Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011


The year 2011 is about to close, so it is again time for the Christmas letter.

The year began with me starting a new job as an assistant professor at the University of South Alabama. Strangely, the year ended with me still in the position.

The job has been fun but also quite a challenge. I enjoy teaching immensely, but a first-year professor has very little quiet time. I had to prepare two classes in two weeks, and then try to keep up the rest of the semester. With two conferences during the semester, I was drowning by February and was saying "glub, glub, glub" by May. The unspoken truth about being a professor is that your life disappears in work, and you spend the rest of your life trying to reappear. After one year, it is not clear whether I will reappear. But I'm having a lot of fun trying.

I teach physical meteorology, radar meteorology, and severe weather. Exactly none of the classes have gone smoothly, and I still have much to learn about teaching efficiently and effectively. However, the students make it worth it, though they have this uncanny youth to their appearances that I can only comprehend in my quickly fading memory.

I have lived in Alabama before, but Mobile is a whole different beast than Huntsville, except for the color red. I know that genetics has a sense of humor, because I cannot see the color. Makes sense, given my political leaning. But as politically red as this state is, it's more of a "Roll Tide" hue. I've been asked ad nauseum if I'm a Tide or Tiger fan. When my response starts with "boomer", I get the nearly universal response of "who?". Well, after this football season, I guess that makes sense.

I like Mobile. A lot. The food scene is great. Aside from a scary-bad menudo incident at my favorite Mexican restaurant in town recently, I've rediscovered my love of pho and absolute obsession with duck and all things foie gras. Nevertheless, they seem to talk about the seafood here most. To end the year, I will be partaking in a seafood buffet in Biloxi, MS. Thirty dollars, and thirty new pounds. What are New Year's resolutions for, anyway?

It has been a very hard year for me personally. Besides moving to an entirely new place and starting from scratch, my closest college friend died suddenly in October from a pulmonary embolism. Derrick was an inspiration in many ways, but I remember most fondly his storytelling ability. If something that happened to him wasn't interesting enough, he would just make a new one up. He ended up with the nickname "Big Fish", from the movie of the same name. His death was devastating, and it has taken a long time for me to get over it. I suspect I never will.

I have traveled quite a bit this year. For spring break, I spent the weekend in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and had my first bread and breakfast experience. It was wonderful, and the snowy hikes were amazing. My second time there, and it will not be my last.

In May, I returned to Norman for my last graduation. I then went with my friend Somer to Arizona to visit Petrified Forest National Park, Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Grand Canyon National Park, Meteor Crater, Walnut Canyon National Monument, and beautiful Sedona. All were firsts for me -- not sure if any were firsts for Somer. She seemed to enjoy herself, though, which is amazing given she was in a car with me for four days.

In June, while attending a conference, my friend Charlotte and I visited my sister in Denver and friends in Boulder. We also hiked ... a lot, and much of it was in snow. The first hike was to the Chicago Lakes, and I nearly died from altitude sickness on the way back. Maybe it was that very steep snow-covered hill to the Upper Chicago Lake that my compadre wisely avoided. Our next hike was the ill-fated Lake Isabelle or Isntbelle. We're not sure, since we hit an avalanche-prone area just short of the finish line. Charlotte was in shorts with feet of snow on the ground, yet I looked much more out of place. My life story, really. We also visited Mount Evans on the clearest day I've ever seen up there. There were bighorn sheep and mountain goats, which Charlotte promised and I dismissed as not going to happen. My life story, really.

In July, I took the vacation of a lifetime to Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies with Mom in tow. It was a 27-hour drive to Vancouver, but our effort paid off. Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in North America (behind perhaps only Ottawa). Our visits to Stanley Park, Granville Island, and Gastown were particularly memorable, but taking a walk near Canada Place at sunset was probably my favorite city experience ever.

We then trudged along to Banff and Jasper National Parks. We stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast in Banff for two days and a rustic hotel in Jasper for the next two. During the day, we basically hiked. A lot. We went to Sulphur Mountain, Moraine Lake (the most beautiful lake I have ever seen), Lake Louise (a close second; pictured), the Plain of Six Glaciers (tremendous hike), Bow Lake (another stunner), Peyto Lake (life imitating a postcard), Athabasca Glacier (first time I touched a glacier), Athabasca Falls, Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake, Maligne Lake, Path to the Glacier (including Angel Glacier, Cavell Glacier, and Cavell Pond -- all of which were jaw-dropping), and Parker Ridge overlooking the fitting finale of Saskatchewan Glacier. As I said, this was my absolute favorite vacation. This is a must for any outdoors fan.

Over Labor Day, I visited Washington, DC. I had a great time reminiscing my MDL internship days with Valery. I saw Donna and fiance for the first time in a while. I had a great day on the National Mall. Great trip.

In the next year, I plan to go to New Orleans at least three times; Charleston, SC; another Colorado bonanza; Alaska (including Denali and Kenai Fjords); and a Northeast trip (including Montreal and vicinity). More stories and photos to come.

Here's hoping your 2011 was great, and your 2012 will be even better.