Thursday, February 16, 2006

A decade of dreams come true

Amazingly, improbably, it's 2006. A signal year for me. In the spring of 1996 I met with my faculty advisor at OU, Trish Schwagmeyer. I asked her what I could be doing to make myself more attractive to grad schools. She said go find a faculty member you like and do an independent study. I knew Rich from my high school mentorship (1992-1993), but since arriving at OU I'd avoided the museum, in part to satisfy myself that I didn't really want to be an aeronautical engineer or an English teacher (nix to both). So I walked down to Rich's office, dropped my butt in a chair, and asked for an independent study project. He said, "Well, we've got these big bones from Atoka..."

I got off to a slow start. I tracked down and photocopied a bunch of papers in the summer of 1996, but I didn't read them. I started slogging through the literature that fall, but nothing made sense to me. Then in about October I woke one morning with a sudden fit of inspiration, grabbed my 'sauropod notebook', and drew a sauropod vertebra. Then I painstakingly copied all of the lamina names from Janensch (1950), judging that 'hinter centroparapophysealeiste' probably meant 'posterior centroparapophyseal lamina'. That was my awakening. From then on, the papers started making sense, and the insights started coming. By the end of the semester I knew that OMNH 53062 was something new. In March of 1997 I went to D.C. and satisfied myself that it wasn't Pleurocoelus. That summer I drove around the West visiting museums, met Brooks Britt, and was told to get myself to a CT scanner.

And now here I am. Looking back, it is like watching a snowball roll downhill and become an avalanche. It's scary, because so many accidental, incidental contacts shaped my course. What if I'd zigged instead of zagging? I'd never had an especial interest in sauropods. I'd always been a tyrannosaur and ceratopsian man. But I think I fell in love with OMNH 53062 and all things connected to it. I used to daydream when I was driving and watch herds of brachiosaurs wandering the Oklahoma plains. I remember getting tears in my eyes at the thought that I'd never get to see one in real life. Time has taken the edge off of those feelings, but it hasn't erased them.

Here's hoping that you find what you love.


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