Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Terrible Loss: my friend Roger Higson is gone.

Got off the train last Friday, and decided to check my bird emails real quick, before getting into the car. Boy am I sorry I did that. There was an email from Howard King informing the Inland County Birding email list that Roger Higson had died the night before.

I want to write a flowing, articulate tribute to him, but I just keep shutting down, every time I start. For once, I'm at a loss for words.

Roger was an unrepentant Englishman. By that, I mean that he filtered the world through a post-colonial 1960s British worldview. On top of that, as a trained scientist educated in both astronomy and biology, he had the scientist's habit of addressing errors directly.

If he saw something that he disagreed with, he didn't pussyfoot around it--he just said what was on his mind. His motto should have been "Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead."

Every once in a while I would call him on the weekend, and engage him in an hour-long conversation in which we would ridicule The Birding Establishment.  We were of a like mind: we took pride in ourselves for getting locked out of the Birding Elite because of our big mouths.  It was a badge of honor that we both wore proudly.

There were times when I disagreed with him, but even then I understood why he believed what he was saying. He lived a hard life. Why somebody who grew up in a cold, damp, soggy country went to the opposite extreme of living in Hell on Earth (Blythe in July can be described in no other manner) where he taught science is unfathomable to me.

Why anybody would want to teach math or science in any American public school is a mystery to me. Before I met my wife--who is working towards her credential as a math teacher--I had begun the application process to get a teaching credential, and I said, "Forget about it!" I had a strong science background, with years of experience working in various branches of radiology, along with my personal passion for field biology (birds, herps, insects, marine organisms), so I felt that I would have made a good science teacher. Roger may have talked a lot of smack over the years on his blog about drooling students and their idiot parents, but he walked the walk. He stayed in the teaching profession in areas of agricultural, rural poverty. Even after getting stabbed by one of his students.

So, we had a cantankerous English immigrant teaching science to rural poor, Hispanic immigrants in the hottest part of the country. To add to his misery, he had to compete for his students' minds with religious fundamentalists who battled him over topics like evolution.

Recently, one hot summer evening--on the way home from a lightning quick trip to Southeast Arizona, where I had chased some bird--I got off the 10 and stopped at Roger's house in Blythe. I only wanted to say "hi" but wound up sitting for hours. The conversation start with birds and birding locations, but it soon went all over the place. It was the kind of conversation you can only have with a highly educated, well-traveled Renaissance man.

That's what saddens me the most: the fact that I won't be able to do that, again.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tom,
Although we traded e-mail a couple of times I never met Roger. Had hoped to remedy that this year. A lovely tribute.

Tori, Pasadena

Anonymous said...

I think you articulated your friendship and admiration well. I am sorry you lost such a good friend but grateful that you had the time to spend with him that you did.

Anonymous said...

Let's get some truth injected here. Roger was a mean and nasty drunk. As a teacher, he was terrible, and could not even spell!, then we question how our kids are failing? He was person who saw birds that didn't exist due to the wine bottle being in the way. He thought McCaskie was a greta friend, but McCaskie thought very little of this idiot. Roger never knew when to shut his mouth, and he ended up killing himself. Good ridence I say. No more of the bore, no more stupid messages from him, no more Roger the Village Drunk!

Mike S. said...

I am saddened to hear of Mr. Higson's passing. I grew up in Blythe and was briefly in Mr. Higson's 9th grade Earth science class before getting into a Biology class. I believe that was his first year at PVHS. I still remember him spelling out the name of the town he was from in England, something like 26 letters long. Mr. Higson definitely had a novel view on life and local/world events.

I read the Palo Verde Times's website, but I also frequented Roger's blog to get his take on things. You just couldn't beat his commentary on the plight of public schooling. Some of his other posts were hard to figure out; I enjoyed them nonetheless.

I'm not into birding much. However, after following his blog I find myself listening to their songs more closely and taking a second look at them when I go on hikes. I have great respect for Mr. Higson's devotion to brave the Sonoran Desert's inferno and report his sitings from the sewage plant, Hidden Beaches and various other outposts.

Thank you Mr. Higson for all your blogs and may you bird in eternity.

Chris Conard said...

Just learned of Roger's death, as I haven't been checking Inlandcountybirds too much lately. Have always enjoyed reading Roger's posts on the list and missed it when he left the list to blog. The hateful tone of one comment prompted me to add my two cents. Can't believe someone would be that humorless...among other things. I'm sorry, but Roger's comment about books with lots of pictures of the same gull labeled with different names, among other things he wrote, made me laugh out loud at the computer. Vintage Higson. His humor, reports from an area rarely covered by anyone else, and downright quirkiness will be missed.

Chris Conard
Sacramento

Anonymous said...

Higson was An Evil Man, who's dark side finally caught up with him. No tears will be shed here. His slanderious ways will not be missed, his borish humor was never wanted. Burn in Hell you son of a bitch.

And yes I know Miko

camissonia said...

Tom,
I'm sorry to see that 'Anonymous' is piling on his hate for Roger on your blog, too. So easy to do that when nobody knows who you are. I had to delete a similar comment on my own post about Roger because it was pretty offensive.

Anyways, you paid a really heartfelt tribute to a man that we all know was very far from perfect but who many of us enjoyed following for his unique, irascible point of view.