So Many Dead Things

I’ll write more in the Master Naturalist blog about this (update, I forgot to do so), but I did enjoy a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections this morning. My friend Pamela and I drove over and met up with another Master Naturalist and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.

Art is from 3D images of animals.

Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.

Specimen jars. Stop here if you don’t want to see preserved animals and such.

The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.

The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!

Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!

Pamela is amazed at the hoatzin bird

Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.

Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!

There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!

That’s something else!

I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.

And look! A giraffe skull! Look at the horns!

They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.

Believe it or not, I managed to get hungry after all those dead things. Good thing we’d arranged to meet our friend, Lynn at a restaurant at the old airport terminal. Ah. A nice restaurant. And airplanes! What a good time.

What Did I Want to Do When I Grew Up?

Hello from the road to South Carolina. I love road trips. You can sure think a lot. You can also knit a lot. I’ve actually arrived at the end of the pattern I’m making, but because I’m using different yarn and needles, I’m going to repeat the lace pattern.

Best picture I could get in the car. You can get the idea.

I have plenty of yarn left. I enjoy knitting without disturbances. It lets me think of new techniques to try, modifications to make, and things I want to try next. I was wondering if I could crochet a border off live knitting stitches (not bound off). I think I’ve seen socks done that way, with crocheted cuffs.

I can’t wait to block it.

I could knit for my job, if I’d taken that choice when it came to me. I love the science of designing patterns, love teaching it (so much, oh so much), like to go to conferences, and all that. And I do technical writing, which helps a lot. I’d have to have figured out a niche and done a lot of marketing, like so many of my knitting friends did so well. Knitting blogs got a lot of folks started, and I loved doing that, too.

So much comfort.

That dream ended as abruptly as my work in La Leche League did. I didn’t have the self confidence and hadn’t healed enough to figure out a way to get through the hard part and start again, which I now can do. I no longer just disappear when I’m unfairly treated and no longer believe what other people say. Woo!

What Else Did I Want to Do?

But, who knows, I have a lot of years left! There’s another alternate route I could have taken, like the road less traveled. Yes, it’s exactly like two roads diverging in a woods, because I didn’t choose the one leading into a forest.

I do love those plants!

In college, I concentrated hard on classes leading to an interdisciplinary degree in linguistics. I loved studying all the different areas, and was strongly tempted by neurolinguistics. Brains fascinated me. (Still do; notice what I read about now.)

But, I had to get those darned prerequisites out of the way. I did most of them in the wonderful honors program, but I got burned by an awful teacher in Biology who gave exams that were ten essay questions where if you missed any part of the answer, the whole thing was wrong. That ended up ruining my boyfriend and his best friend’s GPAs. I was like, “You ain’t messing with my summa cum laude, asshole,” and got the only A in the class. I gave him one scathing evaluation.

Crimson clover to cleanse your palate from that guy.

That preamble was intended to explain why I took my second biology class as a normal class, with a grad student TA instead of a mean full professor. The class mostly covered genetics and biochemistry. I ate it up like ice cream. Figuring out chromosomes and proteins and all that was like figuring out puzzles. It was so fun.

I always wanted to know how plants worked. This is a beautiful invasive vetch in Georgia.

I stayed after and asked the teacher questions. This guy was studying bees for his doctoral research, so I asked a lot about insect genetics. All I now remember is that he always wore incredibly wrinkled shirts, apparently because his girlfriend didn’t have an iron. There was much good-natured kidding, and he rewarded us with wearing an ironed shirt to the final exam.

Like this wild azalea hiding in a prissy trimmed hedge, I was nature girl stuck in academia.

Because I answered all the extra credit questions right, I didn’t need to pass the final, but I did it for fun. Then came the fateful question. The TA took me aside and begged me to switch majors. Biology needed me! I said I’d think about it. With my love of trees and springs and swamps, I imagined becoming a wildlife biologist and working with a State agency.

But, by that time I was already accepted to grad school in linguistics with a full fellowship. I had to take that path. Plus I was following my boyfriend. Hint to young people: your vocational choice should be determined by your brain, not hormones. I’ve been stuck working with language a lot longer than I had my boyfriend (a great human, don’t get me wrong).

The Good Part

But, all was not lost. I came to the Hermits’ Rest and got to hang out with Sara, the genetics PhD. And I met Dorothy, who’s not only a blog/podcast sponsor, but also got me into the Texas Master Naturalist program! I now get to do biology every day if I want to, I get to study the natural world, and if I can’t BE a wildlife biologist, at least I get to hang out with them! And I do work with a State agency.

Like this fine plantain, I’m choosing to find beauty wherever I am and grow where I’m planted.

It took me a while, but I did get to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. It just took patience.

So, have you attained your goals? Does your vocation match your avocation?

Book Report: The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Ooh-wee am I excited to share this book report! I’ve been making myself obnoxious the entire time I’ve been reading it, because I keep telling everyone little tidbits I’ve learned or recommending it with great abandon. I sure liked The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson. I am a complete sucker for nonfiction that both informs and entertains, and this book certainly achieves those goals and more.

Even Penney the dog liked this book, at least at first.

Bryson, who is many people’s favorite nonfiction writer, according to the many people who told me that, takes you on a tour of the human body and all its systems, and he shares lots of current information (the book just came out) as well as fascinating stories of what people used to believe about various aspects of ourselves.

Continue reading “Book Report: The Body: A Guide for Occupants”
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