Tuesday, January 01, 2008

15 to 50

15 to 50, no easy task to sum up 35 years in 600 words.

As a 15 year old in 1973, my life was spinning along in an eerily parallel path to the then and now very famous Cameron Crowe, who at my age wrote for Rolling Stone and later penned the hit movie Almost Famous. But even if I was so gifted a writer as Crowe, my story would be more like Almost Stupid. It probably still is.

I muddled through junior high with barely passing grades, more interested in rock & roll than math theorems or classic Greek mythology. Thing is, although I aspired to be a rock musician, I couldn’t play a lick. After two years of playing the bass, and recently a proud owner of a Fender Precision, I hadn’t advanced much beyond what you’d expect for a couple months of effort. Music and the stage would not be my path. So on a dime almost I reinvented my life and transformed from Freak (freaks used be cool) to geek.

I endured high school at Iowa City West, hating most of it (although West was actually a decent school), catching up from those impulsive years of early adolescence. Nevertheless, graduating and getting accepted into Grinnell College, one of the top schools in the Midwest, during the same week was sweet. At college I opened up and lightened up a bit, and took on the challenge of being a student athlete. I had run track in 7th and 10th grades, and played basketball in 8th, all without distinction but decided to give small college track a try. Found out the hard way that I got better (or perhaps did less worse) the longer the distance.

By college graduation in 1980, it became apparent that I would need a career in something besides running or skiing. I liked biology and working outdoors the most, so opted for wildlife biology. Although that career took me a lot further than my failed stint as a bassist, I never joined quite joined the band, in spite of 20 years of hard work. I did internships in Minnesota, where I assisted on wolf research, and Colorado, got my master’s at Colorado State—working with elk, while spending as much time as possible skiing in the mountains. Meanwhile I got married and took professional positions in Nevada and upstate New York.

In 1992 I went for a Ph.D. in North Dakota, where my research was to sit up on a hill, with a spotting scope and fancy radio-telemetry equipment, to observe how bighorns react to oil trucks and oil field activity. Although uplifting and empowering, that endeavor broke our bank account. By late 1996 we had one son out of the crib, another on the way, and a huge student loan to pay. That was all good because I did finish the degree. The downside was finding jobs, which this time around were at much higher stakes than before. I skipped around with post-doc positions in Minnesota (five months), Massachusetts (one year) and Colorado (three years) before taking a job as a natural resources planner. No more first hand science and field work, but no more grant writing, publishing, and soft money either. I haven’t looked back much.

So here I am, turning 50 next month, finally in a stable, decent position where my rank has caught up with those years of over-education. Frightened of being almost stupid I guess.

I love Fairbanks, in spite of the long dark winters, summers oft blighted by forest fires or insect plagues. Now, after 31 years of training, I’ve logged in about lifetime 55,000 miles, and if you add in another 15-16,000 miles of cross country skiing, that’d be almost enough to circle this shrinking globe three times.

The three best things that have happened in my life are getting married and keeping it going for 20 years; having kids; and moving to Alaska. I still can’t play any musical instrument worth a damn and remain barely above stupid much of the time, but I enjoy my career and this lifestyle, especially the running and skiing where I remain competitive with the very best athletes (in my age group) in the US. This time and the years ahead are and will be the best of my life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very impressive. A nicely written summing up of a life well lived (so far!). So, how do I enroll in the Sayre School of Life Management? In the twilight of my 40s now, I'd like to land in a fulfilling job, and maybe even a place like Alaska, by 50.
Oh, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! When's the big day??

3:27 PM  

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