A Reminiscence

By David Isle

Dr. Oswald helped me on many occasions and made several field trips with me to the Mendocino National Forest.

One of the most enjoyable fieldtrips with Dr. Oswald was when he joined Rhonda and me on 3 May 1997, the day before the 1997 Lassen Chapter CNPS Wildflower Show in Chico.  We drove out through the east end of the Fork Fire, down Spanish Ridge to cross Spanish Creek and Cache Creek at Hough Springs and then out around Indian Valley Reservoir and back to Stonyford.  Along the way we stopped to note and collect post-wildfire flowers for the wildflower show in Chico.  Dr. Oswald then returned to Chico and made neat identification labels for us to use with the specimens and we brought them to the Show and put them in a small display along with a map of the Fork Fire showing where the specimens had been collected.  During the Wildflower Show Rhonda and I stayed by the display and answered questions.  Rhonda and I met some really neat people during that event and it was a good experience.

Just a short distance away at the Wildflower Show, Dr. Oswald and Lowell Ahart staffed a table where they identified plant specimens that the public brought in to be identified.  They were the experts and it was a luxury to have them available to help with taxonomic questions.

Dr. Oswald was a good friend, a valuable advisor, and a priceless resource for northern California botanists, for me, and for this Forest.  I have a few nice slides of him that now are even more treasured.  I especially like the one that caught him on 3 July 1997 standing in the heavy shade of Oregon ash trees and peering through his hand lens at a sample of water howellia.  It is almost a profile silhouette shot, because of the heavy shade (and my lack of photographic compensation for it).  I also took a (more brightly illuminated) photo of him collecting a specimen of water howellia for the Chico State Herbarium.  From the look on his face you might be able to tell that he was not really sure whether I was capturing him for evidence or for fun!

Another photo of Dr. Oswald that I took up on Pinto Ridge captured one of his “happy moment” smiles, as he posed with Janel Johnson, my summer botanist, who had just spent the field season in 2000 inventorying and monitoring water howellia.  That morning we had looked at some aquatic plant specimens together in the Supervisor's Office in Willows and we had given Dr. Oswald some northern adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum pusillum) specimens to deliver to the Chico State University Herbarium.  Then we all drove with Janel over to the Eel River Ranger Station.  It was 20 September 2000 and Janel’s last field day that season, so we took her back by way of Pinto Ridge and then over the four wheel drive road that runs from Telephone Camp down to the Smith Camp Road by way of Cold Spring.  We made several floral check stops along the way and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

As I reminisce further back I recall another trip to Plaskett Meadows and Keller Lake with Dr. Oswald on 6 July 1994, when he introduced me to Ranger's Buttons (Sphenosciadium capitellatum) and the four-sepaled obtuse stellaria (Stellaria obtusa) hiding under a patch of mountain alder.  At Keller Lake he loved the floating sphagnum bog-lake and searched for hidden botanical treasures during our brief experience together on the floating mat of Sphagnum.

He called his printed keys and descriptions in Selected Plants of Northern California “his brain” and carried it in his field satchel where ever he went.  Often he would pause to pull it out and refer to it rather than give his best recollection when identifying specimens in the field.

Another one of those “typical” Dr. Oswald moments that I treasure occurred on 3 July 1997, while we were driving together to one of the best water howellia sites on the Forest.  I mentioned to him that there was a shoreline shrub growing at this site that I was not able to identify.  Dr. Oswald had never been to this site before, but he instantly responded “Oh, you mean Oemleria!”  Now I must explain that I had never seen this plant on the Mendocino National Forest before, and I had not even described it to him yet, and still he knew that it must be oso berry (Oemleria cerasiformis)!  Needless to say I was flabbergasted and duly impressed because he was absolutely right!!  When we arrived at that site and confirmed his identification I had him stand in front of the oso berry bush, so I could take a photo of him with it.  But when I paused a bit too long, getting my exposure just right, he quickly disappeared in search of more botanical treasures.  To this day kick myself for not taking that “perfect picture” a little faster.

Just after that, while we were peering down at a patch of water howellia, a western pond turtle surfaced in the middle of the thick patch of water howellia, and we turned and looked at each other in surprise!  I still had my camera around my neck, but again I missed the opportunity to photograph a Sensitive turtle in the middle of a Federally Listed Threatened aquatic plant, because when it saw us it quickly resubmerged!

Two winters ago, Rhonda and I met Dr. Oswald at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to do some bird watching.  He brought his beautiful telescope and we made a bird and plant list as we drove the loop around the refuge.  At the final stop he showed us an owl in a cottonwood snag right next to the road.  He had seen the owl on his previous trips there and always checked to see if it was still there.  Back at the parking lot, just before we departed, we took a “group photo” and then Dr. Oswald presented me with a CD-ROM copy of his “Selected Plants of Northern California.”  This honor was truly the icing on a perfect day together!