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STAFF COLUMN: Things I learned this summer

Bruce_Evans_300_375In case you are wondering how a liberal arts education can influence someone’s life, here are some things I learned this summer:

Area 51 is a very interesting (and very real) place.

Oliver Sacks’ neurological cases are just as fascinating as ever.

The effects of the dust bowl are still affecting some parts of the western U.S. today.

When Lake Okeechobee is about to overflow, you had better run.

Krakatoa changed the world in 1883, and it (as well as a number of other dormant volcanoes) will blow its top again.

The loss of a child is a terrible thing, but help can sometimes come from unexpected places.

You see, I read books while I walk. If you see me on some street in Huntington in the summer, it is likely that I am reading something or other (could be just about anything), as I enjoy the wonderful gift of peripheral vision. Try it some time.

What might you find me reading? Last summer, I read a very good book about UFOs called “The Mammoth Book of UFOs.” I really don’t think that intelligent life exists anywhere except Earth (and sometimes, that is questionable), but it sure is fun to read about UFOs. If you are okay with that, then you should read “Area 51,” which I believe is the best discussion of what has gone on out in the desert of Nevada for the last half century and more. Did aliens crash land in Roswell, NM and then get carted off to a secret facility in Area 51 after a slight detour to Ohio? Read the book.

Oliver Sacks passed away several weeks ago after a battle with cancer. His legacy as a great neurologist and writer can be found in the dozen or so books he wrote about neurology and life. I love to read his books and use many of his case studies in my classes. He will be missed, but his books remain (by the way, his book Awakenings was made into a movie starring the late Robin Williams as Dr. Sacks). If you ever want to borrow one, just let me know.

I also consumed a book called “The Worst Hard Time.” The title sounds either like a children’s book or something really depressing, but it is actually a history of the 1930s dust bowl in places like Oklahoma and Texas. If you have not read personal accounts of how this all went down, then pick up the book and start reading. How these people ever survived, I just can’t fathom. Wowsers!

If you want to know something about the development of Florida and the destruction of the environment, you have at least two choices. Last summer, I picked up a book called “The Swamp,” an excellent cultural and environmental history of the development of Florida and the destruction of the land. That led me to another book — “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” It is a fictional account of life in Florida at a time when the inhabitants were struggling with racial tension and big floods (as a result of environmental mismanagement). Talk about an author who has a way with words — pick up something by Zora Neale Hurston, and you will see what I mean!

My son loaned me a book about Krakatoa, which in 1883, blew its top. The sound was heard at least 3,000 miles away! I guess history fascinates me, but this book is also about plate tectonics and biogeography and ecology. I found myself using examples of primary succession (an ecological phenomenon that has roots in the sand dunes of Indiana) from this book in my summer bio class. History, politics, natural disasters, geography, and ecology all rolled into one! Wanna know what the Wallace Line is? Read the book for yourself and you will see.

Professor Duffer would be happy that I read “Rabbit Hole” this summer (only took about two walks to finish), a somewhat depressing, but also hopeful, play about the aftermath of losing a young child in a traffic accident. Drama can be painful to read sometimes, but the best playwrights (in my mind) offer us some tidbit of hope for the human condition by the time the play is over. I could tell you the plot and all that, but I will just let you read it for yourself.

Oh yeah, I am currently about two-thirds of the way through a biography of Sandy Koufax. Barney Dreyfuss gets a mention in there. So do Juan Marichal and John Roseboro. Very cool! If you don’t believe me, call me after I have finished the book (maybe three walks worth). Or I can just show you my baseball card collection. (Anyone else out there have a Barney Dreyfuss card?)

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