I studied forestry at SUNY Syracuse, graduating with relief but no honors in 1962. Due to a last-minute vacancy, I was given the opportunity to participate in a graduate course in tropical forestry that summer in Puerto Rico. I stayed on in Puerto Rico after the course, working first for the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Tropical Forestry under C. B. Briscoe and Frank Wadsworth and later as the initial logistician and field worker on H. T. Odum’s comprehensive study of the impacts of irradiation on a tropical forest. Eager to experience the tropics beyond Puerto Rico, I sent off letters of inquiry, one of which led to my hiring in 1963 by geographer Joe Tosi to participate in ecological mapping (Holdridge life zones). That job took me to every corner of Venezuela, by jeep, on foot, boat, and aircraft. A highlight was three months in the extreme southern tip of Venezuela, accompanying a joint Venezuelan-Brazilian boundary commission, where we climbed tepuis and lived among the Yanomami.
Under Tosi’s influence, my interests shifted from forestry to ecology, and after nearly three years in Venezuela, I returned to the U.S. to do an M.S. with Hugh Popenoe at the University of Florida. My thesis work took place in the Lake Izabal region of Guatemala, where I studied nutrient cycling in the second-growth vegetation that is part of shifting agriculture as practiced by the indigenous Q’eqchi’ people. Following a short stint in Panama and Colombia working on the fate of radionuclides that might result from nuclear excavation of sea-level canal, I moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There I did my Ph.D. work with H. T. Odum on arrested succession at five sites, three in Costa Rica and two in Puerto Rico.
When I graduated in 1971, I was hired at the University of Florida and remained there, rising through the ranks, until 1994. During my tenure at Florida, I mentored 24 graduate students, the legacy of which I am proudest. In 1991, I was named the university’s teacher-scholar of the year, a dubious honor that led to the frightening experience of giving the summer commencement address and getting only a bronze medallion in return. In 1994, I joined the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry as its director, responsible for research and outreach programs in Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, and Palau. In 2005, I retired from the Forest Service and returned to Gainesville, Florida, where, as emeritus professor, I ponder, pontificate, and occasionally publish. Weekends bring me back to reality, as my wife Katherine and I learn from nature by attempting to farm pecans and pine trees, and to restore native forests, along a stretch of the Santa Fe River.