Monday, October 19, 2009

A Family Newsletter

July 23, 1966
Bozeman, MT

Dear Friends,

I've reached the stage where I have so many friends it is hard to put aside time to write to each one of them often enough to keep our valued friendship in good repair (I'd hate to drift apart from any one of them). So I've come up with a scheme which I hope will enable me to correspond more regularly, and let each friend know just about how things are here with the Jonases.

I've decided to write a monthly newsletter to convey all general information, and then add a personal note at the end to each individual, so that you'll know I haven't put friendship on an automated and impersonal basis.

So~here begins Newsletter No. 1, of July 23, 1966. First, I'm pretty well involved in this business of doing research trying to prove myself worthy of receiving a Ph.D. I have been to the Teton National Park several times this summer, for stretches of several days at a time. I got a chance to observe the various wild flowers as they came into bloom, and to prospect for good fishing and mushroom hunting in various parts of this section of the Rockies. This year I saw several plants which I've been looking for for years; for instance, Indian Pipe (Monotropa), and broom rape (Orobanche). Out in the sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) we found a great many caterpillars, evidently the larva of the Io moth. I brought home a couple for pets, and they have doubled in size in three weeks, so they must be doing all right.

There is an area there where violet green swallows sit on rocks and branches, and one can easily observe the beautiful combination of colors on their backs. Those are some of the most gloriously-colored birds in existence. When I was leaving the area I have selected for camping (so I can be right in the midst of my study area), I ran upon the hugest bull bison I have ever seen. The heavy growth of long wool and hair on his front legs made him look much like a woolly-chapped cowboy of the Teddy Roosevelt era. He was a little grumpy, so I let him take his time about moving away, so I could take the road back to civilization. It was a treat to see the elk out feeding in the grass-sagebrush areas, even though it was quite a warm day, and was bright and sunny, at 5:00 p.m.

It was also a surprise to see the moose out feeding in the middle of the day. Two cows were "grazing" on the algae at the bottom of beaver ponds, and evidently enjoying it greatly. One was calfless, and appeared quiet plump, at least by normal moose standards, while the one with a calf was rather gaunt. The calf wasn't yet educated enough to know how to graze with his nose underwater, so hewas wandering around samping various leaves and twigs. Willow was quite acceptable to him, and it seemed that he enjoyed the taste of cattail leaves, too.

The moose seem to have definite preference for certain willows; just why is not known yet-there is a lot to be studied in that field. There are a great many species of willows, and even the best-known willow taxonomists make many mistakes. There must be a great deal of integradation between species, as there evidently is in cottonwoods, too. Nature doesn't have much regard for taxonomists.

My thesis will consider the various factors contributing to plant succession, trying to arrive at the reasons for cottonwoods being primary colonizers on gravel bars, a certain willow species on sand bars, and a different species on silt bars. And just how the building or washing out of beaver dams affects the communities of plants in that area. I'll have quite a challenge, gathering all the evidence available there, and then organizing it in such a manner that I can make some hypotheses which will stand up against the critical appraisal they will receive from the world's ecologists. It will be great fun anyway, even without allowing for the hours of incidental bird-watching, mushroom-gathering, an dfishing. I intend to get practically all my protein from trout and whitefish. I'll also try to get a bushel or so of suckers, for canning. We discovered that suckers have a very pleasant taste, at least as good as that of trout. The bones can be softened like canned salmon bones, by including 1 or Tablespoons vinegar per quart, and canning under pressure.

The fishing here near Bozeman has been good, with trout taking dry ot wet flies, or most anything else. A brown hackle peacock with red tail, fished wet or dry, did a find job for me the other night on Rocky Creeek, with trout (rainbow and brown) up to 11 inches being harvested. Ed Oswald, a fellow ecologists, and I caught 20 or more grayling, up to 11 or 12 inches, from Heather Lake, a rather high mountain lake at the end of a 4 1/2 mile climb. That was a fine sight, also, with a great flower bed extending for a couple miles, holding patches of marsh marigold and white buttercups, beautiful Dodecatheon (shooting star), heather, and other blooms. Then there were conies to watch, and hyalite opal to pick up, and white-crowned sparrows and finches to entertain us.

The kids are at least as entertaining as the fish and the other wild animals. Cherie took them to see the pigs the other night, and mentioned something about the "mama pig", then Jamie mentioned something about the "Jamie pig", and of course, there were "Kandy pigs" and "Kirby pigs", also. Kandy likes to see her daddy return each trip, and has to find me a prsent to show how she loves me. So she gets a pan and some wrapping paper, and fixes Daddy a love gift.

Kirby is Mr. Muscles, and has learned that he can climb, so now the period of extreme watchfulness begins all over again. He gets wildly enthused over cows and horses when he sees them close up. We want to take them to the Park to see the bears and other animals this fall, maybe sooner. We counted 7 adults and 3 young, the last time we came through.

On our last trip to the Tetons, we camped in the middle of the elk's night bedgrounds, and they woke us up frequently, either bugling or barking at the tent and car. Then some exceptionally talented coyotes favored us with a concert two different times. It was a very interesting night. And we went over Teton Pass in order to avoid the "bear jams" where strings of tourist cars are parked in the highway to watch and pohotograph bears. The east side of the pass islike a great flower garden. There are great patches of exceptionally robust fireweed (Epilobium Angustifolium), then extensive areas of bright scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja), and some fine specimens of mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis). It was a very worthwhile show.

I took time to go to the top of Signal Mt., where such a fine view of Jackson Hole is available, and was treated to a great musicale there, mainly furnished by hermit thrushes. Then a hummingbird put on a display of aerial acrobatics, rising 30 yards into the air, then dropping like a bullet almost tot he ground, then repeating, while its mate watched from the grand stand in a Douglas Fir. A snowshoe rabbit was trustful enough to hop around the mountaintop near me, feeding and people-watching for a while. Then a blue grouse male was displaying on top, too-according t on eornithologist, he does that about every year, or at least one grouse does.

Time for a study period again-have to memorize a general botany text, study more taxonomy, and review Spanish again, all in preparation for course work and comprehensive exams, which I am told are really a traumatic experience. So long.

Aug. 5 I'm back from the Tetons once more, and about swamped with tasks which should all be done imediately. I need to get the battery charged, perhaps fix the starter on the pickup, so we can sell it, since it is getting a little untrustworthy, and I don't have the time and the room it requires to work on old cars. We hope to get by with just one vehicle for a couple of years, and save the money we would otherwise spend on repairs taxes, antifreeze, etc. I can use a state car to traveling back and forth to the park, I guess.

My advisor and I have about decided that we need a rubber raft or a canoe to do the work most efficiently there in the park. I've been looking at several different types of plant communities there, namely, a silverberry, and a cottonwood, and a blue spruce, and various willow species, along with lodgepole pine, red osier dowgood, and some other species. I have to use the clues present, and look for other information, to make decisions as to just what is taking place, and how long it will take the blue spruce to replace the cottonwood, and the lodgepole to replace the aspen, and what will happen if beavers build new dams, or if present dams are wahed out, and so on. It's quite interesting to a naturalist like me, but it is a real challenge. Occasionally I feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of the problem, realizing that there is much that I need to know, and that I have just one more summer to come up with a proposition that will stand up under the close scrutiny and critical attitude of several experienced botanists and ecologists.

Anyway, I'm having fun and learning a little each day. I am working on Spanish every now and then, too. There is a good possibility that I can use it in the future. The South and Central american countries are interested in hring american scientists, especially if the American taxpayer will foot the bill.

The fishing is still good here, but I don't get to partake of it as often as I'd like. I stopped at the upper Gallatin and caught some plump, tasty cutthroat trout last Wednesday.

The kids have been making lots of demands on my time, so it has taken quite a while to type this section of the letter. I'm learning alittle more aobut using carbons, and also am getting used to typing, so maybe these newsletters will be more legible in the future. I guess I had better stop and read a little in the Spanish text. So long again.


I've been promising the kids we'd take them to Yellowstone Park, to see bears, Rangers, and geysters, so we finally broke away long enough to doit today. Kandy was disappointed in the Rangers. In the book her little neighbor has, it portrays Rangers as sharp-nosed men who run around talking to bears, and these real-life ones seemed a little too prosaic to her, I guess. They really enjoyed the bears, though. We saw one sow with 3 cubs, and that was a nice bonus. Then when we saw some geysers from a distance with the steam arising, Jamie wanted to know if the clouds had fallen down. They were impressed with the boiling water springs, also, and the boiling mud.

While waiting for kids to go to sleep, and for the mad pace in general to taper off, at Cherie's sister's house last night, I did a lot of reading in a book called "Word Power", which I assumed was some book on vocabulary building, but it really was about the effect which our conversation has on our lives, another slant, and a very effective one, on the power of positive thinking. It made me realize that of late I've been letting negative thinking and worry creep back into my life, so I can now go back to convincing my subconscious that the "impossible" things I'd like to do are just as possible as the other "impossible" things I found I could do, if I tried.


  1. Your father was such a good writer it seems like no matter what he writes it is so interesting. It takes me forever to write a paragraph and then I go back and change it a million times lol! I am wondering if you were born yet since you were not mentioned? Enjoyed the family newsletter your families trips to the park sound fabulous just like my kind of adventure! ~Blessings Heather :D

  2. Hi Heather~Isn't this an amazing letter? I wasn't born till '77, so there wasn't a "Marqueta pig" yet ;) !

  3. Holy cow! I mean I was born in '73. I must be subconsciously wishing I were younger! :)