Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving - what's up with that?

So this year our family is doing Thanksgiving at my brother's place, but it comes at a price.  Most people dress up in costume for Halloween.  My brother has requested we do Thanksgiving in costume - it has been entitled "Fabulously Tacky Turkey Day".  Jealous?  You should be.  I have decided to go as Plymouth Rock.  After all, what could better commemorate the arrival of settlers, who would soon meet Native Americans and celebrate the first Thanksgiving together?  It was either that or smallpox.  I figured Plymouth Rock would be easier.

Well, this whole thing has gotten me to thinking about the real history of Thanksgiving.  Admittedly, history was not my favorite subject in elementary school.  From what I could remember of my early education, the Pilgrims came to America rather under-prepared, the Native Americans brought some food to the somber-looking white dudes, and everything was rainbows and succotash and smiles.

Since I'm now an adult and history is mildly more interesting to me, I hopped on over to the History channel website and searched "history of Thanksgiving".  Here's the synopsis:
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn't until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
So that's the short and simple version.  There are a few more items of interest.  I did remember the name "Squanto" from the history books.  Well, turns out he was a pretty interesting guy.  He had apparently previously been kidnapped and sold into slavery.  He escaped to London, and eventually made his way back on an exploratory expedition.  You'd think the man would be pretty bitter by that point, but he showed the Pilgrims how to plant crops and such.  Props to Squanto.

There is also controversy over whether this was the first "Thanksgiving" feast to be held.  There are other records of "feasts to give thanks" in 1565 and 1619.  I'm sure there are historical scholar types who argue vehemently for the 1565 feast in St. Augustine, Florida.  Sorry, history buffs.  Thanksgiving will always evoke images of Pilgrims and Indians.  I don't think the Spanish explorer edition will ever make grade school history books.  It's all rather the same to me anyway.

Fabulously Tacky Turkey Day promises to be a day of fun with my ridiculously goofy family, and planning for it has made me ponder things in my life that I am thankful for.  There are of course the big ones:  my family, my friends, my pets, a roof over my head, my health, religious freedom.  I do have a lot of other things to be thankful for..some serious, some just for fun.  My job.  My Hyundai.  Bunnies and guinea pigs.  Everyone who rescues animals.  My iPod.  Books.  Target.  Delicious food.  Music.  The ocean.  The Discovery Channel.  Harry Potter and Star Wars.  Dr. Pepper.  Contact lenses.  Humor.  Bunspace.  Facebook.  Chapstick.  Jason's Deli.  Lobster.  My aquarium and its inhabitants.  Art.  My Nintendo Wii.  My education.  The internet...without which this blog would not be possible!

So, to my fellow American readers, enjoy your holiday.  Treasure the time with your family and friends.  And to my readers everywhere, I hope you'll take a little bit of time to think about things for which you are thankful. 

Happy Thanksgiving (next week)!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"What a fish!" "Mammal." "Whatever."

The other day we were filling the boat up with gas before heading out for work on the water.  While gassing up, a lady walked up to me and said, "I wish I had your job!  You know, I almost went into marine biology."  That comment got me to thinking how many times I have heard this EXACT comment.  Apparently about 80% of America's population almost went into marine biology.

The statement is always given with such a sense of envy too.  "Oh, your job must be so fun!"  "I love dolphins!"  Then they proceed to tell me that they went into some sensible career.  The lady at the gas station went into law.  While she envied my time on the water, I must admit I envied her paycheck.  Believe me, you don't go into this job for the money.

I do believe a large portion of the population has a rather skewed view of what a marine biologist actually does.  Most people picture dolphins, ocean sunsets, coral reefs, and luxurious research vessels filled with red wine and Frenchmen.  In reality, marine biology is not glamorous.  In my career, I have pulled nets through thigh-deep mud, been mauled by biting insects on a regular basis, come home with anchovies stuck to my person, been poked and stung and bitten by all manner of creatures, had to pee up in the mangroves with giant spiders hanging above my head, sampled in all-day torrential downpours, and clog up my shower drain with drift algae and dead seagrass.  As of right now, my hands have some slices from fish gill plates, I've got the end of a fish spine stuck in my finger, and I've got several good bruises.  I wrestle with cantankerous computer programs and equipment failures.  I have strange tan lines and my work clothes will forever and always smell like estuarine mud.

The crazy thing is, I actually enjoy this stuff.  You need to be a little crazy to do this.  During my college orientation, all of the marine biology hopefuls gathered in an auditorium.  They did a rather good job of "telling it like it is".  The gist of the speech was this:  1) You're not going to be playing with dolphins. 2)You're not going to make any money. 3) No really, you're not going to be playing with dolphins. 4) No, you don't have a special connection with dolphins. 5) You will spend lots of time in the mud.  And...quite literally, half the people got up and left.  I was one of the poor suckers who stayed.  So - I don't play with dolphins, I don't make a whole lot of money, I know dolphins aren't quite as cute and cuddly as people think, and I spend lots of time in the mud.  Yup.  And I'm good with that.  Well, except maybe the money thing.

If you've ever seen "The Marine Biologist" episode of Seinfeld, then you are familiar with the title I gave this blog.  Now to leave you with one more marine biology gem from George Costanza:

So I started to walk into the water. I won't lie to you boys, I was terrified! But I pressed on and as I made my way past the
breakers, a strange calm came over me. I don't know if it was divine
intervention or the kinship of all living things, but I tell you Jerry -
at that moment I was a marine biologist!
 Here's me, giving a big "thumbs up" to marine biology: