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I read Soundings by Hali Felt and learned that Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen (scientist and co-worker and partner in every sense of the word with Marie) literally mapped the ocean floor. I had never heard of either one of them before this. Had no idea that Maria took the soundings gathered by Heezen and others at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and drew the map - drew the map!!! - of the ocean floor.

She was a cartographer of the ocean floor.

There is so much about Marie's career that blows my mind (here's a good overview in her obituary from Columbia University), but a couple of things stand out. First, is that she took data that had been sitting around for years and said "why don't we actually create a map from it?" (Basically.) And second that she looked at those maps and realized they were proving continental drift with the maps. Now, it seems obvious but then - the 1950s - it was heresy. (Even Heezen fought her initially.) But Marie hung in there and let the maps speak for themselves. Her work was irrefutable and could not be denied (though plenty of folks denied it for way too long.) She proved what poor Alfred Wegener had asserted in 1912 and she changed the field of oceanography.

I bet you have never heard of Marie Tharp though.

Hali Felt has a great blog post about Marie and what she would have thought about her work largely being undiscovered during her lifetime (and the struggle of her professional life).

It makes me both sad and happy that the record has finally be set straight. Marie is not here to enjoy Soundings; she doesn't know she has been discovered. There are likely so many other stories like hers out there, lost and waiting to be found by a curious reader. We fill our heads with so much that doesn't matter; and we forget people like Marie who really did change the world.

[Post pic of Marie Tharp - the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory]

hondo.jpg
This is my dog Hondo who died on Friday.

If you have ever been through it then you know what it's like to sit in the vet's office as your pet is diagnosed with an incurable disease. You start with the pain medication and you watch him limp and first he is just the same except for the limp but then he is slower to stand, slower to sit. He eats a little less and then sometimes, doesn't want to eat at all. He used to follow you everywhere you go and now he only does part of the time. He sleeps more but does not sleep well; he is restless. And you increase the pain medication and you entice with food that he loves and you lavish all the love in the world upon him and then you realize it's over; it's time.

He's telling you it is time.

And so you make the appointment and you go to the vet and they are all so sad because they love him too and you sit and you hold his head and he looks at you and he trusts you and he knows you will never ever do him wrong and you tell the vet to do it and just like that, in a moment, he is gone.

And eight years was really far too short.

Hondo had bone cancer. There was little we could do although we did as much as we could. I have been to the vet for a visit like this before, for Jake, (my Florida-born husky/shepherd/doberman mix who went north with me), who died in 2003 and for Tucker, (my Fairbanks-born Black Lab who came south with me), who died in 2007. Hondo was from an animal shelter in Washington State, a mix of German Shepherd, Black Lab and Rottweiler (we think) who was found on the side of the road with his mother and litter mates. He was the kindest dog I have ever known, a good dog in the purest sense of the world.

Of course, like every dog I have ever loved, he was special.

What I realized last night though, is that more than anything Hondo is the dog that I have written with. Late at night, after everyone else has gone to bed, Hondo sat with me while I put The Map of My Dead Pilots together. He was at my feet (always at my feet), with his paws wrapped around the chair legs, as I worked the rewrites my agent requested, then worked the rewrites my editor requested and then, finally, finished my book.

At the dining room table, writing essays and articles, Hondo was at my feet. If I got up and moved, downstairs to get a book I needed, into my office in search of a stray paper, he came with me. All the words that I produced that matter in the past 7+ years were with Hondo and now his loss to every aspect of my life is nearly overwhelming.

Writers always have rituals: you have the cup of tea in that mug, the plate of snacks arranged just so, the special writing desk or chair or notebook. You write in your office or the corner of your bedroom or out on the deck or in a backyard writing hut. You listen to certain music; you have an old movie that plays in the background. There are things that you do every time you write, habits that are part and parcel of the process. For me, Hondo was my writing companion, the one who heard the words before they were smooth, the one who stood up to urge a break, the one who patiently listened as I whined and complained my way through a stubborn paragraph. The words came with Hondo, they made sense with Hondo, they worked with Hondo and now I have no one to hear my words.

He was my dog, and I loved him. He was my friend and I mourn him. He was my heart and I can not imagine a world, or a word, without him.

My dog Hondo died on Friday, and I miss him very much.

SCAN0341.JPGHondo at about 3 months old, the day we brought him home, July 2006.

bereft: adj. sad because a family member or friend has died

I believe the first time I learned about Charles Darwin was in the 7th grade, during Earth Science class. (A very dismal course with a teacher who was annoyed from the first day of school until the last.) What I never could figure out, even after reading about the finches and barnacles, was how he put together the Theory of Evolution. It was always presented as a bit of a thunderbolt - he sat back, he watched, he studied and he figured it out. What I wanted to know was why no one else had.

Flash forward many years and I came across an article about Alfred Russell Wallace and learned that someone else did figure out evolution - at the same time as Darwin. But still, why them and why then? Was no one else curious before these two men? Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution by Rebecca Stott is the answer to my questions, by an author who wondered the same thing.

What I liked most about this forthright, very accessible collection of mini biographies, is that Stott is so straightforward about what she wanted to know. She looked into the men (and yes, they are all men) that Darwin acknowledged as treading a bit on evolutionary ground and fleshed out their stories, looking for clues into their natural history passions. She gives us men from all over the world who indulged in their curiosity to varying degrees and became famous or forgotten. She answered all of my questions about evolution and how it came to be a theory that explains....everything. And, she made Darwin more of a man I could understand. He wasn't the first, he was just the most patient and was also lucky enough to be born at a time where he had a chance to indulge his ideas with less fear (though he still took chances).

I still have a soft spot for Wallace, with his wild adventures and crazy dreams, but Darwin is becoming someone I can understand as are all the men who came before him.