Wet and Dry Biology was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Wet Biology was a perfect mix of college, games, and humor for me. In the class, we studied the ecosystems in ponds, streams, and rivers. We caught critters and learned to identify them. We conducted mini-studies and learned how to use the library at William and Mary. In Dry-Biology we studied plants and their winter buds. We went to Jamestown and York River State park to count deer scat. It wasn’t my thing.
One project for Dry-Biology involved studying animal tracks. Since my father was a police officer I figured he would have the stuff to make a mold of any tracks that we could find around my house. Finding the tracks would be easy because I lived on Carter’s Grove Plantation and there was nothing but woods around our house. The problem was waiting for a time when my father and I could coordinate our schedules. He worked rotating shifts and I was always at basketball practice or games. Finally, we found a night that both of us would be home. We headed out into the dark in search of any kind of tracks.
There was a service road in front of our house that led down a hill towards the James River. Before heading into the woods, the road wrapped around a corn field. There were no lights to help guide us and we walked along the road with a flashlight like climbers trying to summit Everest. A cold wind blew off the river and the tall pines creaked and leaned against each setting a very Vincent Price mood.
Sometimes I got scared living so far off the main road. In a field across from our house, stakes marked the location of settlers that were killed during an attempt by local Native Americans to reclaim their land. When I was home alone at night I often wondered if the spirits ever rose from their shallow graves to visit their old lands. At the time of our walk, I was also reading Truman Capote’s, “In Cold Blood.” The combination of the cold, the wind, the stakes, and the images of someone driving to our far removed house started to scare me. All I wanted was to find some tracks, pour the mold, and get back home.
We found some raccoon tracks and did just that. I wasn’t interested in waiting for the stuff to dry, but my father made sure we waited long enough for the mold to set. I scooped up the mold and headed back up the hill with a determined sense of purpose. I wanted no part of wandering spirits or vagabond murderers. Fortunately, neither appeared.
Unfortunately, deer flies were waiting out on Jamestown Island for our spring deer population scat study.