15 posts

Do I know what it means to miss New Orleans? A Reflection

First of all, I’d like to start off by recapping some awesome moments from our NOLA symposium. These moments include Don and Dan signing my Don and Dan!

The legend!

Im his number 1 fan!


I’m also his number 1 fan!

And lets not forget the picture I painted of Sean wrestling an Alligator! I got the whole crew to sign it. I think Sean liked it!

(We had to take this picture 7 times)

It was a fun night filled with hilarious memories. I think the sound of Kevin (our photographer) laughing at the ridiculousness of my field how-to video made the whole event for me. Good food and good people all around! In case anyones interested, here the exact video:

But besides the amazing symposium and get together, I’d like to talk about my feelings towards our overall trip. I’ll begin by saying I went in with very high expectations. As most ESRM students grow through the program, one of the many things they learn is that the NOLA trip that goes out every year is one of the most amazing, life changing experiences. It is told time and time again that going out to meet the locals, performing service learning, and engaging in the New Orleans culture is an unforgettable time. It is also told that this trip is wild, full of hard work, and full of late night rewards. I was excited going in, as I’m sure was everybody else.

My initial thought upon entering the class was “holy crap, this is a lot of females!” We had 11 girls and 1 guy in our crew. I thought this would make for a hectic experience, but honestly I’m so happy that thought has been debunked.

It’s weird really. When you’re there in Louisiana, everything is going so fast. You’re meeting so many people every day, doing so many things. If you’re not working, you’re out and about. If you’re back at the house, you’re entering data or blogging. If you’re not asleep, you’re exploring bits of the night time as much as you can. And if you’re not doing any of those things, you’re probably squeezing in a 5 minute shower!

Every day is a different kind of crazy. Some days everyone is having the time of their life. But most days, people are tired and cranky. We’re all covered in sweat, mud, and pollen. We’re constantly changing gears. Its an emotional roller coaster. You’re so busy getting caught up in the sights and the places, constantly trying to take pictures and take in the experience. I know for myself, I was trying so hard to feel that connection with the people we were helping. It was there, and it resonated deep within me. When life is moving so fast, there isn’t really time to realize who you’re with and the things that are happening.

The only time I realized this was when we all spent the night with Katie from Woodlands Conservancy, making dinner and enjoying ourselves at her beautiful house. It was the only place we went to with a homestyle setting, where we were technically “out”. I’ve never laughed so hard, or conversed as long as I did in her living room, with anybody. All of us were just sitting around and bonding. It was the only night where all of us were in one place (not half in the ministry house, half at jazz clubs) having a good time. That night was really beautiful. And more-so, it made me realize the amazing people I was with on this trip. I loved all of the girls around me (Hayden too!). I loved and respected our amazing professors for taking us out and working so hard to get us here. I loved and respected Katie and her Husband, for letting us into their home and letting us work in the woodlands. I felt like all of us in that house were a huge happy family.

And that’s what I took away from this trip. Not just the places we went to, and the people we met. But more the relationships I made with my peers. The same people who might one day go back with me and know what it’s like to miss New Orleans. The same people who connected with the locals, the volunteers with me. It was truly such an important experience. And I also found out a lot about myself. I found out that I’m vastly interested in the history of New Orleans, and the geologic changes that have happened to shape the Louisianan coast. Every museum we went to, I’ve caught myself just lingering in the pre-colonial section, and following it all the way through to the late 1800s. The geomorphologic changes pre and post human colonization is amazing. And I would love to study more about how it continues to change in the future!

This was a place that I thought I would never visit growing up, and now it’s one of the most near and dear things to my heart. I want to say a special thank you to all of the girls (and guy) who came along on the trip, but more so to Sean Anderson, Donald Rodriguez, Dan Wakelee, Tom Huggins, Jon Lambrinos, and the IRA for making this trip possible every single year. I love you all!

Preparing for our New Orleans Celebration!

For our New Orleans + other IRA funded trip symposium, Daniella and I took it upon ourselves to make our featured meal: Jambalaya! We of course have never cooked for 100 people before, so it was a trip buying all the quantities and preparing the course. I just told her to buy 8 of every ingredient and we would get to town!

The station!

Our secret weapons: Mixture of spicy and normal cajun flavoring. We had to go through the whole bottle of hot sauce to get the same effect we had in NOLA!

We made two platters, normal and vegetarian. Just like in New Orleans, we winged the recipe again. I was going off of memory and Daniella was doing the same. The only ingredient we left out was the jumbo shrimp from Lake Pontchartrain, (Surprisingly hard to find in California! /joke). Because my tiny kitchen only had 3 average sized pots, we had to make 7 batches for each the meat and veggie platters. It was a lot of cooking, and my whole house was starting to smell Cajun!

The third batch

Master Chefettes! (and onion eye protection on my head)

By the end of the night we were close to winding up. All it took was chopping up some additional parsley bunches and making extra meat in case we only had the vegetarian platter left. We made too much meat, and rewarded ourselves by snacking on a few pieces!

Our dinner reward for cooking for 4 hours straight. Worth it

The end result was beautiful, tasty jambalaya! Everyone finished the platters the next day!

Don and Dan’s Adventures in NOLA

I’m sure many of you were wondering where Don and Dan were this whole time. Here is a recap of our adventures together throughout the trip!

Don buckled in and ready to go to LAX.

Don and Dan at the Open Air Levee Museum!

Smirking at the fishing banner… courtesy of Sean’s request

Don and I identifying Louisiana natives on our first Woodlands walk!


The weather sure is nice at the Open Levee Air Museum!

Admiring the green hues together

Hes behind me, isnt he?

Someone got a little too carried away in the tree identification….

Cooking up some Jambalaya for the team!

Dan and Don can’t wait for their 5 course meals at the cooking school!

Everyone having a great time now that we’re full

Don solo enjoying the set while John Cleary is taking a water break at Chickie Wah Wah!

Last night in NOLA seeing Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes with my homeboys!

Final day in NOLA. Reminiscing with smoothies and sunsets. Don and Dan have finally wrapped up their adventures!






Tulane River and Coastal Center

  1. Today we visited the Tulane River and Coastal Center and were greeted by Amy Lessen, an assistant research professor at Tulane University. Amy studies the urban coast and works on projects that deal with sustainability, ecology, and diversity. She focuses on four major topics:
  2. Disease in a post trauma ecological landscape
  3. Community risk perceptions
  4. Landscape and vegetation
  5. Rodent populations and human health.

The most common theme regarding all four topics is abandonment. When places are abandoned after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, it impacts green spaces, invasives, open space, and diversity.

Amy explaining her work

Amy is trying to link these land use changes in human health with rodent demographic studies. Very little information is available for rat populations in the city of New Orleans, so she is establishing a database. She looks at two kinds of rats, Norway and Black rats.

The largest populations are found in the 9th ward, mainly due to abandonment, habitat gain, and water sources. Rats are a viable pathway for pathogen spreading, and increase risk perception depending on the size of populations in neighborhoods.

Amy is also looking at consortion with resilient gulf communities. Most of the impacts are from the BP oil spill. This project deals with human dimensions, health, engagement, and social networks. A big find with this project is that mental health issues in communities are largely caused by cascading effects of natural disasters.

She used an example with local native peoples, called the Isle Dejohn Charles tribe. This tribe resides on a small island in the Isle Dejohn Charles area. They have been hit hard by rising sea levels, frequent storms, and flooding. The oil spill has also contaminated the local fishing in the area. These people have decided to relocate from the island, and have secured urban housing by the state to migrate to.

All of Amy’s projects are fascinating because they deal with science in the humanities, which is her background. It’s often rare to see human ecology being explored in the case of Hurricane Katrina.

Here are more photos of the Tulane River and Coastal center!

View of the Mississippi from the Windows


Taking on a different trail

We started the day bright and early with a trip across the Mississippi River  to cut across traffic.

Good morning from Louisiana! 

Instead of going to our usual site on trail B, my group got drafted to do a set of 3 new transects down trail A. We had 4.5 hours to complete this task, and amazingly we did it! All with 20 minutes to spare. I think the lack of humidity and lower temperatures really helped with our energy levels. None of us felt tired throughout transecting, despite hacking through meters of black berry.

Sideways again. Curse you WordPress!

We were all feeling rejuvenated on our way over to the bed and breakfast! We even were able to take a few low key roadkill surveys for Sean along the way. Once we got to Plaquemines Parish, we sadly found out that the boat we were going to ride was broken. Hopefully they get it fixed in the morning!

Currently we are all staying here on this bed and breakfast plantation. This place is straight on the label of Southern Comfort! It’s lovely here but also eerie. They’ve provided us with a delicious crawfish boil and some jambalaya! Even more, we got to witness some gators in action.

Property gators!

Just feeding the neighbors, no biggie

This plantation look familiar?

Delicious crawfish. Smelled very swampy, but tasted subtle and buttery.

We are all currently entering data in the spirits church area. It will most likely be a long night…

From the woodlands to the city

Like most days, today was all over the place! We started off in the field first thing in the morning. Most teams finished up yesterday’s transects, and by 12:00 pm we all decided to join forces and power through a full 100 meters. We called ourselves Hayden and the machete girls. We had two ladies carving the path of blackberry and box elder, and groups of three recording the first, second, third, and fourth 20 meters. It was a hard trail, but we finished just in time!

If you turn your head, here’s a field selfie!

By 1:30pm we were in the French quarter, ready to meet Daphne at the historical New Orleans museum. We watched a 30 minute documentary on the geomorphology of NOLA pre-hurricane. Because we were crunched for time, we only had around 20 minutes to explore the museums historical exhibits.

Check out this dude. Sleepy in the 1700s

Afterwards we were joined by Harry Schearer who discussed the politics of the levee failures in depth. He had a very smooth voice!

it was interesting to hear about not only the structural failures but also the socio-political ones as well. We had one more talk after Harry, with Mark S. (Full name in another post.. Too long to remember right now!) of He talked to us about history of his newspaper business, as well as all of the failures of the Louisiana Storm Protection Master Plan. All the details are listed in Katie and I’s other post!

We got to listen to Mark in fancy business chairs!

We finished off our night at the Waffle House after a failed dinner attempt at Chickie Wah Wah. It had to be the best decision we’ve made so far. Our waitress was named Keedy and she was the sweetest. They were all so sweet! And the food was amazing. Good night y’all!

A quick recap of day 2 fieldwork!

Today was hot and gnarly in the swamp. I had my first personal encounter with the swelling bushes of blackberry. Some people found it horrible, but I found it exciting!

Why might you ask? Because we got to machete the heck out of it. With great power comes great necessity. And it sure was necessity to destroy this nature God had bestowed in this transect.

Always excited for the next encounter!

Aside from that…

Our group knocked out almost 4 complete 100 meter transects today. I think the best parts were the in-betweens where you were waiting around and observing nature. The amount of biodiversity in the woodlands is outstanding. I mean, most are spiders but it’s still fun to observe. I could just sit out there between those maple trees, eat mullberries, and look at critters all day. Now I’m E xcited for tomorrow’s field day!

Photo of our hardworking awesome team!

First day in the swamp!

Hi y’all!

WordPress really likes to flip all of my photos. So please avert your head to the side!

Today was amazingly eventful, but I’ve chosen to emphasize on our time in the Woodlands Conservancy site. It was our first half-field day! We started when it was hot and humid out, but our first transects were very short. They only extended out about 3 meters before hitting the water. We had a crazy transect at 400 meters along the trail. Almost all of it was dense blackberry and tree vegetation.

We had to stop half way because the blackberry and fallen logs had gotten too thick for us!

Katie chopping through

The 450 meter transect was the best. It was essentially an empty field of flowers with cypress and maple trees interspersed. We even saw a little snake out there.

Sneaky and green

we couldn’t make it till 50 meters because the time ran out. Day one has been complete by group name: unnecessarily thirsty pirates!


New Orleans Cooking School: Jambalaya For Everyone

Today we got to visit the oh so wonderful New Orleans School Of Cooking where we were guided by Micheal DeVdts to organize 5 different meals for our class. All of the ingredients were purchased at the CBD farmers market from local vendors. Our team Daniella, Devyn, and I were in charge of cooking the main dish. We chose (with recommendation) to whip up some jambalaya!


None of us have ever made jambalaya before, so we just kind of winged it. Here’s how to wing it our way. You’ll need:

  • 3 large yellow onions
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 3 bell peppers
  • 2 lbs white jumbo shrimp
  • 1 lb andouille sausage
  • any kind of vegetable or meat stock
  • Joes Stuff (Cajun seasoning)
  • 5oz minced garlic
  • dried garlic
  • 4 cups long grain rice
  • 6 red potatoes
  • parsely

Begin by dicing the peppers, onions, celery, and garlic. Then cube the red potatoes. Heat up some vegetable oil in a deep pot, while setting water to boil in an adjacent pot. Add the stock (or bullion) to the boiling water. Set the red potatoes in the boiling water. At the same time, add in the onions, peppers, celery, and garlic. Let saute for around 15-20 minutes, then dump a cup of Joe’s Stuff seasoning.

Chop chop!

By now the potatoes should be almost done. Add the boiling water and potatoes to the deep pot of vegetables. Let simmer while you set up a frying pan. In the pan, add the 1 lb or andoullie sausage and sauté until cooked through. In this particular dish, we had to set aside the meat because we had a few vegetarians in the class. Once in a rolling boil, add in 4 cups of rice into the deep pot and cover with a lid. Let the rice cook in the pot for 15 minutes or so. In the mean time, de-vain the shrimp.

Once done, take the pot off the heat and set aside. Quickly add in the sausage and then the uncooked shrimp and cover with the lid. The steam from the rice will cook the shrimp. While everything is setting, dice up more celery, parsley, and onion.  Add these to the top of the dish, then re cover with the lid. Taste a small sample to add more seasoning if you wish. When you’re ready, get a big serving spoon and stir everything all up. Tadah! You’ve just made yourself some Cajun noms!

Daniella stirring that bad boy!

Our attempt was succesful, and everybody loved the dish. Not bad for our first time!