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problems shrink in the face of grandeur and diversity. “Sounds good to me” was his only
response, with a soft chuckle and perhaps a hint of irony. I was also curious how Henry
decided what to record, because since the 1930s he'd gathered data for which initially
there were no conceptual frameworks. In 1949 he'd outlined in Ecology, then as now
a highly respected journal, what to write down, but almost nothing as to why specific
details were valuable. 10 Optimal foraging theory had its debut only in 1966, 11 inspiring
behavioral ecologists to consider parameters that Henry began measuring thirty years
earlier with no theory whatsoever.
So I kept coming at him from different angles, hoping Virginia and Alice would jump
in with something definitive or nudge Henry for answers. Asked about favorite habitats,
he attributed a preference for deserts to the M.V.Z. Nevada trips, when he found excit-
ing reptiles and enjoyed the open views. Queried about favorite animals, he responded,
“Alligator lizards, copperheads, and gartersnakes, because of their interesting natur-
al histories.” By the end of the evening the best responses I could get for the deeper
questions were “my initial interest in zoology was innate” and “I began to write down
everything that interested me.”
Two years later, back on the Reservation, Henry was audibly winded as we crested
a limestone ridge, explaining without self-pity how he'd lost stamina but hoped to com-
plete one more field season. Otherwise the man seemed no different physically than on
my last visit, and at ninety-one his hair was light brown. He walked stooped and wore
brown, thin-soled work boots, khaki pants, a faded blue jacket over a Berkeley herpeto-
logy t-shirt, and a black baseball cap. Cotton snake bags, custom made by Virginia, hung
through his belt, in case we needed to bring anything back for note taking. He used a
walking stick with a nailhead protruding on the bottom to steady himself, turn over cov-
er items, and probe matted grass for pieces of tin he'd laid out to attract snakes. As our
conversation turned to current projects, Henry spoke with fatherly pride of a paper he'd
written with Alice, about changes in tree species diversity over the past fifty years. 12
Once prairie, the Reservation had lost a third of its fauna due to fire prevention, lack of
grazing, and forest encroachment. “On the bright side,” he added, “there are still bob-
cats as well as the occasional timber rattlesnake, even a black bear recently.” Back at
the house he showed me a good-sized cedar, planted many years ago as a tiny family
Christmas tree.
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