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Pecos River to the Pacific Ocean. 2 As youngsters, the Texas Hill Country and Trans-
Pecos were our havens from big-city classrooms, and we rejoiced in everything from
lichen-covered rocks and the dagger leaves of century plants to the smell of damp land
after a thunderstorm and breakfast in small-town cafes.
In those early years we shared an almost mystical fascination with certain species
whose unusual attributes intrigued us. Texas alligator lizards, for example, are peculi-
arly serpentine with flattened triangular heads, forked tongues, elongate bodies, short
legs, and long, prehensile tails; they are survivors of an ancient adaptive radiation that
includes Gila monsters, Komodo monitors, and snakes, as well as giant marine mosa-
saurs and other fossil reptiles. Denizens of moist rocky habitats, rarely basking in ex-
posed situations, alligator lizards proved difficult to find and at times hard to capture.
We'd spend countless hours searching, only to have one abruptly materialize and just
as quickly disappear under an immense boulder. Another would slither out of reach into
a tangle of vines and dead leaves. Occasionally we'd succeed and, squirming lizard in
hand, remark on its white and copper-brown bands, stare into the greenish eyes, and
laugh as powerful jaws clamped down on our fingers.3 3
Although Ben and I later loved teaching, we were mediocre students, too easily dis-
tracted by newfound independence, and our professional paths were indirect. He at-
tended Texas A&M University in bouts, interrupted by California surfing and work as a
Houston zookeeper, while I finished my degree and spent three years in the army. We'd
each published several papers, including one together on field observations of parental
care by alligator lizards, 4 and were admitted to graduate programs despite miserable
undergraduate records. His A&M master's thesis was on geographic variation in ban-
ded geckos, and his dissertation at North Texas State University was on life history evol-
ution in those lizards.
Ben was only modestly ambitious in the usual academic sense, preferring to see new
creatures and places or have dinner with friends than to squeeze in more hours of lab
time. Despite a heavy teaching load, he nonetheless authored some twenty herpetolo-
gical titles, the first at age seventeen; in a Natural History magazine essay Harvard's
Stephen Jay Gould praised a paper Ben had published in Science based on his doctoral
dissertation. 5 Thereafter he focused on metabolic aspects of unusual behavior, such as
aerobics of the aptly named “hatching frenzy” of baby sea turtles during their perilous
dash from nest to ocean, 6 and he was the first to measure the energy costs of limbless
locomotion in a reptile, the Baja California worm-lizard. 7 He was a tireless advocate for
the public understanding of research, winning over many a luncheon group with lec-
tures about how studying organisms, preferably in nature, helps solve environmental
and human health problems.
My friend taught briefly at A&M, then moved to Chapman University, a community-
oriented private school in California's Orange County, where he received numerous
awards and was promoted to professor shortly before his death. He was a famously
tough taskmaster, yet his student evaluations were the best I've ever seen for anyone,
anywhere. Ben wanted things done right and excelled at making young people think
hard about things they'd either never contemplated or grown up taking for granted.
He'd set jars of charcoal, salt, and water next to an inverted box on the lectern, then
explain that life is nothing more than chemistry, completely comprehensible in terms of
basic physical principles. After a few moments, while his class wondered what the hell
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