George Bowyer Rossbach

(26 October 1912 – 24 January 2002)1

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) has cataloged about 550 vascular plant specimens and 7 lichen specimens collected by George B. Rossbach. No doubt many more specimens collected by him will be found as we continue to catalog our collections.

Though Rossbach collected worldwide, most specimens curated by NCU are from Maine (Knox and Waldo Counties in particular) and West Virginia.

San Francisco Wallflower (Erysimum franciscanum) was described by George B. Rossbach. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.

George Bowyer Rossbach was born 26 October 1912 in Belfast, Maine.1   After earning a B. S. from Harvard University in 1933 he earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1940 and 1941 respectively.  Rossbach did his graduate work on Erysimum (Brassicaceae) and described several  taxaErysimum franciscanum Rossbach is endemic to California, and the holotype (Rossbach #837, San Mateo County, California) is in the Dudley Herbarium (DS) of the California Academy of Sciences.  Ruth Peabody Rossbach, George’s first wife, was a contributing force in his successful Stanford graduate work. She studied Botany with Prof. Fernald when she was at Radcliff College in Cambridge, Massachusetts and illustrated many of the Grass Family in Gray’s Manual of Botany, 8th Edition.

Rossbach’s eldest daughter, Anne Rossbach Lep, says, “I am now 81 years of age and remember quite well accompanying him on many of his collecting trips in Maine. Most memorable was hitching rides on lobster boats to offshore islands.”1

The George B. Rossbach Herbarium of West Virginia Wesleyan College was named in his honor.


George Bowyer Rossbach

Katharine B. Gregg
Professor of Biology, West Virginia Wesleyan College

One of West Virginia’s finest botanists, George Bowyer Rossbach, passed away on January 24, 2002, at the age of 91. He joined the faculty of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon, West Virginia in 1949 with a B.S. degree from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

George B. Rossbach, 1970. Image courtesy of Rochelle Long, Director of College Communications, West Virginia Wesleyan College

He was the typical biologist of his era, able to teach almost anything from comparative anatomy to plant systematics. But his first love was collecting and identifying plants. Although most of his specimens were from West Virginia and Maine, he collected from all around the globe — from Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Galapagos, the Bahamas, the Carolinas, even Labrador as recently as the summer of 2000! Housing over 30,000 specimens, including many swaps with other herbaria, Wesleyan’s herbarium, listed in the international registry of herbaria, was named in his honor the George B. Rossbach Herbarium. George typically collected three plants per collection, keeping one at Wesleyan (WVW) and sending others to the herbaria of West Virginia University, the University of Maine at Orono, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or to the Royal Herbarium of Canada in Ottawa.

George taught at Wesleyan until his retirement in 1977. After spending several years of his retirement in Camden, Maine, he returned to Buckhannon for his remaining years where he continued collecting plants and leading field trips and ate his meals with students in the campus dining hall. Always ready to go on a field trip anywhere, anytime, he cared deeply about conservation of West Virginia’s special places and contributed in an invaluable way to our knowledge of West Virginia’s flora. He will be greatly missed.



The following is a transcription Rossbach’s article about canoeing the Thelon River in Canada in 1965. THE BEAVER, MAGAZINE OF THE NORTH was published quarterly by the Hudson’s Bay Company in Winnipeg Canada. The article contains many photographs (captions listed at the end of the transcription).

Rossbach, George B. (1966) By canoe down Thelon River. The Beaver (Autumn 1966): 4-13.

Northern Canada offers many choices of alluring adventures by canoe. I had hoped long, and finally planned. I chose the Thelon in the Northwest Territories for a trip in the summer of 1965. Though the Thelon flows generally eastward, it presents an ecological effect of going north. An eastward outlying strip of spruce woods lines its upper banks above Beverly Lake, and below here there is only tundra. This change eastward favoured my interest in taxonomic and geographical botany. On the other hand, the barrens and spruce forest are rather simple to behold and to get used to, yet in their simplicity they have a unique beauty. Of all rivers, the Thelon has as good a representation of larger animals as any and better than most: migrating herds of caribou, muskoxen in the Thelon sanctuary, wolves, and up-river, the barrenground grizzly. Some Eskimos still hunt caribou along its big lakes. The fishing is largely excellent. There are some good rapids, yet too few to be a major threat to life or progress even if one’s canoe is loaded, as it will be if a botanist or a photographer travels far, carrying food and shelter.

We traveled probably over 400 miles in two 17-foot Grumman aluminum canoes rented at Yellowknife by arrangement with the Hudson’s Bay Company in Winnipeg. We paddled most of the way, but used on three-h.p. motor, towing the second canoe, on parts of the big lakes. This worked out well, but a shoulder-wrenching labour befell the steersman in the stern of the second canoe. My company was Henry Briggs, naturalist, photographer, canoeist, and good cook from Maine; Wayne Dunbar, Maine guide and canoeist; William Meier, from New Hampshire, and also Lady, Henry’s fourteen-year-old collie dog. I baled big bundles of botanical hay in an area little collected to date; Henry made movies of wildlife, plants, scenery, Indians, Eskimos, and so on.

We drove from Maine to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where we took a train to Edmonton, Alberta, then flew north to Yellowknife on the north shore of Great Slave Lake. We enjoyed six days in this small, but growing town of varied people, which has become, since the 1940s, much more than a Hudson’s Bay Post of about a dozen white men and a band of Indians. Gold mines did this. I looked out the Old Stope Hotel window from atop a great cliff to view the lake and rocky, spruce-tipped horizon, never darkened, for sunset and sunrise were inseparable. Chained huskies wailed and groaned at times. Many of our neighbours were Dogrib Indians. In company with the visiting nurse and a couple studying the native language, I visited an isolated Dogrib village where people lived in cabins and smoked netted whitefish and lake trout in tipis. We went by canoe. The nurse “shot” Indian babies in Chief Sangris’s cabin. After six days of preparation, packing, collecting plants, photographing, and eating, we took off on June 26th, in a chartered Otter plane, with the canoes strapped on the pontoons. We flew east along the eastern arm of the 300-mile lake, then northeast over the last major spruce and jackpine forest, rocky and sandy barrens, myriad lakes, the bigger ones with ice just beginning to break in zigzag cracks, then over tundra with sand eskers, flats with frost polygons and upheavals, and caribou trails, over huge cliffs, canyons, and falls of the Lockhart and Hanbury Rivers, to the junction of the Hanbury and the bigger, east-flowing Thelon, where a fringe of extended spruce braves the arctic barrens. Here, on the rock and sand of an ice-bulldozed shore we had tea with our pilot, waved him goodbye, and began our five weeks of camping and canoeing on a wild and beautiful river, as voluminous as, and often much broader than the Mississippi, with five expansive lakes en route.

Our site for a preliminary base camp was moved to a sand-bar-willow-scrub island populated with shy, juvenile, moulting Canada geese, inquisitive terns and herring gulls, and several nesting ducks and plovers. We thus thought to avoid encroachment by barrenground grizzlies, whose fresh tracks lined the mainland shore. After we made camp I found grizzly tracks here, too!

We ascended the turbulent Hanbury on a scenic over-night detour for about ten miles to 60-foot Helen Falls. We lined canoes along the bank, or motored where water was not too swift. Local flocks of cliff swallows wheeled about their clay-pot nests. I found here the cairn and notes of the two recent parties who had canoed these river, led by Eric Morse in 1962, and by Irving Fox in 1964. We sat behind a flimsy screen of white spruce and twice watched huge grizzlies poke along the shore, swim the swift, cold river, and sit on the opposite bank. Both eventually sniffed us, and ran off over the barrens at an amazing speed – in the other direction. We heard the whistled songs of Harris’s sparrow, which nests only at treeline, and songs of tree sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, grey-cheecked thrushes, at least one kind of warbler, and even robins. Eastward, on open barrens, longspurs, snow buntings, and horned larks were some of the commonest small birds.

We located about thirty-five muskoxen on the south-easterly side of the Thelon River just below its junction with the Hanbury River, and above our base camp. Henry and Wayne went inland in a semi-circle, to approach the herd with a moving-picture camera and tripod. Bill and I approached from a point nearer the river. Both pairs of us managed to get very close to the animals. Bill and I kept behind a screen of clumped black spruce and approached up-wind. They never smelt or saw us. They were of various sizes, but there were no young calves among them. They browsed the willow bushes and sometimes a lean black spruce swayed as an individual rubbed its side against it. We noticed the high, massive shoulders, strikingly shaggy wool, which also draped the spruces, the short, fuzzy ears, and the down-curved, flare-ended horns. Often we heard a deep rumbling sound resembling distant thunder. They mutter to themselves. At times, bands of muskoxen cantered off over a barren hill, alarmed, it seemed, by the photographers. They never formed the well-known protective circle. While Bill and I stood with our backs to the high river-bluffs two cows plodded along a trail, straight towards us, while I snapped some head-on photographs until, dubious of muskox psychology, I waved a hand when he seemed uncomfortably close, yet probably as much as fifty feet away. The leading cow riveted her brown eyes upon me for a while, then slowly turned round and plodded into the muskeg to browse. Far to the northeast, below Grassy Island, we saw one more muskox, a big bull browsing on willows by the shore. The wind was in our favour and we paddled very close before it galumphed wildly off along the shore.

Bill also sighted a third grizzly, perhaps the one which had left fresh tracks in the sand on our island where we first camped. It, like the others, was wary, and ran over the brow of the barren rise above the river. Even as far east as a point eight miles northwest of Aberdeen Lake an Eskimo said a grizzly appeared on the tundra behind our tent before we arose one morning. On the south shore of Beverly Lake, the uppermost of the big lakes, we again saw signs of a grizzly. Here there is a prefab cabin built by wildlife research men. Its interior was in complete disarray. Parallel gouges of four and five claw-marks scored all walls and ceiling above a shelf. There was a bashed hole in the plywood wall, specimen vials were strewn over the floor, the half-open door was jammed. A bear had evidently gone berserk. We missed him gladly.

At our first campsite we saw our first wolf, which trotted easily, but swiftly, in zigzags over shore and tundra. It seemed to know we were watching across the river, but it continued to sniff and weave about. The shoulders and neck were heavy with white winter fur, the flanks and hind quarters less shaggy and slightly darker. Altogether, we saw four wolves, one here, one at Hornby Point, another northeast of Lookout Point, and the fourth just southwest of Beverly Lake. Tracks were frequent in beach sand. Once our cache of trout, buried in a snowbank, disappeared. We never knew where it went, but wolves had visited here earlier. Wolves were neither bold nor very timid. While I was grubbing specimens of plants (with my eyes on the ground) Wayne, standing on a ledge above me said “Wolf”. I looked up to see a white wolf snaking about among the gnarled dwarf spruces. It had not seen us, but did soon after Wayne spoke. It gazed at us briefly, then glided off on the tundra, often stopping to look back.

White and black spruce form scattering lines or clumps along the Thelon almost as far as Beverly Lake. A few stands are of notably big white spruce, usually occurring at notched drain-offs in the bank. Stumps at Warden’s Grove have a hundred and more rings. Here stand three log cabins, two old and crumbling, one very new. Leaning against an old one was a toboggan. On it was printed: W. H. B. Hoare, a reminder of earlier men associated with the Thelon Game Sanctuary through which we were passing. The new cabin has an ingenious lock easily opened by people but not by wolverines and bears. It is a chained iron rod in a socket. The rod can be pulled out, or reinserted with a hammer, which hangs above the door. Nearby is a cache. Plastic-wrapped goods reside on a platform atop four poles ringed by the cylinders of gas drums to inhibit pilfering by wolverines. Here in the heavy grove familiar robins were singing with the thrushes and sparrows, but unlike robins southward, these were shy in the presence of people.

One of the most delightful groves is one near which we camped northeast of Hornby Point. The big spruce grow along a cascade brook in a ravine. The nearby open barrens, as usual in early July, were gaudy with the bright purplish pink flowers of the dwarf Rhododendron called Lapland rosebay and the low, white clusters of the small-leaved arctic Labrador tea, but in and bordering the local woods I found twinflower, a columbine, and the only patch of red raspberry and white-flowered currant that I saw on the trip east of Great Slave Lake. Fragile bladder ferns were unfurling on a shaded sandstone cliff. It was here we found the winter droppings of a moose, and just up-river the conspicuous gnawings of porcupines. Moose have been reported by Eskimos east to Beverly Lake, but it is said no white man has seen one on the Thelon. Porcupines are isolated here.

At a high place on the bank called Lookout Point we had a welcome few days’ stop-over in bad weather at the new wildlife research cabin occupied by Ernest Kuyt of Fort Smith. Ernie studies habits of wolves, and tags their pups in dens! I asked: “And what if mother’s home?” “Whenever she is, she runs out and worries at a distance, “ said Ernie. He took us by motored canoe across the Thelon and up the Finnie, which is lined by the best and most extensive example of a southerly type of true forest in this region. The arctic flora was invaded here by a southern and western Canadian forest flora. For example, here occur the one-flowered Pyrola (Moneses), and buck-bean (Menyanthes) local to one boggy pool, and the southerly species of Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum). Then in a boggy area, with both black and white spruces, bearded with local, long, black lichen, we saw a strikingly isolated colony of tamarack. Ernie Kuyt told me that even trembling aspen grew farther up the Finnie. I had already seen one lone young poplar on the bank of the Thelon. Balsam poplar has been collected near here by Dr John Tener, while studying muskoxen. Ernie showed us the old cuttings of spruce by Eskimos when they still came here to cut wood for sleds maybe in the 1930s. At the cabin where Ernie was staying I dried my plants at a stove. We ate a delicious whitefish chowder concocted by Henry Briggs. Since whitefish rarely bite a lure, we netted them. We had by now caught and eaten lake trout, grayling, whitefish, and pike. Char were the only new fish, yet to be netted at Baker Lake. Trout were fine, char best, and pike poorest to eat.

Above and below Lookout Point are abrupt bluffs of sand. High ones are the more attractive with old white spruces. Here the fluffy, tawny, cute arctic ground squirrels sat stiffly by their burrows to watch us pass. Lower sand ridges are more widely extensive along this part of the Thelon. These are sparsely grown to strand-wheat (Elymus) grazed by geese before it is tall and too tough.

On down the river were great cliffs where rough-legged hawks and peregrine falcons nested. On the southerly, lee sides of banks snow was still deeply drifted, and on a bar ice pans were stacked higher than our heads. Camps by spruce clumps were replaced by ones on the vast tundra barrens. Temperature varied from 27 degrees F to the 60s, and to 85 degrees F on the sunny sand, but the average was low, and colder eastward. Occasionally frost silvered the tundra, dew froze on our tarps, water froze in containers and sometimes our hands and feet were cold while we were in the canoes.

Of lemmings and mice we saw only signs, saw but one arctic hare, though many droppings, and but one arctic owl eating a trout on a snow-bank. We saw but one family of arctic foxes, at the entrance to Beverly Lake. Four fuzzy brown pups peered at us from their den atop the bluff. Hundreds of geese strained their paddles and wings ahead of us, honking continually, then when pressed, sinking low, and even diving. Flocks of them pattered noisily up the sand-beach to hide in the willow thickets. They eat young grasses and sedge flowers at this time of year. Occasional geese differed much, and proved to be white-fronted geese. Some of these nervously herded goslings ahead of them. Mergansers, other ducks, and occasional yellow-billed and common loons flew or swam by, a few with fuzzy chicks. Great whistling swans, always in pairs, took off from time to time. Flocks of jaegers deftly maneuvered over river and barrens, but they did not dive on longspurs as expected; the nabbed gnats off water or shingle beach. Arctic terns hovered, heads bent down, and dived for young fish, but not minnows, there being none. Small fish are young of large one or nine-spined sticklebacks or little miller’s thumb sculpins. Herring gulls ogled our fish-cleaning jobs. Twice we saw pairs of tall brown lesser sandhill cranes stalking on the tundra. Often a black and white ptarmigan would whir and soar down by our campsite, to toddle and peer about our tent, cackling. This usually happened in the dim light of middle night.

All the way east of herds of thousands of caribou had just passed, traveling north, before we came along, leaving their splayed, four-marked hoof-prints, sometimes accompanied by a pair of wolf tracks by the river, and caribou had left their clotted hair on the water. We saw straggling herds from time to time, swimming, or briefly nibbling or resting, or more often swinging along at an easy, but very fast trot, all going north or northeast.

Eight miles northwest of Aberdeen Lake we camped by some hunting Eskimos and a couple of white men led by Mr. Ruttan who were ear-tagging swimming caribou from motored canoes, aided by Eskimos, in a wildlife research study. Eskimos here still live on caribou. They dry strips of meat and split long-bones for marrow, often eating both raw, along with bannock and tea. They are generally very pleasant people, and though rather shy, not diffident. Few speak any English. Most are literate in their own Inuit, using a missionary’s syllabics.

Here, near the Eskimo camp we awaited more possible herds of migrating caribou and calmer weather to allow us to travel. Caribou did swim the river in sight above us, then stride on northward, but only small herds appeared. The Eskimos watched for them with binoculars. When Henry and Wayne were out on the tundra filming a herd, and I was crouched on the sandy shore collecting my first yellow arctic poppies and the oddly “displaced” sea-beach chickweed (Arenaria peploides) I heard three distant shots. I looked up at the passing caribou I had been watching. A bull at the rear of the herd staggered in circles, fell, arose, fell for good. An Eskimo, followed by Henry and Wayne, walked to where it lay. Later, all three men brought the dressed-out carcass, including viscera, head and velvet antlers, to camp by canoe. The Eskimo hunter’s wife showed Henry how she removed the sinews along the back and split them into thread to sew skin clothing.

These people often wear caribou skin boots, mittens, and parkas. The women’s version of the parka is draped and fringed, and a rear drape includes a big sack with accommodates a baby. Eskimos also wear Hudson’s Bay Company woollens and rubber boots. Hoods of parkas either of skin or cloth, may be trimmed with fur of wolf or wolverine. Many of the men smoke pipes, most purchased at the Hudson’s Bay store at Baker Lake, but some home-made with soapstone bowls. Tobacco is carried in a big pouch slung on the shoulder. The Eskimo campers’ tents are of canvas, but I am told that the women often make them by sewing the pieces together. Accompanying these hunters are their dogs, of which I saw two types in separate teams, one being wolf-like, i.e. tall, with straight tails, the other chunkier, with curled tails. An idle kamutik, a long, narrow sledge, lay on the shore.

Near this camp on a high point stood a big square wooden box. We learnt it was a grave. On a point to the west we had seen one open pit grave covered with rotting, furry skin clothing and mittens. A rusted rifle probably of a latter 1890s make lay upon a rock above it. We disturbed nothing.

It was still never dark, yet rarely comfortably warm. Birds still sang late and early. Swarms of gnats, a few butterflies, moths, ground beetles, a small water beetle, stone-flies, ground spiders, and a common earwig-like beach-crawler were usually active until evening or even later. Mosquitoes were out in hungry force any time if the temperature rose above 40 degrees F. They covered us and the tent, whined monotonously, and followed the canoes in calm weather. I would sit of an evening on a bluff to observe, listen, contemplate, and smoke, and watch the lights, shades, and delicate colours change across the tundra, lichen barrens, rocks, cliffs, or swirling water, or creaking, mist-covered ice-pack – but never sitting for long, being driven to the tent by the hungry horde. I have many blood relations up there now.

Deterrents to progress were wind, usually north, and dangerous waves. Waves often kept us ashore, as did endless pack-ice on Aberdeen Lake from July 15 to 26. Rapids either speeded us by the banks or, occasionally, worried us with their huge standing waves rising below some boulder deep under the heaving, gurgling, sucking surface. Wayne and Henry were able stern-men in rapids, however. One series of rapids forced a very necessary mile of portage. We waited a total of over two weeks for wind to abate, or to rise and blow away the ice. Hold-ups afforded me time to explore afoot, collect and dry plants, and write diary. I was never idle for long. I climbed some 640-foot hills with ancient shore-cliffs lining their flanks above the northeast shore of Aberdeen Lake, passed old Eskimo hunting camps strewn with cracked bones, skulls, antlers, and a few discarded utensils. I viewed the sweep of the lake and river we were to follow when ice blew out, and I spotted the many promontories with humanoid Eskimo cairn markers. I grubbed plants until my pant knees were gone, adding arctic pincushion (Diapensia lapponica) to my collection. I took colour photos. Finally, on a divide, I looked northward over the endless barrens and lakes toward the Back River and towards the Arctic Sea over a hundred miles beyond the horizon.

On the larger lakes the north wind and immediately following waves can swamp an unwary or too bold canoeist, especially if his canoe is heavily loaded. Water is frigid and wide, allowing little hope for a swimmer. We were crossing a broad stretch of water on the so-called “Delta”, a network of channels curving between islands west of Beverly Lake, when a squall and waves hit us so quickly I barely had time to lay down my camera and bend to the paddle to help Wayne head into the breaking crests. The other canoe scooped in four inches of water, its peril increased by Henry’s collie dog, Lady. Suddenly and unusually she misbehaved by leaping upon the high load and scuttling along the length of the canoe. Both canoes made it to the sand beach were we waited out the wind and ate.

Just before entering Schultz Lake, the last big lake west of Baker Lake, we passed, on the north side of the Thelon, a series of prominent knobs of sandstone, conglomerate, and a bit of granitic rock, so identified by a surveying geologist. A few abrupt volcanic faults split these hills. Such topography was a change. Most of the bed-rock is the widespread sandstone, though glacial erratics can vary. Later we passed more granitic rock and greenstone. We camped on a low, wet, mossy-sedgy shore and meadow below an escarpment for a well-needed rest. The next day I discovered a thus-far new flora on the disturbed raw clay of the frost-boils or solifluction polygons, on a plateau: brilliant yellow and violet species of Oxytropis being the most conspicuous among them. I was to see such plants increasingly, on banks and tundra as well, eastward to Baker Lake. Already, a common pink Hedysarum, the bright yellow Arnica, and succulent, antiscorbutic Oxyria had appeared. Heretofore, the white-petaled Dryas had dominated the frost-boils and disturbed spots. I believe the change was primarily due to added salts in the less sandy clay soil. We were now in a rather recent marine subsidence area. Schultz Lake is one hundred and twenty-five feet above sea-level. Below this lake in the Halfway Hills I found marine shells of scallops and another bivalve in the clay of a stream-bank.

It was on this shelving shore that Wayne and Bill caught the biggest lake trout on the trip. Wayne’s was hooked on a fly-rod. Though the big fish’s fin arouse above the shallow water, it was still not within reach. I thought it would break loose or break the rod. Instead of playing it for an hour, as ardent fishermen tell of doing, Wayne managed to maneuver this lively heft of dinner in circling stages to the stern of the beached canoe in ten minutes. I gaffed it in the gills and dragged it ashore. Though our weighing scales had been earlier stepped on and demolished, we estimated the trout weighed about thirty pounds. When Henry had snapped a picture of the fish we noted that two gawky sandhill cranes were practically looking over his shoulder.

Northeast of us an aircraft took off. So did we. Near the western end of Schultz Lake, several hours, miles, islands, and new plants eastward, and under the abrupt, snow-rimmed 640-foot bump called Whalebone Hill we met a crew of three Dominion geologists led by J. A. Donaldson returning on foot to their tent. They were most hospitable and informative, but jokingly disgruntled over the breakdown of their reconnaissance helicopter eight miles inland. They had just walked back to camp.

After eating and talking with this group of men, collecting specimens, changing plant driers, and profiting by a night’s rest, we made use of a most unusual glassy calm by motoring eastward the length of Schultz Lake. We passed hills of sandstone, then granitic rock, left Whalebone and its snow-drifts on the western horizon. All morning we approached an eastern mirage of rising floating, and lowering bluffs and snowbanks. We passed myriads of black gnats of two sizes, standing on the calm water, just emerged from pupal skins, with occasional long-legged craneflies. Trout sometimes arose to suck in the gnats. Mosquitoes followed us in a slowly diminishing mob. We passed rock reefs, terns and jaegers, a belated, hurried caribou, and finally the cairn-studded rock islands in the shallow eastern end of Schultz Lake.

Rapids roared ahead. At the sudden constriction and south bend at the end of the lake we found ourselves in narrow, tumultuous rapids with fearsome standing waves. We had to head into the worst of these. We speeded by high ledges of hard, resistant rock which caused these rapids, into safe, but fast water. These rapids are not mentioned in notes of travelers to my knowledge. The well-known and expected bigger ones are about eight miles below Schultz Lake.

In the latter rapids we met eight caribou-hunting Eskimos who kindly speeded our portage of a mile to only about three hours. We paid them and gave them all our fish and bread, which they immediately relished, but we needed a Galilee stretch of loaves and fishes for this multitude. During my own three carries here, I not only nabbed a stack of plants, but hungrily crunched sea-biscuits, which no one else liked, though I found them quite delicious.

I always enjoyed eating, whether the usual freeze-dried variations or daily fish. Ground squirrels watched us work and eat. Two sat perkily against a sunlit slab of rock covered with yellow and green lichen above their burrow. Pink Epilobium, yellow Arnica, and Castilleja grew on the bank. Wild white rapids dashed and roared. Eskimos ate supper. We were out of film.

Next day we camped on a meadow by a flowery cascade brook between the abrupt rocky ridges of the Halfway Hills. This was to be our last camp, but we didn’t know this yet. Rains were more frequent from the lakes eastward, but a drizzling night did not spoil our visit at this beautiful site, and as always, we left it beautiful. (A word her to future campers: As urban dwellers increasingly spread, crowd, and hurry, increasing numbers of people seek experience in a sadly shrinking wilderness. I hope those who travel these northern rivers will note that we carried no firearms nor needed any protection or illegal food, since no animal threatened us and we carried our own concentrated packets of freeze-dried foods. We added to our diet by fishing. Though we burnt wood for cooking when available above the lakes, we always used dead branches and cut none of the meager forest, alive or dead, and east of Beverly Lake we cooked solely on a gasoline Coleman stove. Finally, I believe one would not identify our campsites by any debris of cans or paper.)

At the last rapids below the Halfway Hills and eight miles above Baker Lake, and in threatening weather, on July 29th, a motored canoe-load of Eskimos overtook us. These excellent navigators lashed our canoes to theirs and hauled us the last miles to Baker Lake Hudson’s Bay Store, saving us a slow, wet, cold, windy finale to our paddling and camping. Splashed, and stiff with cold and cramping, we were glad to reach the post, even though later we increasingly missed the open barrens and the simple, but simply beautiful solitude. That first night at the post I attended church services. I truly enjoyed the company of the Anglican missionary and a hundred of the 400 or 500 Eskimos in and out of Baker Lake. The Eskimos sang very slowly the hymns we best know and like. They sang in Inuit, I in English. The Reverend and Mrs. Whitton were most kind to us. I dried plants and slept on a bed in a small house used at times as a Sunday school. Oni its wall was a painting of a fur-clad Mary and Joseph with Jesus bundled in skins, receiving furs and carvings from an Eskimo, an Indian, and a Hudson’s Bay Company man, while a husky dog and a caribou watched. I replenished my supply of pipe tobacco, which ran out the day I arrived, ate chocolate-covered cherries, saw movies, and stuffed food into me at the Department of Transport with pleasant company of transient government workers, at $2.50 per meal. I noted how simple, basic things of life had become most important.

The gorgeous display of pink, purple, yellow, and white flowers on disturbed foundations, roads, and beach, or on tundra or ledges deserves special mention. They were at their brief height this close of July: arctic fireweed, with gaudy pink flowers, yellow poppy, five-fingers, DrabaAstragalus and Oxytropis, both loco-weeds, chickweeds, daisies, a native dandelion, the ever-present, fleshy, clustered white saxifrage, and lush grasses. The showy pink Lapland rosebay, a Rhododendron, and ubiquitous white Labrador tea of the sterile barrens were scarcely present here in this richer soil.

The heavens turned the tap on and off most of the time. It was here at Baker Lake, between the scudding, purple-black clouds on the first of August that I saw my first star since June the twentieth in Edmonton.

[There is a drawn map on pages 4-5. The following are the page numbers and captions for photographs in the article:
p. 6 The abandoned Hoare and Knox cabin at Warden’s Grove.
p. 7 At Helen Falls film was changed near the cairn of Morse and Fox. Above, a barrenground grizzly patrols the shore of the Hanbury, across the river from us.
p. 7 Grassy Island from the air.
p. 8 Looking up the Thelon River from a site about fifteen miles above Hornby Point.
p. 8 Muskox browsing on willows beside the Thelon.
p. 9 A clump of white spruce at Hornby Point, beneath which is a wolf den. The tributary to the Thelon with its spruce wood banks opposite Hornby Point (below) was photographed at sundown, about 10 p.m.
p. 10 Migrating caribou on the run.
p. 10 One of our canoes passing the usual snow-drift opened by the north wind on a south-facing bank.
p. 10 A two-month-old wolf on a shingle beach of the Thelon.
p.11 Finnie River, near the mouth, just south of Lookout Point. The woods are predominantly white spruce.
p. 12 The oldest (56) and ablest Eskimo hunter smokes a home-made pipe.
p. 12 Wayne Dunbar with the biggest lake trout, caught just above Schultz Lake.
p. 12 At the Eskimo caribou-hunters’ camp our canoe was inspected with interest and outside the tent one of the ladies agreed to let Henry make a tape recording of conversation and a song in Inuit.
p. 13 One of our riverside camps, with Wayne preparing meal, Bill Meier contemplating chances of hooking the next feed, and George Rossbach, as usual, pressing plants.


Rossbach, George B. (1936)  Northeastward extensions in the Maine Flora.  Rhodora 38 (456):  453-454.
Rossbach, George B.  (1938)  Northeastward extensions in the Maine Flora II.  Rhodora 40 (474):  245-247.
Rossbach, George B.  (1939)  Aquatic Utricularias:  A key based upon leaf-characters for the aquatic Utricularias of central and northeastern United States and eastern Canada.  Rhodora 41 (484):  113-128.
Rossbach, George B.  (1940)  Distributional notes on certain aquatic Utricularias in Quebec.  Rhodora 42 (494):  52-53.
, George Bowyer (1940) Erysimum in North America. Thesis (M.A., Biology ) Stanford University.
Rossbach, George Bowyer  (1941) Erysimum in North America. Thesis (Ph.D., Biology), Stanford University.
Rossbach, George B.  (1943)  Development of a leafy axis upon the cones of a tamarack.  Rhodora 45 (531):  106-107.
, George B. (1958) New taxa and new combinations in the genus Erysimum in North America. Aliso 4 (1): 115-124.
Rossbach, George B. (1958) The genus Erysimum (Cruciferae) in North America north of Mexico : A key to the species and varieties. Madrono 14 (8): 261-267.
Rossbach, George B. (1963)  Distributional and taxonomic notes on some plants collected in West Virginia and nearby states.  Castanea 28 (1):  10-38.
Rossbach, George B. (1963)  Additional phytogeographical notes on plants collected in West Virginia.  Castanea 28 (4):  165-169.
Rossbach, George B. (1966) By canoe down Thelon River. The Beaver (Autumn 1966): 4-13.


  1. Personal communication, Anne Rossbach Lep to McCormick, email 8 November 2021.