Thursday, August 8, 2013

Goodbye, Moderate Botanist

Our colleague and friend Helen McGranahan passed away last weekend ... while gardening.  We console ourselves -- “better to go quickly doing what we love, than to slowly waste away in some institution” -- but it’s hard not to feel terrible about it.  This was a neat person who was excited about life, interested in many cool things, and off on new adventures after a career in resource management with Federal agencies.  As Helen put it, she was “a recovering Tri-Fed Confirmed Wing-nut.”
Helen, Sparky and Beth monitor grassland utilization with a Robel pole.
This “lifelong plant enthusiast” spent her “formative years" and many more on her family’s farm in north central Oregon.  She moved to South Dakota in 2002, becoming a perennial seasonal botanist with Black Hills National Forest.  In 2011 and 2012, Helen was part of the Forest's contribution to my study of Black Hills montane grasslands.  With her background in range management, she provided expertise I lacked, common sense in general, and a wonderfully wacky sense of humor that meshed well with my own.  We worked hard and had a lot of fun.
Black Hills Montane Grassland Strike Force; Helen in white.  Photo by Dave Ode.
During the grassland project, I learned that Helen loved to write.  At that time she was with Suite 101, writing about cooking, gardening, juniper invasion, pollination, working dogs, wildflowers and more.  My Plants and Rocks blog was maturing, and we talked a lot about writing online.  About four months ago Helen switched to blogging, and The Moderate Botanist was born.

“Is there really such a thing as a moderate botanist?”  This is such a pertinent question here in America’s Heartland, where botanists, wildlife biologists and the like often are considered environmental whackos of the Far Left.  This can be intimidating.  Sometimes when folks ask me “what do you do for a living?” I think of Ray Steven’s wonderful Haircut Song and am tempted to give the same answer myself ... “I’m a logger.”

Helen astutely described our situation:
“In the current, deeply divided political climate it seems that people can easily be assigned to one of two major camps just because of what they do for a living.  Botanists, archaeologists, and wildlife biologists tend to get thrown into the wacko-liberal-terrorist-camp (a.k.a. blockers), while other natural resource professionals such as foresters, range cons, geologists, loggers, miners and others who make their livings from resource extraction are the sane, level-headed stewards of the land.  However, after a career in natural resource management I can attest that there are plenty of moderate botanists, archaeologists, and wildlife biologists in the world.  I am one of them.”
So am I.  Likewise, I share Helen’s message to all “screaming liberals and confirmed conservatives” --
“You're not only controlling the lives of moderates, but boring us stiff too!  Get your acts together before it's too late!”

You can read more about Helen in Frank Carroll’s tribute in the Rapid City Journal:  The Hills were her garden.
Cones of the monoecious ponderosa pine -- “Boys and Girls Co-habitating.”  Photo by Helen McGranahan.


  1. wonderful remembrance.. and yes "moderate" attitudes is what we need more for a dispassionate dialog and debate about the challenges of natural resource management..

    1. Thanks, Suvrat. I so agree! as would Helen.