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"he is made one with nature"

John L. Tveten died yesterday. A renowned naturalist, he was the tour leader on my first Smithsonian Institution trip to Bryce, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in June of 1980 and on several subsequent wilderness trips I took with him in the early eighties. From the first, he brought out in me, and in so many, a love for the natural world, and I attribute my interest in nature and photography entirely to him. We stayed close friends over the years, and he continued to teach and encourage me and, by phone and mail and then e-mail, to share all the places he and his wife Gloria went to in the U.S. and around the world and all the workshops he led and lectures he gave. The books he wrote and inscribed for me have an honored place in my library. He led a full, rich life and had an enormous impact on thousands of people who were lucky enough to cross paths with him.

 

With great thanks and great love, I now dedicate my entire Flickr stream, past, present and future, to his memory.

 

The primary image was taken at Bryce, which was the first national park we went to on that first Smithsonian trip. You’ve seen an earlier iteration of this image on my stream before. More recently, you’ve also seen the orange tulip here on Flickr, but I’m reposting it because I sent an 8x8 framed print of it to John last week, and he told me on the phone that “it is the most gorgeous photo I have ever seen in my life.” Like any great teacher, his impulse, even as he lay dying, was to praise and encourage. Just imagine what those words mean to me, coming from my mentor and most dear friend just days before he passed away. It was going to be his 75th birthday present for October 16th, but he wasn’t destined to reach that three-quarters-of-a-century mark, so it turned out to be a thank-you gift for bringing the joys of nature into my life.

 

I don’t know if there will be a memorial service for John, but if there is, this is what I wrote:

“There are few who have inspired as many people as John did with his contagious joy in the natural world, the depth and breadth of his knowledge and his wonderful sense of humor and quick wit. Through sometimes gentle, sometimes enthusiastic encouragement, he made you want to learn more, take one more step, do just a little better. Just as he went down a new path in his own life when he switched from being a chemist for Esso to a man of the natural world, he changed the direction of many lives and delighted all he met while a museum lepidopterist, a wilderness tour and photo workshop leader, a watercolor and pen-and-ink artist, a five-star rated author of books for children and adults, a weekly “Nature Trails” columnist for the Houston Chronicle for more than two decades, a world-class photographer whose photos grace the pages of his own and others’ books, and an eloquent lecturer whose masterful slide show images elicited gasps of wonder, whether they were photos of landscapes or of birds, flowers, insects or mammals. We must thank his wife, friend and helpmate Gloria for sharing him with us. With grace and pluck, he survived serious illnesses, accidents and other afflictions over the years, but it was the accursed surprise of liver cancer that took him from us. Thankfully, mercifully, his passing was very peaceful. Loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, teacher, mentor, friend, traveler, naturalist, photographer, artist, author, lecturer, sports fan, joyful presence, John will be missed not just by his beloved family but by the thousands of people for whom he made a difference. I, myself, could not have asked for a more dear friend. His legacy will endure, and his memory will always be a blessing.”

 

One of my close friends from our first trip with John in June of 1980 is Debbie Cascarino, herself a notable nature photographer. When I told her last week that John was dying, she told me, “My wanting to learn about all of natural history came from him. I always thought, He not only knows, but loves what he knows. What joy it brings to him. He’s a happy man. What a nice thing to be a part of.

 

David L. Wagner, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut and a colleague of John, wrote when I told him about John’s passing, “I have lost three lepidopterological colleagues in the last month...I am deeply saddened by all this. John’s was the greatest loss to the greatest number. The world would have gained much if he could have been with us for another decade.”

 

I read this poem as part of my eulogy to my father when he died in October 1988. It is even more apt for John:

 

He is made one with Nature; there is heard

His voice in all her music, from the moan

Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;

He is a presence to be felt and known

In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,

Spreading itself where’er that Power may move

Which has withdrawn his being into its own;

Which wields the world with never wearied love,

Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.

~From “Adonais” (1821)

~an elegy on the death of John Keats

~Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

 

If any of you on Flickr ever had the good fortune to know John, I would welcome your thoughts and memories in the comments below.

  

EDIT:

John's obituary in the Houston Chronicle

 

Other tributes I'd like to share with you:

 

David Dauphin and Greg Lasley

 

Gary Clark

 

Texas A&M Press

  

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Taken on October 10, 2009