Monday, June 27, 2011

Immunization Against Rabies

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that travelers to South Africa get vaccinated against rabies and several other diseases before traveling to that country.

I'm headed up to the Manatee County Health Department in a couple hours to receive my inoculations against Yellow Fever and Typhoid. I have to go to the County Health Department because my health care provider (that used to be called your "doctor") doesn't have the vaccine.

Last week when I made the appointment for today I was informed by the Health Department that the rabies vaccination was made up of three shots and each shot cost $210 to be administered. Quick math says that its $630 to be vaccinated against the disease. Ouch!

Just now I called Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida to ask if they covered the vaccinations. They do not.

To me that is pretty backward thinking. I guess they prefer to spend tens of thousands of dollars on hospital stays and emergency after-the-fact treatments than to spend $630 to prevent having to spend those dollars.

As Jimmy Buffett says in his song "Migration", "Somethings are still a mystery to me while others are much too clear." I guess its clear that Blue Cross doesn't believe in the old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What Time Is It In South Africa?

On the day I retired I left my office three hours early and walked to the Ballston Metro Station in suburban Virginia. Before taking the elevator down to the train level for the last time I removed my wrist watch (and some clothing) and threw all of it in the garbage bin by the elevator.

Part of my motivation was to reject the "appearance over substance" mentality that grips the Washington office. Another part of the motivation was to shed my winter clothing and prepare for my departure the next day for Florida. The last part of the motivation was to remove myself from the shackles of being driven by time.

Since that day, February 25, 2008, I have not worn a wrist watch and life is so much nicer this way. Now instead of crawling in bed and dreading the 5:00 a.m. alarm the next morning I go to bed when I want to. If I want to stay up until 3:00 a.m. reading I'll read. If I want to call it a night earlier I will. No longer do I have to be ruled at night by an alarm clock.

The same holds for during the day. My bicycling schedule, especially in spring summer and fall, is regulated by the angle of the sun and by how hard I am slammed by humidity when I walk out the door. If its too much then I wait until later in the day or until the following morning before I ride. That holds whether it's 10:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.

In pinch times, such as when I have to walk to the bus stop nearby (our local bus system is the Sarasota County Area Transit - SCAT. Honest to cosmic deities its the SCAT bus) I look at the clock on my computer or my Blackberry and know when to leave. Other than that I have just rejected time.

This new found freedom created a small dilemma when I began making plans for my upcoming trip to South Africa. I would have no problem getting to the airport on time for my flight from Sarasota to Atlanta or in making my connection in Atlanta to Jo'burg. There will be clocks and announcements all over the place in the airports.

But what happens when I arrive in South Africa? I wont have my computer with me (just one more reason for someone to rob me) so that option is out. I also wont have my soon-to-be jettisoned Blackberry because the last I checked Verizon doesn't have cell service in South Africa. That option is out.

I will be catching flights internally from Durban to Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, and from Cape Town back to Jo'burg. For each of those flights it will be helpful to know what time it is so I don't miss the flights.

Even more importantly will be knowing what time it is when I am approaching or inside Kruger National Park.

The real dilemma in Kruger is that entrance to each of the "rest camps" (apparently a South African euphemism for really nice hotel and restaurant accommodation scattered throughout the park) close immediately at 18:00 h and don't re-open until 06:00 the next morning.

If you arrive at the entrance gate after closing time you are sunk. Your options are few - sleep in the car and hope you aren't a late night snack for a pride of lions or, well, sleep in your car and hope you aren't a late night snack for a pride of lions. If you are caught outside of the rest camps you are subject to a pretty substantial fine.

Because I refuse to wear a wrist watch ever again, and I wont have my computer or my Blackberry with me, what can I do?

Luckily for me the Dakota Watch Company came up with a solution - the digital compass clip watch.

My sister found out about these in some advertising email she received one day and she forwarded it to me. When I saw this little item I knew that my time telling dilemma in South Africa was over!

It was apparently designed for runners and back packers to clip on to their belt. Because I no longer wear long pants and therefore have no belt, at least I can toss this little gem in a pocket of my day pack and keep track of the time. Some of the cool features include:
Titaniaum Finish
Integrated Carabiner
Electronic Compass with Digital Direction Indication in 16 positions together with degree
6 Operation Modes: Compass, Time, Date, Chronograph, Timer and Alarm
12/24 Hour Display Formats
1/100 Second Chronograph
1 Second Resolution Timer
Daily Alarm
Moonglow ELectro Luminescence
Lightweight Plastic Construction

The company my sister told me about sold the watch for $45.00. The Dakota Watch Company that actually makes the watch sells them for $39.95. Yesterday I found one on for $25.00 (new) so I went with it. An email message a few minutes ago from Amazon informed me that my non-wrist watch shipped today and should be here by Thursday.

Now at least I wont have the verse in this song by Boy George and Culture Club
"time won't give me time" bouncing around in my head any longer as I try to figure out how to keep up on the time without carrying it around on my arm all day long.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fall Migration is Underway

Male Common Grackle. Photo from the US Fish and Wildlife Service collection
Although the calendar says that we still have two more weeks of spring remaining until summer arrives, mother nature, at least in south Florida, has her eyes on fall migration already.

This evening while out bicycling (14 miles in the evening heat!) I encountered the first post-breeding flocks of Common Grackles I have seen this year. Despite some people having a bad taste in their mouth for this rather obnoxious bird (maybe that's why I can identify with it?) I have had a kinship with it for a long time. The research I did for my Master's degree was on the reproductive ecology of common grackles and mourning doves nesting near the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Facility near Red Wing, Minnesota. For two nesting seasons I climbed up into jack pine trees in a small plantation about 1 kilometer from a nuclear reactor gathering baseline data on these two species. The thinking at the time was that if any environmental issues were being caused by the operation of the nuclear reactor they were likely to show up quickly in birds nesting within a stone's throw of the nuclear reactors.

As part of the research I made daily observations of the behavior of the birds and noticed that usually (at nearly 45 degrees north latitude) when nesting was completed and the young had fledged, the birds gathered in large post-breeding, pre-migrational flocks and flew around the countryside looking for food sources to sustain them through the beginning of winter. With few exceptions common grackle migration was well underway by the middle of August and virtually all of them had vacated the northern latitudes by mid-September.

I started thinking about that this evening when I encountered a post-breeding, pre-migrational flock of common grackles on the north side of Sarasota. The flock, consisting of about 100 birds, was made up of adult males and females and the ratty looking juvenals that hatched this spring.

At this latitude common grackles begin nesting in late February and early March when many other resident birds (northern cardinal, northern mockingbird, Carolina wren, to mention a few) also begin nesting. With a short incubation period of about 13 days and a nestling period of about 14 days before fledging, many young of the year common grackles are already out of the nest by mid-April when many neotropical migrant birds (Kentucky warbler, hooded warbler, black-throated blue warbler to mention a few) are just arriving.

The birds I saw tonight have had at least six weeks of post fledging time to be taught by their parents how to be common grackles. It just seemed strange that they were in pre-migrational flocks in early June!

Which brings up another question - where are they going to migrate to? The range map below, downloaded from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology site, clearly shows that a common grackle in south Florida isn't really going to be migrating that much further south. There are some records for the Bahamas and some for Cuba but that's about it in the West Indies. So where to they go when they leave here?

Nesting, Migrational and Winter Range of the Common Grackle
Lacking any band recovery data on Florida-banded common grackles or any satellite tracking data its difficult to guess. All I know is that the local cadre of common grackles is done nesting and setting its sights on some other place to be.

Purple Martin in Flight. Photo from the US Fish and Wildlife Service collection
The other evidence that fall migration is about to begin was the first of the season's post-breeding flocks of purple martins. The flock I saw this evening, made up of males, females, and recently-fledged young, numbered about 20 birds and was seen at the upper end of Cooper Creek Park on the north edge of Sarasota. Another group of maybe 15 birds was hawking insects over the south edge of the artificial wetland and a third flock of 15 birds was along the powerline right of way that passes over Honore Avenue.

Purple martins arrive in south Florida in mid-late January and are busily nesting by the first of March. Producing only one brood per season their nesting responsibilities are largely over by late April and they have nothing to do but get ready for fall migration after that. Most purple martins will have left this part of Florida by the middle of July.

Nesting, Migrational and Winter Range of the Purple Martin
Unlike the common grackle with its southern range limit here in Florida its another story with purple martins. These bird which almost everyone loves to love nest over an extensive area of the Midwest and eastern United States and Canada and spend their winters as far south as north-central Argentina. The bulk of them apparently winter in central Brazil.

Why they migrated that far south and why they leave here in the middle of summer to get there are two questions best left to mother nature to answer.

This little biological conundrum is another reason I enjoy being a biologist and trying to figure out the rhythms of nature. Although fall migration is on the verge of beginning here, in my natal Wisconsin both common grackles and purple martins are just now in the middle of the nesting season. And while that is happening, Arctic nesting shorebirds like red knot and semipalmated sandpipers each of whom were on Sarasota beaches and mudflats a month ago are just now arriving in Arctic Canada and Alaska and setting up territories and thinking about building nests and laying eggs. Most of this is related to 1) sunlight triggering their behaviors, and 2) available food supplies to support young birds at various latitudes. Still its fun to watch and try to figure out what the earth is trying to tell us and why.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What a Massive Run Around!!!

A friend of mine is a massage therapist who also does skin care therapy. As part of her business she wants to sell skin care products to her clients. Recently I offered to track down the steps needed for her to get a tax identification number so she could sell skin care products. This work will be done outside of the city of Bradenton so any regulation (you'd think) would be by Manatee County. It hasn't turned out that way.

Launching a rocket ship and landing humans on the moon was easier than getting an answer to her question.

At my sister's suggestion I began by calling the Manatee County Clerk of Court. My sister's reasoning was simple - if there is anything going on in a county the Clerk of Court is going to know about it.

The Clerk of Court had no idea. I talked with a very snotty person there who told me "why are you calling THIS office?? We have nothing to do with that."

I answered, "I know that ma'am. I thought your office would be a good one to start with and maybe you could put me on to the right people."

"Sir" she replied, "I just told you we don't handle that."

I asked her if there was another number I could call.

"Try Manatee County. Their number is 941-748-4501" And she hung up.

Next I dutifully called the brain center of Manatee County government. A relatively courteous person there told me "Believe it or not that is regulated by the County Buildings Department. They are at extension 3800. I will connect you."


I talked with Barbara in the Manatee County Buildings Department.

"Oh, no sir. We don't regulate the sale of skin care products. Where did you get that idea?"

"From the Manatee County call center."

"I'm sorry sir. We don't handle that."

"Barbara, do you know which department of county government does regulate it?"

"That sort of thing is regulated by the State not by us. You need to contact the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations in Tallahassee. They can help you."

She gave me their number in Tallahassee and I called them. After 20 minutes on hold listening to Barry Manilow music I was finally put in touch with Montrell.

"Before we begin, sir, I want you to know that your telephone reference number for this call is 268823405. Did you get that?"

"Yes Montrell, I have it."

"So, sir, how can I help you today?"

"Montrell, I have a friend who is a massage therapist and who does skin care therapy. She wants to sell skin care products to her clients and wants to know how to get a tax identification number to do that."

"Well, sir, we don't regulate massage therapists but if she's doing facials she will need a license from this department."

"Montrell, I'm not sure what she does with skin care but I know its not facials. Do you know of another agency I could contact?"

"Well, sir, the Florida Department of Health regulates massage therapists. I would call them. Their number is 850-488-0595."

A woman named Barbara at the Florida Department of Health began the call asking "How can I help you?" If she only knew.

Once again I explained what information I sought.

"We don't regulate the sale of skin care products. That is done by the county. I would start with the Clerk of Court in your county. Which county are you in?"

"Barbara," I began, "I started two hours ago with the Manatee County Clerk of Court. They told me to call the Manatee County government center. The government center told me to call the Buildings Department because they regulate these things. The Building Department said they didn't regulate skin care product sales. That was done by the State and I should call the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation told me that the Department of Health regulates this topic so I called you. Now you're telling me that I need to go back to the people who started me on this odyssey two hours ago. Doesn't anyone anywhere know who regulates something as simple as the sale of skin care products? How about the State department of Revenue?"

"I'm sorry sir," Barbara concluded, "We require her to have a license to do massage therapy but we don't regulate the sale of skin care products. I have no idea who else you can call."

I hung up with sweat dripping from my forehead.

As part of the requirements for my masters degree I had to write a thesis on a research topic and then defend that thesis and my interpretations before my graduate committee. My committee was made up of my major professor, another biology professor, a math professor and someone from the Education department. On the day of my thesis defense, Jim Richardson, my plant taxonomy professor (who was not on my committee) decided to drop in on the defense. Jim's sole purpose was to harass me.

My thesis dealt with the reproductive ecology of mourning doves and common grackles nesting near a nuclear generating plant along the Mississippi River. I was about one hour into my thesis defense when Jim decided to ask questions. One of them was "Why is the dove the international bird of peace"?

I had absolutely no idea but there was no way I was going to let him know that so I went off on a story telling binge in which I talked about the soft cooing voice and their earth toned plumage color and a bunch of other things that indicated that I had absolutely no idea what was the answer. Still I kept on piling bullshit on top of bullshit until finally, with my hole completely dug, Jim said "Stop!" I stopped. He then said "You don't know the answer do you?" I said I didn't. Jim smiled and said "That's all I wanted to know."

It was a huge lesson that helped me in many situations later in my professional career. It is really liberating to admit to someone that you don't know. It is a phrase I use often even now. Its something that at least five different levels of Manatee County and State of Florida government need to learn and to use.

After the marathon 2 hours on the phone I came up with an idea. Other people in Sarasota and Manatee county do massage therapy and skin care and they sell products. I'll just drive over to one of their offices and ask them how they did it. Where did they get the permit and how to apply.

I started with a salon nearby and was sent to another salon who also didn't know the answer. Next I tried a massage and skin care place in the Suntrust Plaza off Whitfield. The person working there didn't know but she called a Masssage Therapy school in Bradenton. Someone there wasn't sure but would look it up and call me back. The phone has still not rung.

I went to two other salons including one where I applied for a job doing Brazilian waxing a year ago ( I didn't get the job. I think I came off too eager).

Finally after more than four hours of trying to get to the bottom of this seemingly easy question I decided that it had been long enough since my last haircut that I would stop by Great Clips. Not only do they do great hair cuts (for $13 - take that Kenny's Hair Salon in Arlington Virginia that used to charge $40 plus tip for the same cut!) but they also sell hair products retail to their customers. Certainly Great Clips had to have a license or a permit or some damned thing to allow them to sell those products.

Sitting in the chair getting my ever-decreasing crop of hair cut, I asked my hair stylist (that would be a barber in northern Wisconsin) if she knew what permit was needed. She didn't know and the owner wasn't there. I should check back tomorrow when the owner is in.

Frustrated I finished my hair cut and as I turned to leave after paying my bill I glanced up and to my right and there hanging on the wall was the much searched for answer.

The Florida Annual Resale Certificate for Sales Tax. Department of Revenue Form DR-13A

A simple form that gets posted on the wall that nobody looks at and with which employees are not familiar. And it comes from the Florida Department of Revenue - the exact agency I asked the Department of Health about at the end of my conversation with them.

The application process for this certificate is relatively simple.

After more than four hours of trying including two hours on the phone and two hours driving around talking to people who didn't have a clue, I finally found the answer hanging on the wall of a barber shop!

As I wrote down the information about the Sales Tax certificate my hair stylist said "Your friend owes you dinner for going through all of this."

I think that is a good place to begin.

Listen to the Music

Although Charlie Manson was, and remains, certifiably nuts, he once uttered some profound and prophetic words. In an interview nearly 40 years ago, Charlie told the reporter covering him to "Listen to the music. It talks to you every day."

That little quip of Charlie's made me think recently about how a single song was instrumental in changing the course of my life and my career.

In June 1958, while hiking with my maternal grandfather through the patch of woods at the south edge of my grandparents farm, we came upon a pile of dead trees stacked up against my grandparents fence line. The land owner to the south of them had bulldozed a road into the east side of Desair Lake with the intention of eventually subdividing the land and building houses there.

I remember the scene like it was yesterday. The dead trees lay like fallen soldiers against the earth and a huge scar was placed on the land by a bulldozer. I became visibly upset when I saw what had happened to those trees and, like it was yesterday, said to my grandpa that if people kept killing trees like that one day when I was his age there would no longer be any trees. My grandpa consoled me as best as he could and assured me that there would always be trees. I remember thinking then, fifty three years ago, that I was going to make sure that my grandfather was never proven wrong. I think it was then that I decided to become a biologist one day if and when I grew up.

Through my formative years I focused most of my attention on learning about the earth. I picked up road kills and looked at them. I dissected anything that no longer moved to figure out how it worked. I read books and watched television shows and learned how to read the landscape. When I was 9 years old I found a dead duck laying under a powerline near my grandparents farm. The bird possessed a band on one of its legs. I removed the band and sent it to the address written on it. A few months later I received a certificate of appreciation from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The certificate told me what species of duck it was (already knew it was a Mallard) and its gender (already knew it was a female). I also learned where it had been banded (northwestern Ohio) and when (four years earlier).

I became intrigued that an organization was out there that put bands on bird legs so at age 9 I wrote my first letter to a member of Congress. In it I asked Alvin O'Konski to tell me more about this Fish and Wildlife Service that puts bands on bird legs.

Several weeks later our mailbox was filled with brochures and pamphlets about this mysterious agency that banded birds. After reading every word on every scrap of paper I was provided I decided at age 9 that one day when I was grown up I would be a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It was my entire focus from that point on.

At 12 years old I taught myself how to trap muskrats with a few mink and raccoons thrown in by accident. That first year, 1964, I caught five muskrats and a mink and sold this haul to Sam Parker for $6.25. I was a rich 8th grader! As time and experience went on I learned how to catch more and more muskrats. Later I taught myself how to catch red fox and beavers and even caught a river otter once. However I felt so badly after seeing that magnificent animal laying dead in a trap that I never set another one that could catch a river otter.

When I went to college I paid for every bit of my undergraduate degree by selling the furs of the hundreds of muskrats, and tens of mink, and raccoons I would catch in the fall. These funds were supplemented by hundreds of beavers and a few red foxes caught during the winter. I literally became a trapping machine by the start of my undergraduate years.

During winter quarter of my freshman year I took an elective course called Introduction to Geology 101. It was taught by Mr Owen, a retired petroleum geologist with 30 years of experience as a petroleum geologist with Phillips Petroleum. Mr Own had just a bachelors degree but with his 30 years of experience actually doing geology he was able to make the earth come alive to me.

I took Geology 101 and its lab Geology 102 during winter quarter in northern Wisconsin. The class met daily at 8:00 a.m. (in winter no less!) and I never missed a class. Not once.

At the conclusion of Mr. Owens' Geology 101 class I darted over to the registrar's office and declared a double major. There was no way I was not going to take more Geology and I thought I might as well get some credit for the extra classes I took.

So I became a double major. In fact Geology was my first major and Biology my second. If you look at my diploma it says "Bachelor of Science in Earth Science." To get the geology degree I had to take a lot of Physics and in order to understand Physics you need a lot of Math. After all Physics is simply Math in motion.

Through all of the Geology courses I took I developed a special fondness for Invertebrate Paleontology.

My special love became Ordovician age (450 million years old) trilobites. Sam Huffman used to take us on regular weekend fossil trips to the Crawfordsville bioherm near Crawfordsville Indiana. It was there that I learned a great deal about trilobites and about ancient marine environments.

Near the conclusion of my bachelors degree days I was faced with a perplexing decision. Although I loved Biology and especially birds, I was totally immersed in and loved Geology. I simply could not get enough of Geology and especially Invertebrate Paleontology.

Back in the early 1970s about all you needed to get a job was a Bachelors Degree. Having a Masters Degree was like frosting on a cake. Now of course all a Bachelors Degree is good for is getting you the basics needed for Graduate school and a Masters. And now all a Masters is any good for is a stepping stone to a PhD.

At the time however I would have been more than happy with a Masters degree.

Utah State University had an excellent Invertebrate Paleontology program and there was a professor there whose specialty was trilobite ecology. As I read papers this man had written I started to think that I should go to Utah State for at least a Masters degree and to do it in Invertebrate Paleontology.

During the summer of 1971 and 1972 I spent time on Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior. While backpacking across the island and avoiding direct collisions with moose, I developed quite a kinship for the island and its nearly intact forest community.

At the time there was a professor at Michigan State University in Houghton, Michigan, who was doing research on the ecology of plant and bird communities on Isle Royale. In correspondence with him I learned that he was interested in taking me on as a graduate student. His plan was for me to get a Masters degree in plant ecology under him and once that degree was finished I would stay on to get a PhD in avian ecology. The plan was to use the botanical data as a base to compare the bird data for my PhD. He had an assistantship that was there for the asking.

I applied to Michigan Tech for a Masters and PhD. However it was still gnawing at me how much I loved Geology and especially the ecology of 450 million year old trilobites. To quench that thirst I applied to the graduate school at Utah State University to get a Masters in invertebrate paleontology. My biggest misgiving about this was that I'd be surrounded by Mormons but I figured I could stomach it for a few years.

On almost the same day I sent my application off to the Utah State University Graduate School I sent another one off to the Michigan Tech University Graduate School. I figured one of them would probably select me.

However on almost the same day several months later I received a letter from Utah State informing me that I had been selected to receive an assistantship for a Masters in invertebrate paleontology. In a separate envelope a couple of days later was a letter of acceptance from the Graduate School at Michigan Tech University informing me that I was selected for a Masters program in Plant Ecology and that the option remained open for me to stay there to work on a PhD in Avian Ecology if I wanted to.

If I wanted to? Who in hell were these people trying to kid?

Now that I had what I wanted I had to make a choice. I'd wanted to be a biologist since almost the time I could walk yet I loved unraveling the mystery of how animals lived millions of years before humans started to trash the earth. Would I be happy doing either? What about those Mormons in Utah? Isn't there a hell of a lot of snow for 10 months of the year in Houghton Michigan?

There were more questions than answers and I wasn't sure how to figure out what I was going to do.

During the 1973 muskrat trapping season I was once again heavily invested in the marshes along Spring Creek east of Rice Lake

I probably learned more about biology along Spring Creek east of Rice Lake Wisconsin than any 10 other places I have ever been.
One morning right after the start of trapping season I was paddling around in Spring Creek checking my traps and trying to decide what to do with my life. Moving to either college town would be a huge break from living just 90 miles down the road in River Falls Wisconsin and at the time that was a daunting possibility. However there was something even more important to decide.

Which career path would do the most good for the earth? I could make tons of money working as a paleontologist with an oil company and at the time oil companies were picking up geologists by the handful. At the same time biologists were not nearly in as much demand although the recent birth of Earth Day helped focus people's attention on biological issues more than they had been for a long time.

What to do? What to do?

On that morning when all these thoughts were passing through my head I started playing John Denver's smash hit single "Rocky Mountain High" in my mind. I couldn't seem to get the lyrics out of my head. I'd loved that song since it first came out and for some reason that morning its lyrics would not leave me alone.

The song begins with:
He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

And quite surprisingly I was born again in the summer of my 27th year - 1978 - when I spent two months traipsing across the prairie with Hal Kantrud at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center conducting research on the ecology of grassland breeding birds. However that was in the future. In early November 1973 while paddling a 13 foot canoe around Spring Creek, these words by John Denver are what really got to me:
Now his life is full of wonder but his heart still knows some fear
Of a simple thing he cannot comprehend
Why they try to tear the mountains down to bring in a couple more
More people, more scars upon the land

When I heard John Denver singing in my mind about trying to tear the mountain down to bring more scars upon the land, I knew that if I became a geologist that is exactly what I would do. I'd be working for a company raping the earth to extract more oil or coal and leaving huge scars on the land. Those scars would be left to facilitate corporate profits at the expense of the earth and its creatures. I simply could not be a party to that and the following Monday I contacted Utah State University and told them thanks but no thanks. I was going to stay with my biological roots.

Later that same day I contacted Michigan Tech and accepted their offer of a scholarship to get my Masters in plant taxonomy and later on my PhD in Avian Ecology. In early March 1974, just befoere the scholarships were to be formally announced Michigan had a cut back in state funding and my once "for certain" scholarship was now unfunded. Michigan Tech had to call me to tell me that they could not bring me on as promised and my plans for a Masters and a PhD went down the drain.

With summers on Isle Royale now but a fleeting fantasy, I stayed at my alma mater the University of Wisconsin at River Falls and worked on a bird project for my Masters degree. At about the same time I met and fell in love with a redhead whom I married a couple of months later. For me I had gotten the best of both worlds - a Masters degree project and married to my best friend.

Later, after receiving my Masters degree from UW River Falls I was hired by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and spent the next 31 years of my life trying to make sure that my grandfather was never proven wrong about those trees.

Still, had it not been for some heavy thought while checking muskrat traps with the words to John Denver's song streaming through my mind that November day, I might have chosen a different path and a different career where I would have wound up harming the earth instead of trying to protect it.

Charlie Manson's words in that interview seem to have been proven prophetic.

Except for rap "music" I still listen to the words of the music every day and still let it help me make decisions. Maybe if more of us did that there would be a lot less confusion in the world.

Tryin To Reason With the 2011 Hurricane Season

Today, June 1, marks the start Hurricane Season - traditionally my most favorite and anticipated season of the year.

Every June 1 I write about hoping for the coast's long deserved and long overdue Category 6 storm that is so sorely needed along every inch of the inhabited coastline from Brownsville Texas to Calais Maine. Its a hurricane that is so strong that its never been recorded at that intensity before. My dream hurricane (the "Great Undeveloper" as Bob Ake described it one day as we drove down the North Carolina Outer Banks at the peak of hurricane season) never makes formal landfall. The center of it comes within 5 miles of the coast at the mouth of the Rio Grande on the US / Mexico border. There it moves north and east, keeping the eye five miles off shore so it retains a constant energy source. It follows and scours the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in a perfect arc along the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts to the Florida Keys. There it follows the islands northeast to Key Largo where it miraculously changes course once again and follows the entire east coast of the United States (including the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay inland to Philadelphia) to Calais Maine where it becomes extratropical in the Bay of Fundy. At the conclusion of its trip along the coast it has removed all condominiums, rejuvenated the coastal sands, and cleared out the vermin known as the human race that has done so much to destroy the integrity of the coast.

For the 2011 season I'm still hoping for a great undeveloper hurricane to come ashore and cleanse the coast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is once again predicting a more active than usual hurricane season in the Caribbean region. NOAA is giving us this prediction of activity:
We estimate a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity this season:

* 14-23 Named Storms,
* 8-14 Hurricanes
* 3-7 Major Hurricanes
* An ACE range of 155%-270% of the median.
Three to 7 major hurricanes is fine with me. Maybe a couple will be Category 5 storms. If they come ashore and do some reconstruction of habitats so much the better. This year I'm hoping the most damage occurs at and in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a city in dire need of huge rearrangement.

So join me in welcoming in this most auspicious and potentially regenerative season. All day today I will be playing this classic song by Jimmy Buffett each hour at the top of the hour to help welcome in the season. You might consider doing the same.