Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Simple Example of Photography and Scientific Endevor

The following article from The Tennessee Conservative is about Dr. Jesse Shaver, a noted Biologist and Photographer. The article isn't well written but interesting in that this man was a good example of determination and endeavor. It also shows how photography can enhance one's intellectual endeavors and bring to a satisfying conclusion a life time of effort and positively affect the lives of generations to come. Hope you enjoy it.

Jesse Shaver and the Ferns of Tennessee
by Nora Beck
(July/August 2010 Tennessee Conservationist)

In one of the lean years following the Great Depression, biology professor Jesse Shaver had a student who needed help. She had taken on a study of Tennessee ferns, but lived out of state and could not travel to Tennessee during the summer to work on the project. Dr. Shaver began taking photographs of the ferns in their natural habitats for her to study, using a heavy view camera that required a tripod and glass plate negatives. Before she finished her project, the young woman transferred to another school. But no matter - by then her mentor had a new skill set in photography and a new consuming interest. That unnamed student's decision added yet another dimension to Shaver's already multifaceted career and produced an enduring legacy, The Ferns of Tennessee.

The book would come out some 20 years later, following the official end of Shaver's long career at Nashville's George Peabody College for Teachers. Time and funding constraints dictated that he first publish the book's contents serially as articles in the Journal of the Tennessee Academy of Science, which he edited for 25 years. Working with occasional grant support, he traveled to every county in the state, and enlisted the aid of students, colleagues, friends and family for his botanizing work.

Meanwhile, he lectured to garden clubs and civic groups, helped students locate teaching positions, served as an officer or member in numerous professional associations, and published extensively on topics ranging from curriculum design to bird behavior. All of these activities were peripheral to his core teaching duties. Perseverance in the face of challenge had been a way of life since boyhood, and it served him well.

Jesse Shaver was born in 1888 and spent his earliest years in the Hemlock community on the southeast slope of Lookout Mountain, in what had once been the family's second home. His father's business ventures in nearby Chattanooga had failed, and the retreat became their livelihood. Their acreage in rural Walker County, Georgia, allowed them to develop a truck farm, and Jesse and his older siblings worked the land with their parents. "They had enough to eat", Jesse's daughter, Rosemary Thomasson, said, "but not much else." The local one-room school, open for three months of the year, inspired Jesse's quest for knowledge, and his surroundings fueled his interest in the natural world.

He was odd man out in his family; while older siblings went on to successful business careers, Jesse went to college and success of another sort. But first he had to get through high school.

Close to the time of his retirement, he related some of the work he did as a youngster: He assisted in prospecting for coal; then worked as "a woodsman in the timber business, peeling tanbark, getting out mine timbers, cross-ties, saw lags, and lumber." Finally, at age 17, he resumed formal education at Lookout Mountain School, eight miles from home by bicycle over dirt roads, or by mule when the roads got muddy. He was put in the sixth grade at first, but after a week was transferred to the seventh. In 1907, he transferred to Chattanooga's new Central High School, boarding with relatives and delivering afternoon newspapers to make expenses. In the summers he worked as a bicycle mechanic and a newspaper solicitor, and drove a huckster's wagon - a sort of horse drawn general store. And in 1911, he entered the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He was 22 years old.

He first majored in engineering but took zoology and horticulture classes, and by the next semester was on course for a degree in scientific agriculture since UT offered no biology major at the time. The yearbooks track a busy college career including the more obvious - participation as member and officer in the Agricultural Club, staff of the UT Farmer, the agriculture honorary fraternity, YMCA, the Philomathesian Literary Society and its debate team, the Phi Kappa Phi
academic honorary fraternity - and, though he didn't have a musical background, the UT marching band. He was in the band for a single year, but he led it - as drum major. A look at a yearbook picture explains: at six feet six inches tall, Jesse Shaver could be spotted across a football field, towering above the other marchers. To fund his studies and extracurricular activities, he worked a paper route his first two years, waited tables at his boarding house and served as student assistant in botany. Summers he sold books, collected newspaper subscriptions, and worked as a farm hand in tobacco and wheat and as a dairyman.

By his third year, Jesse had met Daisy. Petite and lovely, freshman, Daisy Rule, had grown up on a family farm near Concord; treasured nature, and knew all about hard work. For a time during her early years she had to row across the Tennessee River to get to reach her school; she later boarded with a family in Knoxville to complete high school. Socially shy but fun loving and well read, she especially liked her English and history courses and had plans to be a writer. But when Shaver graduated from UT in 1915, he was determined to take Daisy Rule with him to his next station in life, and his ardent courting prevailed.

By the end of September of 1915, the two were two weeks married and living in Nashville, where Jesse began his teaching career as a biology instructor at Peabody, at the sum of $1,200 a year. Children were born to them soon and often - by 1920 there were three, and three more came later. They lived in a series of rented houses, always close to the Peabody campus.

By 1921, Jesse had managed to earn a Master of Science degree at Vanderbilt; and in seven more years completed his Ph.D. in zoology at the University of Chicago. In the midst of his work and travel, time with his growing family was hard to come by.

Saturdays and Sunday afternoons were times for family field trips. As many as eight Shavers squeezed into the family car, some standing and some on laps, for drives to see places Jesse might take his students and collect specimens. Radnor Lake was a frequent destination; as were cedar glades and the more southerly reaches of the Cumberland Plateau.

On campus, Dr. Shaver garnered a reputation for leading more rigorous field trips that had students up at dawn for bird observations, out late to see constellations, and were just as likely to take them to wetlands and rivers and fields full of chiggers as the manicured walkways of Peabody. He believed in the nature could only be properly observed on its own terms, and was determined to convey that belief to the hundreds of students he taught. His classes were often so crowded that students had to be seated in the corridor - because regardless of the early hours he kept, his humor and desire to educate trumped the discomforts of following him around.

Four years or so into his work on
The Ferns of Tennessee, he withstood an injury that might have put a lesser man out of commission. While on an observation trip with a graduate student he fell down a steep embankment and broke a femur. But the fieldwork had been scheduled for two more days, and he was unwilling to cut it short. The 48-hour delay before he sought medical attention resulted in a limp that stayed with him for the rest of his days.

"It's like he was driven," his daughter, Rosemary Thomasson, said. "He just had to do it, whatever it was. He couldn't stand not to take the next step just because it hurt."

His daughters, Sylvia Hardaway and Thomasson, related that their stoic father also didn't talk a lot about his boyhood. He was a good archivist, so we do know several details of his early years. He was a man of his times, though, and kept his own counsel. But he established a family tradition that was both instructive and revealing.

Every year at Christmas, he would get the help of his children to assemble about 20 cardboard boxes, and into them parceled fresh fruit, raisins, figs and other food items. On Christmas morning, he would load the boxes and whatever children would fit in the car, and deliver the boxes to the families who aided his work by allowing him to come on their land to gather data and to collect specimens. The young Shavers had to wait in the car as he took the boxes into houses; their father didn't want the families to be resentful of his well-nourished, warmly-clad children. Rosemary remembered that he once returned to the car wearing a sober expression, shut the car door, and said, "They were lucky people - they had one chair." Jesse had not forgotten what it was like to have little.

He remembered early mentors by paying it forward. One of Rosemary's classmates, Conrad Jamison, was among the talented students who eagerly assisted Shaver by making drawings that graced the finished book product. Jamison had a paper route, as Shaver had, and Rosemary remembers that he seemed more like an adult than a youth. After his sophomore year at Peabody he joined the military, and lost his life in Europe (Jamison's full story appeared in the September/October 2004 issue of
The Tennessee Conservationist). "It broke his heart to lose Conrad," Rosemary remembers.

But Shaver continued his work, mentored many other students, and enlisted them and friends like bird watcher, Harry Monk, to go with him on long jaunts that took them across the state - and into mud holes that required help from a tow truck, and into places where they were run off because, Shaver surmised, they'd come too close to homemade corn squeezings. Collecting and photographing by day and cataloging by night, Shaver was accumulating the data that would become
The Ferns of Tennessee.

Rosemary Thomasson, Jesse and Daisy's third daughter, remembers "We all got used to seeing stacks and stacks of plant presses. They were made up of about 12 to 15 pieces of corrugated cardboard, about 12 inches by 18 inches, with the fern and other plants pressed between them. The stacks were about 12 inches high, and they were all tied together with string. They were two and three deep and they were everywhere." (Jesse Shaver's specimens now reside in herbaria from Wisconsin to Florida. But the bulk of his collection, by some counts well in excess of 10,000 in number, eventually became part of the Vanderbilt Herbarium. There, taxonomist Robert Kral inherited their stewardship (see
The Tennessee Conservationist issue from January/February 1999) and later supervised their move to a permanent home at the Botanical Research Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, where they still inform research today.)

As his years of research and teaching waxed on, the Shavers became empty-nesters and, at last, bought their first home. Jesse Shaver continued to write, teach, and lead field trips well into his sixties, and Daisy Shaver was finally able to go with him with no qualms about what might be happening to the children in her absence. But arthritis in Shaver's bad leg, and later Parkinson's Disease, began to take their toll. In 1953 he retired - at least officially - and continued the work that would culminate at last with the publication of
The Ferns of Tennessee.

Finally compiled in a single volume in 1954, the book met wide acclaim and enthusiastic reviews from leading lights of the fern world, including C.V. Morton of the Smithsonian Institution. His review in the American Fern journal called it "the most important book on United States Ferns to appear in recent years."

Helen Bullard, long-time Ozone resident and writer, borrowed a copy of
Ferns of Tennessee, and wrote in the June, 1964 issue of The Tennessee Conservationist that "Books can open doors and point out vistas hitherto unsuspected. As I studied this excellent and lovingly put together work on our ferns, much of my college botany found its way out from the recess of my memory, and I knew I was `hooked," Inspired by The Ferns of Tennessee, she went on to create a woodland garden that harbored more than 2,000 ferns of some 19 different species.

"I love the way he wrote," said fern expert Chris Spindel of Memphis. "He enlarged my vision." Like Helen Bullard, she was motivated to create a fern garden of her own.

In 1970 Dover Reprints published the book under the title
Ferns of the Eastern United States with Special Reference to Tennessee. Shaver's work stands today. Botanist Todd Crabtree of the Department of Environment and Conservation's Resource Management Division's Natural Heritage Inventory Program states that the Shaver book is the one where he finds the most detailed information on the ferns of the state. "We may know more about [fern population] distribution today, but for habit and description, The Ferns of Tennessee is still one of the best books I know of." His colleague Roger McCoy, who manages the inventory program, says that he, too, still considers the book the most relevant references for ferns.

Jesse Shaver described the Southern Maidenhair (Adiantum Capillus-Veneris L.) as "not very common in Tennessee" because of its restricted habitat - sometimes occurring on the walls of limestone sinkholes, clinging to wet limestone bluffs in or near the spray of waterfalls." As with all the other species he described for the book, he visited as many stands of the fern as he could find, incorporated drawings and photographs to illustrate every detail, created a separate bibliography for each species and created a map showing every county in which he located the fern. For the Southern Maidenhair, he identified two forms.

"The map shows the distribution of Adiantum Capillus-Veneris L. in Tennessee in so far as I have been able to determine it ... at the following stations: below Great Falls, Rock Island, Warren County, and also on the White County side of the Caney Fork River at Great Falls; spring and water trough, 1.3 miles north of the Sparta courthouse on the Monterey Road, White County..."

Fifty-six years later, the spring and water trough are still there, hard by the east side of the road, their waters draining underneath through a culvert to the Calfkiller River just across the highway. A careful look shows a few dried brown fronds of Southern Maidenhair Fern, and a few more, green, drenched in the water seeping from the steep hillside above.

An epilogue: Daisy outlived Jesse by 26 years. She continued to garden and enjoy the birds, and to carry on the conservation ethic she and Jesse had shared. Her daughter, Sylvia, relates that Daisy Shaver made the very first donation to the fund to protect Radnor Lake. Daisy and Jesse Shaver's shared headstone in Nashville's Mount Olivet Cemetery bears the engraved image of the Resurrection Fern.

(Nora Beck is the land conservation coordinator for the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation in Nashville.)

No comments:

Post a Comment