AND ECOLOGY DO NOT MIX
June 24, 2012
On a recent
visit to the mall, I noticed that jeans with holes in them must still
be in fashion among adolescents. This reminded me of a column I wrote
years ago about Tom Cruise, blue jeans, and ecology. As summer gets
into full swing, I thought the column, which is a bit less weighty than
some, would bear repeating.
seen Tom Cruise on interview shows wearing blue jeans with a big hole
in the knee. Now we all know that a Hollywood movie star of his stature
can afford a new pair of jeans, so clearly the hole in the knee is a
fashion statement. Young people are also fans of holey jeans but I can
assure you that not many professional ecologists wear such garb, at
least not in the field. Though I myself am fond of old, faded-and-patched
jeans, the ones I wear do not have holes in the knees. Not anymore.
day, I went on a field trip to look for aquatic turtles with Vincent
Burke, a University of Georgia graduate student. As we left the house,
I grabbed a pair of blue jeans, field shoes, and a T-shirt and hurriedly
began putting them on as we rode along. The process went even faster
after Vincent suggested that he drive. Field ecologists rely on blue
jeans to protect them from a lot of biting, stinging, thorny things.
As I put this old and worn pair on, I ripped a huge hole in the right
knee, just below an earlier patch. How fashionable, I thought. I will
look good in the field, like Tom Cruise. I asked Vincent if he had brought
have looked good (although possibly not as good as Tom Cruise), but
I would soon feel awful. I got my first inkling that fashion and ecology
do not go hand in hand as we made our way from the truck to pond. We
walked through a patch of blackberry bushes about the size of Vermont.
Blackberries are the silver lining of a very black cloud known as blackberry
briars. By the time I reached the water, my right knee looked like an
angry bobcat had used it as a scratching post.
I thought, once I start wading around, my knee won't feel so bad. This
was momentarily true when we reached an area of knee-deep water. Then
I discovered a second hazard of a good-looking tear at the knee: a small
insect known as a backswimmer. Backswimmers defend themselves by jabbing
their mouthparts into the body of anything they consider a threat. They
are not venomous and won't hurt you at all unless you provoke them.
But their "bite" hurts like a bee sting for a minute or so.
socks, and shoes generally confer protection from backswimmers, which
only bite people when they are pressed against a person's body and cannot
escape. Do you think a big hole in a pair of blue jeans would let in
a half-inch-long backswimmer? Yes, quite a few. One after another ended
up inside my pants leg, pressed tightly against my right leg. Being
squeezed between denim and tender flesh provoked them, and each proceeded
to protect itself. The experience was not enjoyable. (Tom Cruise always
seems quite comfortable in knee-torn blue jeans when being interviewed.
But then I have never seen him interviewed while he was standing in
water infested with backswimmers.)
the water, I encountered a low-lying branch that aimed right for my
Achilles knee. Later, a horsefly decided my exposed knee was the most
delectable eating spot in the county. The final blow came when I knelt
down to observe a hole in the sand dug by a lizard. Sure enough, the
only sharp-edged rock within a hundred yards was lying right where I
put my knee.
to discard this fashionable pair of blue jeans. If Tom Cruise needs
another pair, he's welcome to them.
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