He’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain

In the spring, I took training courses that were required to become a group leader in Princeton’s Outdoor Action (OA) program. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the week-long backpacking training trip because it was in between my final exams and trip to The Bahamas. As a result, I settled for a position in Support, a group of people who drive vans to deliver backpacking groups’ supplies.

I moved into my dorm on August 31. My new room is in Whitman College’s Wendell B building. Although the double is smaller than my quad from last year, it has a much better view. That evening, I went to a brief training class before going to bed.

For the next three days, I went to more training classes and helped move supplies into Dillon Gym in preparation for the freshmen’s arrival. My partner and I were assigned to the backpacking groups in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.

The drive was very long, so we were instructed to leave on Sunday afternoon. We traveled west to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and then south to our hotel in Luray, Virginia. Near the drive’s end, the roads winded through the mountains in the dark. OA had booked a room in a Days Inn motel near the park. It seemed like the place hadn’t been renovated since the 1970s.

I can’t say all of the details of what we did during the week because some of it involved confidential medical information when evacuating people from trips. But I will write around those events.

Monday— OA provided us with a per diem food allowance of $25 per person. We first went to the local Walmart to get cheap sandwich supplies for the week’s lunches. This allowed us to spend the full $25 on dinner each night. Then, we went into Shenandoah National Park. Our first task of the day was to shuttle OA buses with backpackers to trailheads. Skyline Drive — the road that snakes along Shenandoah’s ridge — was packed for Labor Day weekend. All of the drop-offs went well. We ate lunch at the Stony Man overlook. It had a spectacular view of the Shenandoah Valley.

In the afternoon, we went to the Virginia Military Institute’s Virginia Museum of the Civil War. Despite the tilt toward Confederate glorification (their map differentiated the “original” Confederate states from the rest) it was a good museum. The firearms exhibit was an all-encompassing display of every gun from the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley was a lush agricultural region for the Confederacy. Additionally, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia used it as a corridor to invade the north, such as for the Gettysburg Campaign of 1863. By 1864, Ulysses S. Grant was placed in control of the Union armies. He dispatched William Sherman to wreak havoc in the south. Grant himself would face Lee near Richmond. Meanwhile, Franz Siegel marched down the Shenandoah Valley.

Siegel’s goal was to destroy the railroad hub at Lynchburg, Virginia. But Confederate General John C. Breckenridge intercepted him at New Market, Virginia. Breckenridge was desperate for soldiers, so he summoned the cadets at the Virginia Military Institute. In the battle that ensued, the cadets marched down a hill into Union fire, captured a house, set up a defensive line, and then led a charge toward the retreating Union soldiers. The farmland that they crossed was named the “Field of Lost Shoes” because many of their shoes fell off in the mud.

The Battle of New Market could have been a disaster for Siegel were it not for a quick-thinking Delawarean. Captain Henry A. du Pont decided to leapfrog his cannons. This meant that after one cannon fired it was pulled back to reload and make space for another, thus providing an unending stream of shelling on the Confederates. du Pont later received a Medal of Honor for his handling of the retreat at the Battle of Cedar Creeks. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel, worked as a businessman in Delaware after the war, and then became a United States Senator in 1906.

Following the battle, the VMI cadets were hailed as heroes in Richmond and were paraded around the Confederacy. One of the cadets, Moses Ezekiel, became a world-renowned sculptor.

Although the VMI museum portrays the Battle of New Market as a pivotal Confederate victory, it was nothing more than a skirmish. The total casualties were fewer than 2,000, which pales in comparison to the armies’ overall sizes. After Siegel’s miserable conduct in the Shenandoah Campaign, Grant replaced him with General Phillip Sheridan, who annihilated the valley with his scorched earth tactics.

We went to a local Mexican restaurant, Rancho Viejo, for dinner. We stopped by Flotzie’s, a local ice cream stand, for dessert. Both were tasty.

Tuesday— We went to drop off supplies in the morning. Next, the OA command center instructed us to run errands in Warrenton, Virginia — an hour’s drive away. In the evening, we went to Dan’s Steakhouse to split a 32 oz. steak three ways. We didn’t finish it. Finally, we returned to Flotzie’s for ice cream.

Thursday— We went back to New Market to tour the Route 11 potato chip factory. I enjoyed the free samples. Route 11 specializes in thick kettle-cooked chips that have strong seasonings. Then, we returned to the VMI museum to walk around the adjacent battlefield. Before lunch, we stopped at Pack’s Frozen Custard for a treat.

In the afternoon, we hiked to Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park. After that, we went to Big Meadows. Later, we had two supply drops for backpacking groups. We went to the Pollock dining room at the Skyland resort in Shenandoah for dinner.

Friday— We transported a group from Old Rag Mountain to Thornton’s Gap in the park. During the drive back to Princeton, we hit the D.C.-Baltimore-Wilmington stretch at rush hour. After departing at 12:30 pm, we arrived at Princeton seven hours later. I ordered a salad and chocolate soufflé at Cargot for dinner.

*  *  *  *  *

While I wanted to be a group leader for OA, getting a free road trip wasn’t bad. Besides, I think I’ve had plenty of time outdoors this summer with a month of camping in The Bahamas.

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Guide to Princeton Restaurants

I stayed on Princeton’s campus in July while I worked in the lab. Due to an online error, I didn’t get a University meal plan. But everything worked out well. The dining hall hours were erratic, and individual meals had an average cost of $13.50 — an outrageous price for a cheap watery eggs and oily bacon breakfast.

Instead, I made my own breakfast and lunch then ate at a restaurant each night for dinner. Princeton attracts many weekend tourists from New York City. As a result, it has a mélange of restaurants. But few Princeton students ever eat at them because of their distance from the dorms and relatively high prices.

While this guide does not speak for every dish at each place and is by no means definitive, it should serve as a helpful guide to those who want to eat out one night but don’t have the time to look at each restaurant’s menu.

Restaurants’ scores are a combination of price and quality of food. A restaurant with good but overpriced food will get a lower score than a restaurant with only slightly less flavorful food with a cheaper price. $ = $1.00-13.50 per person; $$ = $13.50-20; $$$ = +$20 (Price score accounts for entree, drink, and tip.)

Editor’s Choice

  • Cargot Brasserie (10/10, $$$): Although this restaurant just opened this summer, it has already risen to the top spot. The gougères appetizer was fresh, and the steak frites was the best that I’ve had outside of a francophone country. Nearly all of the food is from local farms. If you’re looking for a restaurant to impress somebody — and don’t have to pay the bill — this is it. UPDATE (9/8/17) I just tried the chocolate soufflé, and it is the best dessert in town.
  • Despaña Restaurant & Tapas Cafe (10/10, $$$): This was my top pick until Cargot opened. The tapas and paella are savory and authentically Spanish. The bill can be kept low if you select your platter wisely and limit the amount of food that you order.

Top Honors

  • Agricola Eatery (9/10, $$$): It was an all-around good farm to table restaurant. Some of the dishes sound like they should be at a vegan hippie establishment; however, it’s all good.
  • Witherspoon Grill (9/10, $$$): This is the perfect steak and ‘taters restaurant. It offers a wide range of high quality American food that will satisfy almost anybody.
  • Yankee Doodle Tap Room (8/10, $$): The Tap Room is a branch of the Nassau Inn. Originally, I had low expectations for this restaurant, but they were quickly shattered. The Princetonian sandwich was mouthwateringly good.

Best Bang for Your Buck (i.e. The best cheap food in town)

  • Princeton Soup & Sandwich Company (7/10, $): I visited the Company the most during the summer. While you shouldn’t expect any kind of over-the-top gourmet food, they are solidly good. They offer a wide variety of soups and sandwiches. My favorite is the chicken parmesan. Their Belgium fries are the best French fries in Princeton.
  • Taste of Mexico (7/10, $): Few people other than the locals know about this place. It’s in a hole-in-the-wall building behind an alley off of Nassau Street. The prices are low, and the food is fresh. I prefer it over Qdoba for Mexican food.

Most Diverse

  • Princeton Pi (6/10, $): Holy cow! This place has a — in President Trump’s words — yuuuge menu. It took me at least 10 minutes to read it. Princeton Pi offers everything from pizza to burgers to sandwiches to salads and everything in between. The calzone that I had was fine, yet it doesn’t beat Nicola Pizza’sNic-o-bolis at Rehoboth Beach.

Best Ethnic

  • Nassau Sushi (7/10, $$): I went here with my Freshman Seminar classmates and everything was delicious. I liked the fried pork dish.
  • Thai Village (7/10, $): I wasn’t impressed by the Village when I went here during the school year. But I returned to meet a friend during the summer and changed my mind. Their chicken dishes are well done.

Best Pizza

  • Nomad Pizza (8/10, $$): Hands down, it is the best pizza joint in town. If you say, “Free Nomad Pizza on the Frist south lawn at 3:00 pm” in an e-mail at Princeton, you’ll get at least 100 people show up at 2:50 pm.

Best Breakfast

  • PJ’s Pancake House (7/10, $): This is the quintessential Princeton restaurant. PJ’s offers every breakfast dish imaginable. Their chocolate peanut butter pancakes are my favorite. It also has a number of diner-style dinner options that are nice.

Best Ice Cream

  • Halo Pub (8/10, $): Most Princeton students will debate whether The Bent Spoon or Thomas Sweet is better. The Bent Spoon is known for eccentric mixtures and Thomas Sweet has a mixture of new delights and regular flavors. But Halo Pub mostly sticks to traditional flavors and does them well. Its chocolate peanut butter ice cream is rich. The hot chocolate is also wonderful in the winter.

Honorable Mention

  • Mistral (7/10, $$): Brunch is their best meal. I thought that the Brunch Burger had an interesting blend of ingredients and unique taste.
  • 30 Burgers (7/10, $$): This is my favorite go-to. I visit it every time I return to Princeton after a break. Everything is good.
  • The Bent Spoon (7/10, $): It’s very much a hippie ice cream joint. There’s a reason why thirty people will wait in a line for it on a Friday night. You can’t go wrong with any of their sherbets.
  • Triumph Brewing Company (7/10, $$): I can’t yet comment on their beer, but Triumph is a good meal on any day. Their hanger steak salad and pretzel appetizers were excellent. Yet I’m not ready to say that they’re better than Rehoboth Beach’s Dogfish Head brewpub.
  • Jamin’ Crepes (7/10, $): Everything is a crepe. Some of the options sound fine while others look weird. I’ve had several of their crepes and none of them were bad.
  • House of Cupcakes (7/10, $$): It’s part of a growing interest in gourmet cupcake restaurants. The taste is worth the price.
  • Hoagie Haven (7/10, $): It has the best hoagies in town, but they are incredibly heavy. Be prepared to take a long nap after eating one of their sandwiches.

Regular Joe (i.e. good food but nothing special)

  • Thomas Sweet (7/10, $): While this is a Princeton stalwart, I don’t think it’s any different from a number of other ice cream places that I’ve visited on the east coast.
  • Mamoun’s (6/10, $): I go here for a gyro or shawarma.
  • Cafe Vienna (6/10, $): The hot chocolate tasted awesome on a cold day. I haven’t had any of their other food.
  • EPS Corner (6/10, $): There’s good cheap Asian food here, nothing more and nothing less.
  • The Alchemist and Barrister (6/10, $$): The Alchemist serves typical high-end bar food. It’s good if you’re going to see a local band playing there or need a place to eat late at night. I enjoy the buttermilk chicken sandwich.
  • Olives (6/10, $$): I’ve heard a lot of students rave about Olives, and I eat it often at catered club events. Frankly, I think it’s overrated. As a Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s better than other catering services, but I don’t see what all of the rage is about.
  • Efes (6/10, $): Their gyro was comparable to Mamoun’s. I’ll have to revisit it in order to differentiate the two restaurants better.
  • Tandoori Bite Indian Cuisine (6/10, $): I thought this was solid Indian food, though I’ve heard some students say that there is better in town.
  • The Dinky Bar & Grill (6/10, $$): The Dinky is fine for a pricey snack before a show. But I wouldn’t recommend it for a full meal; go to Cargot instead.
  • Wawa (6/10, $$): I have been going to Wawa for the past 14 years, and their food continues to get better (for a gas station). This is a midnight favorite for students in Forbes and Whitman Colleges.
  • Tiger Pizza (5/10, $): This is a typical pizza joint.
  • Panera Bread (5/10, $): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Qdoba (5/10, $): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Dolceria (5/10, $$): I had high hopes for this place, but it didn’t meet them. My expectations for gelato are very high. The flavors weren’t as rich as I had wanted.
  • Starbucks (4/10, $$): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Dunkin Donuts (4/10, $): A national chain. You know what you’re going to get.
  • Hunan Chinese (4/10, $): A typical Chinese restaurant.
  • Tiger Noodles (4/10, $): A typical Chinese restaurant.
  • Kung Fu Tea and Noodle House (4/10, $): There was a wide variety of bubble tea flavors, but I thought that they were sour.
  • Fruity Yogurt (3/10, $): The frozen yogurt here is the same as what you get in the dining halls. Save your money and go elsewhere.


  • The Peacock Inn (much anticipated): The Inn dates back to the 1700s and has a lengthy history to go with it. Members of the Continental Congress were entertained in it while Nassau Hall was the nation’s capital. One of its owners — Mr. Libbey — established orange and black as Princeton’s colors. Albert Einstein stayed in it when he moved to Princeton. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are both known to have visited it too.
  • Blue Point Grill: This place was busy every time I walked past it. What’s drawing everyone to the Grill?
  • Trattoria Procaccino: It’s on the outskirts of town, but I always see a crowd in it.
  • Mediterra: This place is busy on weekend nights.
  • Winberie’s
  • Teresa Caffe
  • Mehek
  • Sakura Express
  • Tomo Sushi
  • George’s Roasters and Ribs
  • Arlee’s Raw Blends
  • Ivy Inn: I usually see expensive old man cars out front. Lincolns, Mercedes, Pontiacs, Buicks, and Cadillacs are parked near it.
  • Mo C Mo C Japanese Cuisine
  • Chennai Chimney
  • Tortuga’s Mexican Village
  • La Mezzaluna
  • Soonja’s Cuisine
  • Ajihei

Drumthwacket and Northwestern Princeton

I took a walk to the northwestern corner of Princeton. Most of the area consists of residential space. Along the way, I stopped at Marquand Park. The nice little area consists of a playground, baseball field, wide open grassy fields and a forested pathway.

After walking another one hundred yards, I arrived at Drumthwacket, the official residence of New Jersey’s governor. It’s much bigger than the governor’s mansion in Delaware, Woodburn. Drumthwacket’s land was once owned by William Penn. It was passed along to the Olden family, and a man named Charles Smith Olden was born on it. He became a businessman, trustee of Princeton, and then Governor of New Jersey in 1860.

The Oldens sold the house to the Pyne family, who also donated a lot to Princeton. Then, the Pynes sold it to the Nathaniel Spanel, the founder of what became the Playtex Corporation. Finally, the Spanels sold it to the State of New Jersey for the purpose of becoming the governor’s mansion. Governor Chris Christie currently resides in it. Fun Fact: Governor Christie lived in Drumthwacket while his son went to college just down the road at Princeton.

Drumthwacket is one of four governor’s residences outside of the state capital, along with Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. It is open for public tours every Wednesday.


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Out and About: Mountain Lakes Open Space Area

On Saturday, I walked northward for thirty minutes and arrived at the Mountain Lakes Open Space Area. It is a small preserve of land nestled halfway between Princeton and the Rocky Hill Ridge. I came in through the auto road before turning onto a narrow footpath that winded through the woods.

The trail emerged at the tip of a dammed lake. Like most lakes in the mid-Atlantic, it was covered in a thin sheen of green algae. A gaggle of geese were milling about along the shore. Some signs said that the lake was created in the late 1800s for ice harvesting. As Princeton’s only mountain-fed lake, the water was clean enough for consumption.

I wandered further up and saw the Lake House, a building that can be rented for private events. The water was sufficiently still to reflect the image of the treetops next to it. I continued north into the woods. Everything was quiet. Parts of the path looked like the Appalachian Trail. I crossed through a boulder field and looked at “Devil’s Cave,” though it was covered in graffiti.

I walked past the house on the way back, noticing that there were people preparing for what looked like a wedding reception. When I returned to Princeton, people were going into the chapel for a wedding with two black limousines parked outside.

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The Battle of Princeton

In the opening months of the American Revolution, the colonists were losing. While the British had retreated out of Boston on March 17, 1776, they invaded New York City five months later. The battles of Long Island and White Plains were humiliating defeats for General George Washington. The British ousted the Continental Army from New York City. They continued to pursue his army through New Jersey until it crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

By that time, General Washington was planning a counterstrike. On the night of December 25, he ordered the army to cross the Delaware River. In the morning, they attacked Trenton while the Hessians were unprepared. General Washington then moved his army back to Pennsylvania in the afternoon.

After hearing news of the defeat, General Cornwallis advanced his forces to the south. General Washington crossed the Delaware River again to meet Cornwallis’ army at the Second Battle of Trenton on January 2. A group of Americans created a small skirmish northeast of the town that delayed the British army’s movement. At night, Washington secretly moved his army around Cornwallis’ redcoats thanks to a spy who had mapped the area’s roads.

On January 3, General Washington attacked Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood’s garrison stationed at Princeton. Unbeknownst to Washington, Cornwallis had ordered Mawhood’s soldiers to join him in Trenton, still thinking that the Americans were in the area. As his forces marched westward, they were surprised to intersect the Continental Army.

The ensuing battle occurred on the farmland of Thomas Clark. Mawhood sent his soldiers to attack Brigadier General Hugh Mercer’s forces. They quickly overran him. Mercer was surrounded by British troops and bayoneted. Delawarean Colonel John Haslet — Mercer’s second in command — was shot in the head.

General Washington’s forces arrived at the battle and pushed the British further back. They lined up on a northern field, a mere thirty yards apart in Maxwell’s Field. Washington rode in front of his soldiers to yell “Halt” and “Fire.” The British fired at the same time. One officer, John Fitzgerald, lowered his hat over his eyes to avoid seeing Washington fall. But Washington remained there unscathed and ordered his troops to advance. The British forces collapsed under the Americans’ ensuing charge.

Some of the British took refuge in Nassau Hall. Alexander Hamilton set up cannons at the present-day location of Blair Arch and ordered them to fire at the building. When the Americans charged in, 194 British soldiers surrendered. It was a decisive victory.

Cornwallis pursued them northward to little avail. He retreated to New Brunswick.

A British cannon was left near the school — called “The College of New Jersey” at that time — until it was moved to New Brunswick during the War of 1812. After the war, the army brought it back to Princeton’s armory. Some Princeton students took it and planted it in the ground behind Nassau Hall. The space is now called “Cannon Green.” Rutgers students claim that the cannon is theirs and have painted it red many times over the past decades. A smaller cannon sits by Whig Hall.

The Battles of Trenton and Princeton were the first major victories for the American forces in the Revolutionary War. They showed that the colonists could be a formidable force against the British army and kickstarted a year in which they would go on to win the Battles of Saratoga, thereby securing French support in the war.

Today, Princeton Battlefield State Park preserves the land for public use. I arrived at it following a hot 30 minute walk from the University. A colonnade stands at its northern end. It was designed by Thomas Walter — the architect of the U.S. capitol — and was part of a mansion from the early 1900s. Ten yards behind it lies a circular memorial to the American and British soldiers who were buried nearby.

A single oak tree grows in the middle of the southern field. The “Mercer Oak” had stood for 300 years until it died in March 2000. The current oak is from one of its scions. The Clark House Museum is at the southernmost end. In it, Dr. Benjamin Rush — who graduated from Princeton in 1760 — unsuccessfully attempted to save Hugh Mercer.

To the east is the Institute for Advanced Study — the place where Albert Einstein worked when he came to the U.S. It owns the small tract of land where Washington rallied his army to attack the British. The IAS wanted to build houses on all of Maxwell’s Field but reached a deal for the Civil War Land Trust to buy two thirds of it at $4 million, which would then be added to Princeton Battle Field State Park. The Civil War Land Trust is still raising the money needed to purchase it. When I walked by the field, I could see that the IAS had already started its construction.

I ate lunch under a shady tree and watched the road. A lot of people use the park for cycling and frisbee. Student runners also frequently come out to the park. Unfortunately, the majority of students don’t make the trek out to this historical jewel or even know that it exists.

I then walked around to the IAS. This time, I did not going inside after remembering what happened the previous time.

The Battle of Princeton Memorial is at the intersection of Nassau Street, Mercer Street, and Bayard Lane.

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Summer: The Aesthetics of Princeton Part XXIV

When I left Princeton on May 30, it was cool and overcast with a heavy drizzle, hardly a beautiful summer day. But when I returned at the end of June, it was hot and humid just like any other day in the mid-Atlantic states.

After spending a lot of time here in the middle of winter, it is strange to see the foliage of the trees. During the school year, I could easily take a lot of photos of only the buildings because there are certain hours of the day when students aren’t outside, either due to class or their propensity to sleep late into the morning. Now, it is difficult to do this. There are always tourists walking around — at all hours of the day — and many of the buildings have scaffolding around them.

Each evening, I walk along Nassau Street to watch the people. On any given day, about one third to one half of them are speaking a foreign language. From my observations, the biggest contributors to tourists, in order, are: China, India, France, Spain, Germany, Italy and eastern European countries.

The school feels devoid of students. I have seen fewer than 30 students in the month since I returned. Only 3 of the 50 dormitory halls are being used by students who are on campus for research or work. The rest are used for summer programs. The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and Golandsky Institute are two of the numerous programs that come to Princeton. I have also seen sports camps for high school women’s lacrosse, elementary school boys’ lacrosse, and high school men’s baseball.

Even though my castle-like dorm is hot during the day, I try to find air conditioning in another place whenever possible.

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A Princeton Away From Princeton

One of Princeton’s greatest perks isn’t at the actual school. It’s not the seemingly unlimited research funds, world class faculty, or intelligent classmates. Instead, it is its vast alumni association. The alumni’s great loyalty to Princeton and its students are what usually place it at the top of the U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings.

The mecca for these alumni is an exclusive organization in the middle of Manhattan that is appropriately named “The Princeton Club of New York.” Only Princeton faculty, students, and graduates can join. It serves as the chief social outlet of everything Princeton for the many alumni who live in the city.

The Club often hosts numerous events throughout the year for those in the east coast’s upper echelons to mingle. Vanity Fair documented how investor Andrew Caspersen used one of these events to recruit fellow alumni into a scam from which he stole $95 million.

Summer weekends at Princeton are rather quiet, so I traveled to the Big Apple this past Saturday to visit the Club and see if it lived up to its reputation.

My trips to New York City aren’t small forays. They’re more like expeditions. I walked ten miles around the city. Before going to the main destination, I went to the New York Historical Society’s museum. Then, I took a train to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, wandered around for two hours, walked to the Brooklyn Bridge, and finally arrived at Grand Central Terminal. Outside, I was amazed at what I saw.

There is a quadrangle in midtown Manhattan that is bounded by 6th Avenue to the west, Park Avenue to the east, 43rd Street to the south, and 45th street to the north in which the Ivy League alumni have maintained posh clubhouses for the past century. These clubs occupy prime real estate between Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, and Bryant Park. In between them lie the nation’s top financiers; the towers of Bain & Company, BlackRock, MetLife, and J.P. Morgan dot the skyline.

As soon as I left the train station, I saw a large blue flag sporting a white “Y” waving in the wind. That was the Yale Club of New York. I turned westward and found the Princeton Club.

New York was hot. The Club’s chilled air was a welcome relief. When I walked towards the back, signs sat on each table that said, “Cell phone use prohibited.” A small library was located on the first floor. It was deathly silent. Only the clacking of a patron’s keyboard broke the air conditioned stillness. The bookshelves were stocked with novels and nonfiction alike. Statuettes of sportsmen lined their tops.

On the second floor, I peaked into the James Madison Room. Brown wooden panels decorated a beige wall. Portraits on past university presidents — and one of current President Eisgruber — hung adjacent to bookshelves. Cream-colored cloths lay on the tables.

The restaurant and Nassau 1756 Room were on the third floor. According to the Club’s website, it should have been open on Saturday night for those without reservations. It was deserted. Shiny black tables tables and domed lights made the room look like a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Two old oars along and a scull were in the back. The Nassau 1756 Room — called the Woodrow Wilson Room until recently — was another stately venue like the James Madison Room for holding private events. I also couldn’t help but to notice the fanciness of the bathroom with its marble stalls and vintage photographs of past football teams. There were bottles of cologne and other fragrances next to the sink. This place seemed too fancy for a commoner like me.

The fourth floor had more private dining rooms and a terrace for outdoor events. Everything above this level consisted of hotel rooms, none of which had any distinguishable characteristics. Throughout my entire survey of the Club, I saw landscape paintings of Princeton. These alumni were very fond of going back to “Old Nassau.”

I walked down to Times Square, returned to Bryant Park for a rest, and then went to Penn Station where I caught my train to New Jersey.

I will continue to return to the Princeton Club during my subsequent trips to New York City. While it was nearly empty when I went, I got a glimpse of life for the successful alumni of country’s most prestigious colleges. From gothic castle dorms to swanky Manhattan clubhouses, they live a different world.

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Expedition to the Bahamas

When Christopher Columbus sailed west from Spain in August 1492, he arrived on an island in the Bahamas after two months of treacherous travel across the Atlantic Ocean. In the 525 years since its discovery by Europeans, the allure of the Bahamas have drawn thousands of people to its sandy shores. These islands have been used for everything ranging from shipbuilding yards to pirate hideouts. Today, The Bahamas is renowned for its picturesque beaches, world class fishing, and superb SCUBA diving environments.

Most Americans who visit The Bahamas will go to AtlantisSandals, or another resort on Bimini, New Providence, and Grand Bahama islands. Few go to the untamed wilderness of Andros Island, and, of those who go, even fewer realize the treasure trove of scientific information that lies beneath their feet just waiting to be studied.


Five months ago, I accepted an internship with a geosciences professor through the Princeton Environmental Institute. Every week since the beginning of February, I have been meeting with the professor and a sophomore — who I later learned was using this project for her junior papers and senior thesis — to read a scientific paper about how carbonate rocks are formed in The Bahamas.

Carbon receives a lot of attention in the media because it is being pumped into the atmosphere at alarming rates from burning fossil fuels. While it is true that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising, a significant amount of carbon is also sequestered in the ocean each year as part of the carbon cycle. Through a series of chemical reactions, the polyatomic ion “carbonate” is formed which — when combined with calcium and occasionally magnesium — forms carbonate rock in the ocean, commonly known as “carbonates.” Limestone and dolomite are two examples of carbonates.

Oceanic levels of carbon are high when atmospheric levels are also high because a greater amount of carbon is being taken out of the air. Generally, the Earth has a warmer climate and higher sea levels when the atmosphere has a lot of carbon in it. As a result, this carbon signature should also be recorded in the carbonate rocks that are formed.

Geologists have long studied carbonates to understand Earth’s past climates — called paleoclimates — up to 500 million years ago. (By comparison, ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica go back only 5 million years.) But relatively few have studied how carbonates are being formed in the present to understand what the chemical signals in the rocks actually mean or if other natural processes affect them. Further complicating this interpretation is the role of diagenesis — a natural process that alters the chemical composition of rock when water seeps through it.

The Bahamas is the largest production zone of carbonate in the world. In particular, it is known for producing a special kind of carbonate sand called “ooids.” When left at rest for long periods of time, the ooids will solidify into limestone.

The Bahamas’ carbonate platforms began to form over 164 million years ago on ridges that were created when the supercontinent Pangea was splitting — in a process known as “rifting.” During the most recent ice age — which ended 11,000 years ago — the sea level was approximately 390 feet lower than its present value. Large ooid sand dunes were spread across the platforms, and many lithified into rocks. Today’s islands are the tops of the tallest sand dunes that existed in the last ice age. The highest point in The Bahamas is Mount Alvernia on Cat Island at 207 feet.

Deep oceanic trenches cut through the platforms. The largest, named “Tongue of the Ocean,” plunges down 6,000 feet between Andros and New Providence Islands. Divers have described the change in depth from the bank to the trench as a wall. Cold water from the Tongue of the Ocean spills onto the Great Bahama Bank, causing it to mix with the warm shallow waters.

No one knows exactly how carbonates are formed, but there are two predominant theories. One says that they precipitate out of the ocean during an event called a “whiting.” The name is derived from the white color that the ocean turns when they are present. Their origin is undetermined. Some think that they occur when underwater sediment is stirred up — the source of the disturbance is still being debated — and acts as condensation nuclei for carbonate formation. Others believe that they form when carbonate directly precipitates out of the ocean. Another theory posits that algae form the carbonates and that whitings occur when something agitates the water, thereby lifting them upwards from the sea floor. As with any debate, there are a number of other theories in addition to middle grounds.

The Project

Geologists have been studying The Bahamas since the 1940s. Their expeditions have analyzed carbonates either from land by traversing the islands on foot or the deep ocean in a big yacht. There have not been any studies that have taken measurements in the shallows between the islands and the deep ocean.

Andros Island was once a point of interest for such research trips. But few have travelled there since the 1980s until my professor did so as a post-doctoral fellow at MIT in the early 2000s. A chain of small islands off of its northern coast, named “Joulter Cays,” was described by geologists in the 1970s. They recognized that the cays laid within an ooid production zone.

The region’s easterly winds cause waves from the Tongue of the Ocean to crash onto the eastern side of Andros, thus preventing smaller particles from falling out of suspension; however, the sheltered western side experiences little wind from the seaward direction and has an extensive shallow bank — on the order of 66 miles — to protect it from oceanic swells. As a result of this, the waters are sufficiently calm to allow tiny particles of carbonate mud to be deposited.

My professor has done extensive research on the muddy northwestern corner of Andros in an area called “Triple Goose Creek.” It is a mudflat riddled by channels. Unlike most fluvial systems that carry sediments away from the mainland, Triple Goose Creek’s channels have the net effect of brining them into the island like a delta.

In addition, the Gulf Stream flows past the Florida Keys and turns northward because of the Bahamian banks. But a small eddy spirals off of it that moves south along Andros’ western shore. It can take up to 250 days for the water to pass the island. Ocean water in this region becomes increasingly saline as evaporation occurs. This creates the perfect conditions for carbonate production to occur. Whitings have also been spotted along the island’s western coast near Triple Goose Creek.

Our project spanned both Joulter Cays and Triple Goose Creek. Its goal was to study the chemistry of the ocean water and seafloor sediments to determine: how carbonates are created, which natural processes affect their production, to what extent diagenesis alters carbonates, and how various forms of carbonates are distributed around the island by ocean currents.

Getting There

I arrived at Princeton on Memorial Day to help the student prepare and pack the equipment. She had raised $100,000 from grants to pay for it. The following day, we began our two-day drive to Florida from New Jersey. Despite the fact that our road trip was 20 hours long, it was not terrible. I enjoyed looking out of the window at the changing landscape. There were a lot of billboards for “adult clubhouses” and “South of the Border” along I-95 from North Carolina to Georgia.

On the third day, we dropped off our rental car. A van took us to a small airport in Fort Lauderdale for a charter flight company. We waltzed through the checkin with pocketknives on our belts and no TSA security guards to confiscate them. Following a short wait, our pilot walked us onto the tarmac to our airplane. It was about twenty five feet long with two propellers. Our seats were crammed towards the front, merely inches away from the pilot. The student sat in the co-pilot’s chair. All of the luggage was packed into the back. The cabin temperature rose as the airplane baked in the sun. The pilot closed the doors and climbed into his seat from a cockpit door.

An enormous Boeing 747 took off from the runway in front of us. I never realized how big regular commercial jetliners were until I was staring at them from a small charter airplane. With a steady hand pushing the throttle forward, the pilot launched us into the sky. Fort Lauderdale’s skyscrapers slowly disappeared on the horizon.

After 20 minutes of flying, the ocean suddenly turned from a deep azure to a light cerulean. We were over the Great Bahama Bank. White ooid cays dotted the water beneath us. As we dodged towering cumulus clouds, Andros Island appeared in the distance. A bumpy landing finally brought us to our destination.

The sweltering heat hit me as soon as the door opened, though a strong easterly breeze made it more bearable. Half a dozen airport workers sat around in the shade, waiting for the next flight to arrive. We went into a building to go through customs. My professor told us that we should not tell anyone that we were on this trip for scientific research unless specifically asked to prevent drawing unwanted attention. Each of us was summoned into a room for questioning. A large woman sat behind stacks of papers on a desk. She asked from where I had come and where I was going before stamping my passport. Then, a customs official briefly inspected our luggage.

While we waited for our host to pick us up, a few workers told us about how Hurricane Matthew had destroyed several towns during the past fall. Another worker bragged about how she singlehandedly turned back Johnny Depp’s private airplane because he lacked the proper paperwork to travel to Andros. A truck from the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) came to gather fuel. The naval station is used for testing torpedoes and submarine equipment.

Our host for the trip was Jeff Birch. His father, Dick Birch, was a pioneering SCUBA diver of the mid-twentieth century. In 1960, he established Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros Island, the world’s first diving resort. My professor met Jeff during his first trip Andros. He allowed him to stay at Small Hope after a burglary. Because of his generosity, my professor promised to promote his business and has done so by bringing three sedimentology classes there for their spring break field trip.

When we arrived at Small Hope, I was amazed. It looked like the picturesque tropical resort. Hammocks were stretched between trees next to the white sandy beach. A leaf-covered pavilion protected a wooden bar near a long dock. Small huts formed a line from the lounge building. The sun reflected off of a light ocean. A deep blue strip lined the horizon, indicating the deeper waters of the Tongue of the Ocean. Small waves sloshed up against pitted limestone.

Jeff demanded that we spend a few minutes relaxing, so we sat at a table and ate lunch. We spent the early afternoon preparing our equipment for the long voyage ahead.

Later, we waded into the ocean for an hourlong swim. The water was remarkably clear; I could see at least ten feet in every direction. We watched the sediments shift on the ocean floor while waves rolled over top of them. There were few fish in the water. On the swim back to shore, I saw a starfish and two sea urchins. The sun started to set as we climbed out of the water.

At dinner, we were joined by two other college students who had just started working for Jeff. They went to George Washington University and Case Western Reserve University. Both were curious about what life was like for students at Princeton. Apparently there are a lot of rumors among other colleges about how Princeton students always wear suits and are unnecessarily snobby or how everyone works on Wall Street after graduation. Only four other guests were in the dining area.

I woke up early in the morning to watch the ruby sun rise over the ocean. All was calm.

After breakfast, we loaded our gear onto a pickup truck and hitched on a sixteen foot bone fishing boat. We crammed into the front seat of the truck. It was an old Ford F-150 from the early 1990s. The truck’s air conditioning was broken.

All of the cars that I saw on Andros were from 2000 or earlier. The Bahamas have an import tariff of 50 percent. Rental car companies in the U.S. use their cars until they have ~10,000 miles on them. Then, they sell them to poor areas — like Andros — that either cannot afford new cars or do not want to pay more on tariffs. Cars drive on the left side of the road in The Bahamas. But almost everyone has an American car with the driver on the left side.

A worker from Small Hope drove us northward. I asked him about a campaign poster on a post. He said that The Bahamas held parliamentary elections in May. The Progressive Liberal Party — his party — had an overwhelming majority with 29/39 seats in parliament. He said that the election, “was a whooping” for them. They lost twenty-five seats while the opposition — the Free National Movement — went up to 35/39 seats.

The road was paved asphalt for the first quarter of the hourlong drive before turning to a dirt pavement. He told us that the government was originally going to pave the entire road, until the new party took control. It cancelled the plans to do so. He said that all of the politicians, “talk about Nassau this and Nassau that” but few care about Andros. Nassau is the capital of The Bahamas, containing 274,000 people — equivalent to 70 percent of the country’s population. In contrast, Andros Island is larger than the state of Delaware but has less than 8,000 people, most of whom are clustered along a thin strip on its eastern side. The worker said that locals refer to the island as “the Sleeping Giant.”

Along the way, there were sweeping views of beautiful bays. Shanty houses were nestled in forested enclaves. The road continued forward for as far as the eye could see with pine trees standing alongside it.

We finally arrived at our boat launch in Lowe Sound around noon. Rubble of smashed cinder block houses from the hurricane was strewn around the town. A pile of conch shells laid next to the old concrete ramp where our driver was trying to back the boat trailer into the bay. Once our boat was in, it floated eight inches above the water due to the weight of our supplies in it. The professor and student sat in the back by the steering wheel while I was seated on the edge of the bow.

With a wave to our driver, we departed into the open sea.

The first fifteen minutes of boating were difficult because the water was less than three feet deep. None of us wanted to push the boat out of the sand. At the half hour mark, we reached deeper water and picked up speed. I could see the horizon in all directions with islands dotting it. A cloud dropped its misty rain onto the earth in the west.

An hour longer of boating brought us to the middle of Joulter Cays. A semi-circular sandbar protected it from the ocean. As my professor turned the boat around to enter, waves spilled over the bow. I pointed at an opening, and we broke into the inlet. The professor drove the boat toward a small ridge on the island. Joulter Cays is a protected bird sanctuary, so there were no official campsites. But our research permits allowed us to camp virtually anywhere.

We quickly unloaded our gear and ate lunch. I spotted the shadowy silhouette of a shark pass by camp. For the next hour, we waded through the water to look at the island’s grey limestone cliffs. They were less than 2,000 years old. We determined that it was once a dune — from the visible layers and crossbedding — but we were unsure if they were marine or aeolian in origin.

The sun was setting over the island by the time we were cooking dinner. As soon as it disappeared, the mosquitoes came out of the woods in droves. Even though the air was no longer warming at night, it was still incredibly hot. The humidity was stifling. It was impossible to not sweat. Still, that did not stop us from having a cheerful conversation for several hours.

The Moon emerged over the dark ocean. Tiny waves lapped up onto the ooid shoreline. Stars blazed fiercely in the black sky while the Milky Way formed a soft white streak across the zenith.

My tent was pitched on top of the island’s ridge. I jumped into it but still managed to bring in a dozen mosquitoes with me. The soft buzz of fifty more of them outside of the tent filled my ears. I could see them flying at the mesh netting, trying to get a bite of me. I laid on my back, sweating profusely. It was at least ten degrees warmer inside of the tent. Sleep was difficult and light with many interruptions.

Summaries of Selected Days

Day 6 (6/5) or “Greenhorns”— The sound of a passing boat awoke me in the morning. We started the day by walking along the emergent tidal flats in search of carbonate-producing algae. Small ripples riddled the sand beneath our feet. They were a vestige of the ebb tide. Everything was silent. We couldn’t find the algae, so we deployed our tide gauge before eating lunch.

In the afternoon, we walked a transect from our camp. As we swam across the cove, I noticed that there were strange temperature gradients in the water. At one moment I would feel a warm current and at the next get blasted by cold water in a deeper channel. We started in the ocean on the east side of the sandbar. Every 25 meters, we stopped to collect water and sediment samples.

Horseflies relentlessly attacked our legs. Their bites felt like needles being jabbed into us. If left unattended, they could draw a considerable amount of blood as their wedge-shaped organ stabbed into our skin.

Upon return to camp, I built a fire to keep the bugs at bay. It was an effective shield when the wind blew the smoke into the dining tarp. Unfortunately, the smoke didn’t fully protect us from the no-see-ums, whose fiery bites turned into small white pustules.

Our camp felt very remote at night. With the exception of some light pollution on the far southern horizon, there were no visible signs of civilization. There were only the stars and our island of safety.

Day 7 (6/6) or “Jaws”— When I awoke, I saw a swarm of no-see-ums waiting for me outside of my tent. We left camp when the tide was low and headed westward on a channel that ran through the middle of Joulter Cays. Mangrove banks lined our aquatic highway. I sat on the bow to navigate us through the shallow waters. Two sharks and a barracuda swam past the boat. Our worksite was one mile west of camp in the Cays’ tidal flats.

When we reached the mouth of the channel, shallow water extended to three small islands on the horizon. The western side of the Cays is incredibly quiet because it is sheltered from the wind. On satellite imagery, this area appears to be filled with sand. Instead, it was a muddy top layer; the entire area became exposed at low tide.

We walked the boat through eight inches of water to grid points that the student had identified on a map. At each point, we stopped to collect water and sediment samples. I was in charge of deploying a weather gauge and measuring various properties of the seawater such as temperature, salinity, pH, and dissolved oxygen. It felt like we were in the middle of the ocean, but the water wasn’t even above our shins.

An eight foot-long shark circled our boat. It swam within thirty feet of us and then went out to fifty yards. The shark’s fin stuck out of the water like that of Jaws. This continued for twenty minutes. I saw it turn around and start swimming toward us with speed. I told the student and my professor to get in the boat. The shark charged toward the boat, eventually veering away when it was within three yards. I monitored it for the next half hour as we continued our work.

The winds shifted to the west away from their usual easterly direction. Consequently, we were now on the lee side of the island; the wind was blocked. All of the bugs noticed and attacked us.

My professor said that the common way to judge the intensity of a mosquito onslaught was to count how many can be killed in a single slap. Later in the trip, I set the record with 15. His record was over 50 in the Canadian Arctic. He said that his doctoral adviser‘s record was 78, also in northern Canada.

Day 10 (6/7) or “Miracle”— The previous night was sweltering. Fortunately, a thunderstorm hit the island at 2:00 AM. Lightning woke me thirty minutes before it arrived. Thunder rumbled in the distance. A strong gust of wind made a whooshing sound over the water. It started to drizzle and transformed into a raging torrent. There was a flash of lighting every second for five minutes. Then everything went calm as if a switch had been turned off. The air was much cooler. I had never seen a storm quite like this.

Another storm hit two hours later.

In the morning, we went into a channel on the northern portion of the island and turned west into the tidal flats again. The ultimate goal of these trips was to map the distribution of carbonate grain sizes and facies.

A thunderstorm came at 9:30 PM. It rained heavily for two hours. Storms are nature’s form of air conditioning in The Bahamas.

Day 11 (6/8) or “The End of the Earth”— A storm came at night. The sun pierced through the clouds in the morning.

On this day, we went to the far northern edge of Joulter Cays. This area is home to the largest ooid shoals in the world. The tide was receding when we arrived, causing the emergent part of the shoals to appear as though they were growing.

Dark storms lumbered by us to the north. Joulter Cay seemed distant to the south, though it was actually less than a mile away. Clouds’ shadows danced across the brilliant water. Bright white sand stretched to the northwest. There was the sky and the ocean and nothing else.

It was the end of the Earth.

The tide lowered, and we didn’t notice until it was too late. Our boat was beached, so we had  to push it back into the water.

We went west and boated along the edge of the shoals. My professor lost our second tide gauge, so we spent an hour swimming around in search of it to no avail.

Around 6:45 PM, we turned back toward camp. The ocean was beautiful at dusk as the blue hue of nautical twilight creeped in from the east. The Tongue of the Ocean lined the horizon as a dark strip.

Although it was always hot in The Bahamas, this evening felt unbearably muggy. The air hardly cooled even though the sun had set; it was saturated with water. I was in a steaming sauna.

There was not a single gust of wind to blow my fire’s smoke into the dining tent. The bugs were relentless. I rarely turned on my headlamp because it would attract a swarm of mosquitoes to my head. They were constantly flying into my ears.

Moonlight sparkled over the ocean. A passing airplane’s light reflected off of the water.

It was too calm for nothing to happen.

Day 12 (6/9) orThe Perfect Storms”— My prediction was correct. An intense thunderstorm came from the west at 1:30 AM. Five more of equal strength followed it at regular 30-45 minute intervals until 9:30 AM. As a result, we stayed in camp longer than usual to cook pancakes. Thunderstorms continued to the north and south of us throughout the day.

We took samples along a transect near the camp. The evening was hot again. This was the fourth day without wind to keep the bugs away.

The sand was annoying me. It got into everything. I had some blisters from Day 6 that had not healed. There were open holes on my foot from them that swelled but never got infected because of the salt water cleaning that they received every day.

Day 14 (6/11) or “Jaws II”— A hot beam of sunlight basked my tent. It raised the temperature within it enough to wake me up. Fortunately, there was a nice breeze to ward off the morning bugs.

As before, we went north around the edge of the Cays near the ooid shoals and followed a channel to the west. This section of the tidal flats was unlike any of the previous ones that we had studied. The ground gave the water a brown hue while deep green channels cut through the shallows.

When we arrived at our destination, we saw two sharks in the distance. I was charged with being on shark watch for the entire day. A stingray swam nearby. I estimate that it was two feet in diameter. Sharks frequently passed by our boat. One came within five feet.

The water was warm in the shallows. At one location, our equipment indicated that it was 100ºF. It felt like a jacuzzi. Meanwhile, the channels carried cooler water.

Around 7:30 PM, we decided to return to camp. Waves rocked our boat during the ride back. The sunset illuminated the tops of towering thunderstorms in the distance. Lightning streaked across them.

On the previous day, the winds had returned to the east. They blew away the bugs, clouds, and heat. This was the evening perfect weather.

I was beginning to develop a mild case of trench foot. Skin was peeling off in small chunks from the tops of my feet.

Day 19 (6/16) or “The Worst Place on Earth”— A land crab was peering in at me from outside of my tent when I rose. It was a foot in diameter and six inches tall.

After breakfast, we packed up camp to depart from Joulter Cays. I had to put on gloves and cinch the hood on a windbreaker to take down my tent because the mosquitoes were bad. Our boat rose an entire foot over the water now that the supplies had lost weight. I sat on top of a “throne” of duffel bags in the middle of the boat. The two hour ride back to Lowe Sound was smooth and cool thanks to the clouds that blocked the sun.

At the boat ramp, some workers from Small Hope and my professor’s graduate student greeted us. For the past two weeks, we had not communicated with anyone outside of our group of three. It was strange to talk to outsiders.

We drove west toward Red Bays for an hour. Although the distance between Lowe Sound and Red Bays is not significant, we could not drive more than 25 miles per hour due to the potholes in the dirt road. The government had not repaired it since 1984.

Red Bays is the only town on the western coast of Andros Island. It was founded in the early 1800s when a group a Seminoles sailed eastward during the Seminole Wars. In the 1970s-1980s, the town was a nexus for marijuana trafficking into the U.S. Miami was only 130 miles away. Our driver told us that there were 15 year olds walking around the town with sports cars and $20,000 in their pockets.

Airplanes dropped crates of drugs onto the flats below. In the 1980s, a geologist studied carbonates in the area and disappeared. He was later found in a resort’s bathtub with seawater in his lungs. It was suspected that he got too close to one of these crates when a drug lord came to pick it up.

Nowadays, Red Bays is mellow; drugs no longer run through it. My professor said that all of the former drug runners were middle-aged and became very religious. Their kids though, he said, were still “punks.”

As we drove through town, I noticed that virtually every house had a big boat propped up on cinderblocks in the front lawn. Our driver said that they were all drug boats at one time, but now no one could afford to operate them. Just as he said that, I began to notice that none of the boats had engines.

A travel website describes Red Bays as a thriving town. I would hardly give it such kind words. It was a hardscrabble community of fewer than fifty people who rely upon subsistence fishing for their livelihoods.

Our group reached the boat ramp around 1:00 PM. Andros protected the west side from the waves generated by easterly winds, causing the water to be perfectly still. The ocean was a light baby blue that reflected off of the bottom of puffy white cumulus clouds. It was stormy when we left the east side, but this looked like a sunny paradise.

Launching the boat was not difficult since we gained experience with it. We decided to take our supplies to Triple Goose Creek in two trips. This allowed us to go fast over the Bahamian flats. The student and I sat on the bow of the boat.

My professor left us at the campsite to set up the tents while he picked up the graduate student at the boat ramp. Unlike Joulter Cays, Triple Goose Creek did not have sand. Instead, it had a solidified mud beach. The ground was springy under my feet. After twenty minutes, the wind stopped, and the sun came out to bake us. It was the hottest point of the trip.

We were careful to select our sleeping locations. Every additional inch of elevation mattered to prevent flooding our tents. Pine trees signaled high ground because they avoid wet areas. My tent was on the highest ground, a mere six inches above the ocean and four inches above the others’ tents. Two days later, a heavy rain shower passed over us. Their tents were flooded by a quarter inch of water while mine remained dry. I would not want to be in this place during a hurricane.

The land was perfectly flat. I could see the horizon in the east over a vast mangrove swamp. Storms were rolling in to the southeast. A rainbow appeared on the clouds’ northern tip. I saw three more after it.

Dusk came quickly as we watched the sun set over the ocean. Very few mosquitoes bit us in the cool evening. The night sky was fantastic.

My professor said that he had brought three sedimentology classes to Triple Goose Creek. In the second one, a student disliked the trip and told the next class that it was the “worst place on Earth.” Compared to Joulter Cays, I thought that Triple Goose Creek was a lovely refuge.

Day 20 (6/17) or “Sky Captains”— I woke up early enough to see the sun rise over the tidal marshes. For the rest of the day, I worked with the graduate student on flying a drone. His goals were twofold. First he wanted to make an aerial map of the norther part of Triple Goose Creek. Second, he wished to calculate water depth based on the color of the water.

I watched the rainstorms barrel over the Bahamian plains and come toward our camp. In the late afternoon, we placed two orange tarps in mangrove swamp. These served as control points with which we could determine distances on the aerial imagery.

Day 23 (6/20) or “Swamp People”— The wind became strong in the morning. That was not good for flying the drone, so we quit. In order to accomplish the graduate student’s second goal, we had to measure the depths across actual streams to calibrate the drone’s imagery.

We set off into the mangrove marshes before noon. Everything was covered in a grey carbonate mud. In some places, the mud was over our knees. My sandals were frequently sucked off of my feet by the mud. I measured the depth of the water across channels as the graduate student recorded GPS points. The hot water stung the sunburn and bug bites on our legs. For some channels, I had to crawl in the mud to make measurements or else risk sinking into it.

Tides on the west side of Andros were delayed by six hours from those on the east due to the amount of time required for the water to move around the tip of the island. Inland ponds had their tides delayed by another hour as they waited for it to move up through narrow channels. Sometimes, easterly winds can be strong enough to prevent high tides.

As we walked eastward, I noticed how the tide looked like it was changing. But this was merely the effect of slow water movement.

Day 27 (6/24) or “Fifty Shades of Blue”— There was little food for breakfast because it was the end of the trip. We packed camp quickly and set off for Red Bays at high speed. I rode on the bow. The water was choppier than before. I felt like I was sitting on a bar room mechanical bull. Several different shades of blue colored the ocean.

We waited at the Red Bays boat ramp for an hour until two workers from Small Hope picked us up. On the drive back to the lodge, we stopped at a supermarket for lunch. I had two small ice cream cups, a Snickers bar, and a can of chilled Coca-Cola. Cold food never tasted so good. The locals were complaining about the heat. They said it was unusually hot for the island. We didn’t notice.

For the next two nights, we stayed in Jeff’s apartment that overlooked the ocean. It was nice to have fresh water.

We ate dinner at Small Hope that evening. Jeff was impressed by my professor’s wild hair. All of us had a month’s worth of sea salt on our heads. This time, there were about forty people at the resort. Some were there for a wedding while others were divers. I went to the dessert table four times.

That evening, I worked with the graduate student to catalogue our samples. We had over five hundred. I walked out onto the apartment’s dock before going to bed. Nassau’s lights were visible from across the Tongue of the Ocean.

Day 28 (6/25) or “Pirates of the Bahamas”— The graduate student left early to go to his next field site in Washington. My professor and the student spent the morning sieving through sediment samples. I digitized data.

In the afternoon, we drove to the northern tip of the island. Our first stop was Morgan’s Cave. It was named for Captain Henry Morgan, a British privateer who was sanctioned by the British government to raid Spanish settlements around the Carribbean. He had known ties to northern Andros. Legend has it that he buried treasure in this cave.

A lush green forest surrounded the entrance. It was a typical limestone cave with stalactites and stalagmites. We walked around for several minutes before taking samples. I saw a cricket on the ceiling that was the size of my hand. Bats flew out of the cave’s mouth.

Next, we went to Morgan’s Bluff. This limestone hill is the highest point on North Andros. A strange breakwater — made of gigantic concrete cubes — was adjacent to the bluff. The base of it was comprised of an old coral reef while the top half was newer aeolian limestone. We collected samples along it to study diagenesis. At the peak, I noticed a sparkling turquoise line that marked the Tongue of the Ocean’s boundary. The bluff gradually lowered to the south.

The final stop was Captain Bill’s Blue Hole near the lodge. As previously mentioned, sea levels were lower during the last ice age. Rain slowly dissolved the limestone until it formed a big sinkhole. Blue holes can be several hundred feet deep. They have fresh water at their tops that gradually turn into salt water with increasing depth because of its higher density. Water levels are known to change with the tides.

Jacques Cousteau proved that the blue holes in the Bahamas are connected by subaquatic cave systems and even claimed to have seen a great white shark in one. The remains of the local Native American people have been found in these caves. Their rite of passage consisted of swimming down through these caves with nothing but an inflated whale bladder for air. Tribe leaders were buried in the caves as a sign of honor. Local lore claims that the half octopus, half shark sea monster “Lusca” lives in them.

We walked into Blue Holes National Park. There was a small pavilion and picnic tables. The blue hole was eerie. It was a perfect circle of blue water. All was calm, but our voices echoed across it. An opening in the fencing signaled that we could go in. Each of us took a running jump into it from a fifteen foot ledge.

The water was crystal clear. I looked down below and saw only darkness; the black abyss yawned open. Staying afloat in fresh water was harder than in salt water. We had to tread water for the entire swim because there was no gradual change in depth. All of us climbed out and took samples of the blue hole’s limestone cliffs for diagenesis research.

We returned to Small Hope for dinner. The two college students sat with us and were eager to hear our stories. They told us about diving at Small Hope. One of them had dove to 180 feet along the Tongue of the Ocean’s wall. More experienced divers go down to 220 feet.

A crescent Moon was setting over the ocean to the northwest by the time we returned to Jeff’s apartment.

Day 29 (6/26) or “I Love Air Conditioning”— We ate breakfast and packed our gear in a truck that took us to the airport. During the wait, I saw a group of sailors from AUTEC come in. They were being flown to the U.S. The man from Bahamian customs looked through our checklist of equipment but did not inspect our baggage.

This time, I sat in the co-pilot’s chair. I watched the gauges as we climbed into the sky. The views from the air were spectacular. I saw the definitive line delineating the “wall,” blue holes dotting the island, Joulter Cays, and our campsite at Triple Goose Creek. Bimini rose in the distance followed by the skyscrapers of Fort Lauderdale.

Passage through the airport was easy. Customs barely looked at our passports, and we walked through a simple metal detector. After getting a rental car, we hit Florida’s Turnpike to go north. Around 5:00 PM, we stopped at the University of Florida in Gainesville to drop off our water samples for analysis. Some of its brick dorms looked like a southern version of Princeton. It also had a massive football stadium.

For the night, we stayed at a hotel in Kingsland, Georgia. Dinner was at a Japanese steak house. It felt strange to go to bed without a beach outside of my room.


In the spring, people asked me what I was planning to do in the summer. I often replied that I would be assisting with a research project for a month in The Bahamas, and that it would not be easy. They usually scoffed at me, thinking that I would be stay at a beachside resort the entire time.

The Bahamas embodies the best of camping and the worst of camping. Some days were perfect. We collected a lot of data against the backdrop of a stunning landscape. Other days were not. Hot days lacked wind, and the insects descended upon us for a feast. I also have a newfound respect for the wind and the sea. They can generate raging storms or create a pleasant evening.

Although it is merely a collection of small islands, The Bahamas have much untamed wilderness. The entire west side of Andros, for example, is an uninhabited tidal marsh. There are still hundreds of small cays and rocks across The Bahamas’ shallow platforms with secrets that are waiting to be discovered.

I am currently back at Princeton, helping to analyze all of the samples that we collected. Each contains information about how carbonates are formed in the modern world. In two years’ time, we will be able to put together a few more pieces of the puzzle that allow us to learn about paleoclimates. This will bring us one step closer to understanding the Earth’s ancient past.

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56 Buzzwords Every College Freshman Should Know

College can be a different world. Although you may be in a big city or surrounded by suburbia, it sometimes seems like everyone is speaking a different language. In truth, everyone is. While it’s still English, there are a plethora of words that you’ll use on a daily basis in college that the average American doesn’t (including “plethora”). Some of these come from the esoteric nature of academia. Others became banal from their excessive use in political debates by overwhelmingly liberal student bodies. A few are bureaucratic terms that school administrators create to sound official.

Whatever their origin, you — the college freshman — can read my list and commentary to get ahead of the game.

  1. interdisciplinary: Every department likes to brag about how their degree uses tools from multiple areas of study.
  2. intersectionality
  3. interdepartmental: A bureaucratic term meaning that one class satisfies requirements in several academic departments.
  4. cross-cultural: Don’t be a provincial ignoramus.
  5. epistemological: This word should be restricted to philosophy classes, but unfortunately it’s not.
  6. cognitive: Someone is trying to read your mind.
  7. misogynistic
  8. patriarchal
  9. vacuous: You don’t want your paper described in this way.
  10. power structures
  11. jurisprudence: Use this word when talking about law if you want to sound learned.
  12. conjugal
  13. inclusive
  14. diversity: This term has become so overused that I don’t know what it means anymore.
  15. cisgender: Apparently this is a word.
  16. privilege: The use of this term should be a college political conversation equivalent of Godwin’s Law.
  17. systemic
  18. fro-yo: Delicious and much welcomed at any time.
  19. adjudicatory: You must be in big trouble with some college administrators if you come anywhere near this word.
  20. prejudicial
  21. affirmative action
  22. feminism: Know the difference between the three waves.
  23. undocumented: The word “illegal immigrant” is considered dehumanizing by college students. If you want to get technical, the real academic and bureaucratic term is “unauthorized migrant.”
  24. frosh: The politically correct, gender-neutral way of saying “freshman” or “first year undergraduate student.” I don’t like the term because it sounds like the name for a Dairy Queen ice cream sundae (Do you want to try the new vanilla frosh cone?).
  25. service: Colleges like to push students toward community service, but their definitions of it are broadly liberal. Under Princeton’s banner, making a documentary about the benefits of chocolate is considered service.
  26. syllabus: What kind of bus can’t you ride? A syllabus! Seriously, read these carefully. All of the necessary information about a class is in them, including the meaning of life.
  27. political correctness: It can either be a godsend or kryptonite depending upon which side of the political spectrum you fall upon.
  28. safe space: Puh-leez.
  29. microaggression: Just tell people that they’re rude.
  30. empower
  31. decolonize
  32. stigmatization: Sometimes it’s a problem.
  33. stress: There is much of it near the convergence of an oceanic plate and continental plate at an active margin.
  34. opportunity
  35. gender
  36. toxic: We should really use this word only in reference to chemicals, mushrooms, and feeding chocolate to dogs.
  37. oppressor: Please don’t blindly adopt the Marxist oppressors-oppressed view of the world. Read the news and go to history lectures. Not everything is some malevolent conspiracy by a syndicate to maintain their power by oppressing the world.
  38. hegemony: A must-know for anyone going into foreign relations.
  39. progressive: Now that Fox News has made “liberal” a dirty word, this is what the next generation of left-leaning students call themselves.
  40. censorship
  41. hate: The definition of this varies with the political beliefs of the group with which you are currently sitting.
  42. cultural appropriation: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo is cultural appropriation but Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t.
  43. literally: Look up the definition of this. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.
  44. community
  45. tolerance: Unfortunately, most college students’ idea of tolerance is a puritanical form of intolerance.
  46. entitled: People think that millennials are entitled, but I disagree.
  47. narrative
  48. differentiate: Know it even if you don’t take calculus.
  49. equality
  50. institutional
  51. solidarity: A popular word used by social activists.
  52. marginalized
  53. groupthink: Think for yourself. Read George Orwell’s 1984.
  54. identity politics
  55. triggered: Even the American flag can conjure psychological distress in a college student.
  56. normalize

Suggest other words in the comments section!

God and Government: The Aesthetics of Princeton Part XXIII

In the final weeks of the school year, the University opened the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall to seniors as part of the “Last Lecture” series. I wasn’t a senior, but I went in anyways. Usually, the doors to this pristine room are closed during the entire year.

Nassau Hall may encompass the soul of Princeton, but the Faculty Room is its heart. As I walked in, I immediately noticed the portraits that lined the walls. Each University president has a portrait hanging on the northern, eastern, or western wall. Paintings of important colonial figures — like King George II and George Washington — are on the southern wall. A large wooden table sits in the middle of the room with equally long elevated benches on both sides. It is modeled after the British House of Commons. In the back, a large chair — the president’s throne — is seated behind a scepter. A golden chandelier illuminates the brilliant white ceiling and majestic mahogany-colored wooden walls.

The Faculty Room was part of the original building of Nassau Hall, though it was only one third of its present size. During the American Revolution, it was hit by a cannon ball that came from a company under the command of Alexander Hamilton while the British were taking refuge within the building in January 1777. Hamilton had been rejected from Princeton and later went to King’s College, which eventually became Columbia University.

Princeton became the capital of the country in 1783 when a mutiny by the Continental Army forced the country’s congress to leave Philadelphia. The congress met in the Faculty Room. A century later, the room had been expanded, so the geosciences department created a natural history museum in it. Today, the Faculty Room is used for meetings of the Board of Trustees and other special events.

Several days later, an article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly prompted me to go on a scavenger hunt for the “Dante Room” in East Pyne.

After walking in on three different study groups, I finally found the East Pyne 111 empty on a late Wednesday night. A plaque tells how Professor Robert Hollander taught Dante’s works in the room for 35 years.

Beautiful rectangular dark wood panels adorn the entire room. A dim light gives the polishing the illusion of glowing. Two metal-framed windows serve as tiny dungeon windows to the outside world. It is easy to see how someone can go mad while thinking about the inferno in this room.

There are still a number of interesting spaces like these — each with their own histories — that dot Princeton’s campus.

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