A vacation gone wrong. For fans of ichthyology, typing, and eternal relaxation. First appeared in Biomednet’s HMS Beagle; Jan 19 2001. Reprinted in 10th Dimension Ten.
SUBJECT: Departmental Memo
Just a reminder: Hank (that’s “Dr. Bates” to his closest friends) will be absent for the next two weeks because he’s finally taking a well-deserved vacation. Maybe the rest of us can now relax and not feel so guilty by comparison. Hey Hank, now that you have tenure, buy a house and move out of your lab! There’s more to life than biology, after all. Besides, you’re starting to scare the undergrads.
Dr. Richard Alcolt
Biological Engineering, MR230-21
California Institute of Biology
PS: Catch a twenty-pounder for me.
PPS: Don’t try to fool us by dressing up like a graduate student and hiding in the cold room for the next two weeks!
* * *
I made it! I landed in Papua three hours ago. CAMSTAT-MOBILE says my e-mail satellite link is operational, so with luck I should be able to keep you updated with my laptop on how much fun you’re not having.
This place is crawling with life! I’ve been a biologist for so long I’ve forgotten that life forms really do exist outside of labs, seminars, and journals. A Catocala relicta nearly flew up my nose. I followed it to a birch tree, where it perched and blended in perfectly with the dark lines of the bark. A perfect metaphor for me — like a moth, I’m going to blend into my vacation and let my compulsion to work miss me like a blind blue jay. Write to you tomorrow.
PS: Will you have someone make sure I set my refrigerator to 4 degrees C, so my cells won’t die? I promise this is the last time I’ll think about work.
PPS: In the ruckus of getting ready, I forgot to bring my fishing pole. Maybe I can rent one somewhere, or borrow one from the natives.
* * *
Now I know how Alfred Wallace felt as he hacked his way through the jungles of the Malay Archipelago. I’m surrounded by biology. It’s practically consuming me. My god, Rich, what have we been doing with our lives? I’m on a small island off the north shore. Right off the bat I nearly stepped on a snake-mimicking caterpillar. I’ve never seen one in real-life before now. I lunged back from it, thinking I was about to be poisoned (the nearest hospital being four hundred miles away). The caterpillar’s deception was incredible. Its hindquarters looked exactly like an anvil-headed snake — eyes, scales, and everything. But that wasn’t even the best part of my day. Two hours later, I spied a tephritid fly dancing about on a branch in front of a jumping spider. The fly had its wings spread and was waving them about so that their stick-like patterns resembled the legs of the spider, thus tricking the spider into believing that the fly was a spider as well. I was absolutely blown away.