Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
ural history for zoologists, which he remembered late in life as “the best course” he'd
ever taken. 10
M.V.Z. students in the 1930s knew of Darwin and Wallace, but their main intellectual
influence was Grinnell. Although the director regarded supervising them as an unre-
warding drain on his time, he nonetheless had a knack for bringing out their best schol-
arship. During Henry's first semester Grinnell met weekly with him and three others,
initially presenting them with recent Ph.D. Alden Miller's shrike monograph as an ex-
ample to which they should aspire. He introduced Miss Alexander as a special person,
and his claim that she put up ten mammal skins a day spurred students to work harder
(Grinnell himself averaged fourteen). In those early years only Henry studied reptiles,
but any sense of isolation was diminished by visits from such well-known herpetolo-
gists as Frank Blanchard and Howard Gloyd of the University of Michigan and Laurence
Klauber of San Diego Natural History Museum.
Grinnell was self-confident but shy and austere. He led by example of high expect-
ations and quality work and, although an excellent lecturer, suffered fools poorly. He
scarcely issued compliments. Students in vertebrate natural history wrote detailed field
notes, and Henry first began recording observations while assisting in that course. Out-
side of class, the director's style was Socratic. Graduate school's central task is original
scholarship, reported in a master's thesis or Ph.D. dissertation, and at first Henry as-
sumed he would be assigned a topic. Instead, one day the taciturn professor asked him
to draw up a list of potentially interesting projects. Grinnell responded to Henry's first
attempt with a question or two, and then told him to return in a week with the list nar-
rowed to the three that seemed the best of the lot, taking into account travel, funding,
and other practical aspects as well as scientific interest and prospects for success. Over
the course of a month he was further nudged to eliminate all but one. He settled on al-
ligator lizards.
The research entailed collecting specimens, examining stomach contents, taking
measurements, and counting scales, then analyzing data and writing up his findings.
Local travel was cheap and easy—Henry could catch a ferry across the bay to San Fran-
cisco, take the trolley south to a site near Daly City where northern alligator lizards
were common, and be back in Berkeley by nightfall. For more distant locales, travel ex-
penses were partly met by collecting gophers for Grinnell. The director sent him out
with lists of places from which series were to be obtained and paid him a dollar for each
specimen. One hundred and eighty-six trapped, skinned, and carefully documented bur-
rowing rodents financed his first car.
On field trips to northern California and Oregon Henry shipped preserved reptiles
back in tin containers and, as was customary, sent postcards relating his progress and
requesting supplies. On April 30, 1934, he asked staff researcher Jean Linsdale for “an-
other syringe, since my cracked one broke and slitting the abdomens of my specimens
is not satisfactory as the pattern on the skin between scales doesn't show. I am handi-
capped by cold and rainy weather so haven't filled a tank yet, but I have good series
of gartersnakes and other interesting things, including both kinds of kingsnakes.” Four
days later, Grinnell responded, “Dear Fitch: Linsdale has gone to Nevada. Under sep-
arate cover I am sending you a syringe from Ward Russell's room and it's up to you to
make peace with him when you get back! More gophers from the Grants Pass country
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