Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chapter 2 from DUNWOODY POND

The first issue of volume 100 of the Journal of Parasitology has a cover picture of Steganorhynchus dunwoodyi, a parasite of damselflies. Back in the early 90s I wrote a book, entitled DUNWOODY POND: REFLECTIONS ON THE HIGH PLAINS WETLANDS AND THE CULTIVATION OF NATURALISTS, which was about my students, and focused on the question of where young scientists come from. The following chapter, pasted in in its original WordStar 4.0 format, talks about the discovery of that parasite and the naming of it. Because of the conversion issues, the italics do not show in the manuscript, but they are in the printed book (St. Martin;s Press, 1994, and subsequent paperback from University of Nebraska Press).


2.  Choosing Damsels

                 And I serve the fairy queen ,

                 To dew her orbs upon the green .

                                        A fairy


     Scientific names remind me of foreign diplomats, suddenly cast into

the light by events half a world away.  Duane Dunwoody hears odd voices on

television and accepts them as a necessary element of his now global

communications network.  Other Sandhills families, even more physically

isolated than Dunwoody, do the same.  So if we are to sit around the dinner

table and talk about political forces ripping at the human fabric, we must

mouth unfamiliar words.  And if we're to talk about delicate beauty,

frailty battling the prairie gales, striking microscopic colors emerging

from a vile and smelly froth, Paleozoic patterns now resting on our

outstretched finger, we must also make our peace with ancient languages

spoken in exotic places.  Tami handles such words easily; she's practiced

them daily for years.

     " Ischnura verticalis ," she says, easily and smoothly, with the

softness of someone recognizing a tiny friend in a far off land.  She slips

Ischnura verticalis into a hole in the lid of a plastic gallon jug.

     " Enallagma civile ," she calls the next one, just as gently and easily,

just as instructively, and slips Enallagma civile into the same hole where

Ischnura verticalis disappeared.  Tami is choosing damselflies, an activity

in which she can become totally, completely, absorbed in a world of her

own, progressing slowly through the weeds.

     She flicks the net.  A soft whisper of gauze brushing grasstop floats

across the glassy surface of Dunwoody Pond.  She holds the fine white linen

up to the sunlight.  Inside a pair of damselflies flutters against the

webbing.  Their membranous wings sparkle in the glare, sending iridescent

flashes through the cloth.  Tami reaches down into the flimsy bag,

carefully working her hand through the fold until her fingers press gently

on the wings.  Death awaits Ischnura verticalis , for Tami is a businesslike

reaper.  And as surely as she's chosen one I . verticalis out of the

thousands that rest, chase tiny prey, and seek mates along the shore of a

pond, she's also chosen a path into the next century, a path aligned

closely to the fates of her insects and the other animals that live inside


     Her trek through the arcane jungles of Invertebratology began when she

was given a small card with another odd name on it: Siphonia tulipa .  Go to

wonderland, she was told, and find Siphonia tulipa .  But when she climbed

the shining marble staircase and pushed open the ancient creaking doors,

she found so many elegant items that she forgot Siphonia tulipa for a time,

and became lost among the rock leaves, stared back at the stone eyes

looking up at her from their beds of green felt, took a trip back four

hundred million years, riding there in the frozen writhing arms of a black

star, felt sadness for the crushed flowers that were not real flowers at

all, but sea lilies, from a far off time.

     Around her feet the children played, and ran calling to one another to

come look at all the strange creatures made of rocks and epoxy and

information and the hard work of people who dug into the Earth for evidence

of past worlds.  I must find Siphonia tulipa , Tami thought, eventually, and

when I do, it will be the most beautiful of all these wonders.  She was

wrong.  It was not the most beautiful, nor the most complex of fossils in

the museum, but it was hers, for upon the card she'd been given was not

only a lyrical name, but also an assignment:  write a story, about Siphonia

tulipa , that will make one of these children want to grow up to be just

like me--forever young of mind, forever curious about the lives I cannot

live.  She leaned over, then, staring closely through the glass, and asked

her questions of the rock:  What is your secret?  How do I make a person

choose an animal, then because of that choice, choose a life, just by

telling a story?  What kind of a story might this one be?

     Now, in the hot mid-morning, Tami stalks through the weeds with the

same sharp curiosity as she'd entered the museum.  She's just as surrounded

by wonderland, just as aware of her ultimate task and the labor that

follows, and just as ready to ask the same questions of Ischnura verticalis

and Enallagma civile as she'd asked of the cold rock Siphonia tulipa :  What

is your secret?  But she's older now, five years down the road, and she

knows the secret: giant problems have giant powers of attraction.  They

consume your thinking time, lead you into exotic dangerous places, turn you

into a monster your friends don't recognize.  So you get new friends,

people who walk through the weeds and choose giant problems as easily as

they choose Ischnura verticalis .

     And she knows, too, the kind of story she has to tell in order to make

some child choose a damselfly, or a fossil, or for that matter a beetle, a

worm, or a bird, as a guide to wonderland.  The story cannot have an end,

only a beginning, then a middle with an infinite, branching, interconnected

maze of pathways.  When the child enters the maze, expecting to find an

answer, an end, she sees only choices, and these in turn are never clearly

defined as right and wrong.  Ahead lie many roads, all disguised as

something they are not, all leading into scenery that can shatter your

perceptions of a well organized universe.  I was that child, once, Tami

thinks back, and smiles at the memory of a card with a magic name: Siphonia

tulipa .  And I wrote my story, and it did make one kid want to become a

scientist.  I'm that kid!  She flicks her net, choosing damselflies, on the

shore of Dunwoody Pond.

     But Tami's new tulip does not lie frozen in stone in a museum case. 

Within her chosen damselflies live an astonishing array of other animals. 

In the laboratory, she peels open an intestine, using her fine forceps to

tear a strip down one side, causing the rest of the tube to turn itself

inside out.  Sometimes a dozen long white bodies then appear, their "heads"

buried into the gut wall, between the cells.  These are the parasites that

Tami has picked for the topic of her mental labor.  If she uses them

properly, they will open doors for her, carry her to a podium in a far off

city where she'll throw her ideas out for discussion to an auditorium full

of scientists waiting to see how well she succeeds as a member of their

club.  And no matter what happens to her for the rest of her life on Earth,

these odd, elongate cells will sit beside Siphonia tulipa in her memory as

the pieces of nature she used to build her career.

     But even as she cuts the tiny damselfly intestines, and gently teases

the parasites away from the gut lining, Tami knows that she faces two tasks

disguised as one.  Her ultimate goal is to reveal the various mechanisms by

which these one-celled animals attach to the damselfly intestine.  Before

she gets to that point, however, she must deal with several tongue-twister

names.  Siphonia tulipa was lyrical enough to make her want to say the

words; Ischnura verticalis had a certain mixture of hard and soft sounds,

like chocolate and salt, that she enjoyed; Enallagma civile reminded her of

a relatively tame, but nevertheless entertaining, jigsaw puzzle.  Except

for one species, however, the long one-celled parasites in the damselfly

intestines have no names.  Instead of memorizing exotic words, Tami must

make some up then defend her reasons for assigning them.

     "This is the one I'm going to call dunwoodii ," she says, leaning back

from the microscope.  Duane Dunwoody, for all his bluster, has been a

friend whose help cannot be measured, nor adequately priced, nor even

repayed, except in the most respectful and quiet way: an honorific name,

published in a scientific journal, thus spoken forever, around the world,

whenever anyone talks about the animals that live inside damselflies that

carpet the shore of Dunwoody's.

     In naming parasites after people who've been a significant part of her

life, Tami follows in the tracks of another young woman, Sarah, who also

came into the Nebraska Sandhills to study biology and ended up naming the

one species of damselfly parasite Tami recognizes.  Sarah walked into my

lab one day and said:  I'm here to do research, but it has to be on

something nobody else has ever worked on.  At the time, Sarah was an

undergraduate at Brown University looking for field experience out on the

western Great Plains.  Study the parasites of damselflies, I suggested, if

you really want to work on something that nobody else has studied.  What

kind of parasites? she asked.  They're called 'gregarines,' I replied, and

they're the most insignificant, unappreciated, mysterious, and economically

unimportant animals I know.  Which is probably why nobody else has studied

the ones in damselflies, at least around here.  But, I added, they're

beautiful, too, and reasonably captivating.  How do I start? wondered

Sarah.  Write fifty questions, I answered.  About animals I've never seen? 

She was getting the picture quickly--a positive sign!  Well, go find some,

then write your fifty questions, I said, handing her an insect net.

     Sarah, like Tami in the museum, went searching for her animals, which

she found by the thousands along the shore of a place called Martin Bay

Pond, about two miles away from Dunwoody Pond.  Martin Bay Pond has long

since dried up; Sarah's two summers along its shore may have been a

singularity--an idyllic, highly instructional, emotionally captivating,

intense intellectual experience which can never be repeated because the

place she had it has disappeared.  In fact, the disappearance of Martin Bay

Pond stimulated the search that led, eventually, to Dunwoody's.  We'll come

back to Martin Bay Pond, or rather to the dried mud bed, later, when it's

time to talk of droughts, both natural droughts, which lay bare the land

and bring into prominence the hardiest, oldest, and most tolerant of

organisms, and droughts made of bad human decisions, which lay bare the

lands of opportunity and bring the most creative, resourceful,

individualistic, and blasphemous minds out into the open where they

flourish.  But at the time of Sarah's explorations, Martin Bay Pond is

full, and damselflies-- Enallagma civile --blanket the tops of grasses

growing right up to the water's edge.  With one sweep of her net, Sarah is

able to get a week's work.  The first damselfly she cuts open has nearly

three hundred parasites.

     "What are they?" asks Sarah.

     "Probably members of the genus Actinocephalus ," I reply, looking

through the microscope, "but you have to discover what their spores look

like before you can be sure."

     "What's the species?"

     "I don't know.  There's a lot of literature to consult, a lot of

measurements to make.  Maybe you have a new species.  Maybe you'll have to

publish a description."

     A strange smile smile comes over Sarah's face.

     "That would be great," she says, "before I came out here, I told my

sister I was going to name a parasite after her."

     I don't pursue that line of conversation very far.  The night she

discovers the spores, we celebrate with microwave burritos from Pro-Mart,

the 24 hour a day filling station that serves as the emergency ration

source when discoveries that need celebrated are made in the middle of the

night.  The name of her undescribed species of Actinocephalus had been

decided before she'd caught her first insect.  Her sister was about to

become immortalized in print.

     "Carri Lynn, have I got a present for you!" says Sarah, taking another

bite of her microwaved burrito.  After two years of dissection, counting,

measurement, and library research, she's convinced her species is a new one

and is ready to write her description.

     Sarah's two summers studying the parasites of damselflies are of

significant help to Tami.  Out of the five or six species of large

gregarines in damselflies along the shores of Dunwoody Pond, only one,

Actinocephalus carrilynnae , is familiar and identifiable.  Sarah has gone

to Arizona to pursue other questions, but her contribution stays behind to

help those who follow in her steps.  Actinocephalus carrilynae is one of

Tami's species whose status is, at least temporarily, defined and accepted. 

The rest of these species constitute, as is sometimes said in the

profession, a "taxonomic mess."

     The first time students encounter such a mess, right under their

noses, in some common and familiar place, the edifice of scientific

knowledge suddenly appears cracked, if not shattered.  Few experiences

point so sharply, so quickly, and in such easily understood terms, toward

that vast sea of ignorance every practicing scientist knows is "out there,"

as being unable to identify an animal using available literature. 

Parasites inside small animals are particularly unstudied.  Of all the

millions of damselflies that scientists have watched, collected, put away

in museums, relatively few have been examined for parasites.  And of those

that have been dissected by someone looking for parasites, three young

women from the prairies--Sarah, Aris, and Tami--are quickly accumulating

the world's overwhelming majority.  Not surprisingly, the first thing they

discover is that they are suddenly among the world's experts.  The second

thing they discover is that in order to answer any question of process,

they must first answer the question that plagues all ecologists at some

time in their careers:  What is it?

     The gregarine parasites of damselflies are relatively large, for

single cells, and their differences are manifested primarily in two

features: their anterior ends, with which they "hold" onto the damselfly

intestine, and their spores, more properly called "oocysts," by means of

which they get distributed throughout nature.  Tami has decided to focus on

the first of these features, the holdfast structures, although in a larger

sense, she's actually studying evolutionary events that probably took place

a hundred million years ago between two species' cell membranes.  Tami's

convinced that with the electron microscope, she can see differences

between species' solutions to a common problem: how to hold on to your

place and complete your life history in a turbulent, mushy, environment. 

The unspoken assumption is that if she discovers how various species

accomplish this daunting task, then maybe she'll be able to apply such

knowledge to her own life history, hopefully to be lived out in academia--a

no less turbulent or mushy environment than one finds in a damselfly gut.

     The names of her animals, however, remain in her head, instead of on

the journal page where they'd be of use, and furthermore, the names

themselves are neither fully formed nor firmly affixed to their respective

parasites.  Back in the city, Tami consults another lab mate, Rich, who's

chosen beetles as his source of mystery, reputation, and career.  Beetles,

as a group may be the most common animals on earth; there are a quarter of

a million described species.  Most of these species contain their own

microfauna, and whereas the parasites of beetles are better known than

those of damselflies, still only a handful of parasitologists have looked

inside beetle guts.  When these scientists have published their work, the

papers have often appeared in old, odd, and foreign journals that few

American libraries contain.  Through patience and diligence, Rich has

accumulated file drawers of obscure and convoluted literature, as well as a

lexicon of scientific Greek and Latin words and their meanings.  Together,

microscopic animals in one hand, this literature in the other, the two

young scientists search for the perfect syllables.

     Euphonious and descriptive are Rich's personal criteria for names;

euphonious and published so she can get on with her work are Tami's.  Their

search for perfect words reminds me of a Michael Lipman story-- The

Chatterlings in Wordland --that is among the treasured items remaining from

my childhood bookshelves.  The Chatterlings were delightful little elves

dressed in red tailed jackets and pointed caps with a pair of feathers. 

Their eyes were mostly white circles, i.e. wide open.  The King informs

Prince Tip o' Tongue that he's ready to retire and turn the kingdom over to

Tip, but the Prince has to go get himself a crown.  When the poor kid comes

back from the Royal Hat Maker, he has only a coronet.  Of course as

punishment, Tip gets sent on a rambling search--not unlike Tami with

Siphonia tulipa --for the pair of words that means exactly the same thing.

     The Chatterling-type search also leads to a history lesson.  Among the

obscure scientists who'd cut open damselflies looking for parasites was an

Izushi High School teacher, Kinichiro Obata.  Obata published descriptions

of many species of parasites from Japanese insects.  Tami and Rich know

these insects; they've been at the microscope themselves, fine forceps in

hand, pulling out an intestine from some of the same species Obata studied. 

Obata's published paper, however, contains a narrative that the young

scientists hope never to have to write in one of their own:

    "I began the study of gregarines of insects in 1942, but I lost many

    data and manscripts be the fire caused by the atomic bomb dropped on

    Hiroshima.  After the second World War, I came back to my work, and

    ressumed [sic] some parts of my previous study."

     Although the collections and manuscripts may have been lost, Kinichiro

Obata's papers tell us that damselflies, and their parasites, as well as a

person who studied them, survived a nuclear weapons attack.  None of

Obata's assigned species names commemorate the war.  He names a parasite

species tokonoi because its insect hosts were collected near Mt. Tokono;

another he calls ozakii and dedicates it to his "respectable professor" Dr.

Y. Ozaki.  Others he names after prominent physical features, a decision

that Tami and Rich are somewhat inclined to repeat.

     " Steganorhynchus doesn't sound quite right," I offer my opinion on the

pair's choice of complex words for the generic name.  "That sounds like a

dinosaur instead of a parasite."  The animal Tami proposes to name after

Duane Dunwoody not only is a new species, it's also a new genus.  If the

descriptive paper is accepted by a scientific journal, the animal would be

known as Steganorhynchus dunwoodii .

     Stegano - translates into "sheathed" or "covered," rather like a

lampshade; rhynchus translates into "nose."  The Stegano - describes a

delicate, membranous, veil that adorns the end of this parasite's

attachment stalk.  So to honor her local rancher, Tami picks a name that

means Dunwoody's Lampshadenose.  What is a Dunwoody's Lampshadenose?  A

one-celled animal with a long stalk at the front end and a membranous,

lampshade-like structure at the end of the stalk.  Of course.  No wonder

people think biologists are odd.  Before her entanglement with one celled

animals ends, Tami and Rich will find names for the others.  The names will

be, above all, colorful:  Nubenocephalus nebraskensis ;  this one has a tiny

attachment stalk that eventually disappears, whereupon the entire front end

of the animal becomes a sucker.  Nubeno - means envelope; cephalus refers to

head; - ensis means "living in;" N . nebraskensis is an envelope-head living

in Nebraska.

     I ask Tami and her co-author Rich if that particular name is also a

subtle honorific.  They smile and answer no, reminding me that I once

suggested naming new species after politicians.  The logic went something

like this: politicians are so enamored of glory that they'd be curious

about the animals they were named after.  Such curiosity might heighten the

ecological awareness of those in positions of political power.  This

heightened awareness might lead to more rational and enlightened policies

toward natural resources.  But what happens if the politicians discover the

animals they've been named after are parasites?  They might not appreciate

the honor, I agreed.  In the end, we decide against the politicians as

honorees, concluding that the naming of species after individuals ought to

be reserved for people who truly deserve the honor, people whose names you

want entered permanently into the scientific literature.  So Duane Dunwoody

gets his parasite.  Some others, whose names you read in your daily

newspaper, do not.  And if history is any guide to the future, people will

be saying Steganorhynchus dunwoodii for many years, if not centuries, after

the politicians' names have disappeared into oblivion.

     Tami's final species is a member of the genus Hoplorhynchus .  Hoplo -

is a tool, or a weapon; rhynchus is again nose.  Hoplorhynchus is a weapon-

or tool-nose.  Out of deference to the memory of Kinichiro Obata, and as a

reminder of the vulnerability of pure science for the love of science, Tami

prefers to think of weapons, rather than tools, when she sees a species of

Hoplorhynchus .  This parasite's holdfast organelle has a crown of hooks. 

Tami settles on acanthatholius for the specific epithet; acantha - means

spines; a tholia is a conical hat with a broad rim.  Hoplorhynchus

acanthatholius will be a parasite whose weapon is a conical hat, perhaps a

dunce cap, with a broad rim of spines.  Tami is especially pleased with

this name.  Those who lead with weapons on their noses need to be reminded

that they're really wearing a dunce cap with thorns.  Kinichiro Obata would

probably have appreciated this subtle symbolism contained in the name of an

inconsequential parasite of an insect of no economic importance but of

great beauty.

     Speaking of names--not long ago, Tami's lab mate Rich got up in front

of a small audience and presented the results of some fairly sophisticated

experiments involving the physiological ecology of three species of

parasites that lived in beetles.  In this audience were some of the most

successful scientists in the country, including several that had large

grants to study molecular biology and genetics.  I had listened to many of

their talks, as well as other lectures by "modern" scientists studying the

expression of genetic information, genetic engineering, biochemistry,

immunology, and the like.  Those experiences were often a painful struggle

for me, both intellectually and emotionally.  Why, I kept asking, do I feel

so outdated, so ill-trained, so obsolete, listening to these fellow

scientists, when they never seem to reveal any feelings of inadequacy when

listening to me?  Yet I'd been asked questions, and heard comments about my

work and that of my graduate students, that indicated my fellow scientists

had not understood what was being said, or else had superimposed their own

wishes and desires on my data.  I looked around at the audience; everyone

seemed attentive, focused on Rich's talk.  You'd never have suspected that

a ten minute talk on whole animals and reproduction had sailed right past


     Yet after this presentation, during an intermission, one of the most

senior of these scientists commented in private on the paper involving

insect parasites.  For a mixed audience, he said, the student should

simplify his jargon, and especially so if he [meaning the student] gives

the same material in a job interview seminar.  I pursued the meaning of the

term "jargon," having heard plenty of jargon that nobody ever bothered

explaining to me being presented as cutting edge science.  You know, he

said, all those names.  Maybe he should just call them parasites A, B, and

C.  The problem, it seemed, was in the scientific names used by this

student in front of an audience made up of biologists.  How, I wondered,

can you speak to professional biologists if you can't use scientific names? 

Then it dawned on me: the Latinized names of plants and animals are almost

symbols for Nineteenth Century biology--the Golden Age of Exploration. 

Nobody talks that way any more unless, of course, they want to make sure

everyone else knows exactly what kinds of organisms are being discussed and

have some sense of the evolutionary histories and relationships involved in

the discussion.

     At the other end of the spectrum of scientific education are the well

educated professionals--usually businessmen and their wives--who say to me,

at various social functions, comments like "John, I really couldn't make it

through your last book.  I hope you understand.  It was just so difficult

and so technical."  Difficult and technical?  I work so hard to make them

easy and non-technical.  Compared to the junk bond, savings and loan, and

terrorist financing scandals of recent years, all reported extensively in

local newspapers, the life of a parasite is relatively simple and

straightforward.  I usually tell my friends that.  Then they get

apologetic.  Oh you know, they say, all those complicated names.  The

scientific names?  I ask.  Yes.  Then I wonder if maybe their parents

should have bought them a copy of The Chatterlings in Wordland when they

were children.

     But I'm usually polite enough not to express that wondering out loud. 

Instead, I make a comment about my class roster.  Every time I record

grades for two hundred students, I relive the colonizaton of America, the

survival through three and four generations of Eastern European, German,

Scandanavian, and Irish names, now carried with pride and a sense of

cultural continuity.  But recently my class rosters have carried other

kinds of names, too--Hispanic, Indian, Pakistani, Asian, and especially

Vietnamese words, odd combinations of vowels and consonants that apply to

the bright and eager faces I see spread across a large auditorium.  This is

the linguistic milieu into which Tami will be thrown if she is successful

in pursuit of her chosen career as a college professor.  Her struggle with

names like Siphonia tulipa , Steganorhynchus dunwoodii , and Hoplorhynchus

acanthatholius , now seems to have been good training.  It's taught her to

be patient with odd words whose meanings have significance for you

personally.  Kinichiro Obata would likely have understood, and greatly

appreciated the value to Tami, of her etymological lessons delivered at the

hands of un-named parasites living in damselflies.

               *                *                *

     From the shores of Dunwoody Pond and the gallery filled with ancient

words, Tami retreats into darkness to answer her original question about

the animals that live inside insects:  How do the cell membranes of

damselflies interact with those of this community of parasites?  She sits

before a giant steel machine, her hands on its knurled knobs, her fingers

making delicate adjustments.  Strange images pass across a screen whose

green light reflects off her face.  She's at the end of her search, seeing,

at last, why she chose damselflies, spent those untold hours at the

microscope, cut open so many intestines, struggled with long words and wing

veins and markings that showed she'd caught the right species.  In the

darkness she smiles at the naive questions ringing in her ears, the

questions strangers often ask:  What good can possibly come out of your

work?  Satisfied with a picture on the screen, she presses a button and

turns the image into a photograph.  I chose an insect, and because of it,

became a child in wonderland, and will forever be a child in wonderland.

     But what good comes from your work, they ask again, persistent,

unsatisfied.  I have produced a child who will forever be in wonderland,

she says one more time, firmly, with a touch of new hardness in her voice,

losing some of her patience with people who continue to ask questions but

don't seem to want to hear the answers.  The bandage is gone from the

finger that twists the knobs to move her specimen sealed away into a giant

vacuum cylinder.  This single slice of biological material she's studying

represents a year of work and waiting.  The bandage represented her lesson

in patience with herself.  Her parasite is embedded in a block of plastic. 

She needed to cut that block into a certain shape in order to slice off a

section so thin the plastic looks golden.  Blocks are trimmed with glass

knives.  Glass knives are made, broken from squares of quarter inch plate. 

Glass knives are sharp as hell; eventually you cut yourself.  Then you wait

while the finger heals.  The diamond knife, used to slice off the golden

section, is also sharp, and unforgiving of those who've not learned their

first lessons with glass.

     The waiting is nothing new.  Tami waited until the plastic hardened,

and before that, she waited while her specimens took their journeys through

caustic chemicals and buffers, each step timed, each step a potential loss

of her year's work.  Earlier she'd waited for her microscope lessons.  On

the shore of Dunwoody Pond, she'd waited for summer, for the right species

of damselflies, and then for exactly the right species of parasites to

appear in the intestines.  Then she waited for the parasites to produce

spores, and she waited for literature to be sent from across the ocean. 

She was patient with her own mistakes.  Before a specimen could begin its

trek from her lab bench to the electron microscope, it had to be fixed in

place, attached to the insect gut lining.  In order to be of any value, the

parasite had to stay attached through all the processing and handling. 

Many were lost along the way.  By the time her parasites were embedded in

plastic, they were black, almost unrecognizeable versions of themselves. 

She had no idea whether they would be satisfactory for her purposes.  If

they were not, then she'd have to wait another year, for another crop of

damselflies and another generation of parasites to emerge from Dunwoody


     Her finger healed, she had to wait for "time on the scope."  Big

expensive scientific instruments are heavily used; she had to schedule her

hours far in advance.  She spends her waiting hours writing.  Once she had

an idea, she remembers, and decided to explore it, beginning with some

insects she'd caught on the shore of Dunwoody Pond and some questions that

came into her mind when she saw the parasites in the insect's intestines. 

She knew early on that she'd eventually have much writing and waiting to

do.  If she could return to that first day when she walked into wonderland

with her card-- Siphonia tulipa --and waded through the excited children

swirling around her knees, what would she say to herself, and to these

kids?  Be patient.  Science takes time.  The distance from Dunwoody to the

dark room can be measured in many ways, by the lengthening list of

technical skills she's acquired, by the stack of obscure literature

accumulating in her files, by the roster of published names of parasites. 

But the most telling measure of her success at converting herself into a

scientist is Tami's patience, her understanding of the strictly human

trait--patience--that permeates all work well done.

     The lives Tami sees on the electron microscope screen are not so

easily analyzed as crushed midge parts in an adult damselfly's intestine. 

She gets the distinct feeling that what she's seeing first appeared on

earth during the Carboniferous, that the cell membranes so delicately

pushed together are evidence of a relationship that's been kept alive,

through repeated encounters between damselflies and their internal

parasites, a sort of reaffirmation of a common need, for two hundred and

fifty million years.  She focuses on the exact spot where Steganorhynchus

dunwoodii and Ischnura verticalis come together.  The picture looks nothing

like she'd envisioned it earlier.  Electron micrographs are impressionist

drawings, to be deciphered only if you have a clear sense of what you

started with; and electron micrographs of parasite membranes up against

their host's, when viewed at a magnification of ten thousand times, present

one with an additional problem: which one is the parasite, and which one is

the host?

     In this case the question is fairly easy to answer.  Magnified ten

thousand times, all those gregarine parasites with the elegant,

geographical, honorific and euphonius names are seen to have row upon row

of regular folds at their surfaces.  As Tami turns the knobs and moves

these folds through the viewing screen, their marching patterns are almost

hypnotic.  See?   Here's where they've been pushed aside by the contact

with a damselfly cell; here's where they're cut so cleanly by the diamond

knife that you can see tiny tubes supporting each fold; and here's where

the spaces between the folds are filled with something dark, making you

think of glue, or other sticky secretions.  In the electron microscope, a

damselfly looks like a beautiful stomach ache.  Cells lining the intestine

are very tall, packed together like the stalks in sheaves of wheat, puffy

and fragile, especially at their globular top ends that appear to break

open, spilling enzymes into the gut.  Tami turns the knobs still further,

following the marching parasite folds down into the sheaf of damselfly

cells pushed aside by the gregarine's neck.  And at the end of the neck,

Dunwoody's Lampshadenose's nose: the lampshade is actually a fuzzy balloon

filled with mysterious granules.  I wonder what those granules are? Tami

asks herself in the dark.  After all this time, all this waiting, all this

work, she's still in the dark, both literally and figuratively, having

found only more difficult questions as answers.  Once more she smiles.  At

the end of a long and arduous search and all I find are more difficult

questions?  Good; I must be on my way to becoming a scientist!

                *                *               *

     Six years after I hand her a card with the name Siphonia tulipa on it,

Tami hands me a book, non-fiction, bound in black, its title embossed in

gold, and containing 143 pages.  This book has four chapters.  The events

and situations described in those four chapters, as well as the physical

appearance of the characters involved, tell a formal story.  In places, the

language is almost stilted, a requirement of the genre.  In other places,

the sentences are long, complex, descriptions of pictures.  The information

is not necessarily given in the sequence in which it was acquired; the

story has been arranged to guide the reader through the author's series of

tasks and thoughts.  In the beginning, the main characters are described

and we learn something of their history.  The second chapter tells about

these characters' homes, the environments where they live and die, the

disruptions they have to contend with daily.  In the third chapter we get

involved in the characters' lives, see how they solve problems in their own

unique ways, and find what their common environment forces upon them in the

way of compromise.  In the final chapter, we see inside these characters,

into their innermost secrets, the mysterious and unique traits that keep

them apart from other members of their families.  Upon closer examination,

our impressions from chapter three are shown to be somewhat naive.  By the

end of this book, a reader knows he's been taken on a journey to places no

one else has gone.  Tami's name is on the front.  My first reaction to

receiving it is to place the cover against my nose and breath in deeply. 

Brand new bound thesis copies have a smell that is uniquely intellectual,

unquestioningly academic, the smell of major accomplishment.

     "Thanks," I say, "let's go get a beer."

     We adjourn to a local watering hole.  A crowd gathers.  Tami is on her

way to Texas, metamorphosed, like a damselfly, off to bigger ponds,

carrying her own versions of Steganorhynchus dunwoodii , Actinocephalus

carrilynnae , Hoplorhynchus acanthatholius , and Nubenocephalus nebraskensis . 

Somebody asks her if she's going to miss her work, her insects, the high

plains wind, hot muggy mornings around Dunwoody's, and the nightime storms

over the prairie.

     "Sort of," she says, then brightens.  "But I've got a reminder."  We

enter a long discussion about the proper sites for your research animal

tattoos.  Small fish go on the ankle; beetles might be most effective on

the back of your hand; frogs are a toss-up; snails go on the wrist so

you'll see them every time you check your watch.

     "So let's see it," someone asks.

     Tami turns so the crowd can inspect the back of her shoulder, where

rests Enallagma civile , permanently.

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