In Which I Share My Inspiration
by Sarah Gillig -- February 15th, 2013

Hi all,

In keeping with my somewhat introspective post of last week, I thought I would share some of the places and the experiences that inspired my ecological self and led me to the Nicholas School. A little post-Valentine’s Day nature love. I’ll try to go chronologically!


Driftwood on Block Island, RI.

Great Salt Pond

Great Salt Pond, Block Island, RI.


Beach on Block Island, RI.

Off To Do Science!

Field work with Dr. Ellen Thomas and Dr. Joop Varekamp of Wesleyan University, Block Island, RI, 2008.

Swampy Sarah

I fell into a swamp on Block Island, RI, while trying to take a picture of the water lily I am holding. I hadn't realized that I was stepping very close to where we had just taken a sediment core, and my entire right leg slide into the hole, all the way up to my hip!

Lighthouse view

View from the White Island Lighthouse Cupola, White Island, Isles of Shoals, NH. Can you find the person in the picture?

Ferry and White Island

Ferry to Star Island and the White Island Lighthouse from Appledore Island, ME.

Broad Cove

Broad Cove, Appledore Island, Isles of Shoals, ME.


Chapel, Star Island, Isles of Shoals, NH.

Kaieteur Falls

Kaieteur Falls, Kaieteur National Park, Guyana, 2009.

Kaieteur Falls

Kaieteur Falls, Kaieteur National Park, Guyana, 2009.


The underside of a flower in Kaieteur National Park, Guyana, 2009.


Nathaniel Hawthorne's favorite moth (just making that up, but isn't that scarlet A pretty amazing?), Guyana, 2009.


A tiny lizard in Guyana, 2009.


Roots in the rainforest at Kaieteur National Park, Guyana, 2009.


A baby pineapple at an abandoned pineapple field in Guyana, 2009.


Beach near Nobska, Woods Hole, MA.


Sengekontaket Pond on Martha's Vineyard in MA.


Felix, a baby alpaca at Island Alpaca on Martha's Vineyard, MA in 2009. He's all grown up now! http://islandalpaca.com/alpaca_detail.php?id=74

Lily Pads

Lily pads, Duke Garden, November 2012

Water Lily

Water Lily, Duke Gardens, November 2012.


Fall leaves in Duke Garden, November 2012

Yellow Roses

Roses in Duke Gardens, November 2012.

Kentucky State Capitol

The Kentucky State Capitol, Frankfort, Kentucky.

Kentucky River

The Kentucky River, Frankfort, KY.

While I was an undergrad at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, I had the good fortune to have  Dr. Johan Varekamp (also known as “Joop”) as my freshman year advisor.  He guided me into the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department (E&ES), and I guess you could say the rest is history (I majored in E&ES, with a certificate in Environmental Studies).  I also got to work with Joop and Dr. Ellen Thomas on a summer research project in 2008 in Block Island, Rhode Island, looking at the formation of the Great Salt Pond, among other things.  It was a great summer of field and lab research!

I’ve already mentioned my love of marine labs and my time at the Shoals Marine Lab, but it has been a recurring special place in my academic life.  I first went out there in high school on a Sea Education Association summer program, and just kept coming back. As an undergrad, I took biological illustration courses there for three years running. It’s a unique and wonderful place.

Next up is a trip I took in 2008 to Guyana with the Wesleyan University class “Tropical Ecology” taught by Dr. Barry Chernoff  (video here:  I’m the one giving the thumbs up in the hat at 1:22!).  It was definitely an amazing trip and a fantastic location. I still sometimes can’t believe that I’ve been there (though clearly there is documentation of it!).

Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., is also a very special place for me. I’ve been going there pretty much forever (my grandparents started camping there in the 1960s, and now live there year-round), and basically summer hasn’t happened until I’ve been out to the Island.  My love of the ocean stems from many hours spent on, in, and near the water. (I have a distinct memory of even trying to drink it when I was very small–that was the last time I tried that!) I worked there for two summers (one in high school at the Woods Hole Aquarium,  I would take the ferry over every morning, and one summer just after college, at Island Alpaca, a very special farm!), and lived in Woods Hole for a semester in college while I was attending the Semester in Environmental Science through the Marine Biological Laboratory (which was great–I learned so much in such a short time!).

I spent last year at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center in Nahant, Mass.  I’m afraid that I didn’t personally get any pictures while I was there, but you can check out their grad student blog here, and some beautiful photos from Chris Marks here (they gave me a framed print of “Barnacles and Seaweed” when I left, and it’s hanging in my apartment as I type). Great place, great people!

And of course, Kentucky, where I was born and raised.  The Kentucky State Capitol is in a park-like setting on a bluff that backs up to the Kentucky River, and my family’s house is only a couple of blocks away.  We played outside all the time, and were always going up to the Capitol to see Dad (he worked there for a long time), or go sledding in the winter, or just run around.  I was a page for the Kentucky House of Representatives for several years in high school as well, and it was a great introduction to policy. Apparently they’ve just opened a new Capitol Education Center on sustainability, tourism, geography, and government as well, which I will have to check out next time I’m visiting.  I could wax poetic on Kentucky’s natural beauty, and unfortunately my pictures here don’t do it justice.  I’ll try to get some better ones next time!

Finally, the biggest reason for my being here is that I want my little brother, Ben (he’s 12) and my (eventual) kids, and my many times grandchildren, to have the opportunity to experience some of the amazing adventures in nature that I got to have.

My little brother in some Kentucky backwoods. The future generation!


Tides for Friday, February 15th, Beaufort, NC

Low: 5:22 AM, 0.8

High: 11:24 AM, 2.77

Low: 5:28 PM, -0.02

High:  11:55 PM, 2.97

From NOAA Tide Predictions 


  1. Megan Fork
    Feb 16, 2013

    Sarah, your photos are beautiful! Thanks for sharing them!

    • Sarah
      Feb 21, 2013

      Thanks Megan! I’m looking forward to sharing many more (excited for the spring colors in Duke Gardens!).

  2. Jonathan Lee
    Feb 20, 2013

    Hi Sarah, I love the photos — they’re amazing!

    I also remember the cool dance & science communication post you did a while back. Have you heard of the upcoming Duke Dance Conference with an environmental focus ( https://today.duke.edu/2013/02/danceconference )? I stumbled across it and was reminded of your other blog post.

    • Sarah
      Feb 21, 2013

      Thanks Jonathan! I did hear about the event–unfortunately I can’t make it myself, but it looks really interesting!

      Glad you enjoyed the post on science and dance, it’s definitely a fun and unique way to showcase research concepts. I’m always excited to hear about new ways that scientists are expressing their work!

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