Wednesday, August 31, 2011



Bernd Heinrich, The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology (New York: Ecco, 2007; rpt. HarperPerennial, 2008), p. 6:
Another box contained copies of reprints of his scientific papers: page after page, now coated in dust and yellowed. These were the culmination of his lifework—the work that had stood at the center of his entire existence—prepared with such painstaking devotion and sacrifice. I felt saddened to see them now discarded and decaying in the barn attic. Probably fewer than a dozen people had ever read any of these papers. Most people have never even heard of ichneumon wasps, and many of those who have would be likely to disparage them as "flies."
Id., pp. 8-9:
Looking at the boxes full of old, unreadable reprints in Mamusha's hayloft, I now felt a tinge of regret. Poking around, I noticed a book with a green cover. It was water-stained from snow that had come in through the open windows for decades. It was also garnished with gobs of dried bird manure, but underneath in gold lettering I read: "Burmesische Ichneumoninae, Part 1, by Gerd Heinrich, Dryden [referring to our one-room post office next to the town of Wilton], Maine, U.S.A." A second volume was labeled "Part 2."

To the undiscerning eye, these two books would have no more meaning than they did to the chickens that had scratched among their pages. Yet I knew what they had meant to Papa. He had been a combatant in two world wars. He understood all too well the fleeting nature of existence. Somehow, against all odds, he not only had survived, escaped, and started, with nothing, all over again, but had gone on to produce this work that would long outlive him. And here it was, covered in chicken shit, scattered in the dust and unread. I thought, How "immortal" is a lifework if the subject is so obscure that hardly a soul takes an interest in it?

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