Damascus Road: the Conversion of a BoZo / Part Three

I was shocked to have discovered a botanist living all along inside the zoologist facade of the most animal-expert person I had ever known. I could not help but ask: how is that you speak greenery? And with mild regret, in a paternal-professorial tone he lectured me:

“For any zoologist who claims to know his animal subjects, they are only specimens unless he also knows the plants that create their habitat for mating, that form the base of the food chain that feeds them, that provides their shelter, and that maintains the animal’s range of tolerable conditions so it will survive. That means knowing plant ecology, and ecology requires knowing the names of the plant species in the local animal community and wider distribution.”

The scales fell from my eyes. (Possibly, they were bracts or sepals?) And I saw the light. I needed to understand the great chain of being from the soil, up. I repented of my feather-and-fur chauvinism. I signed up in my first semester of grad school for plant ecology and systematic botany, heading towards a minor.

Some of my hard-core beast-biased buddies in Fish and Wildlife were skeptical. They kept their distance for a brief while, with a mix of disappointment and concern, until they had been assured that, even though I made U-turns to collect a new flowering plant from the roadside on my way over, I’d still meet them at Peeps for beer and Foozball most every afternoon. Botanists, after all, of all people, need regular watering.

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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. Very thrilling story to me, a fellow Botanist. I switched from Physics to Botany my Sophomore year at U. Tenn. due to a charismatic 60ish Botany prof who was a world wide expert on mosses. HIs name was A.J. Sharp; maybe you knew him. He was a passionate environmentalist back in 1961 when I met him.