Citizen Scientist – “Do You Get A Badge For That?”

Lifelong learning keeps things interesting and while I love being able to find information at my fingertips through the internet, nothing beats the discoveries that can be found in an afternoon walk if one is willing to slow down enough to see them.

I take a lot of photos many of which you never see, but I thought you might enjoy hearing how my observation and impromptu photo session of a Violet Oil Beetle turned me a citizen scientist.  It seems these beauties are in serious decline in the UK along with three other varieties of oil beetles, a discovery I made when I went online looking for information to help me identify the hungry bug below.

I told John that I was going to send my photographs along with other requested data to Buglife, a conservation group that uses the information to track the distribution of oil beetles in the UK and I added that the site referred to people (like me) as “Citizen Scientists.”  I smiled as I said this feeling a bit grand about my little bug photos thinking how they might be helpful in tracking the declining numbers of oil beetles … and I may have even mumbled the words, “citizen scientist” under my breath before hearing John say, “Do you get a badge for that?”

He was of course teasing me ever so sightly and referring to scout merit badges but I didn’t get that until later. I pictured instead a freckled-faced girl in shorts wearing a secret decoder ring from a cereal box with a plastic badge pinned to her t-shirt with the words, “Citizen Scientist” on it.

His badge comment reminded me a happier part of my childhood where decoder rings really felt magical and an afternoon spent outside could be an opportunity for daring adventures and bold discoveries.

Pausing for a few grass munching beetle photographs led me to some fascinating research on oil beetles and their special relationship with bees. One of them likes to treat the other like a taxi service and an all you can eat food bar. You can find out which one by clicking on Buglife.

Bookend Love – Walton & Wylly

Wylly and Walton were brother and sister, they were also my great-aunt and my maternal grandfather. Wylly, christened William Michael, was two years older than her brother Walton. Linked by more than blood they shared a love of books and the written word. Wylly grew up to be a writer and journalist and Walton owned a book business, selling rare books and civil war reprints.

I have copies of the books my aunt wrote and the gifts she gave me over the years, but I have nothing except a few photographs of my grandfather who died when I was two. That changed the other day when my cousin, McKenzie surprised me by sending a set of bookends my grandfather, Walton made for his sister, Wylly.

They arrived in a small box that had a familiar smell even before I had it opened.

You may remember this post where I wrote about gifts from Aunt Wylly over the years and how much my sister Margaret and I loved the smell when we would open our presents at birthdays and Christmas. Seeing the package of mothballs and thinking about why McKenzie had gone to the trouble to put some into my package made me smile.

Here are the bookends my grandfather made for his sister, Wylly Folk St. John. It feels right that they should be tucked in tight around the books she wrote. I’m not sure how old he was when he built them for her, but I have a feeling it may have been a task for one of his boy scout merit badges. I’ve placed them in a slightly different way than they were intended, but I can see them more clearly from where I sit and write.

I moved this particular book to the side so you could see a bookend next to one of my favorite books my aunt wrote called, ‘The Ghost Next Door.’ It’s the book I took my daughter Miranda’s name from to honor my aunt. Her parents named her William Michael even though she surprised them when she was born by being a girl. Everyone called her Willie growing up which she later changed to Wylly and I never heard her complain about her unusual name. She was like a dear grandmother to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to give my daughter a boy’s name and Miranda seemed like both a perfect fit for baby girl and a sweet way to honor my connection to my great-aunt.

I like how the initials ‘WF’ could be Walton or Willie ‘Wylly’ Folk. The style of the initials makes me think of the Art deco period in the 1920s. My grandfather was born in 1910 and would have been in his teen years as the style was becoming popular. I don’t remember ever hearing stories about him being handy with tools or doing any woodcarving as an adult so I think I may be right in assuming these were made by a young Walton.

The University of Georgia has all of my aunt’s letters, manuscripts, and personal correspondence in its rare books and special collections library and I’m hoping a bit of research the next time I’m home will give me more details about the history of the bookends.

Lacking the real story, the writer in me has already created several versions of when and how my grandfather made them which will have to do until I can discover more. I feel sure both my aunt and grandfather would be pleased to know how valued and well-loved they still are and I’m terribly grateful to my cousin McKenzie for giving them to me. They’ve had a special place on her bookshelf for many years and it’s a sweet gift of family connection that she has shared with me by passing them on.