“Lemmings in the Third Year” and Women in Science

photo by Leo Seta, Flickr, Creative Commons
photo by Leo Seta, Flickr, Creative Commons

For the first time, available now by itself: “Lemmings in the Third Year” for your Kindle, iPad, e-reader device. 

Arctic researchers stuck in a land of talking animals, comedy, runner up to the Fountain Award.  The idea started with Iron John: a Book About Men and ended up being about Women in Science instead.  How did that happen?

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It was the summer of 1992 when I moved to Missouri to sit outside the gates of the University of Missouri-Columbia and hope that I got in to their Masters program.  It was foolish.  I can’t believe the belief I had, the sheer power of conviction that they would pick me if I waited right there.  To wait the year–in order to get in-state tuition too—I worked at Taco Bell, next-door, and I was just barely getting by.  I lived in a house with four roommates, but the rent was about 400 a month for a bedroom.  In the fall, I saw an ad in the Maneater (the student newspaper) for a cartoonist.  It paid 12 dollars a cartoon.  You had to produce 2 cartoons a week, but you had an open subject, any style, whatever you wanted to do.

I was not a student at the time, but maybe they made an exception for me.  I could draw.  I had imagination.  I could do this.  But what would I write about?  I remember that I was reading Iron John: A book about Men, and was very confused by it.  There was a lot I loved, and I lot I argued with.  Robert Bly brings that out in people–and that’s okay.  I had also picked up a book about polar bears from a discount shelf inside an old Hastings store.  By mashing Robert Bly and polar bears I created Captain Bly and submitted six cartoons for consideration.  I got in!  It meant that I had nearly 100 extra dollars a month!  I was thrilled.

I kept that cartoon strip going for four years.  After the year waiting outside, I did finally get into Mizzou, but I kept the Taco Bell job too.  The strip started out being about men, and about bears (I didn’t have a clue that I was a gay man who loved “bears” but drawing them made me happy).  But soon it got into science, and I created three biologists who journey north and are stuck in a north where all the animals talk to them.

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Positively Beaufort, the new Yukon term for “freakin’ cold”?

 

Herschel Island, a quiet pond, an old fishing boat, the old Canadian Signal Corps building--amazing photo by incredible photographer Hank Moorlag
Herschel Island, a quiet pond, an old fishing boat, the old Canadian Signal Corps building--amazing photo by incredible photographer Hank Moorlag

Meagan Grabowski didn’t know she was coming up with a catch phrase, but a visit to Herschel Island for a couple of weeks, and she was a one-woman neologist.  “It started at Pika Camp,” a remote camp for researchers a few kilometres away from the Kluane Lake Research Station.  “We were coming up with an Inuvialuktan to English to Yorkshire dictionary…for fun…and the Yorkshire term for ‘it’s very cold’ turned out to be ‘positively Baltic.'”  But when she was up for two weeks studying biomass on Herschel Island, and it got really, really cold, she slipped on the ‘baltic’ and said the weather was “positively Beaufort.”   Meaning, it doesn’t get colder than that….the wet wind off the Beaufort Sea…beats everything.

 

Meagan was up there as part of  International Polar Year, with a team of researchers, Scott Gilbert, Charlie and Alice Krebs, Don Reed, and others, all looking at Herschel Island as an ecosystem, finding out what made it tick, and how that information could be transferred, and compared, to other northern islands and our own Yukon high alpine tundra areas.  

Meagan Grabowski is daughter to well-known taxidermist Tony Grabowski and you can hear more of her adventures up on Herschel Island, as well as how any young Yukoner can spend a summer in a such a positively Beaufort place.  The last of my two radio shows this summer, coming Tuesday at 7:50am.  

We’re hoping the weather stays warm for a long time, but in case it drops to -40 this winter, feel free to put “positively Beaufort” into circulation.