Interviewing Mr. Thomsen: Save the Boundary Waters! (and the coral reefs)


Ella Li

Mr. Thomsen teaches his sophomore biology class about gene families.

Q: How long have you worked at MPA? What’s your favorite thing about working here?
A: I have been working here since 1991–it is my 31st year here. I enjoy teaching small class sizes that emphasize hands-on learning. The students and teachers are awesome. 

I also like being involved in the native plant garden area. 

Q: What have been some of the most fun moments during your career at MPA?
A: One year–two separate ducks made their nests in their courtyard–we were able to save them (and their ducklings). 

The antics the seniors get up to: How they change the school, their last day, homecoming. 

The Halloween parade. 

The Deep Portage trips. 

Q: You mentioned the garden earlier. What’s the most interesting plant you’ve seen growing there? 

A: One of my favorites, which originally, I didn’t know anything about, is the rattlesnake master. 

Originally, we planted it because it’s a really different looking plant with an interesting flower. It actually looks a little like aloe vera. 

An interesting story about the plant is how people believed the sap from the plant to neutralize the toxin of a rattlesnake bite. There is no evidence to support the theory but it’s still an interesting theory. 

Q: This is a little random but going off of the plants.  What’s your favorite tree?
A: In Minnesota,  it would be the white pine because it is the biggest and was one of the most important trees. There are a couple growing on campus. 

In the world, it would be the giant sequoia just because of how big they are. Their trunks can get to be as big as 36 feet wide–it’s difficult to imagine– those trees on the coast are impressive and hard to believe they’re real. 

Q: Are there any specific aspects of the environment you consider yourself to be an activist of?
A: Yes, the Boundary Waters canoe area. 

I knew some of the people that were active in forming it. Including Sigurd Olson and Dorothy Molter–I knew them going back to the 1970s. It’s been since then I’ve been active in supporting there and making sure we do what’s needed to continue the survival of the area. 

I am also really into coral reefs. 

I’ve done quite a bit of snorkeling around the coast of Florida. Actually, this spring I was in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I am active in supporting people who research and regrow coral so it can adapt to changing ocean conditions. 

Q: Are there any interesting plants or animals you’ve seen in the coral reefs? 

A: One of the interesting things about the reefs is that as I look around, there aren’t really rocks. Everything’s alive. 

Some of the interesting animals I’ve seen in the reefs have been the elk, staghorn, and brain corals. 

There was also a time I saw a scorpionfish which are difficult to see and very poisonous. 

One of the most interesting animals I’ve seen were a couple of reef squid. Originally, I thought they were fish but when they turned to face me, they got surprised and turned different colors. They started out black but had sort of shimmery lights, were blue, yellow, and a bit white. 

Q: Returning to the boundary waters,  is there anything you recommend for people traveling there to do? 


A: Don’t go too hard on yourself. For example, on Seagull Lake, there are about 30 campsites and it’s perfectly fine to limit yourself to a few of the inlets there. 

Q: Do you have any pets? 

A: I have a male German shepherd named Cody. He’s purebred and weights about 80 pounds. He’s the family dog and protector. He’s a good dog and very smart. 

He does this thing when you throw a tennis ball for him where he brings it back to you but if you try to grab it, he jerks it away and wants to play chase. He also pushes his ball down the steps when he wants to play. 

Not all German sheperds like the water but he does; we bring him to the rivers in St. Paul and let him swim after a thrown stick in the water. 

Q: Is there anything that hasn’t been asked that you would like to add? 

A: I have an eclectic taste in music and collect different kinds.
I’m a big fan of Dairy Queen; I enjoy a large shake or vanilla cone. 

If I’m traveling, I have an interest in two different cabins. One in Montana and one in Minnesota. And If I have a long drive,  I can go awhile with only a chocolate shake and a bag of Doritos (nacho cheese flavor).