The Biology of Vocation


There was a time when, on this blog, I posted a couple of times a week about some new discovery from the natural world or about some oddity or creature feature that amazed me. That, after all, is who I am: a professional and professed tree hugger.

That crowd of former biology-receptive readers has wandered off elsewhere, so I don’t have so much to say about my private delight in the natural world, where even here on the back nine, I continue to marvel at what we learn and at what we still don’t know about the world of living things.

This study of the role of bioluminescence in deep sea sharks would have been something I would have researched  and offered in a summary editorial here at one point in the past. Some of these bio-musings would have gone on to become newspaper columns in the Floyd Press. Now, here’s a picture for you look at, and I won’t burden you with my oooohs and ahhhhs.

But I guess the point is that, coming from my reunion gathering just two days ago, I contrast my peculiar interests to those of so many of my classmates I spoke with. I don’t think I heard from anyone else who had found a profession in the natural sciences, and there were a whole bunch who had become engineers.

And let’s face it folks: engineers are wired differently.  I’m not saying they are weird, though some of course will be. They just see the world  through different lenses, and apparently each  had a passion early on that sent them into that profession. What? The power of measurement, the control over material bits, the beauty of design and implementation as a kind of industrial art?

And the language and perception that comes from that mechanico-technical point of view lets them see patterns (like the one on this chain shark) that others like me cannot see. And so, for those of us who have a more organic view of our shared ecology.

So, that’s all. Just thinking about where our passions and curiosities come from and the deep oceans or high mountains to which those early avocations drive us. And here we are, my age peers and I, looking back at that past through the fuzzy lens of baby-boomer eyes at how we came to be who and where we are today.

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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. I trace my love of science to an excellent (female) high school chem teacher. I got so xcited about atomic structure I entered college to be a nuclear physicist. I soon discovered that higher math was not my bag. I signed up for a Botany class to satisfy my life science requirement, and ran into the most charismatic professor of my career: A. J. Sharp, a world expert on mosses. I switched my major to Botany and so began my lifelong interest in the natural sciences. Boy, has my life ever been enriched, both for careers and avocations. So grateful to Dr. Sharp.

  2. So, where do you put us environmental engineers? Cross-circuited? Or just weird enough to enjoy your blogs?

  3. Oooo good question. Right-brain left-brainers maybe? Having not known any engineers who applied math and physics or chemistry towards environmental issues, I can’t say anything about the wiring, but I’m glad it happens!