Rudolf Harmsen 

Once an Academic.....

For 42 years I worked as an academic, which meant that besides teaching and research, I spent a lot of time on a variety of university, faculty, union and department committees. You would think that I would never sit on a committee again. Not so, it has become an aspect of my personality, it seems that I can not shake the habit. Now, in my fifteenth year of retirement, I am on more committees than ever before. The trouble started when a few years ago I volunteered to stand for the Board of Directors of the Ontario Woodlot Association (OWA), and was promptly elected and then talked into sitting on the executive as well, and on a special committee which was rewriting the constitution. This grew after a few years into being elected as president, which implies having one toe in each committee of the association. After two years of wearing the presidential gown, it was Jeri's brain tumor, the following surgery and lengthy recovery that forced me to resign. At that stage I foolishly assumed that I would put the entire OWA behind me. But it soon was revealed to me that ex-presidents are expected to sit on various committees and participate in workshops and field trips. And so, I sit on the Business Development Committee, the Champion Donor Program committee and on the Board of Directors of the local Kingston area Chapter. That is more or less it, except for my involvement in the regional Nature Conservancy where I volunteer on participating in inspection hikes through their reserves to report on the reserve's condition and on any problems. So far I have avoided being asked to sit on any of their committees, but the day will come, and will I be able to say 'no'?

My academic background has also left me with a deeply internalized desire to study, to tabulate data, and to write reports and papers for publication. For these hobbies I do not have a lot of time, but I am by now in the middle of actually writing a paper on the origins and consequences of human morality. I agreed to write that paper approximately three years ago, and so far, I have only been reading everything relevant to that topic, all the way back to Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche and have struggled through the recent tomes by Christopher Boehm and Derek Parfit. I sometimes feel that if I manage to complete this paper I could submit it for a doctorate in philosophy, which I need like a hole in my head. The other research I am fingering now and then, is my Queen's University Herbarium work, where I have claimed one entire bench to spread out my specimens.

This mostly involves cataloguing the specimens I collected years ago in the arctic. When I did my muskox research on Banks Island and the goose grazing work in the Hudson Bay Lowlands, I collected a lot of interesting plants, that are just sitting with rough notes between sheets of newsprint. Keying them out and making them into well-documented specimens is a bit like stamp collecting, but I hope a bit more meaningful. In the publications of the research I included a note that the specimens are lodged in the Queen's herbarium. Well, they are finally getting there.

In the warm seasons I also spend some time collecting interesting plants in the vicinity of where we live, such as the rare, alien, potentially invasive globe thistle. I love running around finding intersting specimens. I am supposed to slow down now that I face my 80th birthday in March, but I think I will ignore that bit of folk wisdom.

Globe thistle, (Echinops spaerocephalus L).


  dolf@harmsen.net +1 613 544 3626