Those who know me know that my being in Vegas for five days is like the proverbial fish out of water. Even if one interacted with me for only one brief moment, and was later interviewed with the question, “do you think that woman you just met would be like a gasping, writhing trout stranded on a gravel bank if she found herself in a Vegas casino?” I’m fairly certain the interviewee would check “Y”.

I’m here for the 15th Annual Hibernation Symposium. I’m here to be awashed in hours of expert scientific study, methodology, research, and speculation. I’m here to meet men in their fifties and sixties and to be introduced as “Brian Barnes’ new grad student.” I’m here to pretend like I know what everyone is talking about while munching on honeydew and cheese/crackers.

But I’m also here to observe the other parts of Vegas, the butts (human and cigarette), the lights (of the Britney Spears slot game and of the distant Strip), the glamour (of the waitresses who, yes, really do wear fishnets and little tiny swimsuit-like onesie suits and mini top hats, and of the elementary-age girls competing in the beauty pageant right outside our conference room doors), and of the ubiquitous advertisements, all perfectly designed to help us believe we’re not enough already.

And you might assume, knowing me, that I will use this space to comment on my feelings on all these observations, but I will not this time. I want to talk about a moment of ordinary joy.

“Joy comes to us in ordinary moments”; I’m sure you’ve heard something like that before. That can be what helps joy feel so sparkling and special, when it comes unexpectedly in a moment quietly embodying humanity.

Yesterday, after the second long day of presentations had ended, I had to go outside. It’s so hot here, and there is nothing to really walk to, and the presentations run from 9 am to 6:30 pm, so I don’t get outside much. But I just needed to, this time. I skipped the last talk of the day and found a manufactured nature trail near the casino that led to a golf course I could just walk onto. I know those little lagomorphs with long ears are officially called “hares” but I can’t help but call them bunnies. All these bunnies were hopping around and lounging on the cool grass. The sun was setting behind Red Rocks. The casino was mercifully in the distance. I took off my hot shoes, laid in the grass, and experienced relaxing into the surprisingly cool greenery while the abating sun still kept me gently warm. I felt my anxieties, my fears, all the ways I had been challenged the past three days, I felt that all dissolve into the grass and dissipate into the cooling evening air. A feeling of great peace spread into me, from earth and sky, and I felt natural gratitude. Not just for that moment, but for the whole Vegas thing. All that had challenged me in Vegas, environmentally, culturally, and academically, had brought me to this ordinary moment.

I walked back to my hotel room and wandered with my roommate Sarah to the poster presentation downstairs. I vulnerably asked questions of these experts, met some undergrad presentors who felt as lost as myself, and finished the night by meeting the last major player from Team Squirrel, a professor at Northern Arizona U named Loren Buck. We talked about real things, a true relief in this place of worshipped artificiality.

Today I will go to the third day of talks with less tension and more acceptance of my naïveté. I don’t really care if I network or not. That will come later, when I have more to contribute. I will continue to absorb and use this to prepare for the years of academia ahead of me. I miss Fairbanks very, very much.

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