Sunday, February 28, 2010

Of Blogs and Birds and Bugs and Belize

Blogs seem to be a real part of our lives now. Of course, you know that–you are reading this. But look around you. Blogs from all the national television networks…blogs from all the major newspapers…blogs about your favorite programs…blogs about your favorite politicians and even those you would rather not hear from anymore. But blogs from the jungle? Yes, absolutely ! But how is this possible? Read-on MacDuff.

I have not added much to this blog this summer. As a teacher for over 35 years, I always seem to get out of rhythm in the summer. It is not that I slow down, I seem to go just as fast, but in different directions. This summer I was “out of town” and living out of my suitcase for about 43 days. That’s pretty busy. One hunk of this time was spent in the jungles of Belize. I know—summer is not the absolute best time to visit Belize, but there were extenuating circumstances. You see, I was invited to accompany my high school biology teacher on what may be his last trip to the jungle.
Wally Hintz turns 80 this year. Our travels together started around 1962. We didn’t actually travel together back then, but that is when I first met Walt. I was in fourth grade, he was the biology teacher at our local high school. I dissected my first frog that year and needed some help. The preserved frog had a mass of blackish “stuff” in the thorax area. Naturally I went to the town’s expert–Walter Hintz–high school biology teacher. (How many of us have occupied this position through our careers as biology teachers?) The black stuff was only a mass of frog eggs. Not a big find, but it did make a connection that has lasted for 47 years and counting!!!! Over the years this connection got stronger. Of course, I had him as a teacher (not my intro biology teacher, but my mentor in a course called Science Seminar.) But we connected in many other ways too. I did an observation of his teaching techniques while in my undergraduate education program. When I graduated from Kent State University in 1973 (yes, the May 4th KSU shootings happened durring my Freshman year,) I applied for a job that opened up when Walter left Wickliffe High to become a vocational nursing program supervisor. I got the job. We told everyone that I was there to continue the legacy of Walter Hintz (some of the administrators were not so happy about this, but it turned out to be true.) Over the years that I taught biology in his old classroom, Walt came to visit. He usually carried a tarantula or snake to share with my students. In the years that I conducted a 24 hour field study with my own Science Seminar class I invited Wally to come and lead a night hike. I knew I needed to expose as many generations of excited students the best field biologist I had ever met. After I married, Wally even brought his spider to my wife’s first grade class for show-and-tell (my wife Betsy was the last one to hold the tarantula, but she did hold it.) We hooked up as a teaching team when I worked with him on a wonderful project that took a group of Ohio middle level teachers on a one week schooner adventure in Maine. We were the instructors.

Rachael Carson Salt Pond

Rachael Carson Salt Pond

We taught everything from navigation, to whale ecology, to island ecology to how to use The Voyage Of the Mimi in the classroom. What a gig. We got to go sailing, we got to go island exploring, we got to eat lobster, we got to teach together AND we got paid for it. (Isn’t teaching wonderful?) We did this two times in the late ’80’s. After I traveled to the Galapagos for the first time I knew I had to have Wally go with me the next time I visited the islands. In 1997 Wally and I lead a group of teachers on a 14 day exploration of the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador.

Wally at Post Office Barrel, Floreana Island

Wally at Post Office Barrel, Floreana Island

We returned with another group 2 years later. On these trips I get to be the teacher AND the student. When I got an email from Wally in March that he was going back to Belize (”…possibly for the last time,”) with his community college class and he needed another biologist to go with him, I knew I had to go. Belize in the summer is hot, humid, rainy, buggy, but relatively inexpensive to travel to. The trip was on.

I wanted to share my experiences in the jungle with others if possible. Over the years I embraced technology. Wally was still the consummate field biologist. I enjoyed the challenge of integrating technology with the excitement of field biology discoveries. Was this possible? Sure if you have a pretty healthy budget, but what about “on the cheap?” I explored the possibilities. I knew that our accommodations, Duplooy’s Jungle Lodge, advertised WiFi connections (at least at the main building.) I was sure that if I brought my laptop with me I could have connected to my own Benz’s Biology Blog and added my observations and reflections. (This was totally dependent upon the thickness of the cloud cover, the height of the trees and the absence of rain storms I later found out….) But I did not really want to subject the laptop to the humidity, bugs, rain storms or customs (it is a Mac, so it is not really used to bugs ; ) ) I wondered if there was another, easier way to stay in touch. That was the answer—- I figured I could bring my trusty iPod Touch.

The iPod Touch

The iPod Touch

It was small, it was light, it had music, and it had a great application “iBird Explorer Pro” for bird id reference. I knew that if I did get a WiFi connection I could send e-mails. I could not load my own photos, but I could capture pictures from the web and save these for later download or I could email the pictures to anyone I wanted. I knew that my blogging application could be set to have e-mails from me added as blog entries (most blog applications have this capability.) I gave it a try. First, I sent a plain e-mail from my home to my blog site..Success! Next I thought about the capability of sending a captured picture to the blog as an e-mail. Success !! Now, how about if I sent a captured picture and added a comment or title to the picture!! It worked. Well, what if I sent a picture with a caption that was a paragraph long? What if the caption was actually my blog entry. Bingo!!! So I traveled to Belize. I sweated, I put on insect-proof clothes, I explored new environments, I enjoyed Wally’s stories (most of which I have heard many times, but they are always great,) I took pictures (lots of pictures,) I learned about Mayan customs and shaman customs,

Mayan Dig

I watched leaf-cutter ants travel an unending path into the jungle, I paddled through caverns with Mayan artifacts, I helped university students start a new archaeological dig of a Mayan ruin in the middle of the Belize jungle, I dove the Belize Reef, AND I shared all of this with my family and friends back home via my Touch, a WiFi connection and my Benz’s Biology Blog. (

Technology and tradition traveling together –exploring, learning and sharing.

Get a Touch and stay in touch. Everyone needs to share a treasure like Wally Hintz!!!



Zuri said...

The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land and sea animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

RBenz said...