Winds of Change

Ever since the Penn undergraduates arrived in Dalbay last week, the winds have been blowing strong. Sometimes this is a good thing. Just two days ago, we were able to break out the kites that a certain benevolent leprechaun donated to the project for our enjoyment. One kite, shaped like a butterfly, is relatively easy to fly and looks really lifelike as it “flaps its wings” in the wind. Three others are beginner stunt kites, allowing us to harness the wind for cool tricks, dives, and loops. One, a more intermediate level stunt kite, suffered a possibly life threatening injury when we beginners tried to take it out for a fly. However, with some impressive ingenuity and a bit of duct tape, Ukaa, a Mongolian undergraduate student, managed to repair what might have been left for dead.

The wind has also brought bad things to camp. Apparently, Siberia, just to the north of us in Dalbay, is suffering some of the worst wildfires on record. The smoke and ash from these distant fires has been blowing south, we assume, obstructing our views of the mountains, providing us with hazy, fog-like mornings, and making one project coordinator’s eyes and nose very, very runny.

Haze from fires in Siberia in 2003 (Photo by Peter Petraitis)


The wind has not changed everything. Usually, the arrival of the American undergraduates brings with it a flurry of activity as they learn plants and start the annual plant census, a large and laborious task. However, with the season and the plants so far behind previous years, the students, now almost masters of plant identification, have simply become extra hands. Today, some assisted with the bi-weekly census of flowers in all of the experimental plots. Others helped to water the plots with an experimental water addition. Yesterday, others counted new seedlings, just breaking out of the ground on the upper slope, a task that occurs once a week. In all actuality, despite the winds, things in Dalbay have stayed relatively steady.

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