The Four F’s: Fall, Fish, Follensby, and French

Summer’s sweat-inducing, humid days have surrendered to the crisp air of autumn. Fall has commenced and my graduate study at McGill University is in full swing.

My master thesis at McGill University involves creating a recreational lake trout management model for a landlocked lake in New York State Adirondack Park. If spending time in the Adirondacks is the butter to Sarah’s hagelslag, then working at Follensby Pond is certainly the chocolate sprinkles! Not sure what hagelslag is? Check out the blog of my friend and fellow graduate student Sarah Bedolfe who is studying in the Netherlands at the University of Groningen.

During the summer of 1858, Follensby Pond became a temporary retreat for intellectuals seeking to reconnect with nature, including poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowell. The writings, poems, and paintings originating from the expedition contributed to shifting mid-19th century notions of nature, as beauty, inspiration, and an escape from urbanization. While I am anxiously awaiting field work for a project with The Nature Conservancy at Follensby Pond, the mornings will be cold, wet, and physically demanding. I am already deciding how to best fit my ski parka under my mustard yellow rubber outerwear, in which I bear a striking resemblance to the guy on fish stick boxes.

Life on campus is demanding but quiet compared to exciting days of field work. I am currently investigating the parameters I need to build an age-structured population model and learning how to determine the age of lake trout from otoliths. Otoliths are essentially fish ear bones; scientists can age fish by counting otolith rings which vary by season.

Aging otoliths is a delicate art form which requires practice and precision. To practice, I ordered five salmon heads in downtown Montreal. When I arrived to pick up my salmon heads, I was told that they were accidentally given to another female McGill University student the day before requesting the same order. Seriously, what are the chances of that? The fish market sent me several blocks away to their competitor to fulfill my order. I left the market with an enormous, heavy bag of ten Atlantic salmon heads and ice. My celebration of procuring salmon heads was cut short by the daunting hour and a half combination bus/metro ride back to campus… with a bag of fish heads on my lap. Luckily the fish was both fresh and tightly bagged, so the odor did not offend the other passengers. Sarah may enjoy abandoning her car for a bicycle in Groningen, but she is clearly missing the joy of hauling fish carcasses in her spare time.

Photo by Arlette, via Flickr, Creative Commons License

On Tuesday nights I take a beginner French class at the local CEGEP (Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel). My French teacher is a charmingly eccentric Italian man who speaks nine different languages and entertains the class with magic tricks. Encouraged by my progress in class, I recently began the horrifying process of trying to speak in French at the local farmer’s market. I now envy Sarah’s fluency in Dutch. My initial attempts have garnered two responses: a stream of unwavering, unidentifiable French syllables or an English reply to my French inquiry. For the former, the blank, confused expression on my face eventually leads the person speaking to ask “Parlez vous Anglais?” As for the latter, I assume my butchered French accent screams “Warning: Anglophone!” to anyone within hearing range.

October field work is rapidly approaching and I cannot wait to spend the next few weeks catching fish with the ghost of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Bon voyage mes amis!

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