Director’s Letter September 2021

Gothic Valley

Scientific Hogwarts

Scientific Hogwarts

It is a sign of how far Gothic’s facility plant has come that there is no possibility I would be considered for a RMBL maintenance job today.  That wasn’t the case in 1991.  It was a glorious summer for me.  Cash, or more accurately “loose change”, in my pocket, free room and board, and little to worry about when I clocked out.  It was perhaps less glorious for RMBL; they had to teach me which way to turn a screwdriver (“rightie-tightie”).  Perhaps my greatest skill was slipping away to work on the fence when I got advance notice that the honey wagon was coming to pump outhouses.

Despite my lack of mechanical aptitude, I love Gothic’s facilities.  Johnson Dorm.  Virginia.  Lead King.   Mammal Lab.  Baker.  Barclay.  Oh-Be-Joyful.  Enders.  Enders Annex.  Crystal.  Gates. Each of those cabins are woven into my memories.  From summers in Gothic that anchored my post undergrad winter wanderings, to graduate school, to starting a family, to seeing my boys grow into young men, for 34 years my life stages have been defined in part by a Gothic cabin.

Beanpod is my favorite.  A nest built in 1929 for Dr. Bean from Germany, I’ve been snowed on inside it.  The deck over the East River is amazing and proved to be a critical design feature.  The fifty ft2 of space wasn’t enough when a bear came in the front door and a scientist headed out and over the deck.

See the adjoining article on Benn Schmatz, who was on the work crew this summer, to get a sense of how far RMBL’s facilities have come.  And with a winter of caretaking ahead of him, he’s a lucky guy.  Jennie and I spent an amazing winter in Gothic 25 years ago.  We skied a great deal and ate too much ice cream.  I finished my doctoral dissertation, perhaps being the one and only person to ski partway to their thesis defense in San Diego.

We are fortunate to have a team—headed by Steve Jennison– that understands the importance of the authenticity of Gothic’s facilities.  The world is a richer place, pedagogically and personally, because students and scientists have a sense of arrival and newness when they move into Gothic.  It opens them up to becoming new people, growing in unanticipated ways.  The quirkiness of our buildings, a bit like Hogwarts for scientists, is an important part of the power of this place, right along our community and stunning ecosystem.

I have seen a great deal of change in facilities in my 34 years.  I can honestly say that the environmental changes the world is experiencing, including increased hazard of wildfires, warmer temperatures, and emerging diseases, are leaving their fingerprints on our beloved buildings.  And while the Gothic of tomorrow will necessarily be different than the Gothic of the past, we will very intentionally maintain our authenticity and quirkiness.  The magic will remain!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL