New Zealand

Last Day in America Until…?

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Today was my last (full) day in America for a while. My family and I (including my sister, who drove up last night), went up to Reecer Creek Canyon area in the mountains to see the wildflowers and butterflies.

It was beautiful up there, and I’ll let some of the photos speak more than my descriptions.

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This friendly German Pointer, Lexi, found us, and was pointing at every chipmunk and bird she heard! We didn’t see her owners anywhere, and after waiting a while we tried calling the number on her tag. No answer, and finally we had to go, thinking there was a GPS tag on her second collar. Not long after we got a call back saying they found her, which we were very happy about, especially as we were told it wasn’t a GPS tracker but a shock collar. 😛

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There was a fire in the area last year, and we saw vast stretches of charred trees. However, the grasses and wildflowers were cheerily poking up amidst the devastation, happy for the rejuvenated soil.

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This is Table Mountain (aptly named!), where there is usually a regional star party every August, about the time of the Perseid meteor shower. This year they decided not to have it though, due to some concerns about fire damage in the area and not wanting to disturb the fresh growth.

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Mountain Arnica, bright cheery yellow flowers defying a black and white world.

For the complete album from the day, check out my Flickr Reecer Creek set.

These last few days have been about as busy as the first few, finishing packing and repacking, getting all my affairs in order, and visiting. Last night we had some family friends (including former college mentors) over for a wonderful dinner, and I’m so glad they were able to come as it was great to spend some time with them again.

In the morning I’ll be off to New Zealand. My family will take me to the Yakima airport, where I’ll be glad to drop off my THREE checked bags, and ’twill be a very bittersweet parting.

But after the tears dry, the excitement of travel will kick in again, and I’ll hope to temper my excitement long enough to get some sleep on the long journey. Hopefully I’ll be able to update from the airports.

So long for now, the much anticipated adventure to the Southern Hemisphere is about to begin!!

Categories: New Zealand, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

Packing, Visiting/Sleeping, and More Packing

Countdown

Less than NINE days left until I fly off for the long awaited move to New Zealand!! Single digits now, another big countdown.

On Sunday this week my sister and I met up with our parents at Mount Rainier, and the day was stunning. I just drunk in all the thick forests, snow-covered mountains, and meadows abloom with wildflowers. We went on a short walk of about a mile to a waterfall, but didn’t do too much as I was still feeling a little sick (got a sore throat as soon as I stepped foot on US soil, that developed into a bit of a cold but am pretty much back to normal now).

We did stop at a lot of viewpoints and even saw a big old black bear down in a valley! I intended to go through my photos the day after, but have kept busy this week and hope to get to them this weekend so I can share. It was a great time in the mountains, but at the end my sister went home and I left with my parents, to visit with them and get ready for the movers.

That’s what this week has mostly been taken up with; busy, busy, busy preparing for New Zealand. I’ve just about finished going through all my old boxes in storage here from when I moved to Kwajalein, and we finally got the moving date scheduled today, for a week after I leave. I’m sad it couldn’t be any sooner in spite of our hurry to get the estimates once my Kwaj pack out arrived, but happy my parents will be able to take care of it on this end.

I also had time recently for a nice walk around my old alma mater, Central Washington University, where I got my BA in Geography 7 (!) years ago. The day after my graduation ceremony, I hopped in my new car and drove to Oklahoma, as I was that excited to go start my new life there as a meteorology grad student. Ah, the memories. Two of my best friends growing up came to see me, and we enjoyed checking out old haunts and seeing how things had changed around campus.

Now for more visiting and the final last little bit of prep. Got a couple more books about New Zealand that make me even more excited, though I hope this last week with family goes slowly and wonderfully. My Dad says I should just go there instead of reading so much about it…I told him I think I just will. 🙂

Categories: New Zealand, Ramblings, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

Under the Sea

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Instead of writing about individual scuba dives, some of which I have already done on my Kwajalein blog, I’d like to share a bit about the experience as a whole, where I have been, and where I hope to go in the near future.

I have always loved the ocean. I grew up in Washington State, and spent a lot of time in the mountains and a little bit of time on the coast. If my family had to decide between mountains and ocean, my Mom and I would always say ocean, while my sister and Dad would always say mountains.

I love looking across the ocean and thinking about what and who is on the other side, and what all is under the water. Now that I have lived on a tiny island surrounded by nothing but water for two years, I yearn for the mountains, so am that much more excited that I can have the best of both worlds in New Zealand.

At any rate, coming to Kwajalein I figured I would finally take the plunge and learn how to scuba dive.

My second day of diving; photo taken by my instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

My second day of diving; photo taken by my instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

Within two months of my move, I was certified as an open water diver, which meant that I could dive to 60 feet.

On my first dive, I fell in love.

Kwajalein’s waters are warm, clear, full of marine life and wrecks, and not full of people (actually I liked that about diving; you can hang out with people without having to talk with them). It truly feels like swimming in a giant tropical aquarium, and it’s right in my backyard.

I love a friendly octopus

I love a friendly octopus!

To tell the truth though, it took me a couple of extra lessons in the pool before I passed that portion of the scuba class and was able to go on the first dives. I have long enjoyed swimming, but my biggest fear has always been drowning, and I had a hard time relaxing that first time breathing under water.

I then remembered a memory I had long suppressed; when I was about 5 years old or so, I jumped off a diving board in a public pool near Seattle, and lost my orientation. I remember swimming down instead of up, and then I blacked out. When I came to, a friend of the family was leaning over me, probably assessing whether or not he needed to perform CPR. I guessed that’s probably where my long-standing fear of drowning came from.

I’m generally one to face my fears head on. I was terrified of my first tornado, so I decided to go storm chasing. I was terrified of drowning, and decided to scuba dive as soon as I had the opportunity. I see a cliff, I want to walk to the edge and look down. Okay, not always, but sometimes I feel that urge, but know I’m only invincible in my dreams.

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Taken by my dive instructor, Doug Hepler. Used with permission.

I really don’t say this to boast, though, but more for the benefit of those who are scared to go diving. If I can do it, you can do it.

A few months after I completed my initial training, I completed the advanced diver class, and was certified to dive to the recreational dive limit of 130 feet. I also took Nitrox training, which means I can dive with a higher blend of oxygen, allowing me to stay in the water longer on some deep dives, with lower risk of getting decompression sickness (DCS, aka the bends).

Since I love photography, it was only natural that I should want to take my camera underwater. After I began with just a relatively cheap point-and-shoot waterproof camera, I decided to go all out and upgrade my DSLR to a Canon 7D and purchase a full underwater system for it.

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Yes, it’s heavy, and a bit unwieldy, but underwater it’s only slightly negatively buoyant and works like a dream (most of the time). I’ve been told I look like a submarine on night dives, with my two strobe lights on and my wide angle 8-inch-diameter dome port.

While it was quite expensive, I have not once regretted spending the money. I have only to improve my photography skills, as the equipment is top notch and I expect to use it for years to come.

Underwater photography has given me more of a purpose and happiness while diving and snorkeling. While I love to just quietly observe marine life, the most dull dive can usually be made interesting if I have my camera with me, as I can always see something from a different perspective.

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Clownfish are my favorite fish to see and photograph!

I have enjoyed about 100 dives around Kwajalein Atoll. I could have had many more, but did start to experience a bit of burnout earlier this year as I had already been to many of the sites so many times, and wanted something fresh. In spite of what I just said about my camera making a difference, I just needed a bit of a break to do other things (such as spearfishing in the tide pools for lobsters and crabs at night–quite fun!), and felt pretty happy about some of my photos from many of the sites.

I have dove from Kwajalein to Roi-Namur, and so far my only trip outside of the Marshall Islands to dive was to go to Kona, Hawaii, to see manta rays (my blog post from that dive). I have seen manta rays here at Kwajalein, but Kona is one of the famous spots for large groups of them.

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I had never seen such beautiful creatures, and it remains my favorite dive.

Aside from the marine life, Kwajalein Atoll has many WWII wrecks. I already wrote about the planes near Roi-Namur recently. One of the best wreck dives near Kwajalein is the Prinz Eugen, a German WWII battleship which you can learn more about on this Wikipedia link.

Torpedoes on the Prinz Eugen

Torpedoes on the Prinz Eugen

There are so many highlights photos I could post; so many of my favorites. So instead of bogging you down too much here, I hope you will go to my Flickr collection of dive photos.

Clown Triggerfish

Clown Triggerfish

As to where I hope to go diving in the near future, New Zealand has lots of great diving, so I’ve heard. I’m just going to need to get a much thicker wet suit or learn how to use a dry suit, as the waters are just a bit colder there!

There are lots of interesting sites for marine life, including probably the most famous, Poor Knights, off the northern peninsula of the North Island. There are also opportunities to go diving in and around an active volcano, and to see some wrecks such as the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace ship blown up by the French in 1985.

Speaking of facing fears….they also have Great White Shark cage diving off of Stewart Island, just south of the South Island. I think I’m going to have to do that at some point soon!

Categories: Adventure Sports, Hawaii, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Roi-Namur, Scuba Diving and Snorkeling, United States | 2 Comments

Why Move Overseas?

Kwajalein Harbor

Kwajalein Harbor, RMI

Why did I decide to pack up and overturn my life by moving to another country for an indefinite period of time? Or perhaps more to the point, as I already have lived overseas for the last two years, why did I decide to remain overseas and now move to a country where I actually have to have a visa and will no longer be paid in US dollars?

I have a number of reasons, both personal and professional, but these are among the top.

Adventure

Clownfish and Anemone, Kwajalein

Clownfish and Anemone, Kwajalein

I love to travel. I started collecting postage stamps when I was about 5 or 6 years old, as I like to dream of all the places the stamps have been and their history. While there is so much more of the US that I want to see, there is even more of the world I want to see as I have the opportunity, and there are some places that I may have a better chance of exploring and learning about sooner if I live somewhere else like New Zealand (e.g., NZ itself of course, and Australia being the most obvious first choices…cheaper flights and more vacation time means I’ll be able to see and learn more than if I was just there for a couple weeks’ visit).

I will also have the opportunity to learn some new things, like here in the Marshall Islands I learned to scuba dive, and went sailing and deep sea fishing for the first time. Not that I couldn’t do any of that in the US of course, but depending on where you live, some activities may be more accessible and economical. In New Zealand, maybe I will learn to ski or snowboard, further advance my scuba certifications, go bungee jumping, etc.

Challenge

One of the greatest challenges a forecaster may face is predicting winter weather, especially when and how much it will snow. Mt St Helens, Washington

Mt. St. Helens, Washington, USA. One of the greatest challenges a forecaster may face is predicting winter weather, especially when and how much it will snow.

Kwajalein has certainly challenged me in many ways, but now I need some greater challenges in my career and perhaps in my life. Moving to the Southern Hemisphere where cold fronts come from the south, winter in the middle of the year, and forecasters report temperature in Celsius and winds in kph, may not take too long to get used to (I remember it feeling weird at first having Kwajalein’s showers come from the east, and now I think nothing of it when in the tropics). However, New Zealand weather will give me plenty of forecasting challenges that I expect will keep me happy and humble. And let’s not even start on what it will be like getting used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road….

Opportunity

Pacific Ocean, Kwajalein. Opportunities to experience new things exist everywhere, but if I'd never taken a chance and accepted a position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I might never have seen the bluest blues of the tropical seas or have tasted fresh coconut straight from the palm tree.

Pacific Ocean, Kwajalein. Opportunities to experience new things exist everywhere. In my case, I’m glad I took a chance and accepted a position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, allowing me to see dolphins ride next to our little boat in the bluest blues of the tropical seas and to taste fresh coconut straight from the palm tree. I’m excited to see what’s next in New Zealand.

The global economy is a mess, and the US has been struggling with producing jobs; even for those with years of experience, there is often a lot of competition. I had hoped that things would improve by the time I left Kwajalein, but the job market still looks pretty bleak, especially now with the National Weather Service hiring freeze in effect, in an effort to reduce furloughs. As much as I love my country, I wasn’t willing to sit around for perhaps some time for the right job to come my way, when I could be happily living in another beautiful mountainous rainy/snowy country (in some ways reminiscent of where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest) with some similarities to the UK (I love that country) and a good job.

After the high turnover of Kwajalein (always seem to be meeting new folks and saying goodbye to others), I knew for a while that wherever I ended up next, I wanted it to be somewhere I liked well enough to settle there for some years. I couldn’t be happier with the idea of settling in New Zealand. My camera is certainly going to get a work out, and a new lens or two soon as well!

Categories: Kwajalein, Living Abroad, Marshall Islands, New Zealand | Leave a comment

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