The Colgate Scene
"Passion for the Climb" — it's what exemplifies the spirit of Colgate people. You share a thirst for a life of accomplishment and the will to do things right. In academic, professional, community, and personal endeavors, you relish the effort, the process, the journey, and care deeply about how you lead your lives, as much as you care about reaching the top.
We know there are countless ways in which the "passion for the climb" manifests itself in Colgate alumni, faculty, staff, and students. As the university embarks on its "Passion for the Climb" campaign, we wish to build a collection of these stories.
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Antonio Barrera, associate professor of history, studies the history of science e sees his sketchbook as continuing "a tradition that goes at least as far back as the 16th century — what Francis Bacon called a Commentarius Solutus, a book `where to enter all maner of remembrance of matter, fourme, business, study, towching my self, service, others, eyther sparsim or in schedules, without any maner of restraint.'" Barrera's pathbreaking book, Experiencing Nature: The Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution, was released in 2006. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]
sketch \'skech\ n To describe briefly, generally, or in outline; to give the essential facts or points of, without going into details; to outline [OED]
That day, I sat with my children to show them my sketchbook.
As a child, I had watched my mother taking notes about almost everything, placing them in a little notebook in her purse. Notes about a book, a recipe, a good idea, a present, a reference to penguins, a conversation in a restaurant, a dream, would reappear next to her comb or her keys inside her bag. I learned from her to keep track of my own encounters in a sketchbook — and to this day I keep a collection of notes, and make occasional pictures and drawings in it.
"This one." My daughter pointed to a drawing of an old man walking along a road. "Here," I began, "I was walking along a road in Boyacá, in the Andes Mountains; in front of me was an old man, holding a bag of groceries with one hand and a cane with his other to support himself as he walked up the hill. When I reached him, I said, `Buenas tardes, señor (Good afternoon, sir).' He answered back, and we walked together for a few minutes. The sun was setting, the sky washed in orange and red. He was coming from the Sunday market and returning home; I was wandering out of the city, trying to make sense of life."
My children looked up at me. "I was young," I answered.
"The old man asked me, `Where are you going?' as he sat down on the side of the road. He was tired. I sat next to him. `I don't know.' He looked at me, puzzled. `How do you do it?' `I don't know,' I answered, and we began walking again. The sunset died. I said, `Adios, señor (Good-bye, sir),' and he answered `Vaya con dios (Go with God).' I went back to my hotel.
"I think," I told my children, "that I went up the hill that Sunday just so he could ask me that question."
My son was already looking at another entry in my book. "This one."
"Here, I was walking on a street in Mombay, and a man asked me where I was from. I said, `Colombia.' He asked why I was visiting India. `I am traveling around,' I said. He told me, `All my life I have dreamed of traveling like you. I am twice your age and I have never been outside India. Come with me and tell me your stories.' We went to a tea house, and he asked me about the places I have visited. I told him about cities with plazas and cathedrals, and others with minarets, about white towns facing the sea, fields of sunflowers, cities with streets of water, islands with cave temples, deserts with geometrical tombs, monasteries hanging from cliffs, and one-way railways. We talked for a long time, and then said good-bye at the end of a conversation that — again — I think was the purpose of that afternoon walk. Before I arrived at my hotel, a girl not much older than you," I said, looking at my daughter, "touched my leg and extended her hand. She never said a word, just looked at me and then left. We are fortunate," I said to my children.
They were turning the pages as I spoke. "Who died here?" my daughter asked me. "You know." "Your dad," my son answered. "Tell us the story," she said. "Me vas a hacer llorar (You are going to make me cry)." "It is OK," she replied with a smile. "I was thirteen when he died. He died during the night, and my mother woke us the next morning with the news. It was Sunday. `Niños, les tengo que contar algo, tu papá se murió (Children, I have to tell you something. Your father died).' I went to their room, and there was my father on his bed. I approached him, put my hands on his face, kissed him, and called to him, `¿papá? ¿papá?' in a whisper. My mother came in and said, `get dressed, we need to get ready for the funeral.' When I came downstairs, my father was already in a coffin and that is when I started crying, when I realized he was dead." "No more of that," said my son. He knows that my father is like a hole-ghost in my life. I continued, "He managed to die without saying anything." "Why?" asked my daughter. "Because he had a stroke and had stopped talking," answered my son. "Vamos," said my son to my daughter, and they left. My son came back. "Papá, why do you always tell us that story?" "So you won't forget." "Forget what?"
"Once a woman won an international track competition. She came from a Colombian town, and someone asked her, how did she train? She answered, `I ran down my street and I imagined the curve as I ran up and down it.' I tell you that story so you won't forget to imagine the curve as you go along your way. So you won't take life for granted. I do not know why my father died as young as he did, but we will all die some day. The rest is the journey; the questions along the way; the stories we tell and listen to; the encounters that help us make things more interesting, more beautiful, more just; the ways we imagine the curve in the road as we run."
I made a drawing of my children and I put it in my sketchbook and closed it.
Abby Rowe has worked in Colgate's Outdoor Education Program since 2003 and was appointed director in 2006. During the summer she teaches short staff training and sailing courses in Maine for Outward Bound. A Cornell University graduate and U.S. Coast Guard captain, she is a certified Wilderness First Responder and American Canoe Association Open Water Sea Kayak and Whitewater Kayak Instructor. Abby likes free-heel skiing (XC and downhill), cooking, and finding adventures in the familiar nooks and crannies of her back yard. She lives in Cazenovia with her partner, Dana.
EARNING MY WRINKLES
On many summer mornings, I would awaken to the peep of my watch alarm, accompanied by the drone of Heron Neck lighthouse in the background and the thin whistle of the white-throated sparrow's "pure sweet Canada, Canada, Canada" greeting the 4:30 a.m. sunrise. The ritual ahead was part of my days on Hurricane Island near midcoast Maine as a longtime Outward Bound instructor.
I would will myself out of the warmth of my down sleeping bag and into my bathing suit, shorts, and running shoes, grab my tiny cardboard-like chamois towel, and brush my teeth while walking to the pier. My stomach would perform complex acrobatics with every step closer to the morning run and the dreaded "morning dip." Most people appeared to leap from the wooden platform that extended off the pier with either enthusiasm, or indifference. On the home stretch of our island run, I would quickly calculate the distance to the water below (the drop could be anywhere from 5 to 18 feet depending on the tidal cycle at the time). I always approached it with dread and mild nausea, but I would plummet into the 42-degree water before my students could sense my fear. Surfacing, I'd gasp and swim the short distance to the dock, where I would look around, catch my breath, and revel in the unique learning that comes from having done something simply because it is hard.
Of course, not everything should be hard all the time. I enjoy kicking my heels back as much as the next person. But I also cherish the moments to be humbled, to remember the struggles my students have with learning something new, and to push myself to develop new ways of teaching and mentoring.
Outward Bound is built on four pillars: Service to Others, Self-reliance, Tenacity in Pursuit, and Craftsmanship — all of which must be carried out with compassion. After 10 years of instructing for Outward Bound, I regard these pillars as basic tenets of life, and have integrated them into the community of the Colgate Outdoor Education Program. It is a challenge to mentor professional students who have grown accustomed to doing most everything right — especially when many of the most valuable lessons in teaching and leadership are learned by sticking your neck out and trying new things, even in the event of failure. To this end, I strive to give clear and direct feedback, and to convince students that many mistakes are worth making, for what you learn from them.
The progression of our student staff training program allows trainees to build trust and community, and then gently moves them into peer leadership experiences as they execute their (hopefully) well-planned days on the trail. I look forward to, and relish, all the moments of trust, growth, transition, mastery, and education when I can see and feel the progress and learning firsthand: A wake-up call by an eager student-leader of the day trying to motivate a group of sleepy (and often grumpy) peers to leave camp "on time." When my students take advantage of teachable moments on the trail to share a tidbit about a tree ID or an Adirondack guide well known in the region we are traveling in. When, instead of asking me for help to pinpoint our location, they just keep walking and looking at the landscape to confirm or deny their previous conclusions. Those "aha!" moments when everything suddenly clicks and they develop leadership styles of their own!
It is icing on the cake when they start planning their own trips — and when we gather on Monday night for staff meetings and enjoy the community and mentoring relationship we have all built through regularly learning from, being challenged by, and appreciating one another.
I used to consider my mentors "Old Salts" with thick hands and weathered skin — as if every wrinkle represents a valuable lesson or mistake worth making. Through my time at Colgate, I have also developed much respect for the learning that can come from individuals who are 18 to 22 years old and wrinkle-free. As a 33-year-old who looks 22, I stand somewhere in between. I hope to continue to expand my experience and develop some well-earned wrinkles. Until then, I will strive for craftsmanship and compassion in my work, constantly remind myself that few things worth doing are easy, and will look forward to evenings in the hot tub after keeping up with these spry college students!
Tara Meyer '07, who majored in natural sciences and minored in film and media studies, spent the fall in Kathmandu, Nepal, as an assistant news editor, writing and editing the evening English news bulletin for Kantipur Television six days a week. With plans to pursue a masters or PhD in marine sciences or marine conservation/management and hopes to become a science journalist, she originally wrote this essay for an independent study on nonfiction science writing with English professor Jennifer Brice.
At the suggestion of my adviser sophomore year, I registered for Phycology. I had no idea what it was. On the first day of class, I realized that I was about to take an entire course on the study of algae. When I told my friends what I had been tricked into taking, they asked what a biology major was doing in a psychology class.
No. Phycology. Not Psychology. P-H-Y...
It's the study of algae.
I know it sounds boring. Who on Earth would want to study algae?
The professor, Ron Hoham, had been teaching both botany and phycology at Colgate for more than 30 years. Although he was an expert in both fields, his real passion was studying snow algae. Ron collected samples of the colorful, microscopic organisms from snow around the globe. A walk-in growth chamber adjacent to our lab was filled with specimens, one of the most extensive and comprehensive collections in the world.
As his student, I found Ron himself to be an intriguing specimen. Although he was more than 60 years old, aside from his thinning white hair, I would have guessed he was 10 years younger. He was lean, thrived on a non—red meat diet, and would bike anywhere from 20 to 50 miles a day. Often, I would see him biking around town in his blue-striped spandex unisuit. He would shout, "Hello, Tara!" and wave as he zoomed past me. Nearly every day he would bounce into class wearing jean shorts, a T-shirt (often one with a large circular Pediastrum on the front above the words "I Love Algae!"), socks, and sandals. Never mind that it was snowing outside.
During lab, our small class of 11 juniors and seniors would sit with our microscopes trying to find the "best" algal specimen. Whenever one of us found something cool, we would raise our hands and Ron would leap over to identify it.
"Oh my gosh, this is the most amazing Achnanthes I have ever seen! Everyone, come look at Tara's beautiful Achnanthes!"
Everyone would rush over to my microscope, and I would stand there smiling proudly. Minutes later, someone else would find a "spectacular Synedra" and we would all fight to be the first to see Ron's new favorite alga.
In some way or another, we had all caught his enthusiasm. For my friend Tisza, it was lichens and their diverse algal symbionts. For others, it was toxic algae that cause deadly algal blooms, or phosphorescent algae that light up ocean waters when they are disturbed, like a night full of twinkling stars.
For me it was zooxanthellae.
For Ron's class, I was researching the mechanisms of coral bleaching. I already knew that bleaching was a stress reaction in corals. But as I explored deeper, I began to learn about the vast diversity of zooxanthellae, the symbiotic algae that live inside corals. Suddenly I was starving to know more, and I devoured science journals like candy. Journal articles such as Baker et al's "Corals' adaptive response to climate change" (2004) and Buddemeier and Fautin's "Adaptive bleaching: a general phenomenon" (2004) exhilarated me about the future of coral reefs.
It sounds silly, but . . . I fell in love with coral as if it were a person. I wanted to know more about him, his history, his secrets. I was concerned about his future; I wanted to help him.
Toward the end of the semester, Ron received good news. His paper on the discovery of two new species of snow algae from upstate New York in the Hamilton area and Tug Hill Plateau was accepted for publication. Instead of telling us right away, he planned a little surprise. During one of our last labs of the year, he quietly disappeared into the back room. Some of us wondered what was up, but we knew he demanded serious lab work, so we continued looking through our microscopes.
Then, Ron appeared through the doorway, pushing a metal cart covered with paper plates of food. Grinning, he announced that we were having an "algae food party." We each had an algal salad, sushi wrapped in seaweed (a kind of algae), even an algal-containing chocolate bar.
Phycology class changed my life. Ron Hoham, professor of snow algae, showed me that even the smallest things are worth taking a second look at. One moment you can be staring down through a microscope at an unknown organism; and the next you are looking at the most captivating specimen you never knew that you could love so much. It happens that fast.
Ron Hoham retired in 2006, but still retains an office in Olin Hall for writing up his research.
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