strange behaviors

Cool doings from the natural and human worlds

  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

  • Categories

  • Wall of the Dead

  • Advertisements

Archive for the ‘Necrology’ Category

Memorial for a Teacher: Vincent Scully

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 12, 2017

In the late 1960s,  I attended an all-boy parochial high school in Newark, N.J., an uninspiring and sometimes  brutal experience. Then, by some miracle, I was admitted to Yale in April, 1969, and began my undergraduate years that September. What made me recognize it was a miracle was a mid-day lecture, delivered twice a week, in the darkened Yale Law School auditorium, by a brilliant teacher named Vincent Scully. He ranged nimbly–no lyrically–across an entire planet’s worth of art and architecture, and carried us along on the wave of his oratory. Over the course of that semester, he also taught us to step out of ourselves and learn to see the world for ourselves, in a new way, with our own eyes and emotions. 

I still think of my debt to him almost every day. 

Scully died November 30, at 97. Here’s a profile of him I wrote in 2008. It was a final chance to go back to those same lectures and see again the transformation generations of students experienced in the class known to students as “Darkness at Noon.”

by Richard Conniff/Yale Alumni Magazine

At 11:35 on a Monday morning, Vincent Scully walks to the lectern and glances at his watch. As always at the start of a talk, he’s a little tense, like an actor wound up before a play. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins, “you will remember the last time I talked to you about…” The lights of the lecture hall go dark and slides appear on the big screen behind him. His voice is soft and hesitant at first, probing for the way forward. He does not use notes or deliver quite the same lecture twice, even after 60 years. But the words soon catch on the flow of images, and that voice, gentle one moment, all gravel and tumult the next, begins to draw his audience with him.

Part of the Scully legend is that he once got so carried away during a lecture that he fell off the stage.

Names and dates to be memorized do not figure largely in what follows. Scully’s goal is to open his students’ eyes, by showing them how he sees and thus how they can begin to see for themselves. So it’s not just an Ionic column, mid-sixth century B.C., up there on the screen. Nor do the volutes of the capital look to him, as others have proposed, like the ringlets of a woman’s hair. Instead, Scully points out how the slender, fluted columns rise like jets of water, lifting the broad horizontal entablature of the temple, then flowing out to either side. “You can make that shape with a paddle in the water,” he says, of the scrolls on the capital. “It’s geometric. It’s hydraulic.”

He stands off to one side of the stage, the smudge of reflected light from the lectern making a ghostly presence of his reddened face and the pale double curve of the eyebrows. He cants himself toward the slides, and his hands reach out, turning and undulating, as if he means to conjure the image to life on the stage. When he shows the huge choir window behind the altar at Chartres, Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Posted in Necrology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

How To Be Dead

Posted by Richard Conniff on July 7, 2017

09conniffWEB-master768

(Illustration: JooHee Yoon)

by Richard Conniff/The New York Times

Years ago, doing some research in England on moles — the burrowing kind — I paid a visit to the grave of Kenneth Grahame. As author of “The Wind in the Willows,” Grahame was the creator of the fictional Mole, a mild-mannered character beloved by children everywhere for messing about in boats, bumbling dimly into the Wild Wood and otherwise misadventuring with Ratty, Badger and Mr. Toad of Toad Hall.

There were plenty of things poignant about the grave. But what struck me most was that all of Grahame’s characters would have been at home there. Holywell Cemetery, off a busy road in the heart of Oxford, is both a graveyard and a wildlife refuge. Footpaths wind through shrubby undergrowth, and the graves support a natural succession of snowdrops, daffodils and so on through the seasons. Moles no doubt burrow there, and toads do whatever it is that toads do. (But please tell me it involves tootling about in motorcars and flinging coins to urchins.)

I doubt that I put it in so many words at the time, but the thought has lately come back to me: This is how I want to be dead. That is, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conservation and Extinction, Necrology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Gone Before Beginning

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 11, 2011

This is a sad addition to the Wall of the Dead, not least because it was such a needless death.  This account comes from the Purdue University student newspaper for June 8:

A 21-year-old Purdue student, who had a life-long passion for reptiles, died on Friday while on a volunteer trip to the Cayman Islands with the Blue Iguana Recovery Program.Daniel Hamilton, senior in the College of Agriculture, died from hyperthermia, or heat stroke. He was found in the thick bush in Grand Cayman where he was taken by paramedics to a hospital but later died. He was from Hebron, Ind.

The resonating message from family and friends close to Hamilton was that his passion has always been reptiles and wildlife …

Field work can be dangerous.   But dying of heat stroke on a Caribbean resort island is absurd.  People who organize these expeditions need to protect their volunteers better from such obvious hazards.

Posted in Necrology | 1 Comment »