November 2009


In my museum studies course packet I just came across this task and having done it myself, thought it would be fun to take the game online among my friends. The question was “If you had to select 2 or 3 objects which would help to tell the story of your life, what would they be?” I guess the other way to ask the question is “objects that represent you?”

Here’s the first 3 things I came up with without a second’s thought – Passport, Spice Kit & Lap-top which to me represent the peregrine, the culinary experimenter and writer/scholar in me.

A fourth would be my Kindle device which at any given moment would be carrying books I am reading.

For those inclined (and I hope there are many who’ll play this game) do write in and let me know what your three objects would be to represent yourselves? And your thoughts about my choices would be interesting as well.

Let the games begin…

 

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Went camping out in the desert this past weekend along the North shore of Lake Qarun in the Fayoum on a trip that included both  Egyptological and natural history sites. My ideal for a weekend getaway from Cairo! Sandwiched between visits to the ruins of a Graeco-Roman village with a temple dedicated to Sobek (most temples from this period and in this region especially are dedicated to some incarnation of Sobek which is why Mr. Hoath could get away with telling me about Crocodopolis đŸ˜‰ )and the Valley of the Whales aka Wadi-al-Hitan, I had a delightful encounter.

Armed with a friend’s head lamp I was finishing up a bit of business and when I looked up into the dark void I thought I saw the glint of a pair of golden lights trained straight at me. Then they disappeared. I was ready to dismiss my ‘sighting’ of whatever it was as combination of imagination and wishful thinking but then those glints reappeared. I was convinced that they belonged to something live. For a few minutes we flirted with each other, these lights and I, with creature doing sort of doing a dance from behind the rocks, curious about me but cautious, and me, holding still as I could and trying to convince Katharine that I was not on anything and was seeing something real. She didn’t believe me. And I don’t blame her because unless you are looking straight at them and them at you those eyes don’t reflect any light at all. And the moon (a beautiful waxing crescent during our trip a week before the Eid) and stars were of no help whatsoever.

By the time we returned to the campfire, I had half-persuaded myself that the animal was an imaginary friend. But there was a lurking hope that it might be real and so I mentioned it to Richard, who is a naturalist  in the best English tradition. The the kind that I’d read about as a kid and had become a Girl Guide (Scout to Americans) just in order to emulate (though that plan amounted to naught). The kind of naturalist who would track various creatures when he was young and make plaster casts of paw-prints … And being that kind of naturalist he didn’t dismiss my story but came back with me and Kathy to investigate.

Whoo hoo! I was right. We not only saw it again (Kathy too since she had her headlamp on and so got the same glimpse of the golden eyes) but tracked it’s movements for several minutes (maintaining a respectful distance) as it scampered around the dunes attracted by us (maybe our scent held out the temptation of something to eat?) but too wary to come too close. At one point it seemed to do a sand slide and before picking itself up and trotting off.  I will admit that other than it’s eyes I could only discern – and very briefly at that – a slight and shadowy figure moving about in the dark, but Richard has more experience in these matters and could make out more details, estimate size etc. Back en route to the campfire, he consulted his field guide – his by possession and authorship, I should add – and figured that what we’d seen was likely to have been a RĂ¼ppell’s sand fox.

There are a few species of fox native to the Egyptian desert. They are nocturnal animals who emerge at dusk in search of food, and it’s natural that when a large entourage of people set up camp (we must have numbered some 25-30 all told) the fox comes to investigate the intruders, albeit well hidden in the shadows and the dark.

Good scientific thinkers that we are, we went the next morning to gather evidence of our sighting. And sure enough there they were, paw prints tracking across the sands, bearing witness not only to our sighting but to the episode of the sand-slide. Let the photograph bear witness then, not just to the fox trot but to the midnight, electric slide!

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A sudden impulse led me to go web surfing in search of my fellow banana slugs from the halcyon days (for me at least) of ’92/’93 and wow did I hit a gold mine! For those reader who may not know this, the banana slug is the mascot of the University of California, Santa Cruz (See logo on top). I became a slug because I went through a graduate certificate program in science writing there, which not only turned me into a writer but also gave me such a taste for the graduate school experience that I proceeded to become a tenure-track grad student for about a decade and a half after that. Even now with Ph.D. in hand I have embarked on yet another Masters – this time a distance learning one in museum studies, which also has its roots in slug land, since I’m doing it to extend my repertoire as a science writer. But that’s a tangent I’ll take off in a separate post – back to the slugs…

Virtually every one of my classmates from that batch has gone on to impressive achievements, and I can’t say I’m surprised, though am proud as Punch (to borrow a phrase I haven’t used since my Enid Blyton-reading days, er.. think teen, rather pre-teen years!) of the bunch of us. I am also somewhat lighter in the pocket but richer immeasurably in what I can safely believe will be good if not great reads.

In no particular order of favoritism, here’s where we are now…

Rusten Hogness – The guy to whom I owe the title of my blog. Peregrines are obviously not the only birds on Rusten’s brain as you can see from his website. He runs a cool radio station out of Santa Cruz where you can listen to all manner of birdsong among other things. Rusten is also the person who planted the first seeds of interest about the history of medicine/science in my brain.

Lisa Seachrist – Lisa’s background coming into the program was the one closest to my own and we were of an age besides. So I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised to find out that of all our cohort, it was the two of us wrote books on genes and such – and coincidentally within a year of each other – although her’s is  likely to be a more accessible and fun read than mine. Certainly it hooks you in by its very title: When a gene makes you smell like a fish… (ha ha bad pun, fully intended). And it is illustrated to boot.

Lisa Strong-Aufhauser – Go figure in a class of 10, we had two Lisas. Not there was the slightest chance of ever confusing them with each other! Each was too individual in her own right.  A tall red-head with cascades of hair the color of autumn and a personality as just as vibrant, this Lisa was the most animated and energetic of us all. She was a natural history photographer who had lived in Yosemite before moving to the Santa Cruz hills just before embarking on this course. She and her husband Kim (an honorary member of our class) were the hosts to many a party (Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving etc) at the Schloss Stronghauser where the whole lot of us would converge for a riotous time. In her quieter moments, Lisa loved to photograph oak trees. She makes movies now besides doing work for the Exploratorium and has traveled (more…)