supple rosy boa out of her sweatshirt pocket—prompting discussion of its vestigial,
clawlike hind legs and the biogeography of its giant kin. At Kelso Dunes we noticed how
the Persian rug hues of Mohave fringe-toed lizards match red and brown sand grains;
we tracked sidewinders to rodent burrows, then found them out crawling after dark and
contemplated the scene by moonlight. Later we cruised nearby roads for rattlesnakes,
less frequently finding a Baja California lyresnake or other prize.
For twenty years those courses were personal mileposts as I watched wild places
change lives. My students produced t-shirts declaring “Largest Herpetology Class in
the History of Western Civilization” and read 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save
the Earth. 6 I was mooned countless times, and we ate well. There were the occasion-
al sunburns and briefly lost undergrads; a woman dancing by the Eel broke an ankle,
and a three-car pileup near Kelso accentuated my medic-inspired paranoia for safety
(fortunately, no one was hurt badly). More memorably, though, by seeing forty species
of herps in places as different as redwood groves and dry lake beds, we thought more
deeply about organisms in nature. Back in 1979, a letter to Bill Pyburn began, “Survived
a year in the California fast lane, unjaded if not unscarred. If there were ever doubts
about preferring deserts this spring's teaching and fieldwork convinced me.”
First, though, I had to persuade the senior professors to let me join their ranks.
After six years most universities either promote assistant professors to associate with
tenure or fire them, and Berkeley's expectations were as high as the stakes were ob-
vious. At a luncheon for new arrivals the vice chancellor cheerfully advised us, “Three
things count here—research, research, and research.” That same semester M.V.Z. mam-
malogist Bill Lidicker wryly noted that my job entailed fifty percent curating, fifty per-
cent teaching, and fifty percent research,” and Bob Stebbins warned against bogging
down in education and conservation or soon I'd be doing neither. Promotion clearly
would depend on teaching well, getting grants, publishing in prestigious journals, and
garnering favorable evaluations from scientists all over the world. So the nagging worry
was, what to study next?
My dissertation distinguished ancestral shared traits, like serpentine constriction,
from those evolved independently, such as threat displays, and now I envisioned other
implications of that classical comparative approach. Darwin and Wallace invoked selec-
tion among individuals in populations, whereas their theory sought to explain historic-
ally fixed adaptations, like limbs and fangs, of entiretaxonomicgroups —but forty years
after Henry Fitch linked gartersnake diets with anatomy, 7 evolutionists still hadn't ex-
plored how to connect advantageous traits in modern populations to ancient legacies.
Ecologists also ignored history while attributing species diversity differences to re-
source availability and competition, despite, for instance, the obvious effects of long-
standing isolation on Australia's marsupial fauna. In short, “descent with modification”
had inspired my graduate work, and now I struggled with new questions in that vein.
Lizards helped sort it all out, even as my interests turned to their most successful limb-
less offshoot, the snakes.
That first spring Stebbins had taken me to his favorite teaching site, one I soon treas-
ured too. Rocky terrain predominates along Mohave slopes and washes, but at Pisgah it
spreads from a four-hundred-foot-tall volcano as ninety square miles of orange-smudged