We learned, to our surprise, that a storm was coming. We had to leave now. In one frantic hour, Pamelia and I packed up—cramming Naturalist's Notebook paperwork and even a Canon printer into a suitcase—and got on the road for the almost six-hour nighttime drive down the Maine coast and up through the White Mountains to Hanover, N.H., and Dartmouth College. We had meetings set up. We had discoveries to make. We had personal history to explore.
Neither of us had ever visited Dartmouth, yet the school had helped shape us, especially me. Several of the best friends of my adult life (and some of the best people I've ever met) have been Dartmouth graduates. I got to know some of them when we were young journalists together at Sports Illustrated, and I was the lucky beneficiary of their intelligence, humor (hilariousness, in the case of Brooks Clark), encouragement and generosity. One of them, Bob Sullivan, the graceful, prolific writer who is now the editor of Life Books, worked with me on the Olympics and manned the outdoors beat at SI in the days when the magazine wrote regularly (and with distinction) about nature and the environment. I was the first person he met on his first day at SI, and we fellow New Englanders became Greenwich Village neighbors, running buddies, softball teammates, office-football-pool partners (we still are) and, well, dear friends.
Another of the Dartmouth gang, my former Sports Illustrated For Kids colleague Patricia Berry, was one of the two matchmakers who set up Pamelia and me up back in the 1990s. Without her, there would be no Pamelia and Craig, and thus no Naturalist's Notebook.
The connections go beyond that. As we pulled into town shortly before midnight at the end of our drive, we passed Hanover High, the alma mater of Pat Johnson, the young ornithologist who, along with fellow Middlebury grad (and now fiancee) Anne Mittnacht, helped us launch the Notebook in 2009. On Main Street we saw Simon Pearce, the glass shop owned by its namesake, a wonderful artist whose son is a friend of Pat's and was one of the world's best snowboarders until a serious head injury from a half-pipe accident derailed his Vancouver Olympic hopes. We wrote about Kevin in SI.
One more: Remember Sports Illustrated's amazing underwater finish photos from the Beijing Olympics—the ones that showed that swimmer Michael Phelps had out-touched Milorad Cavic in a race Cavic appeared to have won? Those shots (I still remember the thrill of seeing them the moment they came into our Olympic press center office in Beijing) were taken by my longtime SI colleague Heinz Kluetmeier, Dartmouth class of 1965.
Stars and Starbucks Our visit to Hanover was not primarily about sports and old friends, of course. It was about education, astrophysics and music—and a uniquely brilliant Dartmouth professor who merges all three.
We met with Stephon Alexander for two hours at the Starbucks where he drinks his morning coffee. Stephon is a jazz saxophonist and a new member of Dartmouth's department of physics and astronomy. He is, to be more precise, a theoretical physicist who's particularly interested in quantum physics, cosmology and the insights offered by looking at music and astrophysics together (as he will in an upcoming book).
Stephon was born in Trinidad and moved with his family to the Bronx at age eight. One day while driving home from one of his three jobs, his father stopped at a garage sale and, being a music buff, picked up a $15 saxophone to give to his son to see if he might like it. The instrument changed Stephon's life by sparking a love of music. He is now completing his first album, and has performed with notables such as Grammy-winning drummer Will Calhoun of Living Colour and pianist Jaron Lanier, the computer-science genius and musician who pioneered virtual reality and either coined or popularized that term. Our conversation with Stephon ranged from jazz great John Coltrane's interest in Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity to the surprising item Stephon saw in Stephen Hawking's office when he met the famous physicist. (Intrigued? You'll have to read his book to find out what it was.)
What distinguishes Stephon is not just his intellect and his openness to collaborating with people from all realms (including the two of us), but also his improvisational mind. We think outside the box; he thinks outside the galaxy...maybe even outside the universe (not impossible for a theoretical cosmologist). We left our meeting with him pondering new links between science, music, light, sound, writing, even sports.
Yes, that used saxophone Stephon's father gave him had belonged to the son of Tim Teufel, a New York Mets second baseman whom I interviewed several times back in the 1980s when I was on the baseball beat. So the next time you watch a Mets game and see Teufel on the field waving runners home as the team's third-base coach, keep in mind that he inadvertently help inspire a great scientist and musician simply by putting an instrument out at a garage sale. Now that's a cosmic connection.
By the way, it was at Dartmouth that Ted Geisel first used the name Dr. Seuss, after he was caught drinking gin with some friends in his room and banned from working for his beloved school humor magazine. Seuss was his middle name and the maiden name of his mother.
Answer to the Last Puzzler 1) coyote tracks 2) bobcat tracks 3) hare and mouse tracks
Today's Puzzler A multiple-choice question about the birds shown below, house sparrows. (For the record, I photographed these on campus at our more recent stop, Harvard, not at Dartmouth. More on our trip to Harvard and MIT in the next blog post.)
Choose one. House sparrows are: a) North America's oldest known native sparrow species b) An introduced species brought to New York City from England in the early 1850s c) Not actually sparrows