C. Leo Hitchcock
If you studied botany within the past 25 years, chances are one of your texts was C. Leo Hitchcock's "Flora of the Pacific Northwest."
It was spring of 1948, and, needing graduation credits, I signed up for Hitchcock's summer botany field trip. The purpose of this particular one was to study and collect plants in eastern Washington, Idaho and western Montana, circling north through the Canadian Rockies and back to Washington. Sounded like an adventure for an English major who needed University credits.
"Hitchy," as we called him, was an extremely energetic, rather gruff individual, who seemed determined to get one sample of every plant in the Northwest. These were placed on blotters, which were strapped together--the bulky plant presses.
Our group of about a dozen traveled over back roads in a big army truck, accompanied by a smaller panel truck. The army truck could be turned into a camp kitchen, with an awning that could also be used for protection at night. We enjoyed Hitchy's morning biscuits and ate trout caught in the river before breakfast.
Plant collecting was strenuous. One four-night pack trip took us 80 miles along the Continental Divide. The scenery was spectacular, the weather less so, with heavy rain and snow. On occasion Hitchy would suggest a game of bridge; a communal washtub filled with warm water soothed the aching feet of the players.
One memorable test was given while we all ran along a path high in the Canadian Rockies. Hitchy would pause, pick a plant and pass it along for our identification. I had to struggle to keep up, and by the time the plant reached my end of the line, it was more or less unidentifiable! And the final question? Hitchy pointed to a ridge several miles away. We were to name the trees on the skyline! (Larch grows at that elevation).
Among our adventures--losing our way on a cross-country pack trip east of Flathead Lake and a 24-hour bout of dysentery suffered by us all the day we crossed back into the U.S.
I returned home with an abiding interest in exploring western lands, 12 hours of "C," and respect for a truly great, if idiosyncratic educator! After 50 years I can still rattle off botanical names of Alpine plants.
M. M. Mahon
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