Ending the year with a tribute to friends


A new year brings an opportunity to look both ahead and back. I look to the future because I have two grandsons, ages three and five, and a granddaughter who will probably arrive before you read this.

Their future knows no limits. I also look back to remember friends I’ve lost. One of life’s guarantees is that the longer we live, the more friends we will lose.

During the final months of 2017, I lost two friends from my years in Oklahoma. Most recently, Rudy Miller, 83, died in Stillwater Dec. 10. When I joined the faculty at Oklahoma State University, he was a full professor.

He eagerly offered advice and friendship. And I quickly learned that Rudy was much more than an ichthyologist (fish biologist) and student of animal behavior. Rudy had many diverse interests beyond biology.

He loved music, art, and literature, and he had a great sense of humor. What impressed and inspired me most was that Rudy seemed to know a lot about everything.

His mind was encyclopedic, he loved to learn, and he loved to teach.

Whenever we spoke one on one, it often felt like I was being interviewed. His mind was a sponge, and knowledge was his water. Rudy was the only true Renaissance man I’ve ever known.

The breadth and depth of his knowledge on every subject was deep. I wish I had him as a professor when I was an undergraduate.

Professional artist

When Rudy retired from academia in 1990, he launched a second career as a professional artist. That led to his work being featured in galleries across the country.

Today, a Rudy Miller original is a work to be treasured. I remember once a student of mine brought me a fresh road killed chuck-will’s-widow, a close cousin to a whip-poor-will.

Rudy said he had never had a chance to study a fresh chuck, and he would love to paint it. So I gave it to him.

And a few weeks later, he gave me his original painting of chuck capturing a moth in flight. To this day, that painting hangs on my living room wall. When I published my book, Birds, Bats, Butterflies and Other Backyard Beasts (it’s out of print), Rudy painted a ruby-throated hummingbird sipping nectar from a trumpet creeper flower for the cover.

That original also hangs in our living room. Another colleague from Oklahoma State, Tracy Carter, 69, died Oct. 4. Though her office was next to mine, our stronger connection was personal.

Learning about parenting

Tracy and my wife, Linda, were pregnant at the same time back in 1983, and our daughters were born about a month apart. So Tracy and her husband and Linda and I learned about parenting together.

I can’t imagine a stronger bond between friends. Professionally, Tracy earned a Ph.D. in animal behavior from Michigan State in 1975. She followed that with two years in the Peace Corps in Brazil where she studied giant armadillos.

Shortly thereafter, she came to Oklahoma State where she served for 38 years, including eight years as curator of the OSU Museum of Culture and Natural History.

As the calendar rolls from 2017 to 2018, look to the future, see the possibilities, and resolve to make a difference. Join a new conservation organization or renew your membership in one you already support.

And take time to remember old friends and family who are no longer with us. Tell the next generation about them. Sharing memories is the best way to keep those we have lost alive in our hearts and minds.

• • •

As winter temperatures plunged into a deep freeze over most of the east last week, this is a quick reminder to keep your feeders filled. Black-oil sunflower seed should be your go-to seed.

All seed-eating birds eat it, and it’s relatively inexpensive. And don’t worry about using a particular type of feeder. Casting seed on the ground or on top of fresh snow is quite effective. This is especially true when snow cover gets deep, and food is difficult to find.


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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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