutes–while talking–because I was watching the birds outside. Another thing I find totally distracting is the sound of my own voice. Frankly, I’m not really sure why I even wear headphones while I’m in the studio, since I have the volume turned down so low that the speakers are basically not transmitting any sound into my ears.

Listeners (again, assuming there are any other than my family) may not be aware of too many obvious differences between my first and most recent shows, but I certainly feel different. Since I first went on air, I have become much more comfortable with the whole broadcasting process, from the rushed turnover between shows to adjusting volume levels while talking to shrugging off the errors I make while speaking. Much of this is thanks to studio manager Jerry Padfield, who has coached me from Day 1. I still have a long way to go, but I am no longer feeling as much pressure to be perfect all the time (if only I could apply this same attitude to the rest of my life!). I have even relaxed enough to start taking a video camera in to record my episodes for later uploading to YouTube.

Of course, the purpose of the show is not to expand my horizons or make me popular or get me a job with the BBC (all of which, however, are fine by me!), but to teach people about science. While I have absolutely no idea whether it is succeeding at that goal, I have my fingers crossed; if only one person learns one thing each week, I have succeeded. I’d also be happy to learn that someone discovered a new musician thanks to the songs I play. (That possibility, incidentally, is one of the things that first attracted my father to radio.) If nothing else, though, I’ve had the chance to meet new people, learn new skills, conquer old fears, and gain a tiny bit of perspective on what my dad has been doing every weekday for the past 30 years. I may not get paid the big bucks for hosting “Wild Side” (or, in fact, any bucks at all), but those achievements are reward enough.

If you want to hear “Wild Side,” tune in to Cornwall’s The Source 96.1 FM from 1-2 PM GMT every Wednesday (over the airwaves or online). Podcasting is coming soon, either via The Source or my own website. You can also visit the latter to access YouTube links to episodes 8 (“A Brief History of Science”) and 9 (“The Science of Bird Migration”).

The Ancestor’s Trail

In 2004, Richard Dawkins wrote a book titled The Ancestor’s Tale, A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. Inspired by The Canterbury Tales, the book is arranged as a literary pilgrimage, allowing modern humans to read their way backwards through evolution and meet with their sister groups and ancestors along the way. Each such encounter occurs at what Dawkins refers to as “rendezvous points,” places where species share their last common ancestor. Humans, for example, soon rendezvous with bonobos and chimpanzees, and this trio then works its way backwards to a rendezvous point with gorillas, then orangutans, and then gibbons. The point of this journey–besides allowing the reader to revel in the wealth of diversity present on our planet–is to show how the process of Darwinian evolution could (and, indeed, did) lead to all extant species, as well as those that were once alive but have since gone extinct.

Sometimes doing is more powerful than reading about, which is why two groups (one in Canada and one in the UK) have organized Ancestor’s Trail events during which participants physically re-enact the journey described in Dawkins’ book. Hiking distances are carefully measured out so that each step represents a particular number of years back into the past, and different groups of hikers represent various forms of wildlife, joining the trail at pre-specified, biologically accurate rendezvous points. Such events are affirmations not only of evolution but also one’s belief in the process, and, of course, offer an opportunity to marvel at the existence of all things great and small.

The reason I happen to know all of this is that I recently participated in an Ancestor’s Trail (AT) event being held in the Quantock Hills region of Somerset, UK. This year’s event was the 3rd AT there, and the largest yet; participants included not only the pilgrims themselves but also musicians, conservationists, scientific researchers, authors, artists, and even Richard Dawkins himself:

The event kicked off on a Saturday afternoon with an introduction by its organizer, Chris Jenord, who soon introduced the first two speakers: Peter Exley, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Kevin Cox, chairman of World Land Trust Trading Ltd. Both guests discussed conservation efforts; Exley focused mainly on the RSPB’s mission to save albatrosses, while Cox spoke more broadly about work being done to preserve vital habitat.

Sadly, Sasha and I did not arrive until the coffee break that followed, because, yet again, we were stuck in horrible traffic. We’d left home an hour early, “just in case,” and somehow managed to be two hours late. The only comfort in all this is that our lectures were not until Monday, so at least we weren’t going to be late to our own shows. Luckily, we did at least get there in time to hear from Alex Taylor, a scientist at the Medical Research Council Laboratory in Cambridge who discussed his work on XNA, and Alom Shana, author of the Young Atheists Handbook.

Perhaps more importantly (no offense to any of the other speakers), we arrived well in advance of Dawkins’ keynote speech. I’ve previously bumped into Dawkins at behavior conferences (sometimes literally), and, of course, I’ve read some of his work, but I’d never previously had the chance to hear him talk. He delivered an interesting and sometimes humorous lecture, after which he mingled with the audience and autographed books. Also, he danced:

I have video footage of this, as well, but I’ll hold that back until I need to use it for blackmailing purposes. Dawkins and all the other dancers in the photo are shown moving to the rhythms of Soul Cake, a band that has also participated in previous AT events.

After the concert, Sasha and I retired to our dorm room at Kilve Court for what was undoubtedly one of the worst nights of sleep I’ve ever had. I woke up every time someone else entered/exited the hall, a bedroom, or the bathroom. I also woke up each time Sasha rolled over above me and caused the bed slats to creak ominously; I was convinced that he would come crashing down on top of me at some point. I then nearly had a heart attack at 7 AM (and then again at 7:30 and 8:00) when an alarm went off to wake us up for breakfast. The bell was positioned on the wall directly above Sasha’s head, so I’m sure he had an even ruder awakening than I did.

The particularly frustrating thing was that we were not getting up for breakfast, but instead sleeping in (or trying to, anyway) and going to have brunch at a nearby pub. We chose this plan of action because we did not want to walk the entire Ancestor’s Trail, but instead join up at the “Jellyfish” rendezvous point; while I would have enjoyed participating in the entire pilgrimage, my back would not have shared this attitude.

Once we were both awake, we made our way to the Hood Arms, where we had a nice pot of tea in front of the fireplace. We had arrived at 11:15, but the pub didn’t begin lunch until 12, so we had a bit of time to kill. We browsed the pub’s extensive collection of West Country-themed magazines and explored the cheerful back garden before placing our order and sitting down to our meal.



(A reminder of Laddie, my family’s late Scottish terrier.)


(Dovecote in the Hood Arms’ garden. None of the residents were at home. That was a shame because I would have liked to have seen them; I was told that they are Capuchin doves, which have a cool little ruff around their heads.)

Sasha and I chose the Hood Arms because it was the only pub in town and we didn’t feel like driving elsewhere. As it turns out, it was a great place to eat. I had a delicious leek-and-potato soup and a rocket salad with scallops, while Sasha had a lamb steak, mashed potatoes, and veggies; he followed this with a luscious ginger cake. The waitress was even happy to comply with my strange request of a cup of tea with the tea bag on the side (ordered so that I could drink the herbal tea I’d brought to Kilve Court in the hopes that there would be a communal kettle somewhere).

Once we left the pub, Sasha and I explored the Kilve Court facilities and briefly ran through our lectures to make sure that everything worked smoothly. Then it was time to lace up our hiking boots and get a cab ride over to Bicknoller to begin our jellyfish journey. Much to my weak-stomached dismay, Bicknoller was the sort of town that is accessed via roads so narrow you swear they must actually be someone’s driveway. Americans like myself can’t even begin to conceive of roads this small. Luckily, our taxi driver was not only personable, but also very adept at navigating the twists and turns. She dropped us off in front of Bicknoller’s picturesque church, which was one of the landmarks mentioned in the instructions for following the jellyfish trail and linking up with the rest of the AT pilgrims.

(The church was surrounded by trees, so it was hard to get an all-inclusive shot of the building.)
The trail’s organizers did an excellent job creating specific instructions for navigating towards each of the trail’s rendezvous points; we had downloaded the PDF onto my phone and were using both the text instructions and accompanying photographs to figure out where we were going. Unfortunately, the first 30 minutes of our walk took us directly uphill, since we had to scale the Quantock Hills in order to then walk along their backbone. We made the effort more bearable by periodically stopping to look at wildlife.
(Woods! The sea is great and all, but I still miss woods…)
(A view back down towards Bicknoller.)
(The heather and the gorse were magnificent.)
(In addition to kestrels and peregrines, there were also domestic species such as cows and sheep.)
Sasha and I reached the rendezvous point a bit early, leaving us just enough time to catch our breath, have a snack, take a few photos, and then begin to wonder whether or not we’d actually found the right spot. It didn’t take long before the other pilgrims arrived, however, and we were greeted with a big cheer. Chris informed us that things had been going well, save for a bit of a mix-up with the port-a-potty. It’s probably best for all involved that my bladder wasn’t around for that.
The entire jellyfish leg was approximately 5.5 miles long, which probably involved about a mile up the hill from Bicknoller, 3 miles through the hills, and then another 1-1.5 miles from Kilve down to the beach. We had ample opportunity to take in the purple, heather-covered hills, the estuary off in the distance, and then, finally, the dramatic and rocky shoreline.
(As you can see from the lighting here, the clouds were gathering as we walked.)
Once we reached Kilve, we were met by a local brass band called (I think) Big Noise. They provided the soundtrack for the final leg of our journey from Kilve’s main road to the beach, where we were treated to a lengthier music performance and the appearance of Helena Biggs, a model/dancer/fitness instructor who acts as a canvas for the beautiful and elaborate body art of Victoria Gugenheim. This was Gugenheim’s second display for the AT, and the only one to be exhibited al fresco, under the (cloud-obscured) light of day. Unfortunately, Biggs’ appearance coincided with the beginning of the evening’s steady rain showers, and her entire dance performance had to be conducted in the wind and rain. Brr.
(Tempestuous weather over Kilve Beach.)
(Helena Biggs displays the body art of Victoria Gugenheim. The design included, among other things, DNA and the tree of life suggested by Darwin.)
We then headed back to Kilve Court via the Kilve Cricket Club, where we had cups of tea and warm snacks. I made sure to stop and photograph one of the most fantastic architectural accomplishments I have ever seen:
(A dragon! On the chimney!)
Because Sasha and I joined the pilgrimage relatively late in the day, we missed some of the musical acts that had been distributed along the trail. However, there were several additional performances scheduled for that evening. My favorite was a set by Jonny Berliner, a science singer/songwriter who covers topics as diverse as evolution, physics, and the unfortunate death of Archimedes. His music was both funny and informative, and I promptly bought both of his albums so that I can feature his tunes on my radio show.
(Jonny Berliner, just about to begin a performance of his Christmas power ballad about Michael Faraday.)
Happily, Sasha’s and my second night of sleep was much more restful than the first, and so we arose on Monday morning feeling fairly energetic. This was particularly good news since he and I were scheduled to give the final two lectures of the event. Sasha started the morning with “Unintelligent Design,” and I finished up with “Humans as a Selection Pressure.” At first, it looked as though we’d be speaking to only a handful of people, but the room filled up just before Sasha kicked things off. I noticed a few people nodding off as we talked, but that’s probably to be expected at 10 AM the day after a 13-mile hike; also, it’s not any different from what we see when lecturing in front of students, so neither of us was particularly upset by this.
After our talks, Chris gave some lovely closing comments summarizing the weekend’s events and describing what he saw as the major accomplishments of the gathering. One of these was “friendship,” and, indeed, many participants came up to Sasha and me after our talks in order to initiate friendly and complimentary conversations about our topics; many pilgrims have also made contact via e-mail, Facebook, and Google, emphasizing that the Ancestor’s Trail was an experience with effects lasting well beyond its 3-day duration. 
Chris hopes that the pilgrimage will occur again next year, perhaps growing yet again to include even more people. Those who are interested should keep an eye on the official website in order to find out details on scheduling, funding, and participation.
More of my photos from the event are posted on Flickr.
Videos of my lecture are posted on Youtube (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V).
More discussions of the intersection of humans and nature can be found on my science blog and its accompanying Facebook page.
And, finally, my main professional webpage is here.

ISBE 2012: Lund, Sweden

The biennial conference of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology may not sound, to most ordinary people, like a romantic event, but it is where my husband and I were first introduced (Tours, France, 2006), where we had our first date (Ithaca, New York, 2008), and where we had our belated honeymoon (Perth, Australia, 2010). In other words, it’s a fairly big deal in our little family, and also, of course, in the field of behavioral ecology. Earlier this year, we wasted no time in signing ourselves up to attend ISBE 2012 in Lund, Sweden–a location that, happily, allowed me to finally fulfill my dream of visiting Scandinavia.

Unfortunately, getting to Scandinavia required getting past this: a seemingly endless line of cars. Funnily enough, this is the seemingly endless line of cars that we encountered on a detour we took in order to avoid another seemingly endless line of cars on the main road off the western peninsula of England. All told, our trip ended up being about 8 hours long when it should have been about 6. The only benefit of our meandering was an encounter with one of Britain’s most iconic landmarks:

(Tiny Stonehenge in the distance.)

We’d hoped to reach our destination, the Harwood Guest House, in time to watch Mo Farrah’s bid to win a gold medal in the 5,000-m Olympic run. Tragically, we were still on the road when his race began, but my iPhone saved the day and we were able to see the big event in miniature (our excitement, however, was supersized). Once we finally did arrive at our B&B, we wasted no time turning on the television in order to watch more of the night’s competitions:

Sadly, we did eventually have to leave our room in order to go have dinner. For the second time, we tried and failed to eat at Indochine, an Asian-themed restaurant highly recommended by our hosts. This worked out well for us, since it meant that we ended up having dinner at Dunmow’s China Garden Restaurant.

Having Chinese food in situ seems kind of novel and exciting these days, since this has been the go-to take-out genre for the past 2 decades of my life. Sasha and I had a really excellent meal consisting of pepper shrimp, veggie and tofu stir-fry, and mushroom stir-fry. It was ridiculously affordable, and Sasha and I were well aware that we would look back on this cheap meal with wistful fondness once we got to Sweden.

(…and after.)
The next morning, we headed over to Stansted Airport for the second (and final) time this summer. We browsed through the Olympics store while we waited for our flight, more out of curiosity than anything else. The merchandise was generally too expensive to be tempting, but a part of me still wanted to buy something to commemorate the year that I saw the torch in my very own town. That’s when I saw this:
Given my sudden and peculiar obsession with the rhythmic gymnastics events this year, I just couldn’t say no. Treasure in hand, I reported to the gate to finally head to Sweden.
Once I arrived, a mere 1.5 hours later, I was amazed to discover that Sweden has these:
(7-11s in Sweden. Amazing.)
I also quickly realized that they have terrible taste in architecture and/or exterior decorating: 
(Malmo Airport, from which we took a ~30-minute taxi ride into Lund.)
Our journey into Lund was memorable only because the taxi driver tried to rip us off. The conference paperwork emphasized the need to negotiate taxi prices before getting into the vehicle, and our experience demonstrated why this was a vital tactic. Even though we had already agreed upon a particular price–with not only our driver but also another driver from the same company who was simultaneously taking a car-load of our colleagues to another hotel–the driver suddenly tried to charge us more once we reached our destination. Sadly for him, the driver did not count on Sasha’s haggling skills, honed during a lifetime of living and traveling in third-world countries. Needless to say, we did not pay a penny more than the original quote, and we also did not pay a tip.
We had booked ourselves a room at the Hotel Djingis Khan, which, at the time of our registration, was the cheapest conference-recommended hotel in Lund. Unfortunately, it was also one of the farthest away from the conference facilities; it took about 25 minutes to walk into town. This ultimately had two benefits. First, because we were situated away from the hustle and bustle of the city, our room was exceedingly quiet and restful. Second, the walk into Lund involved a shortcut through the north “kyrkogarden,” or graveyard. That sounds like a dubious benefit, I know, but as the Swedish name suggests, the graveyard really was a “garden,” and it was quite lovely:

 (I have no idea what this building is–a crypt? a chapel?)
I wandered around the graveyard every day and, uniquely for me, even at night–we had to pass through it in order to get home at the end of the evening. I’d never actually been in a cemetery at night, thought it is something I’ve always found appealing in a sort of morbid, horror-movie-loving kind of way. This particular cemetery was far removed from the haunted ones you see in films, because it was incredibly clean and well-tended; as the photo of the gravel patterns shows, there was a sort of Chinese rock garden quality about the place. People come in the evening to light candles and lanterns at some of the plots, so when you walk through in the dark, you can see the lights winking in the distance. It is all very calm and peaceful.
Although I attended both the opening and closing events at the conference, I spent most of the week holed up in my hotel room doing work; such is life. However, I did make time to take my normal daily walk, only in this instance I was doing it in an interesting foreign town, with my camera in hand.
(I can’t believe people live in homes this cute. I want one of these, hollyhocks and all.)
One of the nice things about sightseeing on foot is that you stumble across places you’d never see from a tour bus, or when taxiing from one landmark to the next. This incredibly picturesque neighborhood, for example, was something I just happened to find when taking a short cut back to the town center after sussing out the location of the botanical garden.

Likewise, this cat “graffiti”–which is probably my favorite find of the whole trip–was a pleasant surprise along a new route that I took one day into town.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I avoided the famous sights, such as Lund’s cathedral, or Lund Domkyrka. Actually, it would be pretty hard not to see the cathedral, since it’s right in the center of town and is a pretty obvious feature of the skyline. It is a Lutheran cathedral, and the seat of the Church of Sweden’s Bishop of Lund. Lund’s first cathedral was built in the 11th century, and this more recent version–bits of which date back to the 13th century–may or may not stand in the same place. Its exterior is not as impressive as many that you will see elsewhere in Europe (particularly in Italy, Spain, and France), but it has many lovely features nonetheless. These include a 15th-century astronomical clock, giant organs (I’m not being euphemistic here–I’m referring to an instrument), and a crypt that dates back to the 12th century and has unusual and mysterious carvings on its columns. You’ll also find standard cathedral-y things like ornate choir seating, impressive frescos and mosaics, and giant candelabra:

(Someone’s going to need a loooong match.)
(The 15th-century clock, which still works.)
 (One of the tombs in the crypt, which has remained virtually untouched since the 12th century.)

Another “attraction” that you really can’t miss is Lund University. Consistently ranked among the world’s top 100 institutions of higher learning, LU (as I’m sure the Swedes don’t call it) dates back to 1425, when the Franciscans founded a university next to the cathedral. LU’s buildings were designed and crafted during a variety of different eras, but all manage to exude that stereotypical learned European vibe:

(Why doesn’t my university have a turret?)
For most of our stay in Lund, the weather was absolutely beautiful; the skies were brilliant blue, the clouds were picturesque, the air was warm (sometimes even hot!), and the landscape was dotted with all sorts of wildlife. It was hard to think about spending any unnecessary time indoors, and so I bypassed Lund’s many museums in favor of al fresco attractions such as the Botniska Tradgarden:
(I love it when plants are labeled with little signs so that I don’t have to wonder what in the world I’m looking at; sometimes when I spend too long in botanical gardens, the next time I’m out in nature I get confused when I can’t find any plaques.)
 (Look closely and you will see a baby water rail among the reeds.)
The garden was huge, featuring both indoor and outdoor plantings representative of seemingly every major biome. It was also free, which, thanks to Sweden’s incredibly high prices, was an even better deal than usual.
On our final evening in Lund, we hopped on a bus to Luftkastellet, the venue for the ISBE conference banquet. Because the facility is located along the shoreline looking out over the strait between Sweden and Denmark, I had assumed it was a historical building–like the castle where we banqueted in Italy. I was a little disappointed to discover that it was, in fact, a nearly brand-new building, but I was certainly not disappointed with the view:
The next day, there was not much left to do other than check out of our room, loaf around in the hotel lounge (taking advantage of the free wi-fi that we were not able to detect in our room), and get a taxi ride (from a former professional international football referee!) back to Malmo Airport. I did, however, manage to squeeze in a quick photo op with my faithful pink travel companion:
(Florian, making friends with the gnome in our hotel’s back garden.)
I don’t know whether I will ever again be an ISBE delegate, since my academic career may be winding to a close. Sasha, however, will undoubtedly remain a fixture at the event, and I will tag along when I can. ISBE 2014 will be held in New York City, so my next conference report will be filed from the motherland!