So a philosopher, a biologist and an English professor walk into a bar. Wait, no, this isn’t that kind of joke. Actually this isn’t a joke at all. Yesterday, a philosopher, a biologist and an English professor were sitting at a picnic table. Their friendship is more than 40 years long. They are all retired from teaching now, but still busy. To risk over summarizing their careers, for a time, they all taught at the same small college. The philosopher has published many papers about environmental ethics, many with a concentration on the customs and cultures of indigenous people. His travels for research and collaboration have taken him to a First Nations community in Manitoba as well as to Australia. The biologist, to my knowledge, really hasn’t published anything, but his local work in prairie restoration both with the University and with other groups is impressive. His expertise is often sought. He is embarrassed by newspaper articles profiling him and his work. The English professor spent a number of years teaching at the same college and then moved to a larger University in the United States. Then he moved on to his parents’ native Ireland. His parents are long gone and don’t know this. He has published books on various topics related to science fiction and utopias and dystopias. I had no idea that he and I shared a favorite locale for backpacking and that he liked to go there every year immediately after grading finals. We talked about the lakes, rivers and trails there. Two of them have a picture of him displayed where they live where the “river meets the sea”. The river being the Big Carp River and the “sea” being Lake Superior. He said he doesn’t really talk to many people who know that place.
I met all these men over 20 years ago. When I attended school where they taught, I took classes taught by two of the three of them. One class was the most important class I ever took. The other class had me jotting down a reading list during lectures that weren’t part of that semester’s reading, but I held onto this list for years and eventually read many of the books mentioned by the professor in passing. I became acquainted with the last of these professors through committee work and then through prairie restoration work. Oddly, I had classes from both of his colleagues in the Philosophy Department, but never his class. A friend who did take his class mentioned that he’d related that his very young son would say to him, “Dad, get real!” (It was the 80’s.) And he’d reply, “But Carlos, there is no reality.” That still tickles me now that Carlos is in his early 30’s with children of his own. I have no idea how he was supposed to argue with that at the age of 6 or 9, but regardless, he certainly seems like a fine and personable young man, judging from our visit yesterday.
Because they taught at such a small college, there seemed to be more opportunity (and need) to become acquainted with and to collaborate with people outside of ones’ own discipline. They’ve forged friendships that will last all their lives. Yesterday, I was privileged to witness something of a reunion between them all since the one who has gone furthest afield had returned to visit and for a conference nearby. It was wonderful to see their easy rapport and to hear them talk about the many interests they are pursuing in “retirement” and to hear them update each other on what various colleagues are now doing.
Cheers to J., M. and T. May you all have many more years and a few more good reunions where you can catch up.