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Serendipitous Discoveries

That’s Charles Walcott in the picture. He began experimenting with panoramic photography in 1905, and produced a lot of great images, some of which can be seen here:


Since I’m really into panoramic photography, I am glad to be learning about Charles Walcott’s work.  Walcott was a paleontologist and secretary of the Smithsonian, which are just a couple of his outstanding life achievements. I started learning about him by serendipity when my mother-in-law passed along a book that had belonged to her brother. The book is “Eight Little Piggies,” by Stephen J. Gould. It’s a series of essays on evolution, paleontology and related subjects.

I’ve always had an interest in evolution and paleontology, so, last year, in honor of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, I set out to read his major works. But I found the going rough. Something about his writing style combined with my attention span resulted in “The Origin of Species” and “The Voyage of the Beagle” finding purchase on my bedside table, but not in my brain. I drifted away from the subject, somewhat frustrated, and turned my attention to the novels of Patrick O’Brian – The “Master and Commander” series. I got wholly sucked into O’Brian’s tales and didn’t emerge until I had read all 2o complete novels, plus the 21st book that was left unfinished when O’Brian died. I was so into O’Brian’s stories that I had serious trouble getting excited about reading anything else afterwards.

I started trying to read books that my mother left behind after she died. I put a call out to friends for reading suggestions. I briefly got sucked into a crime story by  David Baldacci, but it ended up being just too full of cliches and improbable plot structures that seemed destined for a made for TV movie.  Then along came my mother-in-law, “Eight Little Piggies,” and my serendipitous (and greatly overdue) discovery of Stephen J. Gould.

One of the essays in “Eight Little Piggies” is about Charles Walcott and his discovery, in 1909,  of the “Burgess Shale,”  one of the richest and most important fossil sites ever discovered. Gould’s writing about the Burgess Shale fossils and life during the  Cambrian period really caught my attention, and so, upon finishing “Eight Little Piggies,” I bought a copy of  “Wonderful Life,” which is devoted to the Burgess Shale discovery and which I’m now reading.  I keep getting distracted from important work to steal away and read more of this book!

…and it was in this book that I read just a little digression about Charles Walcott’s avocation of making panoramic photographs, which it’s the serendipitous discovery I’m talking about here.  To all the panorama fans out there, I recommend diverting to the link above to find out about Walcott’s photos.


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