“Wanda!” William’s face split into a grin as he dropped his suitcase to the sidewalk and caught Wanda up into a huge hug. “How’s my first Chinese-American astronaut sister?”
Wanda made a face at him and scruffed up his hair. “I swear, if one more reporter asks me how it feels to be the first Chinese-American woman in space...how do they think it feels? Being in space is awesome.”
“Seriously, though.” William shoved his suitcase into the back seat of her Prius and climbed into the passenger side. “The twins think you’re even cooler than Dora the Explorer.”
“Well, I am.”
“Valid point. I can’t really complain about having a famous sister--got me a few rounds of free drinks from the guys at the office.”
Wanda snorted, merging onto the highway that would take them out to the suburbs. “I made up the guest room for you and Minako--the niephews will have to sleep on the futon in the living room. I don’t see much point in having a lot of extra space normally, with just me.”
“That’s okay, they like that kind of thing. I’ll just remind them it’s an astronaut’s futon if they complain.”
“When are they getting in again?”
“Um, Friday.” William fiddled with his phone for a moment. “3:27 p.m., on United. So anyway, how did your first space flight go?”
Wanda thought for a moment. She had been honest earlier, when she said it was awesome--and technically, it wasn’t her first space flight, although William would never believe that her first was a field trip back in third grade. This had been different--instead of trusting in Ms. Frizzle, she was one of the people responsible for making sure all the protocols were followed and everything went smoothly, so they’d have a safe and successful flight and reentry. There had been a lot more stress, because this time there was no Bus to save them at the last minute, and as an adult she understood the dangers much better.
But space--being out there in the vastness, looking down at the jeweled earth below them, feeling alone and insignificant and yet connected to everything in the vast universe--that had been the same.
“It’s hard to describe,” she said finally. “But it was a successful mission. We had a bunch of experiments to do while we were up there--there was one from a fifth grade class, to see what kinds of webs spiders would spin in zero-gee.”
William shuddered; he hated spiders. “What if they got out?”
“Then we’d have floating spiders,” Wanda said, smirking ahead of her at the road. “That’s the miracle of science, little brother.”
The first web spun by the spider Arabella while in orbit. NASA photo.
“Monique is really excited about her field trip next week,” Dorothy Ann said.
“Mmmm?” Keesha’s mouth was presently full of her toothbrush and a lot of foam, so she removed the toothbrush and spat in the sink before answering. “Yeah? Where are they going?”
“The science museum--she was nearly bouncing off the walls today when she came home with the permission slip.” Dorothy Ann was wrapped in a bathrobe and propped up in bed with her laptop, her blonde hair braided for sleep, with grant application paperwork spread all over the bed. It was that time of year--decisions to be made, grants awarded, rejection letters sent. Keesha was just glad that Dorothy Ann could work from home some these days--when she’d first started at the National Science Foundation, sometimes she didn’t get home until midnight. It hadn’t been much fun when Monique was a baby and Keesha was working towards tenure.
“Well, she is our daughter,” Keesha said, smiling fondly at her wife. “I just wish my intro chem students had half her curiosity and passion for science.”
“Remember all those field trips in Ms. Frizzle’s class?” Dorothy Ann had shut her laptop and started piling papers on top of it. She didn’t look at Keesha, and Keesha was sort of surprised she’d brought the topic up. After third grade, it was like some kind of pact of silence had descended over all of them--they never talked about those field trips, not even when she’d run into Dorothy Ann again in graduate school at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting, not even after eight years of marriage and a wonderful daughter whose enthusiasm for the world never ceased to amaze her.
“I do,” Keesha said quietly, climbing under the covers as Dorothy Ann set her work aside and reached for the light switch. “I mean, Ms. Frizzle’s why I went into science.”
“Me, too,” Dorothy Ann said, leaning over for a goodnight kiss in the dark. “Somehow I don’t think Monique’s field trips will be quite as exciting as ours were.”
Keesha smiled to herself. “No, probably not.”
A chemistry lab bench. Photo by Jean-Pierre (JPC24).
I’ve attached the black & white illustrations of your new species--pretty exciting little birds, aren’t they? Let me know which one Science wants for the cover and I’ll work up a dramatic color version with some environmental background. If you have any reference pics of Costa Rican foliage from where you collected, that would be super-helpful.
Thanks again for asking me to do this--I love drawing comics, don’t get me wrong, but it’s great to get a chance to do something scientific again. Hope you’re all doing well--you and Carlos planning on going to our high school reunion this fall?
Independent Comics Artist
Woah, those look awesome! You have way more patience than I do. I think the blue and red one, species B, is probably the most dramatic one for the cover. I attached some of my scenic photos--sorry for the lousy quality, I’d just dropped my SLR in a river and had to use my phone camera. :-(
Carlos and I will be there with bells on! BTW, Carlos says (I quote) “‘Sup?” and the kidlet says your next comic book should have a giant mutant praying mantis in it (we have a pet mantis right now. Her name is Sally, and she’s just laid eggs. It’s all very exciting in the Ramon-Terese household, believe me. Shades of third grade, but without all the--you know).
See you in November! I’m thinking about swinging by Walkerville Elementary while we’re in town and seeing if the Friz is still there. Want to come?
Dr. Phoebe Ramon-Terese
Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolution
University of Chicago
5730 South Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
Couldn't keep me away.
Independent Comics Artist
Scientific illustration of a Red-and-blue Lory subspecies.
“Dad, dad, dad!”
The screen door banged shut and Ralph looked up from the washing machine repair manual to see his daughter skid across the kitchen and into the living room, a sprig of leaves clutched in her hands. “Dad, I found a caterpillar!” she cried, in her excitement reaching a pitch normally reserved for calling dogs. “What kind is it? Can we keep it?”
“Let me see, sweetie.”
The caterpillar was mostly black, with some white dots and little tufts of black and orange-brown spines all over it. It looked really familiar, Ralph thought, but he couldn’t remember where he’d seen it before. The caterpillar lifted its front legs for a moment, searching around, and then began munching again on what he now saw were his wife’s snapdragons. “I don’t know, Mia, why don’t we try to find out?”
First he had to get an empty jar to put the caterpillar in, and then he had to settle a squirmy, over-excited six-year-old in his lap without getting elbowed in the stomach. Fifteen minutes of Google later, he found it. “It’s a Common Buckeye caterpillar. When it grows up, it’s going to be that butterfly there.” He pointed at the colorful orange-and-brown butterfly with huge eyespots on the Wikipedia entry. It was definitely familiar.
“It’s pretty! Daddy, can we keep it until it turns into a butterfly, pretty please? I’ll take care of it myself. Pleeeeeease?” Mia was gazing up at him beseechingly with her big brown eyes widened; she called them her Bambi eyes, and privately Ralph thought they made her look a little like a fish, but part of being a dad meant not crushing your daughter’s belief that her adorable face was in fact adorable and not silly.
“All right. You’ll need to get some more food for him. Do you know what a host plant is?”
Mia shook her head.
“Well, caterpillars are really picky eaters--”
“Like Robby?” Mia’s little brother was in one of those phases where he would only eat chicken nuggets, spaghetti, and apples.
“Yes, like Robby. Except that your mom and I would really like Robby to eat more foods, but caterpillars really can’t. They have to eat exactly the right plants. So you need to go cut a few more snapdragons, and I’ll poke some air holes in the lid, okay?”
“Okay!” And then Mia was off again in a blur, screen door banging behind her.
Years ago, Ralph had decided he must have imagined the weirder parts of third grade. After all, the things he remembered seemed pretty ridiculous, and everyone knew what imaginations kids had. No one could shrink small enough to tour the human body, or survive being shot out of a volcano. And yet--he still remembered with an odd clarity exactly how snapdragon leaves had tasted, and the thrill of stretching out his brand-new wings in the sun. Strange....
“I’m going to name him Bob!” Mia shouted, rushing back in with a fistful of red and yellow snapdragons. “He’s going to be the most beautiful butterfly ever!”
Ralph grinned back at her, suddenly feeling just as excited as he had in third grade whenever Ms. Frizzle told them they were going on a field trip. “I bet he will,” he said, swinging Mia up into his arms for a hug. “And I bet your mom will be really excited to meet him when she gets home from work.”
Caterpillar of the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), a.k.a. "Bob." Photo by Patrick Coin.
“I’m Terry Gross and this is Fresh Air. If you’re just joining us, my guest is novelist Arnold M. Perlstein, author of the best-selling Mark Sharp series of geology mysteries. I’m talking with him about his new young adult novel Valerie Fells and the Lost City. Mr. Perlstein, can you tell us a little bit about your latest novel?”
“Well, it’s my first foray into, er, writing for teens. My great-aunt was, as you probably know, Arizona Joan, the archaeologist. When I was a little kid, she told me stories about going on digs, adventures with wild animals and dangerous poachers and so on. Exciting stuff to hear about. I was looking for a change of pace after my last book, so I thought, um, why not? Archaeology provides lots of opportunity for adventure.”
“You must have had a lot of adventures yourself.”
“I try to avoid them, actually. I’d rather stay home and keep the adventure on the page.”
“Well, Valerie Fells and the Lost City is certainly full of adventure! But there’s some real science in there, too--scholars have praised your book for its accurate depiction of Mayan archaeology. And of course Mark Sharp, the protagonist of your mystery series, is a geologist. Would you consider yourself an amateur scientist?”
“Oh yeah, I love science--I collect rocks and minerals, started when I was a kid, and, uh, my son’s really into bugs right now. Aren’t they all at a certain age? I had this teacher in third grade, Ms. Frizzle, Valerie Frizzle--actually, I named Valerie Fells after her, a little bit of a tribute--and I thought she knew everything, you know. A real believer in hands-on learning. I don’t know where she is now, but if you’re listening out there, Ms. Frizzle--thanks.”
View of Chichén Itzá, showing the Castillo de Chichén and the Templo de las Mil Columnas. Photo by Claude Belair.