*** Warning... today’s post is more of an autobiographical ramble than a piece of photographic advice. Read at your own risk...***
In 1918 the National Geographic Society published Wild Animals of North America. Unlike the iconic yellow-framed magazine, mine is a hardbound edition packed with a mix of colorful plates and monochrome photographs. The book was a gift to me from my father, and was likely part of a collection that once belonged to his grandfather Benjamin, for whom I was named. A pediatrician from Brooklyn, my great grandfather was the closest thing we had to a scientist in my lineage. As far as I can tell, I am the first and only scientist born to this family since Benjamin, and the story of his life has always been a thing of legends to me. The first pediatrician in Brooklyn or, possibly, the first Jewish pediatrician in NY, Dr. Benjamin Stoloff was an ideal to which I was to aspire. A 1906 graduate of the Long Island College of Medicine, my great grandfather left his Russian homeland in 1888 as a three year old child. A philanthropic doctor who bartered his services to treat community children, Dr. Stoloff epitomized what is best about the American Dream.
According to my antiquated volume of National Geographic, “The original buffalo herds have been estimated to have contained from 30,000,000 to 60,000,000 animals, and in 1870 it was estimated that 5,500,000 still survived.” Yet, by the time this narrative was written, the author discussed the “Wanton Waste of Wild Life,” and that “the buffalo, elk, and antelope are reduced to a pitiful fraction of their former countless numbers.” On discussing my exploits as a nature photographer with my father who will soon turn 80, in a rare moment of reflection, he once confessed the desire to see Yellowstone’s famed herds. My father, grandson to Benjamin Stoloff, lived with the good doctor as a child and was the bard for the tales that I can now barely recall. A busy man in his own right, the grandson was a scholar, a soldier and a businessman. Foregoing dreams and personal gain in favor of obligation, my father entered the family business rather than pursue the career of his desires. The son of the son of immigrants, he too is part of the fabric that is the legend we call the American Dream.
As I struggle to write this long overdue post, I would be remiss to ignore my place in the American narrative. Rather than chase the pre-destined goals set forth by my family, I have followed a circuitous route to a place that I could have never imagined. Loving academics while loathing the construct that is school, this dreamer lives a strange paradox. Teacher to many and wayward role model to some, I can’t help but reflect on my past 22 years as a science educator. A self described “scientist and creative,” in truth, there is more fiction than fact to this reality. Herein lies my interpretation of the legend: each of us can choose to accept our predefined constraints or we can choose to chase a dream. While the goal may never be met, a fulfilling life can be had through its pursuit.
While I am fully cognizant that the legendary herds of megafauna are now more ideal than future reality, the same appears to be true with “the American Dream.” Yet, like the naive idealism of my great grandfather, I believe that individuals have the power to cause real change. So, as this scientist / creative toils about during the summer months, I will use my time to dream about ways to influence the future one student at a time.
Nelson, E.W. (1918). The Larger North American Mammals. Wild Animals of North America, National Geographic Society, 385-477.
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