The Big One Is Coming

earthquakehouse

It must be a slow day when The Globe and Mail runs an article on the next big earthquake out here in Never Never Land. Usually, their concerns are kept to traffic congestion and Rob Ford’s peccadilloes.

Well, let me say, as I shamble through the honey suckle vines the Oregon grape searching for wind blown trees I can cut up for firewood, always checking over my shoulder, of course, for a cougar that hangs around the place. I think he hopes to turn the ferile peacock into dinner one day. Sorry, I got distracted there so I’ll go back to the first part of that sentence. Let me say that we don’t get too excited when we wake up because the bed is dancing. It reminds me of the days of my passionate youth.

It’s not just the bed, of course. It’s the dresser, side table, the chair and out in the dining room it sounds like a furniture party. Never lasts, of course. When I first moved to the West Coast and there was an earthquake, I’d panic. What else can you expect from a prairie boy? If the furniture started dancing in our house in Manitoba, we’d have hired and exorcist.

The article made it sound like people are prepared. Pshaw! Nonsense. The only person I know who is prepared is my daughter. She’s an accountant. She keeps lists, itemizes, organizes. She’s got blue bins full of canned goods, a can opener, dry foods, water, you name it. Everybody else goes, I’ve got a case of pop and a bottle of whiskey in the garage. That’ll do until the helicopters come. We’re okay. I think there’s stash of potato chips down there as well.

During the time that I was the Chair of a University department in Victoria, I had to attend a number of earthquake preparedness workshops. Everybody smiled and was enthusiastic , academics love meetings, it makes them feel they’re doing something. I kept thinking, we’re doomed. Of course, I’m naturally pessimistic.

Don’t expect any help from outside for a least a week. If we’re done, so will Vancouver and Seattle. Edmonton will be the staging area. The ferry terminals will be gone. No leaving and no getting food supplies. Some years ago when we had the BIG SNOW, the local stores ran out of food in four days. People were already starting to discuss eating the family dog. Lucky it rained otherwise BBQ dog recipes would have been used all over the city.

Realistically, someone asked, how soon before residents of the Island would get help. Two weeks, maybe more. Dogs will be a treasure. Especially big ones. Pekinese, not so much.
Someone asked about water. The lady giving he workshop tried to duck that but some audience members knew about water. There will be no water. The city has known for decades that the very old, concrete pipe that brings water from a lake will break, shatter, disintegrate. The workshop participants went very quiet.

“What,” one of them asked, “will people do drink and pee?”

There was a bit of shuffling as people ruminated on the question. “Don’t use any type of cleaner in the back of your toilet. That water is clean. It’ll keep you going for a few days. Drain the water out of your water tank. That water will be fine.”
“I live on the seventh floor of a high rise,” a woman with green streaks in her hair said.
“You’ll have to buy bottled water.”

Someone else chimed in, “There won’t be any power. No elevator.”

“Are you saying we won’t be able to flush our toilets?”

There was some uneasy shifting.

“Keep a two week supply of water in your closet or under your bed or in your garage.

Figure out what you eat over two weeks and keep a supply of packaged food. Porridge, rice, macaroni, soup.”

“Those require water. Besides, what am supposed to do on the seventh floor to cook?”

“You’ll have to buy take out,” someone suggested. Everyone turned to look at him to see if he was joking or just really stupid.

The speaker rapped on her lectern to get our attention away from the lilkelihood of takeout if there was no power.

“As employees of the university, you are expected to come to the university to help deal the problems here. We have sixteen thousand students we need to feed. There’ll be damage.

There’ll be injured.”

“What about our families?” someone from the back shouted.

“They’ll have to manage on their own,’ was the reply.

Right. There’s an earthquake. I had a wife and two small children. The house has mostly fallen down, everything in it is smashed, everybody has bumps, bruises and cuts. They’re scared. I’m scared. There may be a tsunami coming and I’m supposed to say to my wife,

‘Sorry, Ducks, but the Dean and duty calls.” Not.

A local tsunami is likely to be six to twelve feet. Not big, big, not four stories high like some. I live at the top of a ridge, reasonably far inland. A tsunami is unlikely to reach here. If it does, I’ve got a large fir tree to climb. If it is so large that it reaches the top of the ridge, there go my supplies of soft drinks and potato chips.

I was at Parksville once when there was a tsunami warning. The summer cottage units that were created from an old motel was right on the beach. I looked to see where we would go to get to high ground. There was a large cliff. If wave of even a couple of feet roared ashore, we’d all be swept out to sea. When the wave did come, thank goodness it was only a few inches. We were okay, Jack. But for the next few nights, I slept with a flotation device strapped on.

The truth is we’re doomed. A big earthquake will result in airport runway fractures. Buildings falling down. Ferry terminals unusable. No power. No water. Little medical care. Fires caused by broken gas lines. After two weeks no dogs, no squirrels, no cats.
Rich people will have private helicopters fly in to get them, cost no object. The rest of us will go from eating our neighbour’s dog to eating our neighbours.

Toronto the smug will see this as divine justice on the hooligans and hillbillys of the West Coast who never work when the surfs up, when its good scuba weather, when there’s snow on the ski slopes. If it’s a slow news day, someone will type out a column about how HAM (hot Asian money) has had their investment properties reduced to rubble.

The truth is we’re not prepared. If the big one feels like it might happen, I’ll put some cases of canned goods in the garage, buy a hibachi, a small tent, stock up on bottled water, sleep wearing a hard hat and a life vest. Until then when the furniture dancing wakes me up, I’ll just roll over and go back to sleep.

Oh, and add a Porta Potty to my list.

Book reviews: Fires of the Earth and Island On Fire

firesoftheearth

Fires of the Earth
The Laki Eruption 1783-84
By the Rev. Jón Steingrimsson (trans. by Keneva Kunz)

As I read Fires of the Earth, the translation of Jón´s account of the Laki eruption and its aftermath, I thought Keneva Kunze´s translation easy to read, although I know that given Jon´s religious position and the times, that the original must have presented serious problems to a translator. This book is only ninety-five pages. It attempts nothing beyond sharing the observations of Jón Steingrimsson in English..

Many North American Icelandic readers are unlikely to recognize Jón by his name but they would know who he was the moment his Fire Sermon was mentioned. We all have images of him defiantly preaching in his church as lava from Laki flowed toward it. Before this climactic moment, at least two other churches had been destroyed so everyone knew that the house of God alone was not enough to bring the calamity of the lava to a halt.
“on the fifth Sunday after Trinity…I proceeded to the church, along with all of those people then in the Siða area who could manage to do so. I was filled with sorrow at the thought that this might well be the last service to be held in the church, as the terror which now threatened and approached ever nearer appeared likely to destroy it as it had the other two.

“As we approached, the clouds of hot vapours and fog coming from the fire farther down the river channel were so thick that the church could hardly be seen, or its outline could only be hazily seen…Claps of thunder were followed by such great flashes of lightning, in series after series, that they lit up the inside of the church and the bells echoed the sound, while the earth tremors continued unabated.“

He makes his sermon longer than usual, keeping everyone in the church. When he, at last, finishes his sermon, he and others went to see how close the lava was to them. They discovered that it had not advanced at all. “The rivers Holsá and Fjaðará poured over the dams which the new lava had made them, and with great torrents and splashing smothered the fire”.

Jón´s chronicle of this time doesn´t stop with the eruption but goes on to describe the aftermath. Not many were killed by the eruption. The dying came because the feed for the sheep and cattle had been destroyed. To add to the misery, the animals suffer from some terrible disease, from rain that poisons everything and burns the leaves of plants and the skin of people and animals. Jón´s observations are detailed, his analysis intelligent. His bravery unquestioned.

Iceland had a population of around fifty thousand people at the time of the eruption. Ten thousand died. That is one in every five. Jón reports on the desperation of people dying of hunger, dying from eating the flesh of the animals poisoned by the water and grass. The effects on the animals are grotesque.

Jón names the farms that are destroyed, names how much each was worth before the eruption. These were prosperous farms. The owners were wealthy. After the eruption they became paupers. For people who don´t know Icelandic history, the term pauper isn´t terrifying. For those who do know, the word encapsulates forced removal, being sold to the person who will take the least amount from the sysla to keep them, to the loss of all rights until the debt is paid.

Jón begins by describing the years of plenty before the eruption. Times were good. They were so good that people became greedy, uncaring, vain, proud. The abuse of alcohol became wide spread. By the end of 1784, they had all been chastised. Being reduced to eating your leather clothes does that to people.

It is a shame that Fires of the Earth is out of print. It is a book that everyone of Icelandic background should read in order to understand their Icelandic ancestors and their current Icelandic relatives.

island on fire

In conjunction with Fires of the Earth, I read Island on Fire (Pegasus Books) by Alexandra Witze & Jeff Kanipe. The authors make good use of their ability to look back in time and to use modern research to create a context for the Laki eruption.

The authors are able to educate the reader by naming and explaining various eruptions around the world with their impact.

The book is packed with interesting facts. For example, while I had heard of Krakatau, I’d never heard of disaster in Cameroon at Lake Nyos. There, volcanic carbon dioxide “slithered down the valley bottoms and suffocated at least 1,700 people in a single night.” It is because of gases like this that the authorities in Iceland keep warning people to stay well away from Barðabunga.

The book begins with a description of the eruption of Heimaey in 1973. It is a well known eruption because the struggle to save the town and harbour were filmed. The authors make an interesting link between the people who struggled against the lava at Heimaey, using water to divert its flow and the observations Jón made about the effects of water on lava in 1783. Jón´s fire sermon and the stopping of the lava from Laki stopped before it reached him is known by every Icelandic person, young and old. Therefore, it wouldn´t be surprising if the firemen who decided to try to direct the lava flow got their idea from Jón.

Island On Fire goes on to plate tectonics and Alfred Wegener and explains about how Wegener’s theories were ignored until Harry Hess of Princeton revived them in 1962. They touch on Hawaii and then back to Iceland and the mid-Atlantic rift where many of us have stood with one foot in Europe and one foot in America. We get brief descriptions of Hekla , Katla and Eyjafjallajökull and end with Grimsvötn.

The authors tell us that Jón records cases of “Painful cramps contracted the tendons, particularly at the back of the knee, and there was painful swelling in the hands and feet, as well as the neck and head. Hair fell out. Teeth became loose…the victim suffered putrid sores inside and outside the neck and throat”. The authors, writing from today’s perspective, are able to say that these effects were “probably due to fluorine poisoning.”

.In Chapter Six, “The Big Chill Laki’s global fallout”, we begin with Benjamin Franklin in France, suffering an unpleasant, foggy winter. He thought it might have something to do with the eruption in Iceland. It is noted that other scholars also noticed a connection between the winter weather and the eruption of Laki. From there we travel in the present  to Denver, Colorado and visit the National Ice Core Laboratory. There the authors get to see an ice core with the volcanic dust from Laki.

The authors treat us to a visit to the craters of Laki and we learn that to travel over the sharp lava, you need to let the air out of your tires. From there to the graves of Jón and his wife, Thórunn, and in spite of the book jacket saying that the Laki eruption has been forgotten, the authors admit that “The memory of the Fire Mass runs deep even here (Klaustur).“

Chapter Nine is about how worried we should or shouldn´t be, although I can´t imagine what good worrying would do. If Yellowstone blows up, we´re all done. In the final chapter, the authors return to Heimaey and end by telling us the obvious. There´s no spiritual figure out there who is going to keep volcanoes from exploding.

In spite of my grumpiness about some aspects of the book (I felt, at times, that it had taken its narrative strategy from TV specials or was hoping to become one),I‘d still recommend it for the general reader. It‘s well worth the price. However, if you can find a copy of Fires of the Earth read that, too, so you get a sense of the both the time and the terror.

Movie Review”: Of Horses and Men

ofhorses
You usually know that when people start praising the landscape in a movie, that the movie is terrible and they’re desperately trying to find something good to say. Or when people say, weren’t the giraffes, lions, gazelles, porpoises, horses wonderful, you know they’re talking about a turkey. The amazing thing about the movie, Of Horses and Men, that the Icelanders of Victoria watched this afternoon at the University of Victoria is that one can honestly say wasn’t the landscape fantastic, weren’t the horses gorgeous and while both are true, one can also say “What a good movie.”

Benedikt Erlingsson, the director, deserves a great deal of praise for this understated narrative of rural Iceland that is riven through with the unexpected, the tragic and the comic.

Erlingsson obviously understands how to tell a story visually. Easy to say, hard to do. Many directors simply do not understand how powerful subtle visual narrative can be. They burden a movie with dialogue.

Kolbeinn (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), the main male character in this movie whose disrupted courting provides a unifying thread for the middle aged love story, has a white mare that he treasures. She is difficult and it takes some effort for him to get a halter onto her. That the importance of the journey Kobeinn is going to take is made clear by the fact that he has a button come off his good jacket and he stops to sew it back on. He is dressed very much as the rural Icelandic gentleman. Waiting for him on a neighbouring farm is a middle-aged Solveig (Charlotte Boving), her young son, and Solveig’s mother.

The importance of this courting coffee visit is made clear in glances, expressions, body movements and that formality is nicely counterpointed with something as simple as Solveig’s son taking off the horse’s saddle and putting it on the steps.

Packed into this beginning of man, horse, romantic interest, is imagery that is repeated to great effect all through the movie. That is the reality of everyone in the valley knowing everyone else’s business and watching for Kolbeinn to ride over to Solveig’s farm. They do this through binoculars and spy glasses and everyone knows that everyone is watching from the reflection of the sun on the instruments. As a device, it works well for it helps to capture the small, intensely personal quality of the community.

Because there are a number of deaths, this could have been a dark tragedy like Zorba the Greek or a tale filled with great sacrifice such as Babette’s Feast but Erlingsson threads through the narrative’s darkness, human absurdities that make us shake our head or laugh. For example, the motif of the spy glasses, close to the end of the film, are used by two women to observe our hero, Kolbeinn, and our heroine, Solveig, making love on the grass when they should be gathering in horses at the annual horse roundup.

The film opens at Kolbeinn’s house and the camera pans more than once over the wall on which a shotgun is mounted. I immediately thought, the writer knows his Chekov. Chekov famously said, and I taught for years, that if at the beginning you show a rifle hanging on the wall, then you have got to have it used later in the story. Otherwise it is a red herring. I wondered who would get shot. It turns out it was Kolbeinn’s beloved white mare.

The reason Kolbeinn shoots his horse is because when he is leaving his coffee-flirting date with Solveig, a black stallion of Solveig’s has broken free. The white mare, in heat, stops and won’t move. The black stallion, with Kolbeinn on the mare’s back, mounts her. All this is seen by the various residents of the valley who are watching through their binoculars. Kolbeinn, because he is humiliated, shoots the white mare.

It is here where the logic of the film comes apart for me. Not that a vain man couldn’t or wouldn’t shoot his beloved horse if he’d felt humiliated. Rather, that having done something so irrational and vicious, that the rather attractive Solveig would, through the rest of the narrative, continue to pursue him. Is she in desperate financial circumstances? Can she not manage the farm by herself? Would he, I wondered, if she looked like she might stray, shoot her?

The film is broken up into vignettes about various people in the valley with two males being killed. Vernharður (Steinn Armann Magnusson) rides his horse into the ocean to a trawler where he can buy alcohol, then rides back to shore, seemingly none the worse for the freezing cold of the North Atlantic. The sailors have warned him that they are selling him pure alcohol, not vodka, but he drinks the alcohol straight from the containers, falls from his horse, vomits and dies.Since I had to follow the movie through English subtitles, this wasn’t clear to me.

The scenes of Vernharður riding his horse through the ocean waves and then, astoundingly, riding back to shore, are quite amazing. I immediately thought of Independent People (Laxness) and Bjartur of Summerhouses riding a reindeer across a river in winter.

The second death occurs when Grimur (Kjartan Ragnarsson) cuts down a barbed wire fence that Egill (Helgi Bjornsson) has built. The fence blocks what should be a public through way. In the ensuing pursui9t, Grimur is blinded in one eye by barbed wire and Egill, in his desire for revenge, rides his tractor over a cliff.

The deaths create two rather attractive widows who become competition for Solveig. However, she is determined to have Kolbeinn for a husband. When the locals gather for the annual horse roundup, there is some very nice visual sexual competition as the women try to take their place beside him. There are shared flasks of whiskey as they ride and jockeying for position. Solveig is determined to take charge. Rather than waiting for Kolbeinn to make up his mind, she insists on being his partner in exploring an isolated nook. There, she takes off her rain pants, then her long underwear and pulls down Kolbein’s pants and tells him to get the rest of his underclothes off. They do the same as the horses did at the beginning of the movie but I hoped that Kolbeinn wasn’t going to go for his shotgun afterwards.

The movie ends in marvelous scenes of the gathered horses being driven to the pen where they will be sorted out by their owners. The best images of Kolbeinn and Solveig in the movie are in the horse pen. They are obviously happy and Solveig, in spite of our not getting to know her very well, tugs at our heart for we hope that all works out well. And Kolbeinn? I hope he treats her better than his beloved mare.

So, there you have it. A romantic comedy filled with vignettes that end in tragedy or near tragedy, a strange mix that could have been a Bergman but isn’t, could have been a Monty Python, but isn’t. The horses are wonderful. The countryside is wonderful. And I’m not saying that because I have nothing good to say about the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I recommend seeing it. The acting is good. The directing is good. The cinematography is good. David Thor Jonsson’s music is strange, surprising and highly effective. I just wish I knew what someone as attractive as Solveig sees in Kolbeinn.

 

On Honesty

money
Some days I am disheartened but, today, I was encouraged. I was at the Fairway grocery store picking up some fruit and vegetables from the produce section when I heard someone call, “Sir.” At my age I’ve adjusted to being called “Sir.”, the same way that I’ve adjusted to looking in the mirror and seeing how little hair I have left. They both come with age. I’d been choosing three Ambrosia apples. Ambrosias were on sale for a dollar a pound.

I turned to look back toward the front of the aisle and a clerk was bending over, picking up a five dollar bill. “You dropped this,” he said, and handed me the money.
I don’t know how much a grocery clerk is paid but I doubt if it is very much. Certainly not the twenty million a year of some bankers to whom five dollars is meaningless. Since there was no one else in sight, he could have bent down, picked up the five dollar bill, slipped it into his pocket and I’d never have known what happened to the five dollars.
I thanked him. Twice. He needed to be thanked twice: once for giving me my money back and once for making me feel better about humanity.

After the apples, I looked over the onions and decided to buy a bag of red organic onions that was on sale. Most organic fruit or vegetables are more expensive than non-organic but, today, they were cheaper than the yellow onions from Washington State. I’m a slow shopper. I’m inclined to check everything over, compare prices. This is partly because I have celiac disease which means that I have to read every detail on a lable of processed food. That looking at all the details has transferred over to all my shopping.

As I inspected the bags of onions, I thought about the clerk who had returned my five dollars and that made me think of my grandfather. He didn’t have much education when he came from Ireland and, so, he got laboring jobs, first as a glazier putting in windows, then as a drayman hauling goods with a horse and wagon, then, finally, a job working for the Great Northern Railway in the Roundhouse. He stayed with that job until he retired. He never made much money. He and my grandmother managed because my grandmother was both thrifty and also talented when it came to sewing and knitting. She was an excellent gardener with a large vegetable garden. Yet, when a bank clerk gave my grandfather twenty dollars too much, my grandfather turned around and went back into the bank to return the twenty dollars. Someone said to him that the bank wouldn’t have missed the money so why didn’t he keep it? He shrugged and said, “It wasn’t mine.”

While I was examining some bananas, I looked around. You know how we don’t pay much attention to our daily life. I’m like that. I go In and out of stores, to gas stations, doctor’s offices, without paying them much heed. Fairway’s is a local grocery chain. I’ve shopped at their stores ever since I moved here in the 1970s. Someone once said it was owned by a Chinese family and, certainly, their stock of rice and various types of Chinese food are extensive. At one time all the clerks were Chinese but now it’s a mix. Then someone said the owners weren’t Chinese. It caters to working class people. Prices are good. The choices are reasonable. A lot of my fellow shoppers–there weren’t many of them at noon hour–like me, wore blue jeans, a rainproof jacket. Most wore running shoes. There are a lot of lower cost apartments and houses in the area of this Fairways . I assume that is why many of the customers were middle-aged and older men shopping by themselves.

My grandmother would have shopped here. She would have been after bargains, buying loss leaders, and if there was enough money left over after she’d bought the essentials, treating herself to some green grapes.

Many years ago, when I lived in a different neighbourhood, l dropped a chequebook on that Fairway’s parking lot. I received a phone call from the manager of the store to ask me if I’d lost a cheque book. I said I didn’t think so but I’d check and when I did, it wasn’t in my jacket pocket. He said, “Come down and pick it up. Bring ID. A customer found it and turned it in.”

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m careless. I’m not. These two incidents happened two decades apart.

As I was looking through various packages of rice, I was slower than usual because I’d started to think about the fact that the store clerk, my grandfather, probably the customer, were not rich and I realized that during my lifetime, my experience has been that poverty does not make people dishonest. Say that someone is dishonest because he is poor is a dreadful calumny against people who aren’t rich. Perhaps because even small amounts of money or belongings are hard come by, they loom large in the minds of people who live on small incomes. To them, losing five dollars or twenty dollars really matters.

When I lived in Missouri, I took my family to Silver Dollar City. This southern area of Missouri and northern Arkansas is poor. When I lived there, I realized that the Great Depression had never left. Many of the houses that people lived in were shocking. Rural incomes were low. Wages were low. Employment was hard to find. Silver Dollar City was like an huge Ozark craft fair, farmer’s market, entertainment centre. We loved it. While there, I saw a man playing a dulcimer. It was made of local walnut. I asked if I could buy one like it. He said he’d have to make it. It would take about three months. It would cost eighty dollars and he needed the money up front. I never hesitated. I handed him the money. He took my address. Three months later, take or give a few days, he knocked on my door and handed me a beautifully made instrument. No contract. Nothing but my address written down. All on a handshake. It would have never occurred to me to think, he’s poor so he’ll probably steal the money. Just the opposite.

I don’t want to diss the rich because I have known quite a few rich people during my lifetime and they have been honest. Many have been kind. Many have been generous. However, from what I read and see, it is the rich who steal. They steal from the government. They steal from the taxpayer. They steal from each other. They steal so much that the numbers become meaningless. When a poor person is caught shoplifting, they often go to jail. When someone rich is caught stealing millions, they pay a fine. I knew a store detective who once charged a teenager with stealing half a donut. No one charged executives who stole. They were quietly dismissed.

Read the papers. Read the articles about money laundering in the millions, in the mega millions. No one goes to jail. Read the articles about the stock market fraudsters. Seldom does anyone go to jail. Having lots of money means being able to hire lawyers to threaten lawsuits, to hire whole teams of lawyers to intimidate witnesses and turn criminal cases into civil ones where victims can be bought off. When someone is rich does go to jail, it is so unusual that it is news. When someone poor goes to jail, it isn’t news. It happens every day.

Five dollars. It doesn’t buy much anymore but it is still a measure of a person’s honesty.

For Your Grandchildren

grads

When I was going to high school, there were few individuals in town who had a university education. The two doctors, the dentist, the druggist, some of the teachers (although many of the teachers had Normal School and some university courses). A lawyer visited town on a set schedule. The university was, to me, a distant and unknown place. I had no idea what people did at a university.

My father was a commercial fisherman. He needed to have a job when the seasonal fishing was over so he had a barber shop. In that way, not much has changed in rural Canada. In towns with small populations, earning a living from one job is often difficult, if not impossible. Much of the work is seasonal: farming, fishing, tourism, construction. Most people are self-employed.

I never saw myself as a doctor, dentist, or druggist. Someone said I should consider becoming a lawyer because I argued a lot.

I stumbled into university because I had a summer job and my work mates were all going. They suggested I join them. They were the sons of executives with better educations, lived in the city and knew about university.

I think my stumbling into the world of a hundred and fifty students in a classroom amphitheatre with no idea of why I was there except to be at university was pretty typical of many students. How could I possibly know what I wanted to be when I had no idea what there was that I could be?

Has much changed? From what I saw over forty years of teaching in public high school, private college, public universities, I don’t think so. Universities are very insular. They are filled with secrets. Students who are studying, socializing, trying to figure out what is going on, don’t spend a lot of time trying to ferret out these secrets. What secrets? The possibilities of what they could become.

For example, in all the time I taught, I didn’t know that someone could become an expert in range management. Range management?

There is a lot of range land that needs managing. The demand for professionals who can manage large sections of private and public property is high. Generally, to become qualified, you need courses in range management, plant, animal and soil sciences and some related resource management studies. Get those qualifications and there’s probably someone out there who will want to hire you.

Or how about plant pathologist? The first time I heard that someone was a plant pathologist, I laughed. What, I asked, did she do? Autopsies on plants? Yup, that is what she does. Along with a lot of other things. You want to be plant pathologist, you need to study environmental factors, plant diseases, and nutrition. One current job d for a research plant pathologist offers a salary ranging from 69,497 to 126,949 a year. Another ad is looking for a crop protection researcher. With a degree in plant pathology you have knowledge that other people will pay for.

On a site called My Majors, a plant pathologist’s job is described as “Conduct research in breeding, physiology, production, yield, and management of crops and agricultural plants or trees, shrubs, and nursery stock, their growth in soils, and control of pests; or study the chemical, physical, biological, and mineralogical composition of soils as they relate to plant or crop growth. May classify and map soils and investigate effects of alternative practices on soil and crop productivity.”

If someone had asked me if I was interested in agriculture, I’d have said I don’t want to be a farmer. I don’t want to raise chickens, crops or cattle. I’d have said that because that is all that I knew. Good choices come from having good information. I had lousy information. I lucked out and found a job I enjoyed and could do. But the job a person ends up doing shouldn’t depend on luck or chance encounters.

Today, jobs that pay well, that are going to last a long time, that will continue to be in demand for decades, even a lifetime, still exist but to become qualified for them, you first need to know they exist, then you need to take the courses and get the experience required. It’s a good feeling when you know your knowledge and skills are needed and someone wants to hire you.

What doesn’t feel good is drifting through an education with no real goal in mind, getting a degree and finding out that no one wants the knowledge you have gained. Working as a barista after four years of university does not feel good.