Local explorer travels the globe

By REBECCA SCHWAB

OBSERVER Staff Writer

Why put off until tomorrow an international backpacking trip across frozen terrain you can take today?

Dr. Jeffrey Strauser can never be accused of complacency. He is not content to sit idle in the house he built on the Lake Erie shore and let adventure and knowledge pass him by. He has made his life a quest for learning and new experiences – and those experiences often take him out of the United States, where he backpacks across harsh landscapes in order to study history, culture, and the natural sciences.

“I’m interested in everything,” Strauser says. “History, science, great civilizations: Egypt, China, Italy, New World civilizations, their cultures and religions, what they accomplished and why they lasted so long.”

It is hard to pinpoint exactly where and when Strauser’s passion for traveling began. He can recall his first trip – a long drive down to the Everglades in Florida with his brother and a friend in college – but he has been curious about the world around him his entire life. That curiosity, together with his determined work ethic, has led to Strauser’s current position as a biology professor at Jamestown Community College, and contributed to a varied career resume that boasts everything from public safety Lieutenant at SUNY Fredonia to laboratory manager for his in-laws’ food processing company to food science program developer for Empire State College. But even while working full-time jobs, training food processing employees, and earning his master’s and doctoral degrees, he always made time for his own personal research on the evolution of great civilizations.

Strauser explains that, according to his research, each great civilization started with a natural occurrence. Something happened to the physical landscape that made the area ideal for settlement, whether that geological event led to fertile soil for agriculture or advantageous trade opportunities. He calls his research “The Resume of the Human Species,” and, to date, he has visited 41 countries.

His first big trip brought him to China, where one of the world’s oldest civilizations flourished.

“I always have a reason for my travels,” Strauser explains. “I don’t just travel to travel. I chose China because of the age of the civilization, their longevity. They’ve accomplished so much – The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Terra Cotta Army. The history there is fascinating.”

In addition to China, some of the other notable locations Strauser has visited include the Galapagos Islands, Peru, Italy, Egypt, and Africa, as well as a few scientifically interesting stateside locations, like Alaska, Hawaii, and the Grand Canyon.

Strauser prepares extensively for each of his trips. For his recent trip to Antarctica, he read more than 30 books on the region three times each, outlining and highlighting important information until he committed it to memory. He watched a dozen documentaries. He makes sure he is an expert on all of a location’s information before he visits – that way, when he is there, he can concentrate on learning things that can only be known through the richness of personal experience. And when he returns from his trip, he enters into what he calls his “post-study,” putting together all of his information in organized notes. He also takes dozens of pictures on each trip, so he has visual documentation of all of his travels.

One of these pictures is an uncomfortably-close snapshot of an African elephant. It weighed six to seven tons, and Strauser and his travel group encountered it in Aboseli National Park. The elephant didn’t like the people and their safari vehicle getting so close – and he let them know it by chasing them.

“That was frightening,” Strauser recalls. “The elephant got closer and closer. His tusks were almost touching the back of our vehicle. We were going as fast as we could, and he was catching up. It was like the chase scene in ‘Jurassic Park’ with the T-Rex after the Jeep. We finally lost him, but it was a close call.”

His trip to East Africa was an especially memorable experience for Strauser. He was able to visit during the Great Migration, something that few humans get a chance to see up close.

“To live with a million and a half animals as they moved through the area and to watch their life and death struggles on a daily basis was fascinating,” Strauser says. “The immensity of it, the noise, you have no idea what it’s like to be in the middle of a million and a half animals. And almost any of them could kill you.”

But it’s not all excitement and danger and “roughing it” for Strauser. He and his wife Sally take relaxing cruises together in the Caribbean, and also visit Disney with their children and grandchildren. He alternates these family trips with his own solo international jaunts, which his wife never developed a taste for.

“I like to backpack and hike and camp,” Strauser explains. “And I’m doing research the whole time. I want to really experience the places I visit, and I think that’s how to do it.”

Although Strauser has been to and learned about so many places, he’s not even close to being finished with traveling. This summer he’ll visit California to see Yosemite and the Redwood Forest, and one of the things on his bucket list is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Basically, as long as there are places to visit and things to learn, Strauser will be on the move, camera and notebook in hand.

When asked if he was amassing all of this research to write a book, Strauser answered that it was a possibility; that is, if he ever stopped traveling long enough to put it together.

“Everytime I get back from a trip, I start planning the next trip,” Strauser laughs. “So I don’t know where the time would come from.”

Send comments on this story to rschwab@observertoday.com