Nasty to nasturtiums

by Bill Monson

I have a confession.

After eighth grade at Lombard Junior High, I never took another science class. Despite a Ph.D. and 30-plus years as a professor, I have a huge hole in my education.

I know next to nothing about botany. I can't tell a delphinium from a daffodil. Once I get past roses, daisies, tulips and lilies, they're all just flowers. I've struggled mightily with trees, too. I can tell an oak by its acorns and a maple by its helicopter seeds; but ask me to differentiate between a hard and soft maple, and I'm lost. What makes it worse is that I grew up with examples of both in my front yard on Blaine Avenue.

I'm a little better at biology. At least I know the difference between male and female -- and how babies are made. But my kids at 12 knew more biology than I did at 40 -- and I had to do some catch-up reading out of embarrassment.

Anatomy I learned by experience -- breaking bones, Playboy, the back seats of cars.

Geology? A rock is a rock is a rock.

Now, I'm not entirely stupid when it comes to science. I say that so that Knox College won't demand my diploma back. I took three quarters of physics from Professor Priestley and got Bs - so Old Siwash (whoops, Prairie Conflagration) needn't be completely ashamed of me. Physics simply didn't seem like science to me. Newton's laws I could wade through. But put me in a chemistry lab and I'm a total freaking idiot. Well, I might be able to light a Bunsen burner or use test tubes and water to make a xylophone.

Actually, I'm pretty good at meteorology. After all, I grew up in Galesburg where you learn to keep your eyes on the skies. I also know some astronomy for the same reason. I've learned enough volcanology on my own to deserve at least a Dilettante First Class rating. I once told a real volcanologist that Mt. St. Helen's would erupt in the same way Mt. Lassen did in 1915 -- and he had to admit he'd never researched Lassen and went off to read a book I recommended. Later, he called to say I'd taught him something; and a month later, St. Helen's proved me right. I tell this story to prove even experts have their blind spots. (And yes, brag a little.)

Where am I going with this?

To the Vale of Regret.

As I approach my Biblical span of three-score and ten, I realize what I've missed. When I take a walk and see a beautiful flower, I regret not knowing what to call it. When I stand in the shade of a tree, it would be nice to know what kind it is -- or what color its leaves will turn in the Fall. When I have an ache or pain -- and in your sixties you have a lot of them -- it would be good if I could identify the body part beyond ''whosis.'' I suppose I can live without knowing what potassium chloride is or the atomic number of aluminum -- but what kind of pebble is this I found at the beach?

If you're the parent or grandparent of a pre-teen, share my sad tale as a kind of warning lesson. Make sure that your youngster can at least identify the flora and fauna in his or her world. I have a feeling too many youngsters grow up like me, avoiding (or forgetting) what they consider useless nomenclature -- and in so doing rob themselves of what someday could be priceless to them.Now excuse me while I turn on The Learning Channel and try to fill in a few gaps.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online July 11, 2001

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