Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

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Walking

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2015 at 10:46 am

Since moving to Wyoming some two years ago, I found that the local community college will let us Senior Citizens take classes, tuition-free.  Since the only alternative was going to work, I decided to take advantage of the offer and try to keep the few remaining little gray cells sharp. I began college in 1968, and, with a short hiatus to serve gallantly on the Frontiers of Democracy as a Trained Marine Killer-Typist, continued until about 1973, changing my major some eight times.  When the GI benefits ran out, I was forced to work, and soon the years had passed and I was married, working fulltime, and had a wife and four kids at home. Close to the time I turned 40, I developed an interest in zoology, and began taking classes at the nearby Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Monroe-Louisiana).  I was able to take vacation from work by the hour, and managed to squeeze in most of the junior- and senior-level courses needed for the zoology degree, although my schedule would not allow me to take a few of the more lengthy and basic courses–stuff like freshman chemistry, and some maths. After a couple years, I found I had accumulated about 180 undergraduate hours, across a vast array of unrelated topics.  The kind folks at NLU gently suggested that I accept a degree in “general studies” and go home.  I did so. Over the years, it’s always rankled that I hadn’t gotten a “real” degree in science, but I was getting a good deal of satisfaction from my amateur entomology projects, even managing to get a few papers published in prestigious and semi-respectable journals. Wyoming boasts only ONE public four-year institution, the University of Wyoming, in Laramie, a couple hundred miles away, so classes there were out of the question.  When I, at age 62, decided to take the classes at Central Wyoming College two years ago, I expected the institution to be a glorified trade school–teaching welding and culinary arts and the like.  I was delighted and surprised to find a really nice, modern, and vibrant college, with a wide range of programs, and with many of its students earning their associates (two-year) degrees, then transferring to UW for further study. The Wind River Indian Reservation lies just outside our town, and is home to a large number of Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal members.  As I have had absolutely NO experience with native American folk, I signed up for a class on “The Indians of the Wind River” alongside a microbiology course.  At the end of the semester, I knew a LOT about Indian history, and a fair amount about bacteria, lab procedures, DNA testing, and Ebola, among other cool stuff.

Soon-to-be-doctor Maldonado, who taught me about Arapaho and Shoshone history.

Soon-to-be-doctor Maldonado, who taught me about Arapaho and Shoshone history.

About that time, I decided I might as well enroll in the formal degree program in biology, thinking that a coveted Bachelor of General Studies degree (zoology minor) PLUS an Associates degree in Biology would probably be the equivalent of a bachelor’s in biology. I did notice that the curriculum required a class in trigonometry, which caused a great deal of righteous and understandable panic.  The prerequisite was “college algebra”, which I proudly announced that I’d already taken, earning a “B”.  “WHEN did you take algebra?”  “1969.”  “You probably need to re-take it, since calculators have been invented since then.” College today is MUCH different than in 1969, or even 1991, when I got my BGS.  Much of the work and assignments are online or computer-based.  The most difficult part of microbiology was learning how to use PowerPoint for a presentation, instead of just using flipcharts and the blackboard…er…whiteboard.  So…I took the algebra, primarily online, and with a graphing calculator with enough computing power to send  a man to the moon.  Got out with a “C”, and damned glad to get it.  THEN, I muddled through trig, in summer school, also online, spending three to four hours a DAY, and squeezing out a “B”, thanks to the patience and mercy of Professor Whitmore.  Thanks, Valerie. Then, a couple more biology classes, followed by TWO semesters of chemistry.  Sure are a lot more elements today than when I last took chemistry at Mer Rouge High School in about 1966.  Back then, we only had earth, fire, water, and air.  Again, with the help of great lab partners and the EXTREMELY patient Dr. Finney, finished everything up this May.

Professor Steve McAllister and Dr. Bill Finney, microbiology and chemistry instructors, respectively.  THANKS!

Professor Steve McAllister and Dr. Bill Finney, microbiology and chemistry instructors, respectively. THANKS!

So… I was cleared to graduate.  Getting an associates degree was not a real big deal, in the Grand Scheme of Things, especially in the household I share with a Master of Education, so I was just gonna have them mail the diploma.  Everybody I talked to, however, asked me, “Are you gonna walk?”  This seems to be a Wyoming expression meaning, “Are you gonna actually show up for the graduation ceremony?”  The more I thought about it, the more I realized just what a NICE little school Central Wyoming College really is.  They have a brand-new, state-of-the-art science building, whose facilities I’d enjoyed for two years, great and knowledgeable and caring instructors, and I’d made a lot of friends there.  I decided to go through with the pagentry as a way of showing my appreciation to the folks at CWC, and thanking them for their help and dedication. Drove over for gradution practice.  There were about 200 of us, and MANY of the graduates were the first in their families to ever receive a college degree.  Another older cowboyish guy (but not as old as I) was in front of me in the practice line.  “Do I have to wear this stupid hat?”, he asked the official.  “Yes”.  He grumbled. On the night of graduation, we all showed up, resplendent in our caps and gowns, with the orange tassels.  The school colors are orange-and-something, and I was afraid the GOWNS would be orange.  The cowboy was there. grad 3  He’d solved the problem nicely by wearing his best cowboy hat, with the tassel attached to the side. Several of my friends were Shoshone or Arapaho.  Amber, one of my chemistry lab partners, was there, as was Jerel, also from the chemistry class.  Jerel, along with many of the Indian graduates, had added a tribal feather to his cap, alongside the tassel.

Jerel (fourth from left), with tribal feather

Jerel (fourth from left), with tribal feather

George and Amber

George and Amber

So, we sat and stood, and marched and “walked”.  When I went up to get my diploma, I couldn’t help telling the college president, “You don’t look old enough to be president.  I’ve got CLOTHES older than you are.”  He laughed.  As we left the auditorium and entered the foyer of the building, we were surprised to see the ENTIRE faculty lined up, in two rows that we passed through, clapping and cheering wildly.  I thought that was pretty cool. I stopped to talk to my professors.  “Steve”, I said to my biology instructor/advisor, “if I were getting a doctorate, and returned to do more work, that’d be called ‘post-doc’.  Since I’ve gotten my ASSOCIATES degree, I guess any work I do now would be ‘post-ASS’, right?”  “George,” he said, without missing a beat, “you’ve been doing that for two years already.”

Without a doubt, the oldest person on the stage.

Without a doubt, the oldest person on the stage.

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Learning to Talk All Over Again

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 9:37 am

Wyoming flagOkay.  I’ve been a Wyomingite for over ten days now.  Got my Wyoming license plates, drivers license, voter registration card, and library card.  Opened a bank account.  Joined a health club.  Found a church.  From the balconies of our apartment (Elevation: 5600′), I can see the Wind River Range of the Rockies, only about ten miles from town (Elevation: up to 13,000+’).

Look, look, look.  Lookin' out my back...WINDOW.

Look, look, look. Lookin’ out my back…WINDOW.

I’m originally from Louisiana, so I’m used to folks in less-civilized areas saying that I “talk funny”.  Son, if you want to hear some “funny talking”, you need to come to WYOMING.  These are real friendly folks, but, every time I open my mouth, somebody has to correct my pronunciation.

The beautiful little Popo Agie River runs through the heart of my new hometown of Lander.  As the lady at the Wyoming Game and Fish office told me, “It’s ‘puh-PO-juh’, like I told ya’.”

Dubois ain’t “du-BWAH”, but “du-BOYS”.  “Ethany” is “EE-thany”.  I’d thought I was doing well by saying “wuh-SHAH-key”, but “Washakie” is really “WASH-uh-kee”.

Jeez, I even had trouble with the name of a lady I met at church.  “Annah” isn’t “ANN-uh”, but “AH-nuh”.

This is a great little town.  I’ll bet that at LEAST 80% of the people we’ve met have said, “Welcome to Lander”.  Wore my cowboy boots to church.  Just about finished with a 600-page “History of Wyoming”.  It’s good to be here.

Welcome to Wyoming.

We’re HERE!

In Expeditions, Uncategorized on August 4, 2013 at 5:22 pm

It’s been a wild and wooly week for the clan.

After arranging with a LOCAL truck rental place for the availability of their LARGEST truck on Monday morning, (in order to protect the privacy of the company, and avoid litigation, let’s call the outfit “You Haul”), we got a phone call over the weekend telling us we’d have to drive to a small town FIFTY miles away to get the $*#($# thing.  Okay.

Got up at 6:30 Monday morning, drove to the rental place and picked up the truck.  Drove back home and managed to get it down the driveway without wrecking anything or backing into the house.  Wife had hired three PROFESSIONAL packers to put the entire contents of our 3,000 square foot home into the truck.  They did a SUPER job, and didn’t leave many, if any, empty spaces in the 26′ truck.

Got finished about 4:30, hooked up the “tow dolly” to the truck, loaded the Jeep onto it, and ready to go.  We’d planned to spend the night in a local motel before embarking on the 1,200-mile Missouri-to-Wyoming trip on Tuesday morning.  I, however, was antsy to get started, so I cleared out a small spot on the seat of the truck for Dobby, The Best Dog in the World, and we started north, figuring to stop whenever we got tired.  Amanda and Susan set out in the Ford Escape.  Those sissies only made it about 250 miles, and stopped at a posh hotel in Kansas City.  Dobby and I, with our training as Marine Corps killer/typists, however, pressed on.

As I’d picked up the truck with only about a half-tank of gas, the fuel gauge was getting into the red, just north of Springfield.  Really hurt my feelings to find that it costs about $200 for each fillup.  Fortunately, my wealthy wife had given me a bunch of money for expenses.  Up into Iowa, then over the Missouri River (again) into Nebraska.  I was feeling good, but the air conditioning was a bit cool on the Dobster, so I pulled out a blanket for her to snuggle into.

Through Lincoln, and headed west on I-80.  Still feeling good, but it was getting late into the night.  Drove on a bit further, and decided to pull into an interstate rest area and spend the night in the truck.  First one was FULL of big trucks, with absolutely nowhere to park.  Forty miles later, ditto for the second one.  At 1:30 AM, still feeling okay, found a slot in the third one, just east of Kearney, Nebraska.  Pulled out the old WWII surplus sleeping bag for a pad, went into the rest stop to brush teeth and take care of essentials, then pulled the blanket over dog and geezer, and hit the sack.

Woke at 6:30 and hit the road.  Six hundred miles down, six hundred to go.  By about 4:00, we pulled in to Lander, Wyoming.  Pulled into what I THOUGHT was the rental agency, hoping to leave the locked truck there, take the Jeep off the dolly, and return the dolly.  Waited around for forty-five minutes, and nobody showed up at the place, which was unlocked and wide open.  Drove the huge truck and attached Jeep back to the motel, only managing to sorta nudge ONE tree and a signpost, VERY slightly.

Since the motel hadn’t expected us until the FOLLOWING day (Amanda and Susan didn’t make it any farther than Ogalalla, Nebraska, on Day Two), I had to take the only room they had, which smelled very much as if it had hosted a Marlboro convention.  Went to sleep.  Dob woke me at 6:30 the next morning, needing to “do her business”.  Dressed in my “sleeping shorts” and a t-shirt, I took her outside.  Business completed, returned to the room, where I inserted my “key card”, which immediately caused a red light on the door lock to illuminate, and STAY illuminated.  Could not get in.  Desk clerk could not get in.  Desk clerk could not contact any maintenance personnel.  Had to sit in the small lobby, holding Dobby in my lap, because she wanted to leap into the arms of every stranger who entered for breakfast.  Over an hour later, a maintenance guy was located, and managed to get me into the room, but would not be able to fix the lock until later in the morning.  If I left, I couldn’t get back in.

Went back to the rental place, which was actually about a half-mile farther down the road from the place where I’d previously waited.  The attendant most probably was actually a zombie.  He looked at me rather vacantly, did not respond to verbal questions, but managed to fill out the paperwork for me to return the “tow dolly”.  At that point, with the Jeep still FIRMLY lashed to the apparatus, I asked him if he could reattach the driveshaft, which the rental guys in Missouri had quickly removed prior to towing the vehicle.  “Uh, I might could figure it out.”  Never mind.  I, mechanical doofus that I am, crawled under there and could quickly see how the thing was supposed to re-attach, but was unable to QUITE get it right.  Crawled back out.

“Now we just need to get the Jeep off the dolly, and I’ll be gone.”  Since the thing has 4-wheel drive, I figured I’d just drop it down into 4WD, so that the FRONT wheels would pull it, and drive down the street to a mechanic.  The zombie did not respond.  At that point, another customer arrived, and the zombie immediately abandoned me, going inside to fill out a VERY complicated rental agreement with the new guy, taking well over an hour.  I approached him several times, asking for just TWO minutes of his time to help loosen a tie-chain that had tightened during the trip.  He, however, had been struck both mute and dumb.  After an additional half-hour of prying and banging, I got the Jeep off, disconnected the dolly, and drove away.

Amanda and Susan arrived that night, we moved into a smokeless room, ate a nice meal, and prepared to meet with the landlady she’d been speaking with for about a month.  The rental property (our house-and-twenty-acres in Missouri is unsold, and I’m continuing to make mortgage, insurance and tax payments on it) was a duplex, and the neighborhood was sedate.  The owner agreed to meet us there, aware that we had Dobby, a seven-year-old Boston terrier, and Little Cat, a VERY mellow, declawed cat.  She gave us the keys and the garage door opener, and told us to drop by in the morning to complete the paperwork.  Back to the motel.

Two hours later.  Knock on the door of the motel, and there’s the landlady, who’d tracked us down.  “I changed my mind.  You seem like nice folks, but I don’t want to rent to people who have a cat.”  Returned the keys and door opener.

Next morning, hit the streets, looking for a place to live.  After a few hours (not a lot of rental choices here), we settled on a 1,000 square foot apartment ON THE THIRD FLOOR.  Since we had 3,000 square feet of possessions to put into a 1,000 square foot space, we rented a storage building.  I managed to get about 1/3 of the truck unloaded until I hit a wall of BIG, HEAVY stuff (fold-out sleeper sofa, buffet, tall chests, etc.)  Retired to the balcony of the apartment to drink MANY adult beverages.  I’d assumed that all Wyomingites (I had to ask the lady at the bank–I thought they were called Wyomagonians, or some such!) would be Coors drinkers, and, wanting to blend in with the locals, bought a twelve-pack of the beverage.  Must be an acquired taste.  Finished half of one, poured the rest down the drain, went back to the store for Anheuser-Busch products.  Resumed drinking.

View from our bedroom balcony.

View from our bedroom balcony.

Same balcony, different view.  The Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Same balcony, different view. The Wind River Range of the Rocky Mountains.

The next morning, we couldn’t do much until the three college guys we’d hired showed up at 4:30.  I drove around town.  Opened a bank account.  Joined an exercise club.  Got a library card and my Wyoming Jeep plates.  Registered to vote.  Guys showed up on time, and took about two hours to get ALL the heavy stuff upstairs.  I didn’t help very much, as my nearly-62-year-old back was SCREAMING.  Amanda paid each of them a hundred bucks for the two hours’ work, and they were worth THRICE that much!  Took the truck back, and let AMANDA deal with the zombie.  She’d thought I was exaggerating, but knows better now.

Went out this morning and sat through TWO church services, and am pretty sure I know which one we want to attend.  Boxes everywhere, but we’ve finally gotten MOST of the stuff sorted and put away.  I went through four full boxes of bug-and-science books, managed to get rid of a very few, and was able to put some into storage, only keeping out about 50 or 100 that I REALLY need.  Redesigned my home-made “business cards”.

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Soon, I’ll be able to get out with the dragonfly net, and see what Wyoming has to offer.  There’s a lot of “virgin bug territory” around our Popo Agie River (I asked the lady at the Game & Fish office how to pronounce it.  She said, “Puh-PO-juh, like I tol’ja.”) and in the Wind River Range of the Rockies, just west of town.  Something tells me the “bugging season” is gonna be a LOT shorter here than it was in the Ozarks.  Got some maps from BLM (Bureau of Land Management), and will go out tomorrow.

Just down the road.  The Popo Agie River at the "rise".  Sinks Canyon State Park.

Just down the road. The Popo Agie River at the “rise”. Sinks Canyon State Park.

This looks like a great town.  Lots of nice shops and cafes, and a lot of really FIT-looking folks on bikes and just walking about.  I’ve picked up a bunch of books on local history, using my new library card.  Still gotta get my Wyoming drivers license, but the office is only open on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I’ll keep you posted.

Y’all come see us.

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The Great Adventure Begins!!

In Expeditions, Uncategorized on July 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

The house looks even messier than usual.  I’ve got all my books packed away and lugged downstairs.  Pulled out all the drawers in the rolltop desk and burned about half of the junk I found inside.  Got 95% of the camping/hiking/kayaking/fishing/water quality monitoring equipment boxed up from my “Man Closet”.  Cleaned  out all the tools and junk from the pumphouse/toolshed.  Sold all the big and bulky stuff I won’t be able to use in a Wyoming rental house  (beehives, tiller, chainsaw, cinderblocks, etc.).  Threw away lots of mismatched socks, ancient underwear, and quite a few pair of shorts that seem to have shrunken somewhat over the past six years.

It’s Saturday morning, and I’ll probably put in a little bit of time lugging furniture downstairs, taking beds apart, and such.

On Monday morning, bright and early, I drive down to the U-Haul dealer, and drive away in the biggest truck he’s got, with one of those “tow dollies” attached behind, bearing my banana-yellow Jeep Wrangler.  SUPPOSEDLY, a couple of burly guys are gonna show up at 9 AM, contracted to lift and tote for four hours.

The Wind River Range, just west of Lander.

The Wind River Range, just west of Lander, Wyoming.

Guess we’ll probably have to sleep on the floor Monday night.  Then, as soon as I get up and fortify myself with coffee, we’re On The Road, with 1200+ miles ahead of us, and Douglas (Booger) County, Missouri, in our rearview mirror.  I’m not looking forward to a pair of back-to-back 600-mile days, with a couple of days unloading and arranging to follow (once we find a place to rent!!!).

The Popo Agie

The Popo Agie

The Great Adventure begins!  Can’t wait to get settled in and learn what cool, new bugs I can find at 6,000-12,000 feet above sea level in the area around Lander, Wyoming, the Popo Agie River, Fremont County, and the Wind River Range.  I’ll keep you posted.

If you happen to be in the market for a new, four-bedroom, three bath house on twenty acres, deep in an Ozark “holler”, I’ll make you a good deal.

At home in the Ozarks.

At home in the Ozarks.

A Moke in a MOOC

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm

I read a lot of detective/crime/murder novels.  In some of the older ones, the detectives, sitting around the squad room, will make some comment along the lines of:  “Well, we picked up some moke for the crime, but had to let him go.”  I had heretofore never actually looked up the word “moke”, but interpreted it as “poor sap” or “hapless individual” or some such.  The actual derivation of the word, I’ve found, is “archaic British, Australian or United States slang for ‘donkey'”.

That being said, and using ANY of the preceding three definitions, I probably qualify as a “moke”.

Being a curious sort, and penurious as well, I began searching the Internet a few weeks ago, hoping to stumble across some FREE online college courses that could help to fill in some of the gigantic gaps in my cranial capacity.  This is a fairly new concept, and some of the major universities in the country (and probably the world) are now offering a selection of these Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).  At the “Coursera” website (https://coursera.org), I found a Brown University online class called “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets”.  Although this was a subject (one of many, many subjects) about which I was TOTALLY ignorant, the topic was intriguing, and something that I onlyunderstood on the most BASIC level.

I, therefore, signed up for the class, along with over THIRTY-SIX THOUSAND other intellectual sponges.  That’s the beauty of a MOOC.  Each week, the students are to watch a series of video lectures, read some  “enrichment” information (usually to be found online, and free), choose one of three “archaeological exercises”, and answer a series of quiz questions.  With so many participants, I suppose it goes without saying that the quiz questions pretty much HAVE to be true/false or multiple choice.  I can’t conceive of Brown University teaching assistants grading that many essay questions each week.  The archaeological exercises are graded in an innovative manner, as each participant must grade FIVE of his/her classmates’ submissions, whereby he receives five evaluations from other randomly-chosen participants.  It probably goes without saying that no actual college credit is awarded for successful completion of the class, but the acquisition of knowledge requires no Certificate of Completion.

I’ve just finished the final week’s assignments.  The instructor in the video lectures, Dr. Sue Alcock, is a personable sort, and the lectures are interesting, informative, and pretty basic.  Her observations challenge some basic ideas and assumptions that I suppose I’ve long held, clarify some important points, and inspire me to think about some new things.  Each week, her main colleagues, Professors Bestock, Houston, Leppard and Berenfied, update us on their own pet projects, including major archaeological sites on the island of Montserrat, at Petra (Jordan), Abydos (Egypt), and El Zotz, Guatamala.  Dr. Bestock, for the record, is “absolutely” fascinating, and her enthusiasm is infectious.  Graduate and undergraduate students also contribute interesting tidbits on archaeological basics–pot sherds, human remains, collecting and curating techniques, and the like.

I think the concept will catch on.  At present, check out the Coursera website, or merely Google “MOOC”.  You might find something you like.  Better than trolling the ‘net for pornography, anyway.

Maybe I should run out and buy a Brown sweatshirt.

Looks Like We’re Getting Close!!

In Expeditions, Uncategorized on July 12, 2013 at 11:54 am

After over a year of planning and preparation, it looks like we’re getting VERY close to our relocation to Lander, Wyoming, and the “Popo Agie River area”.

Amanda’s job will require her to be there by August 1, and we’ve been madly packing, selling unneeded (or un-MOVEABLE) stuff, and waiting for her “moving check” to arrive.  As soon as it does, we’ll be heading north.

Guess I need to go out and dig up all my carrion beetle traps, pack them securely away, and HIDE them amongst the packing boxes, as I’m sure she’ll decide that they are dispensable and should be left behind.  For her sake, I WILL dispose of all the carrion I’ve been collecting for bait.

‘Twill be hard to leave our (unsold) house-and-twenty-acres here in the Missouri Ozarks; however, I’ve located a friend to “house-sit” for us while we wait, pray and hope for a buyer.  In the meantime, we expect to be living in rented digs in Wyoming, learning about all sorts of neat and new stuff, and trying to look cowboyish and stay warm.

I’ll admit that the prospect of leaving has given me quite a roller-coaster ride; however, faith and a steadfast reliance upon legal pharmaceuticals has got me looking forward to our Great Adventure.

Once we get settled in, hope to be providing you with a closer look at the “Bugs of Popo Agie”.  As we’d say in Louisiana, “Y’all come see us!”

A Word of Explanation

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2013 at 4:12 pm

After six years in the Missouri Ozarks, our family will be moving to Lander, Wyoming, in the late spring or early summer of 2013.  In preparation for that move, this blog was started to chronicle my outdoor/entomology/natural history activities in Lander, near the Popo Agie River.

UNTIL we move, however, I’ve transferred quite a few blog posts from my FORMER blog, “The Bugs of Booger County”.  For that reason, you’ll see a lot of information on my Missouri activities.  Once we hit the ground in Wyoming, I’ll try to keep you up-to-date on the new and interesting things we discover there.

Thanks for visiting.

UPDATE, LATE JUNE, 2013:

Our home in Missouri remains unsold; however, my wife and daughter must be in Wyoming around the end of July.  For the foreseeable future, looks like I will remain in the Ozarks, safeguarding the house while we await a buyer, while they become established in the Rockies.  For awhile, at least, The Bugs of Popo Agie will consist of material from the Missouri Ozarks.  Stay tuned.

Science Nerds

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Nerd is a term that refers to an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.  (Wikipedia)

I don’t care very much for television.  Immediately after I retired, however, I outfitted a spare room in my Louisiana house into a Man Cave, and bought a little set, so I could watch a football or hockey game from time to time.  One afternoon, I came across a station that ran three or four of the older, original CSI programs, back-to-back every afternoon, and was soon hooked.

These were the first shows, with Gil Grissom, Sarah Sidle, Warrick Brown, Catherine Willows and Nick Stokes as the major characters, all of whom worked as Crime Scene Investigators in Las Vegas.  All of them seemed to have one or more character flaws or eccentricities, and these were My Kind of People.

I especially remember one scene when they were all sitting around the break room, talking about their high school days.  One asked the others, “What kind of kid were you in high school?”  Every one of them, including the muscular, handsome, All-American quarterback-looking Nick (George Eads), said, “Science Nerd”.

I am a Science Nerd.  I was not a Science Nerd in high school.  In high school, I was just a Regular Nerd.  I had absolutely no interest in biology, chemistry, nor “general science” (the only three science classes taught at my rural Louisiana high school).  In fact, I can’t recall ANY school subject that really GRABBED me, although I did pretty well in them all, by rural Louisiana standards, anyway.

It wasn’t until I was well into my fourth decade that I really began to appreciate, and wonder about, the natural world.  I remember that one of my first real “science interests” was dolphins.  That’s a pretty weird subject for a landlocked guy from the bayous of north Louisiana, but I read everything I could get my hands on about Tursiops truncatus, the Atlantic bottlenosed dolphin.  In my late 30s, I returned to school, majoring in zoology, taking all kinds of “odd” subjects–Herpetology, Entomology, Marine Field Biology, Vertebrate Zoology–and interacting with all kinds of really SHARP twenty-something kids, many (if not most) of whom (at least in the junior/senior level courses) were bona fide Science Nerds.  This was FUN.

I “adopted” a young guy from Iowa, who had no car.  We raced all over the country with bug nets, trying to assemble impressive insect collections to satisfy our demanding entomology professor.  We waded swamps and bayous, netting fish for the Vertebrate class.  We turned over logs and wallowed in swamps, finding salamanders and snakes for Herpetology.  The grade was important, but this was FUN!!

One of my best friends in Louisiana was a biology teacher, and a lifelong Science Nerd.  Two of my friends at church, a married couple, became Science Nerds later in life, and started conducting research on the behavior and reproduction of box turtles.  They returned to college, and have even reported the results of their experimentations and observations in professional, technical scientifical journals.

As an almost sixty-year-old Science nerd, my interests have evolved, and change pretty frequently.  Today, I enjoy capturing an identifying freshwater aquatic macroinvertebrates (insect larva), which are used as indicators of stream quality.  I also conduct chemical testing on several of “my” Ozark streams, submitting the data to the Missouri Department of Conservation so they can assess stream health.  I’m learning to identify wild mushrooms.  Bought my own microscope.

Within the past couple of years, I’ve become interested in the lives and habits of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), and spend the warmer months racing about, capturing specimens, trying to identify them, and determining distributions of species (what bugs live where) in the Ozarks.  In doing so, I’ve come into contact, usually by e-mail, with some of the leading Dragonfly Guys and Gals in the country.  It’s really a hoot to correspond with the People Who Wrote The Books, and to have them answer my often stupid questions, and give me guidance and advice.

Recently, I met a fellow Science Nerd (who actually gets paid to find bugs), who got me started in collecting and (hopefully) identifying beetles.  He sent me a large box a couple of weeks ago.  Inside, was a homemade trap, made from a two-liter soda bottle, for the capture of dung beetles.

THIS IS FUN!!!!

I had trouble identifying a beetle this week.  I had a tentative identification, and managed to get in touch with an expert in that particular family of beetles.  This guy is at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian in Washington, and he took the time to correspond with me, and set me on the right track.

I’ve met so many good folks, Science Nerds all, and have a simply wonderful time piddling around with my silly interests.  My wife, No Nerd She, understands none of this.  “Why do you CARE what sort of dung beetles are found in the Ozarks?  NOBODY cares.  And PLEASE don’t tell me how you bait those traps while we’re sitting at the dinner table!!”

I guess I don’t REALLY care.  But it’s fun to find out.  And it’s fun to get out with these folks from time to time and float an Ozark stream, wade around with a seine and look at tiny little bugs.  Or stalk the edge of a pond, insect net in hand, and manage to outwit a new dragonfly species.  Or poke through a pile of …er…you know, and see if any beetles peek out. 

While working in the yard this afternoon, my WONDERFUL eight-year old daughter, Susan, looked under a ceramic pot in the garden, and found her very FIRST beetle.  She picked it up.  “It BIT me,” she yelled, but kept it in sight long enough to drop it into a vial of alcohol.  As soon as I finish this post, I’m gonna show her how to make an insect label, record her collection data, and pin it for our coleopteran collection, with HER name listed as the collector.

My wife says I spend too much money on gasoline, and books, and nets and such.  I tell her that I don’t spend ANY money on gambling, saloons, or whores, so what’s the problem?

Wonder where I can get one of those NIFTY pocket protectors?

 

Citizen Science–Are We Kidding Ourselves?

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I’ve been reading quite a few articles lately about “citizen science“–basically the concept of “non-degreed” laymen out and performing “scientific” research of a rather basic nature.

Much has been said, both pro and con, about the philosophy:  Is this really science?  Are these individuals really scientists in any meaningful sense of the word?

I am NOT a scientist.  Although I was a zoology major, family and work obligations prevented me from an undergraduate degree in science.  Even with sixty or so undergraduate hours in biology (plus about 120 in all sorts of other stuff), I walked away with a “general studies” diploma.  That being said, I am vitally interested in all sorts of “science-related” topics–odonate distribution, water quality monitoring, herps and bugs.

My home state of Missouri encourages citizen participation in outdoor/science/nature activities, through a wide variety of state-supported programs:  Master Naturalists, Stream Team, Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring, Forestkeepers, and I’ve taken part in all of them.

The Stream Team/Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring program, for example, consists of over four thousand volunteer teams across the state.  Some teams may concentrate simply on keeping their adopted streams clean and free of litter.  Others choose to take classes which teach the identification of aquatic macroinvertebrates (insect larva), the presence or absence of which are indicators of stream health.  Those volunteers may choose to take more “advanced” training, which teaches how to take chemical samplings to determing pH, phosphate levels, dissolved oxygen, nitrates, water and air temperature, conductivity, stream flow, and turbidity.  The Stream Team program then supplies the volunteers with ALL the biological and chemical testing equipment needed to conduct sampling on the volunteer’s chosen stream.

I believe that this army of volunteers is providing an invaluable service to the streams of Missouri.  But this begs the question–is it REALLY science?  As I appreciate it, scientific research involves much analysis of data, and a comprehensive education is vital to the interpretation of the data.  HOWEVER, much of the research involves dirty, time-consuming, repetitive drudge work–actually going out on a stream in 40 degree weather, dragging a net through riffles to capture and identify tiny bugs, lugging chemical monitoring equipment down miles of Ozark streams to take samples, recording the data, and submitting it to qualified professionals, who will (hopefully) find useful means of coordinating, compiling and USING the information.

In addition to the stream monitoring activities, I have a fairly recently-developed interest in odonates–dragonflies and damselflies.  I’m still honing my identification skills, and am building up a rather nice reference library.  All data that I collect on the distribution of species in my area is transmitted to a very comprehensive website, Odonata Central (www.odonatacentral.org), which is administered by one of the nation’s leading odonatologists at the University of Texas.  All data is checked by professionals, and distribution maps are instantly created, showing how these fascinating bugs are distributed throughout the country.

My wife has memorably announced to me, “You fancy yourself a scientist, don’t you?  Spending time and money chasing bugs, sampling water, and poking around in the ground looking for beetles.”  After a good bit of reflection, I’ve realized that I DO NOT consider myself a scientist, in any size, shape or form.  I’m just glad to be out and doing something I love, perhaps freeing the REAL scientists from some of the repetitive drudgery, and hopefully making some small contribution to the Totality of Knowledge.  Any projects which help to foster a love of science, whether substantive scientific information results, should be not only tolerated, but applauded.

A recent NPR interview brought out the fact that, until quite recently, the concept of a “professional scientist” was really unthinkable.  Those (usually wealthy) guys who were out chasing beetles and staring at the stars were “natural philosophers”, or “naturalists”. 

Charles Darwin, the epitome of a “naturalist”

Usually self-educated (at least to some extent), they followed their passions, and made great contributions in their chosen (and often highly-specialized) fields.

Perhaps we should not flatter ourselves that we are scientists, even “citizen scientists”.  There is no lack of honor, however, in claiming the title of Naturalist. 

Always curious. 

Always learning.