Respect those who went before

I am honored to provide a post written by Steve Bouffard. This was originally written as a comment to a previous post. I simply can not say enough good about Steve.

Your post and picture of Gattinger reminded me that in most Western cultures we don’t honor and respect our elders enough. We don’t value their accumulated knowledge and wisdom. I was educated to this fact in summer 1968. I worked for VT Fish & Game Dept. doing an inventory of VT wetlands. We had to identify riparian and wetland plants. This was a challenge for a college freshman who never had seen or heard of taxonomic keys, especially early in the summer when there were no reproductive structures on the plants. Our ace in the hole was Frank Conkling Seymour, curator of the Pringle Herbarium at the University of Vermont. He had to be in his 70’s, having completed and retired from a previous nonbiological career. I brought him 3 full plant presses. He rattled off genus, species, variety and authority faster than I could write them down. I was duly impressed, but what he did later that summer left me awestruck. We collected a pink water lily (Nymphaea sp) that we couldn’t identify to species. He took one look at it and pronounced it not native to VT. He pulled out a book and keyed it out. Pondering for only a moment he said the author was wrong. I was dumbfounded; at my level of knowledge and education, if it was in a book it must be true. I never met anyone who had the knowledge an self assuredness to proclaim a book wrong. He pulled out a second book. He said “this is interesting, this author disagrees with the first author; they’re both wrong”. Double WOW! He pulled out a third book and said “this author got it right”. The next summer he published “The Flora of Vermont” and “The Flora of New England”.  If that wasn’t enough, he was writing  keys for plants of Nicaragua from his annual collecting trips. A few years later he published a checklist to Nicaraguan plants. These quiet, unobtrusive men who contributed so much to biology deserve our profound respect.

One thought on “Respect those who went before

  1. Catherine Nelson

    My heart is warmed to read such high praise for my father, Frank C. Seymour. His first love was always botany. I knew all my life that he could rattle off the Latin name of any wild plant he found in New England. He often had to look up the (English) common name. He was indeed in his 70s; he turned 73 in 1968. His knowledge of wild plants, love for their study and amazing mind and body have always commanded my respect, and I love hearing someone else marvel at him. Thank you!

    Catherine Seymour Nelson


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