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Connecting curious minds with uncommon, undeniably Northwest reads

Arctic Explorer’s Story Finally Told

Ernest Leffingwell with sled dogs 

As a member of the 1906 Anglo-American Polar Expedition, Arctic explorer Ernest deKoven Leffingwell (1875–1971) helped determine the edge of the continental shelf—the first solid evidence that searching for land north of Alaska was likely futile. The University of Chicago-trained geologist remained on Flaxman Island, and with assistance from his indigenous neighbors, was the first to define and chart the geography and geology of the region. His groundbreaking work included creating detailed, accurate maps of Alaska’s northeast coast (now part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), pioneering studies of ground ice (permafrost), explaining ice wedges, and identifying the Sadlerochit Formation, Prudhoe Bay oilfield’s main reservoir. He also observed birds and collected wildlife specimens for the Smithsonian and other institutions. “One hundred years later we’re still rediscovering things he discovered,” permafrost expert and consultant Torre Jorgenson commented.

Still, apart from geology specialists, none of it was enough to attract much notice—until Janet R. Collins, who spent thirty years as the director and map librarian at Western Washington University’s Huxley Map Library—decided Leffingwell deserved more recognition. She started giving presentations about his life, and the interest they generated led to her new biography, On the Arctic Frontier: Ernest Leffingwell’s Polar Explorations and Legacy, just published by Washington State University (WSU) Press.

At the turn of the twentieth century, people were eager for scientific knowledge about the Arctic and Antarctic. Geographic societies and wealthy individuals like Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, and the Duchess of Bedford helped finance new explorations—including the Anglo-American Polar Expedition. For Leffingwell, it was a calling. He relied on and socialized with Inupiaq families. His favorite meat was caribou and he preferred fur to wool. Yet despite his passion for the Arctic, it wasn’t easy. Loneliness, snow blindness, weather-sensitive instruments, and the exhausting rigors of sledge travel pushed the meticulous, driven leader to his limits. Through trial and error, he coped with the drifting ice floes, interminable darkness, and bitter cold of a harsh, polar environment.

Leffingwell recorded his findings in the 250-page U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 109. To write her biography, Collins utilized that report as well as published and unpublished writing by a variety of polar expedition members, newspaper articles, and Leffingwell family papers and memories. Along with his accomplishments, she portrays Leffingwell’s interactions with Native friends, whalers, traders, fellow scientists, and others, and conveys his thoughts about daily life with all of its challenges, frustrations, and triumphs.

On the Arctic Frontier cover

Memoir Describes Life for Women During WWII Occupation

Washington State University Press has released a World War II memoir written by Nicole Taflinger. Unusual because it relates struggles faced by ordinary French citizens, it also provides insight into challenges that arise when different cultures collide. Written for her children decades ago, the author’s guileless voice enhances her adolescent memories of the German occupation—an existence of fear, loss, suffering, and fierce hatred—and illustrates the immense emotional toll of war.

Born as Nicole Braux in 1927, her earliest recollections occur in the French city of Nancy, where her father owned and operated a hotel and restaurant.  Her winsome stories portray childhood challenges, accomplishments, and joys. She conveys the influence and camaraderie of the generous, nurturing men and women—particularly her grandmothers and two Catholic nuns—who were an integral part of her young life. Her charming reflections paint a picture of a romantic culture still wounded by the First World War.

Nicole was twelve when her father was recalled into the reserves. A few months later, she watched German troops invade. “We peeked above the window sill and saw them…Our imaginations hadn’t exaggerated; they looked as evil, if not more so, than we’d expected!” By six o’clock that evening, it was over. Nicole and her remaining family members were under occupation. “Grandmother Marie was our savior…[she] had survived two wars; a third was simply a fact of life.”

Little by little, the Braux family adjusted. They experienced Nazi propaganda, recurrent air raid alerts, gas masks, food rationing, the Black Market, and bombings.  As they struggled simply to acquire food and keep warm, thoughts of the future became irrelevant. Teachers, friends, employers, priests, nuns, and doctors disappeared overnight. Relationships became veiled in worry, suspicion and secrecy. Despite the danger, Nancy citizens quietly resisted. They concocted strategies to elude curfew. They purposely dressed to offend Germans, donning short skirts and makeup, and choosing the bright colors of the French flag. They sold tainted food to the despised troops. As the fighting drew ever closer, desperation and terror increased, but miraculous events brought hope. One day, Nicole dashed unscathed through a shower of bullets. On another, she became part of a spontaneous, compassionate, and courageous gathering of French citizens. Rebelling against the German guards, they formed a chain to toss food to starving POWs aboard a train. Just as the soldiers raised their guns toward the obstinate crowd, RAF fighter planes arrived. For her, it was “one of the most exciting and beautiful moments of the war.”

Finally the inconceivable joy of liberation day came. However, food remained scarce, the fate of her father was still unknown, and now seventeen, Nicole found herself deeply in love with Captain Ancel G. Taflinger, pilot for General George S. Patton and recipient of the Silver Star. Eventually overcoming family objections and interference, their romance culminated in a wedding that yielded a sweet end to Nicole’s season of suffering.

Season of Suffering also includes never-before-published photographs from Captain Taflinger’s collection.

Science with a Contemporary Twist

What did a new kind of MRI reveal about the hearts of older male fitness fanatics? How did an unsavory kitchen blender help save the lives of monkeys in the Bronx Zoo? Why might it be better to buy eggs from your local supermarket? What salt-favoring menace lurks in hospitals and beach sand? Which ancient crop might solve modern problems?

Recent scientific studies have addressed these questions and many more. Dr. Elsa Kirsten Peters regularly pores through journals and interviews researchers, then shares the utterly fascinating results in her nationally-syndicated Rock Doc column. Now the curious geologist has compiled her favorite articles, along with a few new contributions, into Planet Rock Doc: Nuggets from Explorations of the Natural World.

With her wry sense of humor, personal anecdotes, and knack for explaining the complex in simple terms, Peters stretches far beyond geology to explore a wide range of topics related to natural and applied sciences. In the process, she reflects on the remarkable observations and inventions cultivated by great minds of the past.  She comments on current debates and lends promise to the future, illuminating cutting-edge research. For easy access, articles are arranged by subject matter—geology and paleontology, energy and engines, food and agriculture, climate change, human health, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and education and history.

Dr. Peters, a native of rural Washington State, earned her doctorate from the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at Harvard University. She taught undergraduate-level courses for a decade and is the author or co-author of numerous journal articles, as well as several textbooks.

Available in paperback, Planet Rock Doc is 5 1/2″ x 8 1/4″, 198 pages, and has a list price of $22.95. It is available at bookstores or can be ordered from WSU Press by calling 800-354-7360 or online at wsupress.wsu.edu. WSU Press is associated with Washington State University located in Pullman, Washington, and publishes scholarly books with a cultural or historical relationship to the Pacific Northwest.