Monday, July 6, 2009

People who make a difference

Everyone has that one influential person who opened their eyes to something new: that math teacher who showed you so much more about a cue ball and the 8 ball bouncing off each other and how you would use that later in life (maybe for more that just calculating how to throw a tangerine bomb at the correct angle to bounce off the peppertree limb to effectively hit your best friend – or maybe that was just me); maybe that history teacher that helped you envision a civil war battle or the signing of the Declaration in exquisite detail that brought history to the present and in doing so instilled a passion for the past; or that English teacher (in my case it was Mr. Kohler) who “forced” everyone to read, anything just read, yet at the same time found a way to share a vast ocean of literature (good and bad) that finally opened my eyes to why everyone I knew enjoyed a good book once in a while (in the case of my mom and dad all the time during my childhood it seemed); or the music/vocal/art teacher who played/hummed a tune, or gave a monolog that moved you to do want to do the same (that didn’t happen to me but I hear it does). Everyone has one of them, or more and listening to someone’s story about why they chose their career, or why they volunteer at the library, or just what they read recently and their opinions/thoughts has always been somewhat fascinating to me, and while I have been in the field this summer I have come to realize how much fun it is to listen to some of the people I meet talk about some of this.

For the longest time, when people have asked me why I didn’t become a medical doctor (for some reason, when you are a biology major that question comes up a lot), I have been touting that the main reason is I don’t like people! Which is partially true and besides the fact that I wasn’t great at chemistry, nor did I love it, and especially I didn’t do very well at physiology and I am pretty sure there is a lot of chemistry and physiology in the medical field – although if I had actually cared about those classes as much as most of my other required courses I may have tried a little harder…. I still think people are like cats (and little dogs for that matter – all dogs should really be bigger): individually there are many cats that are actually enjoyable and at times I have found myself particularly drawn to one that has a pleasing personality, rare but it happens, but as a group, I don’t like em! This is not just because they kill birds and I study birds (they do an NO it is not natural – no birds in North America evolved with the pet-type of cats as predators), which actually has nothing to do with it, and I had a few wonderful cats growing up (tabby, ben and seymore were all pretty good cats). This stems more from the fact that you don’t really ever have a pet cat, rather you have a cat that puts up with you I think, and that bugs me. But back to the main topic, people are like cats; as a whole I don’t really like them. As such, I have never been drawn to spending years of my life to get a couple degrees, which costs thousands of dollars and years of my time only to help a few ungrateful ignorant rude SOB’s….. just kidding but still, I would rather do all of that to watch birds instead!

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and I still don’t really know which is somewhat ironic seeing that I am back in grad school at 36, but it is the truth. Granted, the only thing I ever get really excited about is science (and the occasional fundamental religious display of idiocy that permeates the American culture), and I truly enjoyed teaching both during my master’s and after. So, after spending a few years as a consultant and realizing how much I missed learning something new about biology, here I am.

Now the whole point of this blog is to blame the right person for this situation that brings us back to how everyone has that one person. Well, mine started way back in the spring of 1994. I originally applied to Chico State because an ex-girlfriend was accepted to Humboldt, applications for Humboldt were no longer accepted and Chico was close by (only 150 miles or so of winding mountain roads - haaa it looked close on the map at least). Primarily Chico had a pre-forestry major at the time and all I knew was that I wanted to work outside and not at a desk for the rest of my life. Of course Jeanene and Phil were nearby so it wasn’t like I would have nowhere to go. The funny thing is that the relationship ended way before I ever heard back from Chico State; eventually I still moved away. The first class I had to take was botany and I almost quit the biology major right then and there(the whole class seemed like all we did was look at a slide and draw what we saw – and I am not a good artist). That all changed in the spring though when I got to take zoology. The lecture part was interesting but it was the lab that clinched it for me. Jay was my lab instructor and at the time I didn’t know much about him but would later come to the educated conclusion that he and Dr. Thomas (the vertebrate physiologist) were the best instructors not only in biology but out of all the instructors I was forced to, err had the pleasure from which I received instruction. Jay alone is to blame! If it wasn’t for the fact that Jay showed in all transparency how much he enjoyed teaching, his passion for pretty much everything biological and his ability to relate all of his knowledge to the student in the lab, I probably would have switched majors and who knows where I would be. Eventually, I became good friends with Jay and learned a lot more about the big guy like how great he is at the banjo, his hunting and fishing prowess (he taught me how to hunt actually and I don’t think I ever beat him at Eagle Lake fishing), his ability to hold on to fantastic colloquial sayings over years and bring out new ones again and again –which I won’t repeat but they are fantastic and personally if I know a good line I use it a.s.a.p. so I don’t know how he saves them), his overall breadth of knowledge in both biology and other areas which always presented a welcome challenge during discussions with him but I did get to correct him once in ornithology class about cuckoos, hehe (and I am ignoring his ability to assign nicknames or descriptors such as ”shrew-like”), and finally the fact that the big guy was single-handedly responsible for my current usual aversion to Hecho en Mexico (Cuervo negro). As a matter of fact, I finished my B.S. with a complete distaste for birds until I talked with Jay about grad work and he convinced me to take his ornithology, then waterfowl classes.

In fact, now that I think of it, if it wasn’t for Jay I would have never been interested in these GD birds, and suffering through mosquitoes, thunderstorms, snakes, bugs, ticks (I hate ticks), below freezing temperatures, claw marks, bill stabbings, leaky tents etc., and I wouldn’t be sitting here at a campsite in the mountains of Utah, after 6 weeks in Montana and Colorado, writing this dumb blog on people who have impacted out lives! So thanks a lot Jay! If it wasn’t for you I would probably be sitting back at my desk in the City typing away in a comfortable chair with temperature control, fresh coffee, vending machine, maybe some nice art on the wall and dreaming of being somewhere like the mountains of Utah instead! Thanks Jay.

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