Damascus Road: the Conversion of a BoZo / Part One

Western Oyster Plant
Image by fred1st via Flickr

Found in various scribblings, offered for what it’s worth: in three parts ~ my coming into the botanical fold. A retrospective look at the evolution of a * boZo…

I mean really. What kind of male science student would choose to study plants? Botany wasn’t even in the mix of options as I changed majors for the fourth time my sophomore year at Auburn. I had rambled from Pre-med to Pre-dent to Psych to Pre-law and finally, forever-I-promise-this-time mom, to General Biology–at which juncture, I was faced with two simple choices of direction. Plantae or Animalia. In the two-kingdom world of those times, the choice of where to go from that jumping-off place was a no-brainer: I would study animals, naturally.

The real Biology Man I aspired to be was meant to hoist up a pair of studly binocs and watch an osprey deftly plucking on the wing an emerald-green bass from the Cahaba River; to thrill with a vicarious appetite for raw nature as the raptor ate its prey alive, silhouetted against towering cumulus from a pine snag. It was the Wild Kingdom way. Guys studied action-creatures of the living world. They investigated locomotion, competition, rutting, and nature red in tooth and claw.

Plants offered none of that. They just sat there, silent and rooted in place. To the gentler-sexed biologists, then, were left these fixed, safe and clawless creatures, to arrange tastefully in fancy vases. It was that cut-and-dried to me in those days.

But alas, despite my academic gender bias, before it was all done and the ink was dry on the Masters diploma, and to my amazement, I had became an 11th hour convert to botany. That one certain day trumpeted an epiphany that called me to conversion.

* botanist-zoologist

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, can’t wait to see where you’re going with this! A naive avoidance of botany is partially to blame for driving me from Biology to a Nursing major! A Biology major at the small liberal arts woman’s college I attended required a satisfactory score on comprehensive exams, and that included botany. Maybe one needs a certain level of maturity to appreciate fully the interconnectedness of it all.