A brief bio

 

"Every sensible person sincerely praises a bowl of soup.

From cherries and apricots we make pies."—Robert Walser.

 

 

         I live in Marquette, Michigan with my wife Cathy and our three sons, Jack, Evan, and Zane. Marquette lies on the south shore of Lake Superior in the north central of Michigan's brilliant Upper Peninsula. It is, quite simply, one of the finest places in the United States (and beyond), especially if—like my family and me—you enjoy the outdoors. (Here are a few photos IĠve made of scenic Marquette.) But we are in the north up here. At a latitude of 46 degrees, 32 minutes, 47 seconds, weĠre closer to the Arctic Circle than we are to the Tropic of Cancer (Minneapolis, by comparison, is closer to the Tropic of Cancer). WeĠre often billed as the second snowiest city in the U.S. WeĠre farther north than the capital of Canada; than the provincial capitals of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia; and than Canada's largest city. And weĠre on roughly the same latitude line as Tiraspol (Moldova), Lausanne (Switzerland), Odessa (Ukraine), and Helena (Montana, U.S.A.). But our weather is greatly tempered by Lake Superior, so our winters are much milder than are the winters a few hundred miles to the west, in Minnesota and North Dakota; we get almost none of the bitterly cold temperatures that they endure for most of the winter. And there is no place in the entire world finer than the U.P. from July through September.

         I spent most of the first 21 years of my life on the edge of the Great Plains, more specifically, in the circle of radius 30 miles centered roughly on the midpoint of the line connecting the Santee (Sioux) Indian Reservation with the Winnebago (Sioux) Indian Reservation. Cluster points within this circle, for me, were Wausa, Nebraska (my home from birth through age three); Norfolk, Nebraska (my home from age three through age eight; here is the house we lived in, photo taken on 5 August 2015, 43 years after we moved out); Sioux City, Iowa (my home from age nine through age twenty-one); and Yankton, South Dakota (home of both of my grandmothers, many of my cousins, and my momĠs hometown). Other than occasional trips north (to fish) or west (to fish and backpack) or south and east (to Omaha or Des Moines or Kansas City; our version of the Grand Tour), my only time outside of this circle during my first twenty-one years was the year we spent, after Norfolk and before Sioux City, in Emporia, Kansas, within spitting distance of the geometric center of tornado alley (and sure enough, right on cue, a killer tornado rumbled over our apartment building in June of 1974). I turned nine during the year we were in Emporia.

         Eventually, I hope to add a few paragraphs about my childhood, mostly as an excuse to give a Òshout outÓ to some old friends. But for now, and as a set-up to what follows, I note that as a boy, I liked—in addition to all the usual things, i.e., sports, breaking things, blowing stuff up, etc.—the outdoors. A lot. And other than a few—in hindsight, mostly forlorn—fishing holes and farm fields holding some pheasants and quail, the circle described above encloses very little to excite the heart of an outdoorsman. True, the west end of the circle marks the beginning of the rolling hills and pine scrub that open up into the Sand Hills of Nebraska (which, by my reckoning at least, is the most under-rated of America's spectacular wild places), and thence the Badlands of South Dakota. And the eastern most point of this circle lies roughly at the midpoint of the unique and occasionally picturesque Loess Hills of Iowa. But within the circle, where I spent most of my childhood, the outdoorsy pickings were, and remain, pretty slim.

         So after finishing college, one might think that, at age 21, I'd find myself, finally, in one of America's great wild places. Instead, I decided to go to graduate school in Ames, Iowa. To be sure, Ames is a fine town, but it has even fewer outdoorsy opportunities than my "home circle". So after six years in Ames—during which Cathy and I were married, I finished my Ph.D., and we spent a remarkable semester abroad (at the Banach Center in Warsaw)—I took a job at Saint Mary's College of California in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I found myself, for the first time in my life, living in (or at least near) some of North America's premiere wild places.

         We lived in California for nine happy years. During our time there, we bought our first home; Jack, our first son, was born; we traveled quite a bit (including a semester spent at Charles University in Prague); and I learned a lot about the liberal arts (and loved teaching) at Saint Mary's. They remain nine of the happiest years of our lives. Alas, the Bay Area was, and is, absurdly expensive, prohibitively so for a young professor and his young school-teacher wife, who are trying to raise a family, and who don't come from families with the financial means to help out (which, by the way, distinguished us from most of my colleagues at Saint Mary's). And besides, the traffic in the Bay Area was worse than a rectal exam.

         And so, when Cathy was eight months pregnant with our second child, I gave up my cushy (but vastly underpaid) tenured position in one of the world's garden spots and we moved to Crawfordsville, Indiana, of all places, which is about as far from a garden spot as you can get in America. Our eight years in Indiana were. . . mixed. First the good things: our second and third sons were born in Crawfordsville; we became friends with many fine people; I earned a fair salary at Wabash College (whose students I greatly enjoyed teaching); we (all five of us) spent a beautiful year in Prague (I was on sabbatical, again at Charles University); and I did a lot of mathematics. But on balance, Indiana just wasn't a good fit for us. And so after eight years, we decamped for the north woods!

         As above, we now live in Marquette, Michigan, where I am professor of mathematics, and head of the department of mathematics and computer science, at Northern Michigan University, and where all five of us are happy as clams.

         Eventually, I hope to add a few paragraphs here about some my current interests, and about my family. . . And how could this bio be complete without a few pics of me.

 

Addendum: Here is the latest addition to our household (January 2016); here he is on 16 July 2016.