Friday, 18 June 2010 00:00
Many of us lost an old friend this week; some of us lost an old foe. On the one hand, he was the gentlest and most skillful of teachers, weaving his complex lessons about science and the history of the physical world into logical yet dazzling patterns, sharp and in focus. The man had a way with words. And on the other hand, he could sizzle paper with his words of pointed, often witty analysis and skewer politicians and bureaucrats with his keen and single-minded dedication to protecting the environment from short-sighted or financially motivated decisions. His research and conclusions were not confined to the walls of an ivory tower; his writings were weapons in the battle to safeguard our water, our air, our very life on earth.
I had had him on my mind so often in these last months, wishing him back in good health with the energy to discuss with us, his readers of the Environmental Record, the disaster in the Gulf. What kind of vivid pictures would he have traced with his words to help us understand the challenges of capping the flow of oil and gas and cleaning its damage? What would his ideas have been to stem the flow? While he was renowned far beyond this community, he belonged to all of us through his enduring columns for this paper.
He was tenacious. He would gamely and resolutely endure the travails of hospitalization, work hard at rehab and physical therapy just so he could get home, get back to his desk and his computer and get to work. His burning passion to find truths, to uncover deceit, to analyze complex environmental conundrums and think ahead for unrecognized and unintended consequences kept his mind busy and focused.
He loved the give and take of teaching and he loved his students, taking great glee in their accomplishments. He stayed in touch with a host of them over the years even though they were far flung around the world.
Julian’s most recent hypothesis was that there is a planet beyond Pluto and he was sure that someday his hypothesis will be proven to be valid. He decreed in his scientific paper on the topic that when it is confirmed to exist that it be named Muriel, for the woman who was the center of his universe.
I have many memories of Julian and Muriel, but the one that sticks in my mind most took place a few weeks after 9/11. I felt constant sorrow. It was hard to sleep, it felt almost sacrilegious to even think of anything else and I wondered if I would ever laugh again. Muriel and Julian invited me over for breakfast one morning and in the early light we sat and talked...of other things. They told me of Horace, the abandoned baby skunk they found and raised. At the time, they were young and without ties; they traveled widely and took Horace with them everywhere. He rode inside Julian’s shirt and would nap through the day, as skunks do. For that morning, the three of us were all transported back to the charming adventures of the Kanes and Horace and I felt a light-heartedness that I thought was lost forever. Their other unspoken lesson of the morning was...get back to work, do something worthwhile.
Julian once said to me, “Someday I’ll have to die. Dammit.” He just wanted to keep working, always. Dear friend, I wish for once you didn’t have to be right. Dammit.
- Carol Frank