In The Tradition of...

The unabridged versions of the alumni stories featured in the Class Notes section of the Fall 2011 issue of Thacher magazine.
DOUG SMITH CdeP 1945
Sometime in 1944-45, Dick Dennes and I set off to climb Hinze Peak. Dick recorded the outing in a letter to his parents.  He enclosed this copy in a letter to me and Meredith dated 3/29/96. The other day Dick and I were on the phone together and I asked him if he would mind if I shared this letter with you.  Although my own recollection of the outing is dim, he still seems to recall it vividly.  I do recall that my horse, Whiz-bang, had far better footing coming down the hill in the dark than Dick did.  In fact, he (Dick) made better progress when he held on to Whiz-bang's tail and let the horse take the lead.
 
 
NICHOLAS CUNNINGHAM CdeP 1946
Though having grown up on an upstate farm, when I arrived at Casa de Piedra from New York in 1944, I'd never been on a horse. Pow Wow was also new to Thacher.
 
For me, Pow Wow was elegant, huge and intimidating. Nevertheless, he was friendly, gentle and seemed tolerant of my awkward handling. Approached from any angle, he was 100% calm and accepting.
 
I first found out about his hard mouth on the way to the "Pop Stand.” He loved to run and in the company of Tom Simons, also new to Thacher (and later my Harvard roommate), on "Texas", we got into a race. Pow Wow easily sped past Texas, who was old and bored. But when I tried to slow him down, he paid me no mind. I pulled and pulled: no response. Finally, I gave a desperate, violent jerk on the reins and he just sat down. Over I went across his bow, landing in the dirt several yards in front of the suddenly stationary horse. Mr Beck, our reigning Thacher horse guru explained to me later that Pow Wow was a cow pony, well trained and experienced in stopping suddenly, preparing himself for the steer on the other end of a taut rope secured to the saddle pummel. Pow Wow had taught me to prepare accordingly, or so it seemed.
 
Pow Wow had other lessons for me. The most dramatic example of his superior horse sense came one day on a long narrow trail along the steep side of a shale bank. We were alone and enjoying it. But there'd been rain and suddenly there was no more trail. I sat there pondering; I couldn't dismount on the upside without knocking Pow Wow into the ravine, and I wasn't about to try getting off on the downhill side. (What flashed across my mind was that story about the pack horse who took such a fall and, standing on four legs in the stream at the bottom, seemed to have miraculously survived…only to collapse with a broken back when the pack was removed.) Backing up for hundreds of yards seemed equally hazardous. Abruptly, Pow Wow took command, rearing up and executing a perfect 180-degree turn about over the void, with me hanging on...all so quickly that I had no chance to panic.
 
Ten years later, what Pow Wow taught me served me well. I was in the USPHS Indian Health Service and spent a year caring for the Hualapai, Yavapai, San Carlo Apache and Havasupai tribes. The latter ("people of the blue waters") lived in a Shangri La-like deep canyon adjacent to the Grand Canyon. There was no road and every two weeks I would pack up my medicines, drive to the southern rim and ride my gelding "Jim" down to the fertile valley below where the Havasupai tended their crops, when not upside punching cows or socializing. You could reach up and pick low-lying figs as you rode along.
 
For that year, I lived in my cow boots and considered myself quite a Westerner, but I wasn't fooling any of the locals. They teased me a lot and finally talked me into entering a rodeo in nearby Kingman, on route 66. They then told me that I needed practice and took me out on the range where they told me there was a horse trained to give me the requisite experience.
 
I was entered for bareback bronc, so they put a bucking rig on this rather benign looking critter and I climbed aboard. The horse was trained all right...but not to buck. The moment they let go of him, he took off like a shot, heading for a nearby bluff. On the other side was a down slope ending in a bog. The horse lit out down this slope and then did a "Pow Wow" sitting down and grinding to an abrupt stop right at the edge of the bog. Over I went, head over heels, landing upside down and waist deep in the  mud, to the cheers of the tribe who were gathered at the top of the slope.
 
At first I was mad, perhaps with a slice of PTSD mixed in from my first landing of that sort but, once again, I was unharmed and quickly joined my patients in this little initiation rite. (Later, I also learned from the inside about other ceremonies such as the healing powers of the sweat lodge and the mysteries of the Hopi snake and rain dances, but those and the rodeo are other stories).
 
Anyway, thanks to Thacher and Pow Wow, my year on the reservation went well and bestowed on me many blessings, including: a Havasupai goddaughter, an appreciation of life in the rural west, and a public health career based on the concept of caring for a defined target population of people in dire need due to rapid changes in their environment...a concept from which we all can and must learn today.
 
J. BROOKS CRAWFORD CdeP 1951 (needs graphic of chambered nautilus and/or rattle snake)
I recall that one of the first school assemblies of every year included:
1.    The wonderful poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Chambered Nautilus, which was a great metaphor for growing during one’s life.
2.    The discussion about rattlesnake bites and how to treat them. We were each issued a razor blade with which we were supposed to make a cut at each fang penetration and then suck out the venom with our mouths. This technique was, in retrospect, all wrong. (Much more damage could be created by cutting crucial nerves or tendons when this technique was used on a bite near the wrist or hand.) We did encounter rattlesnakes on our camping trips and one snake came into the algebra classroom and was waiting–for math instruction!–when the students arrived for class.
 
JOHN VAN NORTWICK CdeP 1951
I noted BROOKS CRAWFORDS' ’51 news in the last issue. That brought to mind a camping trip we took in the summer of 1951. This was not a trip into the Sespe or to The Channel Islands; it was to the wild rivers and lakes of Wisconsin by canoe. I think Brooks and I became friends because opposites attract. He was everything at Thacher that I was not. Later in life, I may have caught up a bit, but that is not important to this story. We used to hike up Twin Peaks, usually during school dance weekends, because neither of us had dates. On one of those trips, he became interested in hearing about canoe trips I took when I was at camp near Rhinelander, Wisc., some years earlier. This led to a grand plan to head to Illinois and Wisconsin that summer.
 
We borrowed camping supplies from the school, and I arranged the loan of a canoe from Camp Dearhorn. We hitched a ride east with Mr. Merritt (sic), a Thacher teacher who lived near my dad in Geneva, Illi.
 
After a few days in Geneva, my dad took us to Rhinelander where we picked up the canoe, then to Eagle River where we launched into a large calm flowage where Brooks could learn canoeing. He had never been in one before. After two days of practice, we figured we were ready to attempt the Wolf River, the fastest falling river in the state. We were a little optimistic.
 
At the flowage landing location, the plan was to catch the train down to Rhinelander, canoe and all. And that is what we did. Next was how to get from Rhinelander to our launch point on the Wolf. We managed that through the good graces of the ex-husband of a woman we met in the information kiosk in Rhinelander. However, that did exhaust our remaining funds.
 
We launched into the wild Wolf and soon found out we were in way over our heads, literally. What followed was a major upset in the rapids, a very wet night in the woods, squadrons of mosquitos, loss of all our supplies and gear and a canoe that now resembled the letter "U".  We finally found refuge in a tavern in the middle of the Menominie Indian Reservation. There were some kind and very drunk Indians who loaned us enough money to call my dad, and put us up in a shed. Their women fed us. My dad arrived the next day; we retrieved the canoe and took it back to Rhinelander to an auto body shop for straightening, and then carefully returned it to Camp Dearhorn. Then we were back to Geneva, where Brooks spent a day or two before boarding the Greyhound for San Francisco. I think he may have been a little disappointed in the overall outcome.
 
One final note: I was at a family reunion in Geneva last month. While there, I met my former stepsister, Hays Stone. Her mother had been married to my father back then for a while. Hays asked me about that cute guy, Brooks, that I brought back with me one summer so many years ago. I was sorry to tell her I had not spoken to Brooks in all these years, although I had followed his notable career.
 
 
STEWART WALTON CdeP 1964
 “Hey, look at this toad. I’m going to take a picture of it and put it in the yearbook. The Thacher Toads. What do you think? It’s better than the Cowboys.”
I’m both proud and embarrassed to say, that was the beginning of Thacher Toads. We were lying on the little bit of lawn in front of the Administration offices, on a Spring day in 1964, waiting for something that I can’t remember now. In fact, no one else even remembers the event (I asked around a couple of years ago), and I don’t recall who exactly was there with me. I think the group was all seniors, but I really don’t remember. I do recall that it was an unusually laid back group, and a warm day, but that lawn was definitely not a favorite place to hang out, so our minds were probably on whatever it was that brought us there. The toad’s appearance was such a fleeting event that, except for the photo in the yearbook, it would have been completely unremarkable. We actually harassed the poor animal quite a bit, putting him on a rock, on a wall, on the grass, and making him jump, but in the end he went his way, and we went ours. It didn’t seem worth remembering.
 
I didn’t expect the name to stick. It was just a way of poking fun at ourselves, and it was funny. I was the yearbook photographer, and I had to find a picture for the athletics page. The deadline was approaching, and none of my action shots worked. I was shooting with a 10 year-old Leica rangefinder and I really wasn’t that good even at my best, so I didn’t have any dramatic soccer or gymkhana shots.
Besides, I wanted something that didn’t highlight just one person or even just one sport. Along came the toad, and it looked like the perfect droll introduction to the aports section of El Arch. Terry Kelly must have liked it, as the Editor, and Bob Chesley, our faculty advisor, must have approved it also. So in it went.
A pensive toad on the lawn against a clear sky. Nothing to do with sports. Perfect.
Of course, self-deprecating school mascots soon became common (Banana Slugs and Anteaters in the UC system), but at the time, it was just a little off. Our class was a little off too, so maybe that explains it. The classes just ahead of us and immediately following us seemed to be cohesive, high-spirited, and well-led. We weren’t. We were serious for the most part, and not given to organized anything. President Kennedy’s death was still fresh, the cold war was real, and Time magazine had just run an article explaining the epithet ‘Nego’ to parents of depressed teenagers. Perhaps everyone feels that way when they’re 17, but speaking for myself, I often felt quite alone. Warm sunshine and friends evidently didn’t brighten me up enough to pass on the toad, but over the years, that day became a favorite memory. We had no idea of what that casual photo shoot with a hapless toad would turn into.
 
 
ERIC ANDERSON CdeP 1988
In early September, Eric organized and chaperoned an EDT with Thacher students. Afterwards, he sent the following report:
Here I just want to give you a brief rundown on the Sespe Trout Survey Trip. We had a spectacular time! Saturday, we hiked to Bear Creek where everyone got in the water and saw some fish (one in the 11" range–quite large when viewed underwater). In our optimism, we went to sleep in the open only to be gently awakened by heavy mist, giving us time to get our tarps and tents up before a solid rainstorm. After a cold snorkel survey in the morning on Bear Creek (water in the 11-12 degree C range) that left the students’ lips a little blue, we hiked to a camp near Willett Hot Springs. We endured several hours of rain while soaking in the tub there–not bad! It cleared up that night long enough for us to enjoy the electric blue of the full moon casting shadows under the alders.
 
The following day we went to Sespe Hot Springs and had yet another windy, cold, rainy night. We managed to snorkel one pool on the way there. The hot springs were nice in the rain. The next day we went to a camp below the Alder Creek confluence and, that night we had yet more rainfall! The following morning, the creek did not show signs of substantial rise, and the skies were clearing. We reached the West Fork area in the afternoon after an arduous day with many river crossings, but no mandatory swims. We were able to wade in belly-deep water with our packs above our heads. Above the West Fork, we snorkeled another pool. The next day (Thursday at this point), we did a snorkel survey of the pool at the confluence with the West Fork (470 feet long, quite a pool). Then we snorkeled and hiked to the waterfalls on the West Fork–a spot I didn't even know existed! In the afternoon we continued to Tar creek doing one more snorkel survey. Friday, we had a good hike out.
 
The students were great! They are all gifted athletes, and they seemed to enjoy tackling the various challenges of balance, endurance, and focus that the Gorge demanded of us all. There were many smiles during the week. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of  my co-leader, Matt Stoecker. In addition to possessing unsurpassed first-hand knowledge of local creeks (he has done more on-the-ground mapping of steelhead habitat than anyone else in Southern California, I think), he was also a remarkable role model for the students. At every moment on the trip he was energetic, kind, respectful, and unflappable, teaching all of us things along with way about outdoor skills and local ecology. His competence around flowing waters were a crucial asset in making sure we negotiated the gorge safely as, at 100 cfs, there was a good amount of water flowing through there. At numerous points he established himself between boulders in the river to help the students cross safely. I appreciated the extra security his assistance offered on several crossings.
 
I'm not sure I can describe how beneficial this week in the Sespe was for my soul.
Thank you so much for entrusting us with your students and giving us the opportunity to share the Sespe with them. Though the rain and cold kept us from spending as much time snorkeling as we wanted to, we did collect some data and gained some experience that will make the process more efficient in future years.  I hope that we can make a regular spring occurrence of this EDT and start to build up a nice baseline of data year after year. It was so nice for me to be back at the School and interacting with the students. 
 

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