Road Trip IX, Days 27-32, Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C.: Country Roads, Make Me Run

I’ve written before about my father’s passion for distance running, and the way that passion shaped our family. Nothing like being back on the “old home place” for a week to bring back powerful memories of my baptism and rearing in the Church of the Holy Workout.

See, once my dad learned, in the mid-sixties, about the long-term health effects of distance running, I think he must have settled on the logic that, quod erat demonstrandum, NOT running would probably kill you quickly.

My dad, at 88 and a half, on his bike–he finally switched to an electric wheel a few years ago

At least that’s how it seemed to my 8 year-old self back in 1970. My sisters and I were, ahem, encouraged to run one mile a day, and three on Sundays. Most of that running involved the country roads near our house—some recently paved, some dirt.

But quite a lot involved the vehicle-free gravel roads of Duke Forest, maintained by Duke University’s School of Forestry (which I admire and love equally as much as I despise and loathe its men’s basketball team 🙂 ).The scenery was pretty. And the hills were STEEP.

Every year since we moved away in 1990, I go back to those forest roads, thinking, “they can’t really be as steep as I remember them.” And every time I rediscover—oh. Yep. They are.

Hard Climb Hill–putting the “mont” in Piedmont

The jury’s out, in my opinion, on whether making running mandatory for your children is a good idea or not. As it happens, I still run, thought I’ll never know if that’s despite, or because of being thrown into the deep end of the track (to mix sports metaphors). But since I’m lucky enough to have grown up entirely in the same house, it’s pretty cool to imagine how many miles I’ve logged over the years on those humble paved and unpaved roads.

I imagine Atticus Finch musing, “You never really understand a place until you consider things from its country roads…until you pull on your running shoes and run a few thousand miles around its hills.”

I’d show an even steeper hill, but I didn’t feel like wading across New Hope Creek

Or spot its wildflowers. I can’t complete a description of my childhood running routes without celebrating the subtle wildflowers of its woods in early spring.

Like the Trout Lily. Spot one…and suddenly they’re everywhere!

About as showy as they get…hiding in some invasive periwinkle leaves

Bluets, or Quaker Ladies. These always reminded me of my mom.

And while we’re at it…all praises be to good ol’ New Hope Creek itself. Humbly beautiful, and quite shockingly free of garbage considering it’s right smack in the middle of the Hillsborough/Durham/Chapel Hill Triangle.

Thanks for all the miles I’ve run past you while you were running past me!

I find myself wondering…what versions of my country roads do y’all share? What routes, walked or run or skated over a million times, make up the soul of YOUR childhood?

Who Doesn’t Need More Lemurs in His/Her Life?

Proud daughter + lemur-lover = another update on my dad’s research.

Really, this isn’t new. It’s just a look at how popular culture is becoming (understandably) attracted to the idea of lemurs one day helping humans with things like medical breakthroughs or space travel.

So here’s a cool article & video from my hometown, Durham, North Carolina (home of the Duke Lemur Center). I couldn’t get the video to copy separately, but if you click on this link, you can watch it:

http://www.wncn.com/story/26669493/dukes-lemurs-may-hold-key-to-extended-space-travel

(Not actually the lemur in question, but be honest: this is what you think of when you hear "lemur," right? Courtesy Duke Lemur Center.)

(Not actually the lemur in question, but be honest: this is what you think of when you hear “lemur,” right? Courtesy Duke Lemur Center.)

Can’t get enough lemurs? Click on this link, Duke Lemur Center, to get your fill. 

Coming soon: the latest on Book Two of the Flying Burgowski trilogy, Headwinds. But until then–enjoy the lemurs!

 

Lemurs, Suspended Animation, and My Dad: No, I’m Not Making This Up

When the fat-tailed lemur becomes the most famous animal in the world, you can say you read about it here first. Unless you read it in Slate.

I got an email from my dad the other day, which turned out to be forwarded from some random person who had sent him a link to something else random. He does that a lot, so I almost deleted it. Then I saw the word “Slate” and “lemur.”

Slate? As in the online magazine? Hip and savvy and mainstream? I clicked. The title said:

Do Lemurs Hold the Secret to Suspended Animation?

What we might be able to learn from our closest hibernating cousins.

Sure enough, Slate had run an article on my dad’s research.

Why should you care? I’ll let David Casarett of Slate tell you:

You know all about suspended animation because it makes an appearance in virtually every science-fiction movie that’s ever been made. Usually it’s portrayed as a handy device for space travel. But what you probably don’t know is that suspended animation isn’t just science fiction. It’s real. And it could save lives.

Suspended animation is really just slowed metabolism, like hibernation. Think of it asartificial hibernation. When animals hibernate (and when science-fiction characters venture off-world), they’re in a state in which their cells have downshifted to low gear and they need very little oxygen.

That’s handy for intergalactic travel, of course. But what if we could use that trick in situations in which our cells—and particularly our brain cells—don’t have access to much oxygen? That might be the case for a patient who has suffered a cardiac arrest and who isn’t breathing. Or someone injured in a car accident, or someone with a serious gunshot wound. Or a soldier injured on the battlefield.

[Reprinted from Shocked: Adventures in Bringing Back the Recently Dead by David Casarett with permission of Current, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) David Casarett, 2014.]

My dad studies lemurs that hibernate. So what? Don’t lots of animals do that? Not PRIMATES. There’s only one that does that: the fat-tailed lemur. What can it teach us about our own brain’s capacity for suspended animation?

In 2005…a German team of researchers collected the first evidence of prolonged hibernation in fat-tailed dwarf lemurs (Cheirogaleus medius). That discovery raised the very intriguing possibility that other primates—like humans—that don’t normally hibernate might be able to pull off the same trick. Lemurs are much closer to us, genetically, than other hibernating animals are. And that’s important, because if we want to understand how hibernation works in a way that might someday help people, it pays to study hibernation in an animal that’s as close to us as possible.

Mr. Casarett based this piece on an interview with my dad, Peter Klopfer, now an emeritus professor of Zoology at Duke University. Dad is also the co-founder of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC, home to the largest collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar.

Lemurs are very hip right now. Forget the cartoon Madagascar movies–have you seen the IMAX film, Island of Lemurs? Whoa.

When I was a kid, my dad made repeated trips to Madagascar. My sisters and I took it in stride, never asked questions about what he did there or what it was like. It was his work, right? What kid is interested in their dad’s work?

There was that time he came home with malaria. That got some attention. But still, even as my sisters and I got older–research, ho-hum. Yeah, the lemurs are cute. Can I borrow the car?

Luckily, my sons were more interested than I was. First one, at age 16, then the other, at 19, joined his grandfather on one of those research trips. I learned what it was like, doing that hands-on research, speaking bad French with the locals, hearing the scary fossa chuckle as you walked the dark path through the forest to the outhouse at night. And I finally started paying attention.

Hibernating lemurs? This is pretty cool stuff.

The fat-tailed lemur my dad’s been studying doesn’t play much of a part in the movie. It’s no more dramatic than its name. But it IS cute as the dickens.

(Courtesy Slate.com)

(Courtesy Slate.com)

Mr. Casarett does a wonderful job of walking his readers through the science as my dad walked him, literally, past the darkened cages of the Duke Lemur Center, and back into the bright North Carolina sunshine. My sisters and I spent hours of our childhood at that center, back before it was a major tourist attraction, when there was no need to “sign in” at the front desk because there was no front desk at all, just a bunch of earnest researchers and keepers doing their work. When we could even pat the lemurs or feed them by hand if we wanted to–watching those sharp teeth, of course. When we had no idea that the place my dad had co-founded would one day be working on such…well…mainstream, high-interest science.

The article concludes with a wonderful sequence that captures both the interviewer’s curiosity and my dad’s character.

Klopfer and I are back in the parking lot now, standing in front of my rental car, when a thought occurs to me. We’ve spent the last couple of hours talking about the physiology of hibernation. So I’m wondering…

Do lemurs dream?

The question seems to surprise him. Klopfer strokes his beard, deep in thought. Under the hood of a rain parka that obscures his eyes, he looks a little like a wizard, if wizards dressed in Gore-Tex and track suits.

Finally he nods. “I would think so.” He grins. “Otherwise months of hibernation would be pretty dull, don’t you think?”

I agree. So there’s hope for us all. Not only might it be possible to put humans in suspended animation, but that’s a lot of dreams to look forward to. Let’s hope they’re pleasant ones.

Yup–that’s my dad. Kinda proud of him. Let’s consider this post my way of saying sorry for not being all that impressed when I was a kid.

Have you seen the lemur movie? Have any thoughts about the potential of this research? Or want to sound off about your own filial pride? Please share.