Cajal's Canopy of Trees
Dawn Hunter: living with Cajal
"For anyone who is a Cajalian, it is a personal journey. Cajal, this historical and monumental figure in neuroscience, can reach out and expose his humanity through his work, writings, and drawings in a simple, profound, and relatable manner. He accomplishes this by describing his painful childhood experiences, his self-deprecating humor regarding his ego, and the generosity he expressed to his students. When he is the most vulnerable is through his drawings. Despite the scientific intention – his beating heart, personal vulnerability, and passion of mind are communicated through his drawings' line quality. This ideographic expression is why so many of us recognize and perceive his drawings as art, and this quality is why his work continues to be discussed, emulated and admired. In his biography, Recuerdos de mi Vida, Cajal's first-person narrative makes one feel as though he is confiding exclusively in them over coffee at a cafe. He is transformed from the storyteller into the best friend of the favorite pupil. He springs alive into the present through his written words from the encapsulated past, becoming a privy partner in creative, intellectual, or objective quests. With humility and wisdom, like Siddhartha before him, he inspires the highest ideals of human capability in artistic expression and scientific research."
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As long as our brain is a mystery, the universe, the reflection of the structure of the brain will also be a mystery.
― Santiago Ramón y Cajal
"Some descendants of his disciples and family are fortunate individuals because they know him the best in many ways. Not as an ideal historical figure, but through those who were closest to Cajal. Their family and friends' real-life experiences interacting with him. Including stories that have been passed down through generations plus real "treasures," cherished, personal mementos from Cajal.
It was distressing when I arrived in Madrid at the Instituto Cajal to conduct my Fulbright research, to learn the Cajal family home in Atocha was being remodeled into condominiums. Cajal had a direct hand in the house's design and final construction thus, the renovation felt like a significant loss of historical significance. Seeking comfort, I conceived a project that entailed retracing Cajal's afternoon walks in Retiro Park, Atocha, and La Residencia de Estudiantes. On the weekends, with my daughter in tow, we would sit at the entrance of the Cajal home and draw the cityscape from that vantage point. My goal was to find sites and trees at places in existence when Cajal was alive and immerse myself. Through viewing the environments that are layered with the past intertwining with the present as much as possible, I sought to see through his perspective some of his day-to-day routines, thus creating my own momentos of Cajal."
~ Dawn Hunter, University of South Carolina