Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Best Laid Schemes o’ Mice an’ Men….

I had dinner with Dale and Carol the other day, treasured friends who were incredibly supportive after my wife’s death. Both are educated and erudite retired professionals, and I wish I had a quarter of Carol’s energy and joie de vivre. Dale’s sedentary…like me.

During after-dinner talk, Dale related something that happened to him during his college career at a large mid-western University. I’d like to share it with you…through Dale.


As an assistant professor assigned to teach biology, I was asked to conduct a field trip to a large county-owned pasture to identify and classify plant life for class members. When I protested that my degree was in physical biology with absolutely no botany background, the principal professor, who was also a personal friend, agreed to give me a crash course.

The two of us walked the pre-selected location on two different occasions while the professor identified various plants by name, genera, and species. I committed each to memory right down to stem types, leaf shape…the works. I visited the site a few times again to reinforce my memory.

When the day of the field trip arrived, I was pretty confident I could pull this off. So we loaded aboard the bus and headed out. The attitude of the class members was what you’d expect: Relief at getting out of a classroom into the open air; more freedom, less restraint; time to learn something new for some and an opportunity to goof off for others. All in all, a festive air.

When we aarived at the location, I about had heart failure. A big county mower had just finished cutting the entire field. We waded out into the heady aroma of a freshly scythed meadow with me putting the best face on the situation I could, which wasn’t too hot. The areas where I’d memorized this plant or that were nothing but stubble. Crowns and leaves and stems were chewed beyond recognition…my recognition, at least.

Students brought me sprigs and twigs, wanting to know what they were, and, of course, I hadn’t a clue. They all just looked like weeds. As I fumbled my way through what was becoming an agonizing trip, one of the students uttered the very last words I wanted to hear at that moment.

“Oh, look. There’s a field across the street that hasn’t been mowed!”

Dale recalls the students were all good sports about the whole thing. But then that’s the spin he would put on it…he’s a very nice guy.

Next week: It will once again be an eleventh-hour decision.

 New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.


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