Dedication and Confession – to Mr. Bob Gossack

I had the good fortune to have Mr. Gossack as both my freshman Earth Science and my senior Advanced Biology teacher at Anaconda High School.  He was definitely one of my favorite teachers.  This post is dedicated to Mr. Gossack.  This post is also a confession.

Mr. Gossack used a hands-on approach and focused on the geology, flora and fauna of Montana.  When learning about minerals and types of rocks, we studied, and were tested on, rocks from Mr. Gossack’s collection.   In Advanced Biology, we learned about the native flora of Montana — both identification of native plants and also if they had edible or medicinal uses.  We learned to identify birds by sight using Mr. Gossack’s stuffed specimen birds  — some in storage drawers and more hanging around and about the room (Mr. Gossack was also a taxidermist) and also by sound.  We learned to identify the skeletons of mammals using specimens.  We studied microscopic life that we collected ourselves.  We grew our own plant samples to study cellular structure and division.  All of our exams were lab tests.

For each unit of Advanced Biology, we had options for projects.  Without getting all of the points available for projects it was impossible to get an ‘A’ for the quarter.  I don’t remember all of the projects, but I do remember that for our first project period I made rosehip tea to fulfill the requirement to make something to consume from edible native flora.  For my second project, I stuffed a ring-necked pheasant specimen. For a bacteria culture project, I got in trouble, but still got full credit, when I  deliberately grew streptococcus swabbed from my own throat when I suspected I had strep (my culture confirmed it).  Apparently one isn’t supposed to grow cultures of infectious disease causing bacteria in a high school lab…

However, there was one project that I undertook for which I received full credit that was undeserved.  That project required that we set up a bird feeder in our yard, attract birds, photograph birds on the feeder, and identify the bird in the photo.  Well…  I failed.  I bought a feeder.  I filled it.  I hung it.  No birds came.  I know now that I bought the wrong kind of feeder, filled it with the wrong kind of food and hung it in the wrong place.  However, at the time I just knew that no birds were coming to my feeder and I concluded that it was just not possible to attract birds to a feeder on 4th Street in Anaconda, MT.  I wanted full credit.  So, I cheated.

My grandma owned and operated a flower shop at which I worked.  We had a pretty good selection of fake birds for using in permanent floral arrangements.   I took home a fake bird with a finch type beak, wired it to the feeder and took a photo in poor light so that a silhouette was all that came out in the photo.  I identified the bird as a house finch.

I never confessed my crime to Mr. Gossack.  By the time I was grown up he had passed away.

I now maintain several bird feeders and enjoy a great variety of birds at my feeders and very time I fill my feeders I think of Mr. Gossack.

Evening grosbeak and pine siskins
feeder birds

Red crossbills
IMG_0757 - edit

And last, but not least, house finch. Really. No more fake finches.
Birds March 23, 2009 (Dad k10) 082 - crop

As for that location on 4th street in Anaconda…  Well, Dad now maintains quite an array of feeders there.  Turns out one CAN attract birds (including house finches) to a feeder there if one uses the right feeders and the right food and hangs the feeders where birds can actually see them.

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