Saturday, December 14, 2002

My "emergency kit" in the trunk of the car, in a Cabela's duffel:
- a hot, itchy Cabela's wool sweater, Men's size M (when the hell could I ever get into *that*??)
- a lacy bra, size (bwa-ha-ha! ditto the first comment)
- kotex (oh yeah, it's been a few years since I looked in here)
- shampoo
- a book of matches (?? -- Oh, yeah, this is an *emergency* kit)
- toothpaste
- toothbrush, enhanced with dirt, bits of leaves, and sand
- tee shirt: with the obsolete department logo on it, one size larger than the sweater but no more likely to get worn by me!
- underwear
- beef jerky (the "emergency thang" again)
- hotel soap
- Samuel Delany's They Fly at Ciron (for years it was a Rumpole collection but I finally decided I would rather read it than store it in my trunk, and switched it for this one)
- contact lens holder
- two eyebrow pencils, 1" and 1 1/2" long

Well, gee, am I prepared for any contingency, or what? Aside from the duffel, I keep a set of hip waders, a pair of irrigation boots, and a pair of snowmobile boots in my trunk, and also a sleeping bag and a big, soft, cotton Indian print blanket.

The duffel and its contents are ridiculous. The sleeping bag and blanket aren't, since I commute 56 miles to work every day--uh, well, except *most* days I ride with my carpooler. Leaving the bag and blanket in my car. So, they're only a good idea if I'm planning to get stuck in a snowbank between my house and the carpooling rendezvous place. After that, ol' Carpooler just damn well better not get us stuck in a blizzard, in a ditch, 'cause we'll freeze.

The various boots *are* necessary, as I'm a wetlands biologist who they actually do allow out of the cubicle occasionally to slop around in wetlands.

But rooting around in the trunk got me thinking about other baggage I've hauled around in my life, and why. What came immediately to mind were the tons of *books* I've had. When I got out of college, and again after grad school, I carried those massive tomes around from home to home for years. I displayed them in my bookshelves, spent time and energy organizing them according to the taxonomical/disciplinarial orders I'd learned in school. From 1985, when I graduated from grad school, to 1991, when I got this job, I toiled in medical research laboratories. I hated it.

Having those books, sometimes pulling one out and paging through it, represented something to me that I wasn't aware of, but I can see it now. They were "big-ology" books (fish, birds, vertebrates, plants, algae) as opposed to the "little-ologies" I detested and studied as few of as possible in school (biochem, physiology, genetics, bacteriology, virology). And there I was, stuck doing little-ology, with seemingly no big-ology to come. The books became almost like talismans.

I was wrong, hallelujah, I did get a big-ology job, and I love it. I still have lots of old textbooks, though. I have gone through and culled them a couple of times. But I cling to the few: Katherine Esau's Plant Anatomy, Gleason & Cronquist's Manual of Vascular Plants, a few vert bio texts and lab manuals...and they're so outdated, they're useless as texts. Almost everything has changed in the 25 or 30 years since they were published.

For a long time, I had the secret (even to me, mostly) notion that having those cool books on my shelves meant that I was a real biologist. They were part of the self-image I clutched so desperately to as I donned the despised white lab coat every morning, all those years in medical research. "This is NOT me; I am a field biologist, not a lab biologist. I've got the books to prove it."

Sounds pretty stupid, spelled out like that. I don't need them in that way any more; after 11 years at this job, I feel pretty confident at last. I still have a lot of those useless old books; they're in my attic. A few grace my bookshelves here in my office. I don't scorn my younger self for needing them as props. I didn't have to force myself to gain this affectionate detatchment from the old tomes, it happened gradually, painlessly, and naturally. I outgrew the need, is all.

I love books. It makes me feel good to think what good friends these college and grad school texts have been, first in learning and then in helping me get through some rotten years doing science I was not interested in. And it's all in the past now.

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