I recently swallowed my fears and asked one of my top 5 (if not all-time) most inspirational ecologists for help tying to make sense of some frustrating juvenile mac density trends. While he long ago trashed the raw data that would have been helpful to me, his response was extremely generous and has given me a lot to ponder through out the rest of my thesis research, and perhaps my ecological career. At the end of his email there was a bit of old-timer dive story shit-shooting (which is also my favorite thing to talk about) and he concluded by attaching the Birthday letter he sent to one of my other top 5 Ecologists, Bob Paine. Hopefully you will find it as hilarious and inspirational as I did:
“March 4, 2013
As this is public I won’t go into my normal questions but will leap right into the happy birthday routine. But I want to take this opportunity to let you know how much you have changed my life. By the time I left UW with the mentorship from you, Alan Kohn, Bob Fernald, Paul Illg and Gordon Orians I was a much better scientist and person than when I came. You guys were just simply spectacular both for your knowledge and more importantly, your professionalism, wisdom and humanity. Our experiences in the 1960s must be unique in all of ecology, and I have always considered myself the luckiest dyslexic who ever lived! God, do you remember my dynamite and all the fishing? It is a miracle we survived some of those trips out to the whistle buoy in that little tiny boat with the 5 hp Johnson engine. And of course your Kiwi friends so much enjoying fishing and dining with us. I just cannot imagine a better jumpstart for a career and for the rest of my life. Thank you so very much!
But as a mentor you made a huge impact on me then, and it is still with me today. Mentors are much more than advisors, you are friend and role model though life rather than simply through graduate school. I am constantly reminded of the many things you did to properly mentor me, but in many ways it was being a consistent role model of how to act in different situations. We are all constantly confronted with problems that relate to value decisions, and sometimes I simply react to the situation and usually regret it, but when I think about how to act rather than react, I always ask myself what RTP would do and you never fail me as my memory will retrieve some excellent example you set.
And you have always been a friend with a sense of humor and sometimes outrage at my actions, but always a friend no matter what. Gordy and I spent some time together last fall and we spent much of our time together gleefully remembering your antics supporting us in the Antarctic from entertaining Capt Kelly to cooking and passing steaks down to us in bottles to eat while we decompressed. And Linnea and I often remember the good times you gave us as students and later as young parents down here and we remember playing with your kids when we were up there and how they were such sweet young impressionable things. Enric Sala and I remember with pleasure our cold trip to the Colorado Plateau – you are a tough old bugger and just a wonderful friend that so vastly surpasses being a mentor. I wish I could come to visit for the occasion and share lies with you – those moments and wonderful exaggerations are so damned much fun.
I have been looking for some embarrassing photos but my filing organization is worse than anything a normal person could imagine so you are safe unless something comes up.
But I do feel the urge to walk through another memory. The date is not relevant, but it was a trip to our beloved Duncan Rock, one of the most interesting places I ever dove. You might recall my adventures with motion sickness. On this morning I tested a new hypothesis that I had read about to the effect that if one’s stomach is packed full of food, there is no room for the food to bounce around and you don’t get sick. So we stayed in that strange motel and I ate a huge breakfast with eggs and sausage and pancakes and really topped off my amble belly. This was a trip you had invited Peter Taylor, a super diver from Scripps, to tag along with a student and see a nifty habitat. Gordy, Chuck and I were your dive team charged with getting data from the side of that submerged seamount. Gordy always does his thing and does it very well so the three of us went down to the rock at some deep depth and Chuck and I had a roll of parachute cord to run a starfish transect. When we got to the bottom and started to unroll the cord I negated the sea -sick hypothesis and blew huge chunks in Birkeland’s face, and the cord got all tangled as he leapt back to safety. I was trying to untangle it amongst the Technicolor cloud of puke when a huge lingcod appeared eating the puke and tangling the cord in his teeth. I struggled with it a bit, thoroughly lost my temper, and stabbed the damned thing in the head several times and it straightened out deader than a doornail. I looked around and Gordy was gone and Chuck looked disgusted and I stuffed the dead fish deep in a crack and tied of one end of the transect so I could return and retrieve him. Chuck and I swam off struggling with the mess of cord collecting your data.
Unbeknownst to us working folk on the bottom, Peter Taylor, with student properly tied off with a buddy line, had witnessed some of the fun and had utterly panicked and rushed to the surface, hapless student in tow, blowing a whistle and yelling that one of your divers had gone berserk with rapture of the depth and had stabbed the other one in the head. Granted the fish was as large as Chuck (but not Gordy or me) and the visibility was not too clear to start with and then there was the Technicolor cloud to confuse Peter, but I can guess that you might have been somewhat concerned. However, you were not concerned enough to pull your fishing line in.
Chuck and I finished the transect and went back to where the line was tied off and to my utter dismay the fish was no longer in the deep crack where I had so carefully placed it. I was really pissed as it would have fed tiny Linnea for at least a month and I really really wanted it. But we had been down a long time and we came up being careful not to mess with your fishing line and found Peter, the student and you looking very concerned and Peter starting yelling “where is the third diver”, something that one never yelled when it concerned Gordy because we flat out did not know where he was at any given moment. Chuck and I climbed into the boat still dealing with the messy transect line while Peter fretted about Gordy. We had no idea that he thought somebody had been stabbed, but he and his student stayed well clear of Chuck and me.
We all know that Gordy always surfaces, and he surfaced with a great smile on his round face and showed us the huge ling cod he had stabbed in the head. I forgot all about Peter et al as I went absolutely bonkers trying to get my fish back, and Gordy got very indignant and angry and refused to give me his fish. Eventually we calmed down but Gordy was not letting me anywhere near his fish and I think he may have filleted it out right there to better control the meat. Over the years, decades now, I have given him a lot of serious grief for so wantonly stealing my fish, and always he gets very angry and indignant and insists that he stabbed his own fish. Recently he came down with yet another large salmon to feed me and students (he really is extremely generous with his fish and everything else) and we discussed his larceny some more and slowly, reluctantly and without any grace, I agreed that perhaps we had both stabbed our own large ling cod (lord knows there were a lot of them there and he was long gone before I stabbed mine so he did not know about it anyway) and a seal had eaten mine. So you will be very relieved to learn that finally Gordy and I are at peace over this issue!
But the story does not end there. We then drove down to Umatilla Reef for another dive and I managed to hook a really nice salmon and I was feeling better about things as I landed a nifty 10 lb silver. At that point, YOU fucking stole my salmon and would not give it to me. You claimed we needed it for dinner and it was your charter and you could have any fish we caught. I had never heard that rule and was having another shit fit when I foul hooked a large halibut and dragged the poor thing into the boat still angry as I really wanted my lingcod and my silver salmon. At about this point dear sweet Gordy caught a nice silver salmon and graciously traded it to me for my halibut so I went home with a salmon but no lingcod and was actually grateful to Gordy for being so generous with his salmon, but I doubt if I behaved very well, especially as I recall a lot of dry heaving on the Umatilla reef dive.
I am tempted, sorely tempted, to regale you and the record one more time about the closed season on humpbacks, the unhappy kiwis, the several humpbacks over the fire and the dope extended with oregano. But you are far to dignified these days to tolerate the story even though it is perhaps our favorite shared story as it extended into NZ legend over the years where it was indignantly repeated to me down there, over my back fence in Solana Beach, and later at UC. Davis. It is really interesting that they did not recognize me, but at least their version of the story was consistent and accurate. With all proper dignity and respect, I wish you a very happy birthday! Linnea sends her best wishes and thanks you for trying so hard to make me a bit more civilized.
Lots of Love