Ready, Aim, Fire!

As every university student knows, the week before a much anticipated holiday break tests one’s will and fortitude like nary another temptation can, and this pre-Thanksgiving week was no exception. Papers, quizzes, homework, and day dreams of homemade sweet potato pie bombarded the hardy crew of UNC OBXFS like cannon fire from the pirate ships of yore, threatening to sink our handsome lot. And a powerful nor’easter blew us off course from our planned field trip to Ocracoke Island, leaving us adrift on a sea of capstone work sessions for days. Yet these tribulations were nothing compared to what the syllabus map claimed to lie ahead; a confrontation with the Dread Pirate CAB (community advisory board) to present our progress on our capstone research! The Dread Pirate CAB, who in truth is neither dreadful nor a pirate but rather a wonderful assemblage of community members dedicated to supporting us in the progress of our research, was certainly no stranger to the OBXFS crew. Indeed, we had engaged them previously in the beginning stages of our research when our guns (data) were few and our ship (research project) was fresh and ready for battle (healthy exchange of constructive criticism and advice). Having come out of the first scuffle (meeting) largely unscathed, we imagined that we would be reasonably well prepared for another, higher stakes ones. To prepare us, our fearless leaders Capt. Lindsay and Adm. Gen. Linda instructed us to ready our cannons, pitch the hull, and batten down the hatches for a mock fight with just the two of them the Friday before the true battle. Masts high and the wind to our backs, we sailed into Friday with that eerie calm that oft befalls sailors who haven’t checked their maps and compasses twice, one some might call a false sense of security. Come Friday, we took our positions only to find that, alas, we had badly overestimated our seamanship, as well as sailed in the wrong direction.

What followed was rough me laddies. Having not properly understood our dear captains’ directions, our noble vessel started to take on water, run aground on the sands of our own miscomprehension and poor planning. Yet the crew of OBXFS is a resourceful and resilient bunch, and given a ceasefire of half an hour, we had patched our holes, redirected course, and assembled a more coherent defense of our precious capstone research. We were well on our way towards being prepared to meet the Dread Pirate CAB.

. . .

After a tireless weekend of research, weeping, editing, gnashing of teeth, and practice presenting, we finally felt ready to stand before the Dread Pirate CAB at sundown on Monday. The thirteen of us took our positions: ecology to engage first on the leeward bow, followed by human dimensions on the starboard. With our Power Point 30 slides strong, we launched into our attack; ready, aim, FIRE! The articulate sounds of our introduction boomed across the room as we explained the hydrological cycle on barrier islands and how this system interacts with septic. Our mighty bar graphs stood tall with compiled processed data, our glorious tables bristled with calculation and scientific erudition! We were flying high and sailing tall through our historic data until, BOOM! The first return fire (insightful question) of the Dread Pirate CAB crew! At first they came in slow and steady, then quickly became a volley of cannon fire (very helpful advice, critiques, and questions). The OBXFS crew stood, halted in our tracks as our noble vessel once again began to take on water. We looked around, at one another, at the Dread Pirate CAB and thought, for just a moment; “Is this it? Have we failed? What is to become of us?” Yet such thoughts tarried only a moment, and soon the crew was back in action, returning the volley (insightful questions) with a mix of light artillery (spontaneous yet informed answers) and cannon fire of our own (pre-made power point slides). Eventually, we pressed on through the battle (meeting) and were able to exhaust our ammunition (finished our power point presentation), waiting with bated breath the colors to be raised by our worthy opponent. Despite some scratches to the hull and holes in the mast, the Dread Pirate CAB did raise their colors, and they were flying for the crew of OBXFS! While we certainly have more work to do before facing our final battle at the end of the semester against the CRaKiNH (Community Research and Knowledge in Nags Head) presentation in which we formally present our research to the public, this battle (presentation) served to both highlight areas of our research we can improve upon, as well as gave us confidence as researchers and public speakers. But perhaps more importantly, it showed the hard work and talent the OBXFS crew has put into this project, giving evidence to their intelligence and compassion for the humans and natural world that must coexist on this thin spit of sand in the Atlantic. I couldn’t be prouder of my hardy OBXFS crew, and I sure will miss them over Thanksgiving break! Also, below are some pictures of the boiled bivalve spoils of our successful presentation!