Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Inconvenience of Vegetation

Several weeks ago, Uncovered Earth wrote about the inconvenience of vegetation to geologists.  That post brought back wonderful memories and prompted me to write about my geology mentor, Dr. Brainerd “Nip” Mears, Jr., now-retired professor of geology at the University of Wyoming.  As a Botany grad student studying plant geography, I was encouraged to take his Regional Geomorphology course.  I fell in love with the subject and went on to take graduate courses with Dr. Mears.   We field-tripped around Wyoming, marveling at our landscapes with the help of our professor’s clear explanations and wonderful, quirky and very dry sense of humor.  Those experiences have paid off again and again in terms of enjoying the world around me.

Dr. Mears also was a terrific editor, the best instructor in technical writing that I had in all my years in school.   Our first drafts would come back loaded with red editorial marks, comments in his distinctive scratchy writing and the faint smell of cigar smoke.  In a final project for a class in Quaternary studies, Mears encouraged us to utilize our thesis research, so I chose to write about the post-Pleistocene development of the Black Hills flora.  I started my paper with a quote from the great botanists Henry Allan Gleason and Arthur Cronquist (from The Natural Geography of Plants, 1964):
“When we look at a landscape, we rarely think of the invisible soil, but we admit that the charm of the scene is often increased by the configuration of the land, although the land, without its painting of plants, is bare and desolate.  It is the vegetation which makes the landscape.”
I thought this quote appropriate, informative and even a bit clever, describing as it did the important role of plants in landscapes.  But when the edited draft was returned I found a giant X through the words of Gleason and Cronquist, with the following correction:
“Plants do not make the landscape, plants OBSCURE the landscape.”
That’s how I was introduced to the inconvenience of vegetation.

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