Saturday, January 07, 2006

Questions Answered



Well, I was hoping for a few more questions, but this is a start...

De asks: Talking monkeys - cool concept or something to be feared?

This one, friends, is an easy one, for we need only look to the whitehouse for testament to the danger of talking monkeys. Yes, talking monkeys are bad. Very bad. (More photo comparisons can be found at www.bushorchimp.com....apparently links are forbidden. (?)

Muse asks: What did you want to be, when you were little?

A marine biologist or a geologist. In high school, the answer was "pharmacist" for a while (for dubious reasons), but marine biology remained the big answer.

When I was little, my dad and I used to go fishing or out on photographic expeditions just about every weekend. Our outings would take us to beautiful and very wild places. He bought me field guides of salt and fresh water fish, salt and fresh water marine organisms, reptile and amphibian books, and rock and mineral books. We'd go out with our scoop nets and capture all kinds of neat little grass shrimp, minnows and juvenile bass and perch and the occasional crawfish, and put them and some native aquatic plants in an aquarium and watch them interact and grow. He also took me to one of the only places in southern Louisiana to find any interesting minerals (rocks are scarce when you live on an alluvial plane), Port Sulphur. This was really another fishing venue, but you could find sulfur and gypsum on the ground near the mines.

In college, I was a biology major and marine biology was still my thing. At the end of my freshman year, I had an opportunity to participate in a Cousteau project that summer. (Yes, Cousteau as in Jacques...and Jean-Michel.) I sent in my application and rounded up academic transcripts and letters of recommendation from my professors and applied for a grant to cover expenses -and I was accepted. I attended again in 1982, but they wouldn't give me another grant, since I'd already gotten one. In between those two life-changing summers (in many, many ways), I attended marine biology/geology field school in Jamaica at Discovery Bay Marine Lab, in a joint program with the University of New Orleans and University of the West Indies.

PICTURE NOTES: The underwater picture is a picture of me on the wreck of the Rhone, during Cousteau's P.O.S. 1982. Next, that's Jean-Michel Cousteau on the left, our local (caribbean) marine archaeology specialist and dive outfitter, Bert Kilbride and his wife Jackie in the middle, and me, all puffy from the salt water after a long day of diving other activities in the heat of the Caribbean summer sun, on the right. I was not quite 19 years old. The picture below was from field school in Jamaica., December 1981. All of these pictures (and more) were in the folder of treasured images and artifacts I brought with me when we evacuated. I posted more of these on Flickr, with comments, so all you have to do is click on this link to get to the main page of the site for perusal.

So what happened?

I always said that if I failed a biology class, I would have to "rethink my entire existence." Well, I moved out of my parents house after my first semester at U.N.O. and into my own apartment. I'd been working part-time in a film lab since I was 15 and I went to full time in order to support myself, while taking a full load of classes (in a science curriculum) at school , complete with long lab classes. And to add to the burden, I developed a much more active social life. Studying was not a priority.

And then I failed genetics. I didn't even bother to take the final. It was a notoriously difficult class with a notoriously difficult professor, and I wasn't up to it. Well the time had come. I had to rethink my entire existence! But alas, after my groovy experiences doing fieldwork in Jamaica and interacting with the natives, I decided that anthropology would be much more fun and interesting. And, probably easier. There's more to the academic story, but we see where I ended up.

2 Comments:

Blogger muse said...

Wow!!!!! Part of the Cousteau experience!!!!

You lived a dream of mine!! :)

I loved marine mammals and wanted to study them too and work on conservation projects (then I realized that there weren't many job opportunities in Qu├ębec... heh oh, yeah, and I hated maths).

2:48 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

In Jamaica, we spent hours and hours underwater transecting reefs, an activity performed by moving along a reef profile with a long tape marked in 10 centimeter increments, recording the depth and the life form inhabiting the space at each interval. In order to do this, I had to learn to identify by genus and species, every Caribbean coral, sponge and algae. (The Cousteau group was duly impressed by this newly acquired ability when I returned for the second year of the project. Taking the test for this task- which occurred underwater in an area of high surge, is a story all by itself. Off the top of my head, 24 years later, I can only remember about one of these names -agaricia agaricities.)

The work was tedious and boring and I decided it would make a much better hobby than profession. There were a lot of things that I didn't know about the academic life back then -and didn't know about myself and what I was capable of. If I knew then what I know now, I would have stayed in the sciences and rearranged my priorities. But I don't regret the path I took for all life gave me in the form of people, experiences, and lessons...

5:02 PM  

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