Last week Joe Ford in his piece Big Fierce Animals mentioned how publishing The Last Resort and maintaining this blog have helped me reconnect with my extended family and with the families of the boys who visited the Salt River camp. The project also allowed me to reach out to my father’s former colleagues and students and their families. I have written numerous times about these happy consequences. (Branching Out is one example.)
This theme may be wearing thin for some of you, but I want to revisit it one more time. As an acknowledged introvert and occasional misanthrope, I can’t overstate the joy I have derived from the communications, the conversations, and the interactions that have occurred only because David Hoefer and I were able to put this peculiar little book into the hands of an unusual amalgamation of people.
So if you’ll indulge me, I want to share one more story about a truly serendipitous outcome of this project. A little over a year ago, someone I had known in my youth posted a comment on the blog entry For the Love of Books. That precipitated a robust friendship that has evolved into a mentoring relationship as I worked closely with him to finish the novel about my maternal grandfather. I have made several trips to his home in Minnesota to pore over the writing I was doing. During those trips, I also developed a close relationship with his mother, who is in a nursing home suffering from Parkinson’s related dementia, and with his cousins who assist with her care.
Tim and his extended family have become precious to me. Like so many of the other family members and friends I have connected with recently—in some way because of the publication of The Last Resort—they have enriched my life.
Last week I was in Minnesota working with Tim to finalize the novel. (OK, perhaps I was also there to attend the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball tournament.) In the midst of an incipient celebration of the book’s completion (since we were unable to celebrate the University of Kentucky’s appearance in the Final Four), we learned that Tim’s uncle—one of Tim’s mother’s most devoted visitors—had suffered a serious medical incident. We rushed to the hospital in a town about 45 minutes away and spent the next three days trying to help his immediate family through an emotionally wrenching crisis.
Tim’s uncle died without gaining consciousness. Throughout those three days, the most I could do was take care of two large dogs (so much like my Lucy) while the family members were preoccupied with the emergency. Nonetheless, the family folded me into its midst, allowing me to offer whatever sympathy and assistance I could. I was grateful to help in any small way. But I was overwhelmed by the love they were able to extend to me in the midst of their suffering.
My new extended family—my Minnesota family—has already given me more than I can put into words. I cherish their friendship. I wish them peace as they navigate the difficult days ahead. And I am reminded, again, of the unexpected benefits I have reaped from sharing my dad’s journal with readers near and far.
Joe Ford of Louisville, Ky., is a longtime friend of David Hoefer and Sallie Goodlett Showalter, co-editors of The Last Resort. If you would like to submit a blog post for Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
Recently, David Hoefer and another mutual friend, David Summerfield, invited me to join them on a fishing trip to the Cumberland River in South Central Kentucky. This has become an annual pilgrimage for the two Davids, a chance to haul in very large trout in the turbulent waters just below Wolf Creek Dam.
Reminded that the window of opportunity would soon open for the Pud Goodlett Memorial Fishing Tourney we proposed last summer, I took to scanning The Last Resort for all things fishing: species, methods, tackle, places.
I am constantly amazed at the detail Sallie and David brought to the book and to this blog, from fishing tackle to taxonomy to the political history of Salt River, not to mention Sallie’s amazing grasp of the connections between her own far-flung relatives and the other boys of The Last Resort.
As I browsed the Bibliography included in The Last Resort for fishing-related information, I ran across this entry: Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare: An Ecologist’s Perspective, by Paul Colinvaugh. It turns out that this is a fairly well-regarded collection of essays, as much for its accessibility for non-specialists as for its scholarly worthiness. In essence, it is about ecological niches.
But, for me, the content is not the attraction. It's the title: Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare.
I instantly added it to my mental collection of great titles, names, and places. In case you’re wondering, this collection also includes things like the most boring book ever, spied in the window of Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford, England: A History of Foreign Language Dictionaries. Then again, you probably weren’t really wondering.
The attraction of Colinvaugh’s title is actually imagining its opposite: What if big fierce animals were not rare? Isn’t that fun? You have to admit that crows, turtles, and squirrels were not exactly safe around the boys’ camp. So let’s start with fierce (cue Randall’s honey badger vid).
What if those crows had been of the sub-species corvus beakus horriblus, like the crows in Hitchcock’s The Birds? Envision the boys huddled in the cabin as the birds swarmed and cawed and screeched and pierced the wood with their large beaks. Don’t laugh. If it could happen in Bodega Bay, it could happen in Lawrenceburg.
Or the turtles, terrapin humongosoid. Imagine an entry in the journal about how JCG and Jody had to rescue Bobby Cole after a humongous turtle had latched on and was trying to pull him under.
You want big and fierce? What about the squirrels, squirrelsaurus rex? Big as a kangaroo, they might subsist on deer, stray dogs, and, well, go for it, Joe: terrapin humongosoids. Massive enough to shake the ground when they walked, these predators would chase the boys back to the cabin—JCG, Bobby, and Jody dropping fish offerings as they ran and then hiding inside the cabin's sturdy walls until the danger had passed.
Finally, let’s not forget the fish and predatarus toothus. I’m not suggesting that piranhas are actually in Salt River, though it is a fresh water species native to our hemisphere. I feel I would be remiss, however, not to point out that pythons have taken over the Everglades.
I’m sure Salt River has plenty of smallmouth and blue gill for the Davids, and I’m happy to compete in the tourney for bragging rights.
But I will say this: You go in first.
April 14, 2019
Joe Ford responds to Barbara Fallis' comment (see below).
Barbara, you are very perceptive to grasp our fishing prowess so quickly. As a matter of fact, we did catch fish so big they would not fit in a photo. But obviously that meant we could not publish a photo of it. Here is a pic of a slightly smaller fish but still so big that only his eye fit in the picture! Next time we’ll take a bigger camera.
I was going to mention this in the blog article, but I thought people would just think I was being absurd.
One of the unexpected joys (or terrors, depending on when you ask me) of having published The Last Resort has been the opportunity to talk about the book to various civic or environmental groups. On Tuesday, I spoke to nearly a hundred farmers and civic leaders in Paris, Ky., at the Bourbon County Conservation District’s 60th Annual Dinner Meeting. The food, prepared by a men’s group at the Church of the Annunciation, was outstanding and the crowd was friendly and welcoming. I was honored to donate a generous honorarium for my presentation to the Woods & Waters Land Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting forests and streams in the Lower Kentucky River watershed.
The theme for the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources’ annual essay and art contests, sponsored by the local conservation districts, was “Diggin’ It”: soil as the foundation of life. I had little trouble connecting that theme to my father’s love of the rural central Kentucky land and his collaborative research with soil scientists and geologists later in his career. A quote from one of his contemporaries, which was included in the event brochure, summed up the focus of the evening:
“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil…There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” –Charles E. Kellogg, third Chief of the USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry and Soils, 1938
A presentation last October before the Anderson County Historical Society led to another unexpected invitation: putting together an exhibit about my family history at the newly refurbished Anderson County History Museum. I spent a good deal of time this spring talking with family members and collecting photographs and other memorabilia for the display. It has been exciting to work on a project that connected my father’s side of the family—featured in The Last Resort—with my mother’s side of the family—featured in the novel (tentatively titled Next Train Out) that I’m about to wrap up.
In the photos below, the portraits on the wall are of George Dennis McWilliams Sr. (1893-1982) and Mary Marrs McWilliams (1894-1977), my great uncle and aunt.
The exhibit will be on display from April 2 through at least the end of the month. If you can find an excuse to travel to downtown Lawrenceburg, I hope you’ll stop by and take a look. We’ve left a notebook there for you to record your comments, insights, or any family stories of your own you’d like to share.
Anderson County History Museum
108 East Woodford Street
Lawrenceburg, KY 40324
The museum is inside the Tourism Office, just around the corner from Main St., in the old Carnegie library building (where my grandmother Nell Marrs Board worked for many years). It’s generally open weekdays during regular business hours, but you may want to call before you go. Kendall Clinton, the executive director of the Lawrenceburg/Anderson County tourism commission, may also be able to arrange a weekend visit, upon request.
Last month I received an unexpected email. I did not recognize the sender’s name, but the email address appeared to be associated with Harvard University. The message began:
“I am a tremendous admirer of the work of John Goodlett and had the wonderful experience of having heard stories from many of his close colleagues in Petersham over the 35 years that I have spent at the Harvard Forest. I greatly appreciated reading the journals and the wonderful tributes by Alan Strahler, Sherry Olsen, and Margaret Davis.”
I was stunned. Who was this gentleman who, more than 50 years after my father’s death, was still familiar with his work and appeared to recognize his colleagues and students from the 1960s?
The letter was signed David Foster, and I quickly searched for more information. I was pleased, and honored, to learn that he is the longtime director of Harvard Forest, located in Petersham, Mass., where my father began his career in plant geography in the 1950s.
Thus began a weeklong correspondence of wide-ranging subjects. I learned that Foster worked with and knew well several of my father’s colleagues at the Forest, including some I still remember fondly. I learned that he devoted some time to resurrecting my “father’s maps on oak distribution” and publishing “the map and overview of that classic and unrivaled study.” I learned that he is in the process of digitally archiving much of the Forest’s history and has come across photos and letters and other materials related to my father’s work. I learned, not surprisingly, that he is fascinated by first-person journals and has collected and written about several relating to the land around Harvard Forest and New England.
And I learned of another Kentuckian associated with Harvard Forest: Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (1841-1906), originally from Newport, Ky., a student of the controversial Louis Agassiz while at Harvard. Shaler later became, as Foster wrote, “the dean of the Lawrence School of Science at Harvard, one of the great minds to teach natural history and geology at the university, [and] the founding power behind the Harvard Forestry School and the Harvard Forest.” (For a more unsettling overview of Shaler’s changing philosophies, I cautiously refer you to the Wikipedia article.)
But, perhaps most interestingly, I also learned, after a copy of Foster’s 1999 book Thoreau’s Country arrived on my doorstep, that Foster, like my dad, built a cabin in the woods—his in northern Vermont—when he was a young man, and lived a solitary life there for several months. Foster had grown up in semi-rural Connecticut, in an area dotted by farms, which sounds very much like the area around Lawrenceburg where Pud roamed as a youngster. It seems to be a natural path, then, that both my dad and David Foster found their way to Harvard Forest to study and build a career.
I have since shared with Foster the complete journal my father kept while working at Harvard Forest. The current director of the Forest found my father’s descriptions of the politics and infighting among the ambitious scientists fascinating, enlightening, and, unfortunately, commonplace. In return for sharing that gem with him, he has promised to look for my dad’s paper on bourbon, which is currently reserved in the Harvard Botany Library—two floors below Foster’s Cambridge office.
Publishing The Last Resort continues to open new and surprising doors. I never imagined I would discover so many people who remember my father fondly and are willing to share their stories. It is even more astonishing to learn that the legacy he left behind as a scientist continues to inspire others in his field. What a journey this has been, finally piecing together a fragmented understanding of who my father was and what it means to be his daughter.
John Allen Moore would have turned 94 on March 20. This was the first year his family had to celebrate his birthday without him.
John Allen was my father’s first cousin and one of the boys who hung out with Pud at Camp Last Resort. The two were fast friends. John Allen’s remarkable memory of my father and of our shared family lore was a primary impetus for the publication of The Last Resort. I dedicated the book to him.
This week, my cousins Bob and Sandy Goodlett and I made what has become an annual trek to Atlanta to see our Moore cousins. By happy serendipity, our visit coincided with John Allen’s birthday. We were able to celebrate with his widow, Jane Chappell, and two of his four children, Deborah Costenbader, from Austin, and Cindy Caravas, from Virginia Beach. We also spent time with John Allen’s brother, Joe, and his wife, Jean.
Upon our return to Kentucky, we learned that another of the Last Resort boys, “Rinky” Routt, had died in February, soon after celebrating his 98th birthday. We were saddened to get that news and to recognize that not one of my father’s Salt River companions is left to tell their stories.
Our lives are cyclical, of course. We all walk the same inevitable path. But as I mourn those we have lost, I’m finding great joy in reaching out to others whose lives intersected theirs either tangentially or prominently. Getting to know John Allen’s children may promise as much joy as getting to know him late in his life. Reconnecting with my father’s friends, students, and colleagues—as well as my older cousins who knew him well—has augmented my understanding of him and of myself. My life is better because of these emerging relationships.
If you have questions about your own family history, I hope you will find the courage to ask questions of those who may have answers. You may be surprised at what you learn. Perhaps more consequentially, you may develop friendships that will continue to exhilarate you. Time is short. Don't wait.
Several individuals associated with The Last Resort have died since its publication in August 2017. I’d like to honor them here.
To those who are mentioned in the pages of The Last Resort:
And to those who patiently endured my questions about my father or his Lawrenceburg ties:
Parts of the country are buried in snow. We’re demoralized by rain.
Heavy, relentless rain. Cold rain. This past week we had two days of rain—occasionally with thunder--while the temperature stubbornly sat at 34 degrees. It has warmed now, but we’re back to steady, obstinate, pitiless rain.
Roads are closed. Dams are holding back record levels of water. Topsoil and grass have washed away. Leaves leftover from late fall are matted to the ground in dense carpets, never having been dry enough to rake. The deer in our neighborhood apparently have little to forage. They stare in my front windows, lean over the porch railing, pleading for corn. Young calves are dying in the fields, stuck in the mud, frozen in cruel temperatures that never quite dip low enough to offer firm footing but are certainly low enough to bring on hypothermia. Once picturesque horse farms are vast mud pits, reminding tourists that these postcard-perfect stretches of land are still farms, wrestled into their summer beauty through the brute force and determination of committed men and women laboring behind the scenes.
In 2018, we had 72 inches of rain, 160% of our average (45.21 inches). By December 1, it was already the wettest year on record. Then we had five more inches of rain before the year ended. In the first eight weeks of 2019, we have had 10 inches, almost double the average and on target for a year similar to last year.
Don’t tell me you don’t believe in climate change. Don’t tell me that, all across the country, we haven’t seen extreme weather that has altered our lives, damaged our economies, and endangered our future.
You may not agree with the specifics, or the vague generalities, summarized in the Green New Deal proposed by Democrats in the House and the Senate, but after years of inaction and denials, I give them credit for taking a bold first step. For at least trying to rivet our attention away from mopping basements, resodding lawns, digging cars out of snowbanks, fleeing wildfires and mudslides, standing in line for FEMA assistance, watching helplessly as the latest storm, the latest flood, the latest once-in-a-hundred-year event wipes out our homes, our businesses, our towns.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is planning to establish a 12-member Presidential Committee on Climate Security to refute recent reports that climate change poses clear risk to our safety and our economy. Science and data be damned.
Back in Kentucky, I woke up on Thursday morning and the rain had stopped. The sky was blue. The birds were singing.
I had no idea where I was.
We are so disoriented by these rapid changes in weather and climate—just as we are disoriented by new norms for civility and verbal expression and respect for our fellow man—that we have become numb to it all. Numb to the dangers. Numb to the costs. Numb to who we’re becoming.
And that perhaps poses the greatest threat of all.
I don’t believe I’ve ever truly had writer’s block. Sure, there have been many, many times when I’d rather do anything other than the hard work of writing. But, once I finally convince myself to sit down at the computer, once I have some inkling of a topic or a scene in mind, I can usually put words on the page with ease.
I suppose that makes me lucky. Or perhaps just a blowhard. My good fortune comes, I imagine, from the fact that I worked as a writer for many years under various sorts of deadlines. When your paycheck depends on it—or at least your professional reputation—you tend to find a way to deliver. For me, sitting down at the computer is a sign to get busy. The sooner I complete whatever ugly task is staring me in the face, the sooner I can get outside with the dog or tune back in to college basketball (at least this time of year).
Of course, I also know that getting the words on the page is just a start. The fun part, for me, comes after that. I enjoy playing with words, upending sentences, moving the parts of the puzzle around to see what happens. I like to get my writing so “tight,” as some editors call it, that my fiction writing mentor used to call it “airless.” That might be a good thing for a press release or a technical manual, but that’s evidently not a good thing for a novel.
So as I work on this book, I’ve had to learn to give the words room to breathe. I’ve had to give the characters time to fumble around with an idea or a thought. Their communication might not always be the most direct or the most efficient. It may well use more words—sometimes more colorful words—than the expression or the thought actually requires. That at times makes me very nervous. “Cut those unnecessary words!” I hear my invisible editor exclaim. “Make every word pull its weight. Murder your darlings!”
But I’m learning that that approach can make for rather dull reading if you’re trying to create an interesting character. It’s been a tough lesson for me. I’ll discover soon whether I’ve figured it out.
Meanwhile, I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. That means my brain has been turned to “writing mode” nearly 24 hours a day. Last night, for example, as I lay in bed, I mapped out chapters and wrote snippets of text from 1:30 until 5 a.m. I got up a couple of times and made a few notes. Now, after a couple of hours sleep, we’ll see how much I can capture and actually use.
That’s the disadvantage of finding writing a fairly easy endeavor. Once you turn on the spigot, it’s hard to turn it off. At the moment, though, I need my muse to keep working overtime. I have a deadline looming that I’m determined to make. That should keep me seated, focused, for a few more weeks to come.
By the time I was 14, I had read Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge Over the River Kwai, and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. I don’t think I was particularly precocious or drawn to novels about war. These books just happened to be in my family’s library, and something I can’t possibly recall prompted me to pull them from the shelf. I’m certain I was a little young to fully appreciate the books, and I need to reread them all.
But I can tell you that these fictional representations of two world wars both fascinated and repelled me. I was horrified by the realities and the inanities of war, and reading these books made me militantly anti-war at a very young age.
As I prepared to write my own novel, I had to dig into each of these wars in a little more depth. The primary character, based somewhere between loosely and explicitly on the grandfather I never knew, served in France during World War I and accepted a job as a civilian at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland during World War II.
I had already spent some time digging into WWII while David Hoefer and I were compiling The Last Resort. But, for the novel, I needed to know particulars, especially about the first few months of America’s involvement and how civilians responded to having the country engaged in yet another war.
WWI was much fuzzier for me, so I’ve done some reading over the past couple of years to catch up. I also had the good fortune of multiple visits to an expansive exhibit about the war, curated by Margaret Spratt, at the Hopewell Museum in Paris, Ky., in 2017. And today I attended a screening of the cinematic wizardry that is the film They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s montage of original film footage transformed by vast teams of immensely talented technicians and then overlaid with excerpts from BBC interviews with soldiers who served during the war. The result is a powerful immersion in the trench warfare experienced by tens of thousands of soldiers, many of them absurdly young. I came away wondering what I always do when I gain a clearer understanding of the brutality of war: how anyone survives intact.
I am by no means a scholar of these two wars. I do not have the depth or breadth of understanding of a curious high school student. But I have tried to grasp some kernel of truth about the sacrifices these men made and the moral lassitude that threatened their souls while fighting in a foreign land for reasons that weren’t always clear against men who in so many ways were just like them. If I have any hope of understanding my grandfather’s story, or my father’s story, I have to peer into that ugly maw, if only from the shelter of my comfortable armchair.
In mid-January, my husband, Rick, slipped on a muddy hillside while walking our dog and fell and broke his arm. It was a simple, clean break, only requiring a basic cast. But it radically—and immediately—altered the ebb and flow of his days.
Rather than spending eight to ten hours a day at work moving heavy boxes of auto parts, he has found himself rattling around the house getting reacquainted with the TV, the washer and dryer, and his computer. He can stay up until midnight, if he chooses, and wake up when he wants. He can ponder home projects we’ve delayed for years, even if we both know we’ll never get around to tackling them.
Some things haven’t changed. He and Lucy continue to take long walks, whether the temperature is 4 or 64. Tuesday nights he still joins the West Sixth Run Club, even if he’s walking rather than running. And, for those of you most concerned about whether he can still churn out hundreds of bourbon balls a week, fear not: he quickly adapted to one-arm candy-making.
He also hasn’t been homebound. Despite the fact that both of our cars have a manual transmission—requiring two hands or, in Rick’s case, one very busy right hand—Rick hasn’t let his temporary disability keep him from his usual gallivanting. One evening he may head to Lexington for a music or cultural event. The next evening he’ll see what’s shaking in Frankfort. If it’s a day ending in “y,” there’s a bourbon celebration somewhere in central Kentucky. And Rick will most likely be there.
As usual, he has taken this unexpected turn of events in stride. He prefers to think of it as “practicing retirement.”
Meanwhile, I have also been navigating a shift in perspective. At the end of 2018, I decided to dedicate the first few months of 2019 to the novel I’ve been working on, with various levels of commitment, for years. I’m close—really close—to finishing it. I’m newly enthusiastic about the work. And I’m trying my best to ignore as many distractions as possible and devote my time to that singular task.
To that end, I recently spent 10 days on a writing retreat in Minnesota under the hawkish eye of my newly minted writing coach, Tim Cooper. Together we scoured every word, every nuance, every historical fact in the first 20 chapters. He offered helpful criticism and much-needed encouragement. As a result, I have renewed confidence that I can get this thing done, and I have a clear plan to get there.
Transitioning from writing nonfiction—in this blog, in op-eds provoked by national events, in materials related to The Last Resort—to fiction has not been easy for me. I’m comfortable writing about factual events and people’s individual and collective responses to them. I feel much more inept at imagining characters and scenes and conflicts and, most importantly, effectively rendering the emotions inherent in each. It has taken some time, and a lot of classroom instruction and mentoring, to help me understand how to capture the human condition, essentially, in words on a page, with the goal of evoking an authentic response from the reader.
Rick may be comfortable behind the wheel of a car right now—reaching across the steering wheel for the turn signal, taking corners by alternately turning the wheel and shifting gears with the same hand—even if I’m not comfortable watching him do it. But I’m paying attention to him, trying to adopt his sanguine approach to an unexpected challenge. I think I can persevere. I hope the result will be a story worth reading.
David Hoefer, co-editor of The Last Resort, shares a story of taxonomic serendipity. If you would like to submit a blog post for Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
In a previous blog post, I discussed John Goodlett’s taxonomic activities at Camp Last Resort, where he identified and sketched living organisms (especially plants) as part of his undergraduate education at the University of Kentucky. Similar activities, recorded more scientifically in the Harvard Forest journal, indicate Pud’s gradual emergence as an upper-echelon botanist and plant geographer.
As such, it’s been a pleasure to read Corey Ford’s Where the Sea Breaks Its Back, a biography of the German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, with its demonstration of the vital and even heroic role taxonomy can play in helping us understand our planetary home. Steller accompanied Vitus Bering on his second and last expedition into the then-uncharted northern waters between Asia and North America in 1741-42. It was this expedition that finally confirmed that the landmass east of Siberia was in fact that same North America then being colonized by other European powers on the Atlantic Coast and by the Spanish in Central America and what is today the Southwestern U.S. and California. And what was the final piece of the puzzle that completed this realization? From Cape St. Elias on Kayak Island, Alaska:
“Perhaps no other naturalist in history ever accomplished so monumental a task under such difficulties and in so little time. It was four in the afternoon when Steller spread his specimens around him in the sand, and began to enter in his notebook the results of the previous six hours. When the yawl returned at five ‘o’ clock, he had completed his exhaustive report, the first scientific paper ever written on Alaskan natural history…
“Some plants in his collection were already familiar to him from his earlier investigations in Kamchatka. He identified the upland cranberry, the red and black whortleberry, and a shrub he called the scurvy berry, probably the black crowberry. He was more enthusiastic over ‘a new elsewhere unknown species of raspberry,’ the salmonberry of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Although the berries were not yet fully ripe, Steller was impressed by their ‘great size, shape, and delicious taste’…
“The yawl brought what Steller ironically described as ‘the patriotic and courteous reply’ to his message to Bering, a brusque order to ‘betake myself on board quickly or they would leave me ashore without waiting for me.’ There were only three more hours left until sunset, barely time to ‘scrape together as much as possible before fleeing the country.’ He sent [his Cossack assistant] Lepekhin to shoot some strange and unknown birds he had noticed, easily distinguished from the European and Siberian species by their particularly bright coloring, and he started down the beach in the opposite direction, returning at sundown with his botanical collection.
“Lepekhin had equally good luck. He ‘placed in my hands a single specimen, of which I remember to have seen a likeness painted in lively colors and described in the newest account of the birds of the Carolinas.’ Steller’s fantastic memory had recalled a hand-colored plate of the eastern American Blue Jay in Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida, etc., which he had seen years before in the library of the St. Petersburg Academy; and he identified Lepekhin’s find as its west coast cousin, known today as Cyanocitta stelleri, or Steller’s Jay. Now his last doubts about the land they had discovered were resolved. ‘This bird proved to me that we were really in America’” (Ford 1992/1966:80-2).
The price paid by the expeditionary force for this discovery was considerable. Beset with difficulties, many crew members perished on the way home, including Bering himself. Steller lived only a few short years after returning to Russia, but left behind his scientific writings, which eventually found their way into print. His current renown hung more than once by the slenderest of hairs.