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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Epitaph for a discarded book

Bound in orange buckram, my copy of Walter Dalquest's Mammals of Washington once belonged to the Port Angeles Public Library. 

The book went out of print in the 1950s or 60s, and the Librarian deemed it an irreplaceable reference, meaning it could no longer be checked out.

How often it was used is anyone's guess, but one reader scrawled a hand-written note to future readers, risking a fine and the librarian's scorn.

Eventually the book competed with more popular volumes for shelf space, and the librarian deaccessioned it and stamped DISCARD on the title page.

It became fair game for prowling used book dealers, and whoever bought it made a tidy profit.

You see, the codger paid $25 for this beat up copy of a discarded library book.

Some would consider it politically incorrect. It shows recently killed animals, describes trapping techniques, and lists pelt prices of bygone days.

But Mammals of Washington helped to set scientific standards for state mammal guides.

True, some scientific names have changed, and taxonomists have added several additional species of small mammals.

At least one charismatic mouse escaped treatment; the intrepid Dalquest apparently found the red tree vole too hard to find.

Mammals of Washington has detailed descriptions of geological history, climate and vegetation, life zones and ecology, and physiographic provinces, and it discusses the emigration of the state's mammal fauna from the Great Basin, the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountains.

Its distribution maps are based on specimen locations or verifiable records  -- the gold standard.

In 1936 Mammals of Washington was the dream of two young naturalists from the University of Washington's Zoology Department: Dalquest was a 19-year-old undergraduate, and the 30-year-old Victor Scheffer was completing his Ph. D.

They drew their inspiration from Vernon Bailey's Mammals and Life Zones of Oregon (1936),  and W. B. Davis's Recent Mammals of Idaho (1939).

A checklist of Washington's land mammals had been published in 1929, but Mammals of Washington was yet to be written.

The call of gainful employment soon lured Scheffer away from the project, but he continued to help the young Dalquest who toiled on with the dream.

In his memoir Adventures of a Zoologist, Scheffer noted that Dalquest the workhorse had "a charming disregard for tradition and rules".

He was also a multi-tasker.

He spent the next four years taking courses at the university, and in his free time collected mammals all over the state of Washington, a commendable achievement for a kid in his twenties.

More remarkable is that he also found time to court Miss Peggy Burgner.

And it never hurts to be on the good side of your girl friend's brother. Dalquest enlisted Robert Burgner to help him study shrew moles on the university campus.

Walter and Peggy married when the statewide field work was finished in 1940, but he was saddled with an overwhelming volume of data.

It was too much to turn into a thesis in a reasonable amount of time, so he whipped out his masters thesis on geographic variation in snowshoe hares.

Then came December 7, 1941. Dalquest's daughter Linda writes,
"..dad went down the next day to enlist in the Navy, but during his physical exam they detected a partial hearing loss in one ear . . . the doctors discovered some plant seeds in the ear – apparently similar to what we call foxtails in Texas – which he probably acquired while camping outdoors.  Apparently they had punctured the ear drum, and he was turned down by the Navy and ended up working in the shipyards during the war. 
Mammals of Washington was published 7 years later.

It contained enough scholarship for an advanced degree, and would have been the academic swan song of many other students.

Dalquest tackled two more faunal studies of similar scope in Mexico before getting his Ph D. for Mammals of the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi.  

Mammals of Washington contains some amusing lessons about field work, like, never reach into a burrow for a sprung trap . . . "A female long-tailed weasel promptly fastened its teeth into my forefinger and clung on, bulldog fashion, to be lifted into the air with the attached trap swinging".

He was a pro at finding shrews and moles, fished 9 Townsend moles from the bottom of a well near an old cabin in the woods. By identifying road killed moles he discovered differences in above ground activity between species. (Coast moles don't get the "Firestone press").

He was the first to discover a nest of the mystifying American shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibsii) -- of all places in a hollow stump above ground, and he corrected the anatomist A. Brazier Howell, who claimed that shrew moles can't assume the picket-post (=bipedal) posture.

He proved it with a photograph in a separate paper devoted to the biology of the species.

Dalquest's colleagues Norman Horner and Fred Stangl noted that the old Swede had the hard driving work ethic of early American naturalists . . . "his personal vertebrate catalog number exceeded 24,000, and 50% of those were mammalian skins—a level of collecting activity rivaled by very few". 

My discarded copy of Mammals of Washington is a labor of love and remains fine fodder for mammalogists.

The loss of the Port Angeles Public Library was the gain of a grinning old camera trap codger.  

[Many thanks to Drs Linda Schultz and Frederick Stangl for information about Dalquest.]


Bailey, V.  1936.  Mammals and Life Zones of Oregon.  North American Fauna 51:1-416.

Dalquest, W.W. and D.R. Orcutt. 1942. The biology of the Least Shrew Mole, Neurotrichus gibbsii minor. American Midland Naturalist,  27: 387-401.

Dalquest, W.W. 1952. Mammals of the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi. Louisiana State University Studies, Biological Sciences Series 1:1–229.

Davis, W. B. 1939.  Recent Mammals of Idaho. Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho. 400 pp.

HornerN. V. and  StanglF. B., Jr.,  2001.  Obituary. Walter Woelber Dalquest: 1917–2000.   Journal of Mammalogy, 82(2):604–612.

Scheffer, V.B. 1982. Adventures of a zoologist. Encore Editions.

Taylor, W.T. and W.T. Shaw. 1929.  Provisional list of the land mammals of the state of Washington. Occasional Papers Charles R. Conner Museum. No 2:1-32.


Rick said...

My Mother was a high school librarian, and I often received "discarded" books as birthday & Christmas gifts. I still treasure the 4 volume "Audel's Guide to Carpentry & Construction" that was under the tree 35 years ago!

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks Rick. A lot of library treasures become discards, that's for sure, and like you, I'm lucky to have a few.

joellenarnold said...

I love books, so I really appreciate this entry--love your research and insights and the book itself. Thanks, Codger!

JoEllen Arnold

Trailblazer said...

Great post, Codger! Discarded books are the impossible to resist by any bibliophile! :)

Some of my first scientific texts were obtained when I was an undergraduate as copies discarded by faculty (placed on a table in the hall with the sign "free" on them).

I still have some of them today!

Camera Trap Codger said...

I was a chronic book collector back in my working days. Figured this post would appeal to the likeminded.

Jacques Prescott said...

Another finely written piece about a truly dedicated field mammalogist. The picture of the cottonwood pole carved by a beaver is simply amazing! It shows the persistence of a starved beaver.

Biological Sciences said...

Walter Dalquest, "Doc" as we called him, was my Master's degree adviser. I was one of his last of many grad students. He was a remarkable man, to say the least!

Anonymous said...

Walt Dalquest had a reputation as an intrepid, fearless field man while he was at LSU. George Lowery got him to go to LSU to get his PhD, claiming that if Walt stayed at KU, Hall would have employed him as only a field collector. Dalquest’s behavioral and natural history information on various mammals was way ahead of its time. Walt published a nice account of his work along the Isthmus of Tehuantepec [The Tehuantepec jungle: A memoir]; I found the accounts quit nostalgic because I also worked in southern Mexico a few years after Dalquest.


cliff said...

Great history about my local area. Nice photo showing 2 otter, most likely a male on the left and a female on the right. Pacific county contains many of my elusive Mt. beaver and I might someday make a trip to the beach and set out a few cameras.