Appreciation is sometimes slow in arriving. It took me years to enjoy single malt scotch. Decades ago I used to compare taking off my ski boots to sex; yea, that was way off the mark. The love of watching bats artistically flutter against the backdrop of a mountain sunset is, at this time in my life, more poignant than seeing The Who in concert. The point is that interests and passions change. And while time is synonymous with age, finding your passions can slow the march of time.
I have recently, just this morning, finished reading E.O. Wilson’s Anthill. It is the first novel of a first-rate ecologist, and it likely will not change your life. What it might do, as it did for me, is rekindle an awareness of the passions you had as a younger you. And by younger you I mean any time before today.
The truth is that I should not have been reading anything of the novel genre. I have a comprehensive exam proposal due tomorrow. It is a document that clearly and solidly demonstrates my path to finishing my PhD. 15 pages of succinct scientific method and proof that I have read the primary literature and basically that I deserve to someday be granted the degree of Doctorate of Philosophy in Biology. On top of that I actually have to send the thing to people who know something then get up in front of them and do a presentation about the proposal and then withstand another 2.5 hours of questions and discussion about my topic. So I should not have been pleasure reading during the holidays.
Or maybe I should have.
Dr. Wilson’s parable took me back to being a kid and learning about (note I do not say discovering) the extraordinary world of the army ant (Genus: Eciton). I remember clearly when and where I heard about them: an impressionable 7 year-old at Twin Springs Farm Day Camp in Ambler, PA. My counselor, who I do not remember, had talked about the marauding army ants in Africa. And it stuck with me, dormant at times, but never to achieve its half-life. And here I am, south of 50, studying ants and the impacts of humans on nature.
Anthill traces the life of a young naturalist. And it exposes the strangeness that is the human species. In so doing, Dr. Wilson confronts the naïve and powerful influence of open-minded, unprejudiced observation; something we lose later in life and, as a consequence, I believe the World is worse off for (nice grammar).
What I carry away from this reading is the joy of the resurgence of my juvenile trust in nature. What is most surprising is its ability to persist. And it is this dismantling of all the stresses involved in being an adult, or graduate student, or seeker of career options, that lent energy to the writing of my comps proposal and the acknowledgement that I am pursuing my passion and that this passion has been there for a long time. It is a lesson from the annals of childhood. And it is a suggestion that we should stop and reconnect with who we are and dismiss the whom we think we should be.