The Novitiate’s Odyssey

Episode 4: Mingling with organized humanity, specimen gathering and other forms of microscopy Zen

By G. Joseph Wilhelm
Florida Keys USA

Due to the odd nature of my sociability, it is not often I am given the opportunity to engage in unsupervised fraternal interaction with the cultured haut monde that so pervades this Conch Republic in which I reside (at most gatherings I attend, I immediately corner the host and advise them to be nice to me or I would stay). However, sometimes the stars do align and I was presented with just such a fortuitous circumstance as to allow myself the chance to occasion the Boondocks Pub, which is an easy saunter from my castle of about ten minutes along lightly trafficked back roads.

It was a Saturday morning and my lovely wife was leaving for Miami on a business-buying trip and would not be back until Sunday morning. She left me with a to-do list, an admonition to “Behave,” and “remember what happened last time.” After her departure I promptly rang up Chauncey and he indicated he would be glad to go “honky tonkin” that night. So in eager anticipation for an evening of mental stimulation I polished my best boots, accomplished the to-do list in record time and left myself a note to remove the laundry from the washer early Sunday.

At the agreed hour just before sunset, Chauncey arrived astride his Harley Davidson (his full name is Chauncey Tubbs and prefers the abbreviated moniker of “CT”) and once he had his steed properly stabled we commenced our soiree.

CT, bedecked in steel-toed shoes, shorts T-shirt, Bubba Gump fishing hat and I, festooned in boots, vest, Stetson, and carved African mahogany walking stick set about.

The pace was leisurely and we promptly began engaging in the night’s conversation about microscopy. I had previously shown him some pictures of crystallized beer viewed thru crossed polarization and he was eager to see what his homemade moonshine would look like in the hopes of achieving bragging rights that it not only tasted good but was pretty too. I conveyed that some glitches had arisen with getting my ZEUS microscope system (see Episode 3) on line. There were some clearance issues with the condenser to stage fit and the coarse focus would not rack down far enough to bring objects into view using JIS objectives. Solutions were on the horizon but for the present, we would have to satisfy ourselves with debate on what indigenous specimens, other than his bootleg concoction, would establish a collection of slides that was truly representative of the Florida Keys.

As we walked, I gestured to the wetland areas that would be excellent possibilities for local diatoms. I made the mistake of mentioning that some people would pay for samples from the Keys. Nothing lights up CT as much as the possibility of a moneymaking scheme (his current one is selling painted gravel as a landscaping item). He pointed and exclaimed “Yew mean people pay fer thet stuff?” I immediately had visions of him in a roadside stand on US-1 selling jars of muck and slime under a banner proclaiming “DIATOMS-Two fer a dollar. Git em while they last.” After assuring him it was probably not a viable monetary enterprise we continued on.

We spoke of beach sand as a possibility; many different types abound here. We passed myriad flora examples for consideration. CT suggested bird feathers, easily obtained from the local wildlife rescue centers, which I thought to be a grand idea as my home parrots had provided beautiful viewing under the Spencer Stereo-Scope. I indicated a mound of fire ants and the excellent whole mounts they would provide. I estimated several hundred unique slide specimens could easily be obtained within a short distance for the collection I envisioned.

“How d’ya make em? The slides I mean.” he inquired. I replied that I had no level of practical expertise as yet but I did want to develop the late Victorian elegantly papered and ringed techniques. This of course would require acquisition of period apparatus such as a ringing table, instruments, suitable apothecary and cabinet etc. (Oh joy and rapture! Another collection!), as well as a design or two to have my own paper printed. I will share that a little further on. I name-dropped a few of the famous slide preparation specialists I wished to emulate i.e. W.Watson, Charles Morgan Topping, Amos Topping, Wheeler, J. T. Norman and of course, Fred Enock. I wanted to create an amalgam of individual aspects of these and others for my slides; paper style from one, labeling style, ringing, and so on from others.

As we continued, our evening constitutional to the pub was extended somewhat due to my insistence on lingering to observe certain objects. Such as the medium sized Iguana slowly emerging from the bush by the road. He was bright green and about five feet from nose to tip of the tail. These odious creatures worked their way here from South America some time ago and are found everywhere now. CT claims to have seen them up to eight feet. A group of these beasties can and have devastated some of my wife’s very expensive landscaping jobs in short order. They carry salmonella bacteria in their mouths and have been officially declared a “pest” in Monroe County, which means they can be dispatched humanely by property owners. There are other nuisance critters that are plentiful here. Burmese pythons, released into the wild by irresponsible owners when they get too big are proliferating nicely. They have organized hunting parties to capture them in the Everglades and Keys. Nine were pulled from under the boardwalk at the Bahia Honda state park in one afternoon. The largest so far was found on Big Pine Key. It was an 18ft, 200 lb specimen lounging on the patio of a very distraught mobile home owner. There are also large nasty raccoons that when cornered prove more than a match for any animal twice their size. Rattlesnakes and alligators while not considered pests, round out the list of the more dangerous wildlife to avoid when walking about. All of this, coupled with my palaverous commentary on everything we perceived allowed the sun to set and the very short-lived twilight to expire before reaching our destination. We picked up the pace a bit and filled the remaining moments with a mutual pondering of the great mysteries of the universe; the meaning of life, Quantum Physics and whether or not it was actually possible to neatly fold fitted sheets.

Our destination finally achieved, we climbed the short stairway and entered the tiki hut structure. Upon our ingress thru the main portal, the assemblage therein greeted this dashing duo with an overwhelming display of ambivalence and we retired to a corner seat with a wall to our backs and a clear view of the door (force of habit from my years in the Virgin Islands).

After ordering, we resumed our discussion on specimen collecting while waiting for the usual impotent aqua vitae and bland comestibles that seem to be the standard for these excursionist-catering establishments. As our confabulation progressed, CT caught the eye of a young girl seated close by. She wore high heels, tight jeans, a leather bustier with spiked dog collar and stiff finned hairstyle that bore a striking resemblance to the posterior portion of a 1957 Chevrolet. With the prolific and prominent piercing ornamentation of her ears nose and lips I daresay she could have made a living as a fishing lure. Chauncey, obviously intrigued, gave her his broad country grin that exposed the conspicuous gap between his two front teeth and turned on the charm with a smooth rapid banter of “Hi, come here often? What’s yer sign? You ski? Luv yer nails. How d’ya like me so far? Yer hot.” Completely taken in by his beguiling blandishments, she accepted his invitation to join our table.

Having overheard part of our conversation, and curiosity evidently piqued, she inquired “What are you talking about?” I immediately launched what I believed to be an enthralling discourse on the Gordian facets of specimen collecting and slide preparation. Shortly thereafter the eyes of this young waif began to glaze over and I could see her enthusiasm waning. She slipped CT a piece of paper, whispered in his ear and left the table in obvious disappointment after learning that “flagellates” were not a medieval sect of masochistic monks with whips and “mounting rotifers” did not reference an attempt to ride some large breed of dog. Upon inquiry about the note and whispered message CT replied “ she wants me to call her sometime when I’m alone.”

The Boondocks activities for the evening were ramping up. The “Teeny Weenie hot dog eating contest” and live band set up were complete before we finished our repast. Observable declines in the ability of the patrons to exhibit ambulatory dexterity were appearing at this point. While the theory of mini black holes has yet to be validated, there was one individual who conclusively proved that extremely localized gravity storms were a reality. I then asked CT, a little too loudly, if he knew the difference between an Iguana and a Florida Keys tourist. To his negative response I replied, “One is an invasive, non-indigenous, environmentally destructive, disease carrying species with an infectious bite and the other is a reptile.” This and other vocal comments on what I viewed as the largely subaltern clientele came to the attention of the bouncer. The very fact that this pub had an employee dedicated to throwing out the riff-raff gives you an idea of the class of cortege they expect to entertain. (Not one of the finer five star establishments that have requested my departure has had a bouncer.) This Neanderthal approached our table and pointedly demanded I surrender my walking stick/cane as it could possibly be used as a weapon. “BALDERDASH young man” was my stern reply, quickly followed by a loud diatribe on denying a man with an infirmity his means of assistance. His polite reply was having an infirmity didn’t seem to be my problem.

At this juncture CT and I decided that a retreat back to my personal pub under my stilted domicile was the most reasonable course of action to conclude the evening. We set about once again on the homeward path. We reached the driveway to the TropicalBri’s Estate and as we proceeded past the “Private Property” sign at the foot of the drive and the “No Trespassing” sign a little further on and finally the “Beware of Dog!” warning at the main building I made sure they were all lit properly by their solar charged lights. I am rather zealous about my privacy you see. It’s not that I am inhospitable, my wife and I have hosted many celebratory events, pig roasts and music fests on our property. I simply abhor interruptions and unsolicited visitors. My better half did persuade me to remove the banner over the ground level entrance foyer that stated “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” It was just ”Not good form” she said. We entered and soon thereafter, after deciding we were not burglars or a threat to the property my silver Doberman, Gracie, came out of hiding for pets and coddling.

TropicalBri’s is the name of the property (Named after my wife, Bri Montgomery) and is carved from the surrounding dense foliage. My shops and pub occupy most of the area beneath the raised main structure. No neighbors for a thousand feet on the right almost the same on the left and none in back, very secure and private. No access except the palm lined driveway. It is here, sitting at the bar in this fortress of solitude that CT and I had our final microscopy specimen gathering exchange. I was determined to have the evening culminate with a solution to my vexing problem of acquiring an undamaged example of a local mosquito.

It was the Fred Enock slide shown below (Figs 1 and 2) that was my inspiration.

I have tried and tried but up to this point I have been frustrated in my attempt to capture a mosquito without the end result resembling a very bad train wreck. Mr. Enock’s specimen looks as if it were plucked in flight from the air directly to the slide. All of the delicate antennae, legs, proboscis etc. are perfectly intact. I would manage to mangle my specimens removing them from a mosquito net, a bug zapper would burn them, insecticides would bring them down but I could never find them after that, traps, sticky paper, all these techniques were unsatisfactory.

Undeterred and with dedicated chutzpah CT and I deliberated, researched, experimented until we were satisfactorily requited with the achievement of developing the soon-to-be-patented Wilhelm-Chauncey Mangle Free Method for Mosquito Collection or the WILCHAMAFMETFOMCOL system for short. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Exhausted but secure in the knowledge we had done a great service to science, I tossed the guest accommodation keys to CT and retired upstairs to rest before tomorrow's validation of the technique.


My wake up call was the sound of CT departing on his unmuffled conveyance at 7:30 Sunday morning. I grabbed my notes from the previous night to make sure they still made sense in the light of day. So far, so good. After two large helpings of caffeine I was ready to assemble all the necessary mosquito collection apparatus on the list.

Item#1) A shotgun. I chose a nice 1920s era Parker top break side-by-side 12 gauge with mule ear hammers and Damascus barrels.

Item#2) An approximately one gallon stoneware crock jug of moonshine with large 2 inch high letters spelling XXX on the side and a corn cob stopper. CT provided this and although the actual potency of the contents is irrelevant to our purposes here it is noteworthy to mention that CT’s brew is about 150 proof.

Item#3) A small table. There was one already in the gathering area, which was to be the ground level foyer.

Item#4) A roll of 36” wide white medium to heavy grade wrapping paper.

Item#5) A roll of duct tape.

Item#6) Hat with brim.

Item#7) Surgical gloves

Item#8) A 36” square of mosquito netting.

Item#9) One dozen (or more) specimen containers. I chose 6” test tubes with rubber stoppers

Item#10) A full can of OFF insect repellant.

Item#11) A 3” x 5” piece of typing paper.

I first, placed the table in the foyer against the East middle pillar. Then the jug is positioned on the table with the three X marks facing the gate. The Parker is leaned on the pillar next to the table. Then the white wrapping paper is placed on the floor, overlapping as necessary to cover an approximately 5ft by 5ft area. Secure with duct tape.

Wear clothing that completely covers the upper torso to the neck and the arms down to the wrist. The lower torso should be covered but the legs exposed between the knees and ankles. This is the bait. Drape the mosquito netting over brimmed hat, gather around the neck and secure with tape. Make sure your specimen containers are handy, (I have a safari hunters vest with twelve cartridge loops that were the perfect size for my test tubes and would offer immediate access during the specimen collecting session). Don the surgical gloves.

Now to harass some mosquitoes!

I ran along the East side of the house with a garden hose sprinkling the orchid garden and quickly retreated to the foyer. I didn’t have long to wait, the disturbed throng quickly gathered at the nearest shade, which was the foyer. I positioned myself in the center of the wrapping paper square, with the can of Off held waist high pointing down. The little beasties soon gathered around me , the netting and then my bare exposed shins and calves. As about twenty were swarming on my exposed extremities I let loose with a burst of the off and was immediately rewarded with the agonized screams of a dozen stricken individuals who were easily found writhing about in contrast on the wrapping paper. Grasping a test tube and removing the stopper I dropped to my knees and covered the still twitching specimen with the open end of the test tube and slid the 3” x 5’ typing paper underneath, upending the tube. Reinserting the stopper and thus capturing an alive and physically undamaged specimen. I was able to capture two more before the Off effects wore away and had to repeat the exercise. YES it was working!

I was in my third repetition of this scenario hollering “GOTCHA YOU LITTLE BLOOD SUCKING DEMON” when I noticed I had company.

There, peering over the gate to the foyer, were three young individuals, two male, one female. The two males were sporting ties and one was carrying a bible, I surmised they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Now realizing that my antics will occasionally present an irresistible curiosity or, as my lawyer puts it “an attractive nuisance” to the general public, my current state of dress (emerald green bathrobe terminating at the knees, pith helmet covered with mosquito netting, tan shooting vest with test tubes for cartridges, surgical gloves and rubber shoes) should not have given anyone who knows me pause. Given this group’s slack jaw expression after viewing the entire scene before them, there was obviously some quandary over exactly what approach to take with regards to my salvation. Being slightly miffed by their total disregard for the posted signage, and their attention being somewhat distracted by the sight of the Parker and moonshine in close proximity, I took advantage of their hesitation. With as much of a guttural snarl as I could muster, while at the same time stepping towards and reaching for the Parker, I loudly pronounced the monosyllable “GIT!!”

The desired flight response was achieved, and I was afforded the display of some very inventive physical gyrations in their attempt to remove themselves as quickly as possible from my line of sight. What fun! I watched them complete their hurly-burly scramble to the street and disappear from view. If I’d had known this was how entertaining some aspects of microscopy could be, I would have started this hobby much earlier.

Privacy restored, I resumed the collecting but was now beset by a dozen or more of the local small Anole lizards (See fig 3) having been attracted by and scavenging for the mosquitoes now thrashing about on the wrapping paper. They approached from all sides and it became a race to be first to get to the downed prey. Sort of a living mini version of Jurassic Park as it were. Over the next fifteen minutes I applied a rigorous repetitious regimen of waiting, spraying, dropping to the knees, shooing away Anole, covering and capturing. It worked! A dozen perfectly intact mosquitoes were now in the specimen tubes. I was hot, I was tired, I had a sense of accomplishment, I had satisfaction and ….. I had company.., again.

Fig 3 - The Anole lizard, a darling ubiquitous creature in the Keys. About three to five inches long. When captured and tapped on the nose they open their tiny mouth and will close it upon anything that is placed therein. Some of the local native girls will use them as live earrings. They hold on for quite some time until you pass something else they would rather be attached to.

Standing at my gate was Burt, a uniformed Monroe county Sheriff’s deputy. He had left his cruiser out on the road and silently walked the driveway. He was familiar to me from last month’s visitation so I greeted him with a cheery salutation of “Yo Burt, whazzup?”

“Mr. Wilhelm” he began formally. “I’ve received a report that you threatened some people with a firearm,” he said, indicating the Parker. “So please stand over there,” he pointed to the opposite wall “while I come inside and we talk.”

I complied with a slight bow and uttered “Entrez-vous m’sieur.” while realizing my cell phone with the speed dial connection to my lawyer was upstairs.

There are several ways to deal with authority in a case like this. Total denial was probably out of the question. Also, any pleonastically stated contentions in support of my innocence to this allegation such as “Do I look that foolish?” would be severely mitigated given my current attire. So I decided to keep my answers brief, concise and respectful. Our conversation went something like this:

“So, did you threaten anyone with that shotgun?” he asked.

I came to attention, clicked my rubber heels together and stated “Nein mein Herr!”

“Are you sure?”

“Ach mon, aye dinna tuch it!”

“Is it loaded?”

“Nyet comrade!”

“I’m just going to check it anyway.” He pronounced as he picked up the Parker.

“Yumpin’ yiminey, yah, shure you betcha!”

He paused and asked, “Are you mocking me Mr. Wilhelm?”

Raising my palms and eyes to the heavens I exclaimed, “Lordy Burt, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are making me speak in tongues,” then I lowered my gaze to the Deputy and asked “Er ye sartin t’was meself they be wailin’ about?”

Burt gave me a sidelong up and down look, then slowly nodded and said, “Yes, their ah, description was quite accurate.”

He opened the action on the Parker to reveal the welded metal plugs blocking the breeches of both barrels. Turning it over he looked into the muzzles and could see welded plugs also blocked them. This, combined with the fully adjustable comb and cheek piece and the barrels open under the adjustable forearm showed him this was just a gunsmith’s device to take a shooter’s personal measurements for a custom gunstock. The only way I could hurt someone with this contrivance was to hit them with it. Burt spoke into his radio to cancel the backup Deputy. He replaced the Parker, picked up the triple X jug, removed the stopper and took a sniff. His nose wrinkled, he grimaced and squinted as his eyes began to water.

“What the (explicative deleted) IS this?” he wheezed.

“Decanted Courvoisier Erte 3” I deadpanned.

“Yeah, my aunt’s fanny it is.”

Burt, at this point realizing I had broken no laws and my posted signs were ample warning that trespassers would be violated, took one more look around and asked, “What are you doing anyway?”

“Ketchin’ bugs.”

“What for?”

“To look at ‘em.”

Since no further elaboration was forthcoming on my part, this intrepid Deputy sighed and left shaking his head but not without one last turn to me with a wagging finger saying “You behave, remember what happened last time.” I watched his departure all the way out the palm lined drive and as he opened the door to his cruiser, my wife turned into the driveway. They spoke for a moment, probably exchanging mutual condolences on having to deal with me. I was in trouble now. I hadn’t removed yesterday’s laundry from the washer.


Since this specimen-gathering concept has now been proven (I’m sure this is how Fred Enock did it.), I offer its use free of charge to all. Please, there is no need to thank me, I insist. You may feel free to customize its application as you see fit. For instance, the shotgun and jug could probably be replaced to achieve the same result with say, a chainsaw and a half dozen empty Budweiser cans.

A few days later the parts I had ordered to complete the ZEUS had arrived. I bit the bullet and acquired a Zeiss circular, revolving stage, a set of six new aftermarket Plan Achromat lenses and a new aftermarket trinocular head. Hope to have a review of this setup by next month.

So another episode of my sedentary existence comes to a close. As always, comments, questions and advice from both of my fans are encouraged. I’ll leave you with CT’s last question to me, “If a man in the forest speaks and there is no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong?”


Joseph Wilhelm

Comments can be addressed to me.



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