Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An Interview with Jean C. Prior & James Sandrock: Part 1

Jean, you’re a geologist, and Jim, you're a dedicated birdwatcher. Tell us how you became interested in the outdoor world.
Jean: The outdoors has been a magnet since childhood. I recall astronomy outings led by my grandmother in Massachusetts and finding fossil shells along mountain roads on the drives east from Ohio. Later memories include climbing Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire with my family and hiking with a national park ranger in Yellowstone. I was fortunate to have parents who enjoyed travel and were enthused by scenic vistas. Also, parts of our summers were spent on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie. The weather, waves, sand dunes, beach, and adjacent marshlands were always interesting and, over time, very influential.

Jim: Through birds! At the age of 50, abruptly and inexplicably, I became interested in, of all things, birds. (Note: Until I was 50, the “outdoors” and “nature” were what I saw through the window when I looked up from a book or when I walked to the library from my office.) On a clear, bright, March day sometime in the Middle Ages, I happened on Cone Marsh with a group led by Mike Newlon, who introduced me to the world of birds. There, to my astonishment, were many species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines. Up to that time, I knew only “a duck,” “a sparrow,” “a hawk.” Suddenly, there were many types of ducks, sparrows, and hawks. Amazing! I became a birder who birded ferociously in Hickory Hill Park and southeast Iowa at first, then in Texas, South Dakota, Arizona, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Canada, and Europe. And, during these birding expeditions, I grew more aware of and interested in the natural surroundings in which birds—and I—did our thing. From Jean, I have learned to view nature and the environment through a glass clearly, a glass that was not part of my life before looking through it at birds.

What other insects or plants or animals are you especially interested in?
Jean: Since coming to Iowa in 1965, I’ve had a strong interest in the state’s native prairie flora and fauna. I was fortunate to spend time in the field with naturalists from other disciplines while serving on the State Preserves Advisory Board and while participating in outdoor education field trips. These experiences whetted my interest in prairie plants as well as fens, forests, birds, and archaeology. Now retired from the Iowa Geological Survey, I especially enjoy our birding trips (both the birds and their habitats), those in Iowa and those along the Texas Gulf Coast and in Minnesota’s North Woods.

Jim: Most interesting, most magnetic to me are grasslands. For some unexplained reason, I feel more at home, more engagiert in and with nature when I walk in, drive through, or look at a large grassland. A trip through the Dakotas, the Flint Hills of Kansas, the Sand Hills of Nebraska is more gratifying than time spent in the Rockies, the Appalachians, or the Alps. The constellation of grassland birds, plants, insects, and mammals as well as their history and future holds charm and interest for me.

Jean C. Prior and James Sandrock, The Iowa Nature Calendar, illustrated by Claudia McGehee

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