The Last Leg of Cayman

(featured photo: credits to David Polashenski)

 

Our second-to-last day was the day on which Prince Edward was coming to visit the station. All the staff had been hurrying about for days now, very stressed out with this big event in the mix.  We Americans didn’t really get the fuss about royalty, but I could see the importance of having your primary donor coming to visit. He was clocked to come by at 1:00pm, but his security and other posse members started rolling in around 10am. You could smell the perfume from a half-mile away. It was quite odd to be sitting there in the now-spotless classroom, minding ourselves and doing our work, while “important” British people would peer in to the double doors at us. You might as well have put a glass panel in the doorway by the way they treated us.

Finally, his Highness himself, and his wife (Duchess something) came by the classroom- followed by 20 or so others, several holding nice video cameras. He was somewhat modestly dressed, just khakis and a polo, which I found surprising. Perri and Tara had volunteered to be the spokeswomen for the group, and they gave a brief overview of what we were doing, including some mention of our projects and the Creature Features. The Prince had a few reasonable questions for us, which Jalen answered. Every time the Prince said something that appeared to have some remote intention of “humour” the whole room busted out laughing in response. At least I got to sneak in, as an answer to one of his questions, that “I love reptiles.” Now British royalty knows I dig herps. Word.

Here’s a link to a video CCMI made overviewing his visit, featuring a few shots of us too:

 

Our last couple of days were jam-packed with finishing up our final drafts, though Celia said we were not scrambling as much as most groups she’d seen. So as our final day was upon us, there was still some time to do things other than work. That morning, the group decided to pay a brief visit to the island’s museum. I stayed behind to work on things in preparation for our last night together, but it seemed like a good time.

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And so it was. Our last night of FSP. At first, it felt a little anticlimactic, because we all were still drowned with the usual workload. But there was a lot to be remembered.

For weeks, I had been pushing for there to be a presentation put on by us at Southern Cross, much as Celia did the first week here. So, we were slotted to give one during this last Monday. Robbie, Yasmeen, and I were picked to present, and we decided to break the presentation down into three parts, one for each of us. Robbie overviewed what this “FSP” was, what we did on it, how it differed from a campus setting. I presented one project as an example of what we do: we chose the flamingo tongue project. And Yasmeen wrapped it up with a talk on why learning about marine ecology is important at the undergrad level, and how exposure like this is what ultimately contributes to conservation. It was all very well put together, and the surprisingly large audience (50+?) enjoyed it. After answering a few questions, and receiving a few congratulations from the crowd, we all headed over to the Hungry Iguana for our last supper. While dining on some delicious pizza (and getting our first taste of lionfish!), we gave our thank-you cards to Loel, Peter, and Greg. Greg had something special coming his way: Celia, Beth and I promised to send him a case of Heady Topper when we were back in the Good ‘Ol Land, so that he could isolate the yeast and try brewing it himself.  What a dude.

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The walls of the CCMI dining porch are covered with driftwood arts projects done by college groups that have stayed at the station — many of which were previous FSP groups. Helena showed them all up with a beautifully carved and painted masterpiece, featuring all of our Cayman spirit animals.

 

After dinner, though all still swamped with writing our final drafts, we took a collective break to have our last celebration. Jalen had been slaving for the past couple of days for his baked presents to Celia and the TA’s, buying ingredients at the store, sneaking into the kitchen unnoticed, and making delicious things: a monkeybread cake, Beth’s favorite, smoothies just as Christine liked them, and a layered chocolate-brownie cake, better than even the Lou’s cakes Celia relishes so much. As we ate, I put on the nostalgic slideshow that I had been working on for a couple of days. Again, can’t paste videos here, but here’s a link to my dropbox to check it out:

 

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Teary-eyed, and already missing each other, we finished up our final drafts and submitted our very last papers to the FSP computer. Wow. All of the hundreds of hours of work we’d put in, thinking up projects, collecting data, running stats, and writing, writing, writing, it was all over. Even though none of us had any desire to go through that process again just yet, it was pretty sad to feel that we had nothing left to do for FSP. That’s it.  We’re done.

Some went to bed right away, exhausted from two long months of science. Helena, Perri, David, and I decided to take one last moonlit dip in the lagoon. As the ocean lapped slowly at us, we gazed up at the endless stars, and I thought aloud that it might be a while before we saw a night sky as beautiful as this again. Each moment we had now felt truly sentimental.

After returning to shore, and a quick shower, Perri and I joined Jalen and Beth for our third Tarantino film — Django. But not before I streaked the room throwing candy and shouting, “Happy finals!” C’mon, I had to.

The night ended slowly, as the remaining few awake slowly trickled down. We thought back on all the places we’d been, the things we’d done, what we’ve learned. Many spectacular times, many stressful times, many joyous times, many somber times, many exciting times, many relaxing times. A very bittersweet goodbye to FSP. For the last couple of us awake, it ended just as the first streaks of dawn arose. And with that new sun came the day for us to return home.

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