NABOKV-L post 0005804, Sat, 10 Mar 2001 13:00:27 -0800

Post-Nabokovian pheasants at Cornell (fwd)
From: D. Barton Johnson <chtodel@GTE.NET>

EDITOR's NOTE. Thomas Seifrid (USC), who got his Russian-lit. doctorate at
Cornell after a fling as a zoologist, passes on a couple of pheasantries.

> I used to go jogging in Ithaca out of town, past what I think was part of
> the agricultural college. In any event there was a farm that raised
> pheasants en masse. In order to prevent them pecking each other to death
> in territorial disputes (someone told me) the farmers put little
> mini-blinders on each bird. Whatever the purpose the effect was very
> strange--I'd jog past this barnyard that looked like it was filled with
> about 100 Californian birds, all wearing what looked like sunglasses.
> One of the toughest courses in my undergraduate curriculum was that on
> ornithology, taught by a venerable old prof named Phillip Wright, who was
> famous for his long, excruciatingly detailed exams (in one anecdote told
> about him he once based the exam on birds' feet; partway through, a student
> angrily rose, approached the front, slammed his test paper down on the
> table and stalked out; "Wait a minute young man," Dr. Wright said, "what's
> your name?"; to which the student responded by lifting his leg, waving his
> foot in the air, and saying, "What's the matter--can't you tell?" I think
> this may be apocryphal, and the foot-exam is surely an exaggeration--but I
> did have a midterm from Wright that consisted entirely of slides of various
> waterfowl--in darkened *silhouette,* flying against the sky--which we were
> expected to identify, state distribution (seasonally), number of eggs in
> nest, etc etc etc--all inside of about 10 seconds). The only course
> possibly tougher was Wright's on mammalogy (I remember blowing something on
> the final because I couldn't remember how to tell apart the skulls of a
> dugong and a manatee...still don't to this day, if truth be told). God, I
> can't imagine what our graduate students would do if asked to know Russian
> literature at this level of detail. I can hear the moans already. In any
> event, I emerged from the final in the course exhausted but glad that it
> was over, feeling that I hadn't done all that badly on it--when a bird shat
> right on my shirtfront.
> Best,
> Tom