Thursday, October 29, 2009

OBT: About John Tveten . . .

Gary Clark, Dave Dauphin, Greg Lasley, Fred Collins, Mim Eisenberg, LeeAnn Sharp, The Montgomery County Courier, The Baytown Sun, The Houston Chronicle, Texas A&M Press and Houston Audubon Society posted these beautiful tributes to John on the TexBirds listserv, in comments, or on their own spaces . . . i hope i'll be forgiven my collecting & reposting of them here . . .

My own tribute for the memorial service follows Gary's announcement here:

The original report from Gary Clark (and thanks to Kelly Bryan, dear friend of mine and the Tvetens, for alerting me to his ill health that morning)

I am sad to report that John Tveten passed away this afternoon of cancer. He died peacefully while surrounded by friends and family. Our love goes out to his wife, Gloria, and his son, Michael.

John was among the greatest of naturalists ever to trod the earth. His knowledge was encyclopedic, and his generosity in sharing that knowledge was without equal. Through his newspaper columns, his many books, and his informative and engaging presentations, we all learned an immeasurable amount about birds, butterflies, moths, wildflowers, and countless other wonders of the natural world. Moreover, we were always inspired by his endless curiosity and enthusiasm.

My wife, Kathy, and I are working with the family to arrange a celebration of John’s life and work and will give you details within a week or so about when and where that celebration will be.

Gary Clark
The Woodlands, Texas


The passing of John Tveten leaves all of us who knew him with a heavy heart.

John's books, field guides, newspaper articles, field trips and programs filled us with knowledge, the desire to see more, and the need savor nature slowly. John always used 35mm slides in his programs, and I don't think anyone else could go through as many slides during a given time period, as John could. Jan once told John that watching any of his programs was like sitting beside him on a comfortable couch while he read you a story and explained all the pictures in a book. Gloria was always by his side at every program, and John never forgot to mention that they were partners in every venture they took.

I met John in the late 60's when we both went to work for a major petrochemical research company. I stayed forever; John left shortly to fulfill his dream with a camera. John was an animal rehabilitator and a bird bander. Although we lived just a few miles from each other, we never netted each other's birds. John was an artist, also, and his drawings could rival anyone's.

He was one of the very few naturalists I have ever met. I will never forget when myself and three other young birders invited John on a Big Day run--worst mistake we could make. When we were always wanting to go for the next birding location, we always had to go find John and take him away from watching a praying mantis or watching a snake eating a frog.

John got Jan and I to appreciate all aspects of nature. I jokingly blamed him for exposing Jan to butterflies to such an extent that we moved all the way to the Valley so she could chase bugs.

John was a good friend, a kind man, a gentle man, a loving husband and father; I don't ever remember a frown on his face. Jan and I loved him, and will miss him. We send good thoughts and lots of prayers to Gloria, Michael, and Michael's family.

David Dauphin
Mission, Texas

I just must say a few words about John Tveten's passing. Dave Dauphin, Martin Hagne, Fred Collins, Gary Clark, and others have spoken eloquently of this man and my words cannot covey my own personal sense of loss. I met John at Bolivar Flats in the late 1970's. He and Gloria and I became friends and I'm proud to have called John a good friend for more than 30 years. We both shared a passion for birds, for nature in general , and for photography and I remember many discussions about our natural world with John. He enlightened others with his depth of knowledge of the natural world and was always ready to help with anything he was asked to do. John was a true gentleman in every sense of the word and I do not use that term casually. He was one of the finest persons it has been my privilege to know and I will miss him greatly. The writings about birds, butterflies, moths and other natural history subjects that John and Gloria produced over the years have enriched us all and leave a legacy for us to cherish. My thoughts and prayers are with Gloria and the family.

Greg Lasley
Austin, Texas

I am a native born and bred Texan, I have wandered the fields, bayous, bays and woods of southeast Texas for all of my sixty years. Early on I ask my father about the green lizards around the house and could not understand why he didn't know every aspect of their lives. I ask my grandfather what that white foam was on the dewberry vines in spring and he told me it was snake spit. I was just a kid, I knew I didn't know anything, but couldn't figure out why my talented and wise fathers did not know the answers to my questions about things all around them.

I didn't know it then, but I was already a naturalist. I have spent the rest of my life learning answers to these and other questions I conjure up each time I take a moment to notice nature whether at my back door or in the remote wilds of the Big Thicket, Galveston Bay, or far flung Big Bend. During my life I have learned much about nature, but there still seems to be more that I don't know, than I know. I met John Tveten in 1969 and as I came to know him as a friend during the next forty years I found John to be the person I could ask questions about any subject in nature and get a straight and full answer. If by occasion he would not know the answer, he would invariably put me on the right track to find the answer. When we resumed a conversation weeks or months later, he would often remind me of my question and was as interested as I in the answer. He never lost his passion for discovering any secret of nature.

I cannot see a moth (which I see daily) without anxiously wanting to know "When will the moth book be out, John?" John was incredibly generous with his time and knowledge. He was conversant in any topic of natural history or ecology. He was interested in everything. He loved all of nature. No plant or animal was too small, dull, or non-descript for John. He knew they all had a role to play, and without knowing the players, how can we know the play?

John and all of us were cheated out of the best years of a great naturalist's life. He gave us so much. So many books that are my constant companions. He wrote a nature column for 24 years. But his reflections of a life watching nature was still in his future. One of his last works was the final compilation of his columns; it is titled "Nature at Your Doorstep." That was John's life message, nature is at your doorstep if you will only open your senses and minds to observe and appreciate it.

That is a passion I share with John. I will miss him. Every naturalist in Texas will miss him.

Texas has lost one of its greatest treasures.

Fred Collins
Katy, Texas

I met John in 1980, when he led a Smithsonian Institution tour of Bryce, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I had the good fortune to go on several other trips he led, and we became good friends. He was the one who inspired me to study natural history and become a photographer. My thoughts are with Gloria and Mike as they, like we, adjust to a world without him. He was a consummate teacher and changed the lives of thousands of people in whom his legacy will live on.

This is my tribute to John:

Mim Eisenberg

I heard the report Tuesday about the passing of a birder, naturalist, author, photographer, and great friend. John Tveten wrote a weekly column called "Nature Trails" for the Houston Chronicle for over 25 years. We worked together at Nature Quest for 10 years. I've known John & Gloria since the first Nature Quest in 1999. He came to my mother's place searching for butterflies that first year. And I had the pleasure of introducing him for many of his NQ Programs. We were blessed to have gone butterflying & birding with him many times.
We only saw John once a year during Nature Quest, but always felt very close to him & Gloria. I am honored that they took the time to come visit our Nature Center this year. I am so proud to have several of his signed books. When they came for Nature Quest, they stayed at the Yaklins cabins. I know the Yaklins, as well as many others in our area, will miss him. We will truly miss John, his warmth & gift of sharing with others. And our hearts go out to his wife, Gloria.

LeAnn Sharp
Utopia, Texas

In memory of John L. Tveten: enjoy your nature trails

Updated: 10.20.09

This article will be the hardest one to write in my 10-year tenure of writing articles for the Conroe/Montgomery County Courier.

A dear friend and wonderful naturalist, John Tveten, passed away on October 12, 2009, from a rapidly developing cancer. For all of us interested in nature, a void now exists that will never be filled.

I first met John in 1990. Met him at a now closed nature store called The Chickadee in Houston. Within minutes of meeting John I knew he was special. I just didn’t realize how special John was until years later.

A friendship and mentor-student relationship evolved over the years. It was very special. John was a very interesting, intelligent and well-rounded person. He was a walking encyclopedia regarding nature. He and his lovely wife, Gloria, authored numerous wonderful books about nature in Texas. Books about birds, butterflies, wildflowers, mammals, journeys to places near and far.

John was a great photographer and talented artist. John and Gloria wrote “Nature Trails,” a column about nature that ran weekly in the Houston Chronicle. For over 20 years their fascinating article ran. As a kid I used to quickly rifle through the local paper for three things. The sports page including the fishing report and the comics section. As an older kid (over 40) I couldn’t wait to read what John and Gloria wrote about in Nature Trails each week!

In addition to John’s wealth of knowledge and generous attitude of sharing nature with others of all ages, he loved football. We would talk football every fall and winter season. John played high school football. I bet he was just as tenacious on the playing field as he was stalking a once in a lifetime photo opportunity from a photography blind in the Valley of South Texas.

John and Gloria always were there when you needed them. For a book signing, presentation, to lead a nature walk and more. To be your friends. They were always there when asked. Something unfortunately rare these days. You could always count on John and Gloria Tveten.

To me, John was the older brother I never had. Not old enough to be my father, I often was caught in the middle thinking of John as somewhere between an older brother and “Dad.” John and I often laughed about this. I can still hear his precious laugh.

John is gone now. There will be no more presentations, field trips, books, book signings, nature festivals, photographs or drawings. We that share John’s love of the natural world have suffered an irreplaceable loss. Also, the wild creatures that John so often studied have lost a wonderful friend and advocate.

And selfishly speaking, I have lost the only brother I ever really had. My love goes out to John, Gloria and Michael, their son.

The Tveten family requests that in memory of John, donations be made to any organization that works towards protecting nature and all its natural wonders.

This was published in the Montgomery County Courier, written either by Gary or Kathy Clark, i am uncertain which as it was unsigned . . .

John Tveten: A remembrance

By Gary Clark, Oct. 23, 2009, 3:59PM


Kathy Adams Clark

John Tveten, shown here with his wife, Gloria, touched many with his writing, photography, and public speaking.

I never knew a naturalist quite like John Tveten, who passed away Oct . 12 after a brief bout with cancer just before his 75th birthday.

John, with help from his talented wife, Gloria, wrote the Houston Chronicle's Nature Trails column for 24 years, until 1999. I devoured that column with the eagerness of a hummingbird devouring nectar. And like nectar to a hummingbird, John's columns nourished me as a naturalist.

The author of numerous books, including Nature at Your Doorstep (Texas A&M University Press, 2008), Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas (University of Texas Press, 1996) and The Birds of Texas (Shearer Publishing, 1993), John also led nature tours for the Smithsonian Institution's travel program, the National Audubon Society, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Spring Branch Nature Center.

His photographs appeared in hundreds of magazines, books, calendars and filmstrips. He also wrote hundreds of articles for publications such as Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine and Smithsonian.

When my wife, Kathy, began her career as a professional nature photographer, she turned to John to nourish her with his legendary photographic skill. John taught her to know a critter or a flower and to know it well before taking a picture. Kathy now drums that lesson into other photographers.

Legions of naturalists, including birders, butterfly watchers and wildflower enthusiasts, can trace their inspiration and early teachings to John. He led people not only to appreciate but to study the beauty of nature.

Tributes to John have been pouring in.

John's former neighbor and birder David Dauphin said, “John was a good friend, a kind man, a gentle man, a loving husband and father. I don't ever remember a frown on his face.”

Kenn Kaufman, internationally known author of bird and butterfly guides, said, “I've never met a finer naturalist than John. His knowledge of everything in the outdoors, and his enthusiasm for it, were just extraordinary, but despite that he was amazingly humble.”

I thought of John as a scientist in mind and a poet in heart. He scrutinized nature with an inquisitive but exacting mind. But when he talked about nature, he did so with the heart of a poet.

John's scientific bent began as a boy when he collected butterflies, a collection that helped restore those of Germany and Japan after World War II. He later became a research chemist for an oil company but left in the early 1970s to pursue his passion for studying, writing about and photographing nature.

I believe John will be ranked among the greatest naturalists ever to trod the Earth. His knowledge was encyclopedic, and his generosity and vitality in sharing that knowledge were without equal.

John's survivors include Gloria, who's a retired mathematics professor; and their son, Michael Tveten, a biology professor at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz.

Tveten, famed nature photographer, dies
From staff reports, Baytown Sun, Published October 15, 2009

A longtime Baytown resident and former Exxon research chemist who turned a love for photography and nature into an illustrious second career died Monday.

Dr. John L. Tveten, 75, was originally from Minnesota but came to Baytown in the 1960s to take a job as with Exxon. After 13 years with the petrochemical giant, he left the company to attempt a career as a freelance outdoor and nature photographer.

That move led to a successful new career and lifestyle. Tveten became a noted author, along with wife Gloria penning a nature column for a Houston newspaper for 24 years and writing and photographing for innumerable magazine articles, eight books and field guides that shared his and Gloria’s knowledge and love of nature with others in the field and with the public. He became a noted authority in his field.

Tveten’s photographs were seen in the pages of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, National Wildlife magazine, Audubon, the children’s magazine of the National Wildlife Federation; Birder’s World, Bird Watcher’s Digest, the Encyclopedia Americana, Encyclopedia Britannica and many other publications.

Tveten presented uncountable slide shows and programs at numerous colleges and universities and to gatherings held by a variety of organizations, such as birding, gardening and social clubs and at hundreds of nature festivals. He led photo tours to many of America’s national parks in association with the Smithsonian, as well as other organizations.

Tveten will be cremated.

A Celebration of Life will be held at Armand Bayou Nature Center on Thursday, Oct. 29.

Tveten is survived by his wife Gloria, a son and daughter-in-law Michael and Lisa; granddaughter Amanda; and step-grandson Brett. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Armand Bayou Nature Center or the conservation organization of choice.

Services are under the direction of Navarre Funeral Home.

John L. Tveten, longtime Chronicle columnist

By Kathy Huber, Houston Chronicle, Oct. 17, 2009, 9:06PM

John L. Tveten, a naturalist, author, photographer and longtime Houston Chronicle columnist, died of cancer Monday. He was 74.

For more than 30 years, Tveten wrote about and photographed creatures of nature and wildflowers. He wrote numerous books and co-authored five with his wife of 51 years, Gloria. The Baytown couple traveled widely in pursuit of nature and shared their adventures in Wildflowers of Houston and Southeast Texas and Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, both published by University of Texas Press. He also wrote The Birds of Texas (Shearer Publishing, $24.95).

Nature Trails column
The couple's weekly Nature Trails column ran in the Chronicle for nearly 25 years. The last of a three-volume anthology of those columns, Nature at Your Doorstep (Texas A&M University Press, $24.95), was published last year. A frequent speaker and field guide, Tveten presented four programs with his wife at the Rockport hummingbird festival in September.

“John was among the greatest of naturalists,” said friend Gary Clark. “His knowledge was encyclopedic, and his generosity in sharing that knowledge was without equal. Through his newspaper columns, his many books and his informative and engaging presentations, we all learned an immeasurable amount about wonders of the natural world. Moreover, we were always inspired by his endless curiosity and enthusiasm.”

When the Tvetens decided to end their weekly column in 1999 for more book projects, Clark took over.

His Nature column appears in the Chronicle's Saturday Star section with photographs by his wife, Kathy Adams Clark.

“I would not be the nature photographer I am without John's advice,” Kathy Clark said. “His photographs taught me how to shoot, and he taught me how to be a naturalist.”

In their final column for the Chronicle, the Tvetens wrote that “the hobby that began as ‘birdwatching' is now called ‘birding' by most of its participants. Those birders are more skilled and more informed than ever before, and most will travel great distances to add new species to their lists.

“We share that enthusiasm, but we still consider ourselves birdwatchers. We enjoy seeing rare birds, but we also enjoy seeing common birds doing uncommon things. And then, we just enjoy seeing birds being birds uncommonly well.”
Originally a chemist

A Minnesota native, Tveten moved to Texas in 1960 after graduate school at the University of Illinois. He was a research organic chemist with Exxon before retiring in 1973 to become a full-time nature photographer and writer. In addition to his books and columns, his work appeared in national publications, calendars, film strips and educational material.

He also was a naturalist and tour leader for the Smithsonian Institution, National Audubon Society, Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Spring Branch Nature Center.

Tveten is survived by his wife; a son, Michael Tveten, of Tucson, Ariz.; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at Armand Bayou Nature Center, 8500 Bay Area Blvd., Pasadena.

Texas A&M University Press mourns the recent loss of John Tveten

avid naturalist, renowned photographer, freelance writer, and author of many books with his wife, Gloria

For nearly a quarter of a century, John and Gloria wrote a weekly column, called "Nature Trails," for the Houston Chronicle. Their writings, which ranged both in subject matter and geography, reflected a rewarding life of travel, study, and observation in nature, including many memorable encounters with birds.

Also, John's photographs have graced the pages of National Wildlife, Audubon, Ranger Rick, Birder's World, Bird Watcher's Digest, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and Texas Highways since 1973.

He's written and photographed eight books ─ many with Gloria ─ including his nature trails books, Adventures Afar (2006), Our Life with Birds (2004), and Nature at Your Doorstep (2008) with Texas A&M Press.

Shannon Davies, Louise Lindsey Merrick Editor for the Natural Environment for Texas A&M Press, worked closely with John for many years.

"The first time I walked through a vacant lot with John, he taught me that there is no such thing. Perhaps the last of Texas's great naturalists, he taught all of us about plants, birds, mammals, snakes, lizards, frogs, butterflies, moths, and insects of all kinds with unmatched facility and generosity. He was a generalist in the truest, best possible meaning of the word--he loved nature wherever he found it, and he found it everywhere. A writer, an artist, and a photographer, John knew so much, and gave so much, never losing his sense of wonder and of fun."

". . . Each person who met him will remember John's perfect presentations and exquisite photos. All of us who called him friend will remember his
strong love of this planet and optimistic spirit. I cherish every moment I spent with him and will always remember him,"─Kathy Adams Clark, photographer, Enjoying Big Bend National Park: A Friendly Guide to Adventures for Everyone (2009)

". . . my words cannot convey my own personal sense of loss. . . We both shared a passion for birds, for nature in general , and for photography and I remember many discussions about our natural world with John. He enlightened others with his depth of knowledge of the natural world and was always ready to help with anything he was asked to do. John was a true gentleman in every sense of the word and I do not use that term casually. He was one of the finest persons it has been my privilege to know and I will miss him greatly. The writings about birds, butterflies, moths and other natural history subjects that John and Gloria produced over the years have enriched us all and leave a legacy for us to cherish. My thoughts and prayers are with Gloria and the family."─Greg Lasley, author of Greg Lasley's Texas Wildlife Portraits (2008)

Houston Audubon Society
Texas birders and conservationists say goodbye to long-time friend and naturalist, John Tveten, who passed away peacefully while surrounded by family and friends.

John was among the greatest of naturalists ever to trod the earth. His knowledge was encyclopedic, and his generosity in sharing that knowledge was without equal. Through his newspaper columns, his many books, and his informative and engaging presentations, we all learned an immeasurable amount about birds, butterflies, moths, wildflowers, and countless other wonders of the natural world. Moreover, we were always inspired by his endless curiosity and enthusiasm.

Kathy and Gary Clark have worked with the Tveten family to arrange a celebration of John’s life and work. The celebration will be held on October 29, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. at Armand Bayou Nature Center.

Our love and support goes out to John’s wife, Gloria, and son, Michael.

For my Teacher, Friend, Mentor
John Tveten

This is preaching to the choir
I know
Because what i know about John Tveten
Is what you know

But i feel compelled to tell it in my own way

John spent his lifetime
First and foremost as a teacher
Sure he took photographs
But they were framed as visual lessons
Sure he raised caterpillars
But not for himself
Sure he wrote books
But to spread what he had learned himself

He was A Teacher, The Teacher
And in telling my couple of stories about John
It is to honor him as My teacher

I lived on Bolivar Peninsula for a while
As a grad student
In my brother’s car
At a banding station
Greg Lasley and i started there

Now i “knew” John from a decade’s worth
Of Freeport Christmas Counts
But it was his visits to see me on Bolivar
Where i truly learned the depth of who he was

It started with a casual stop to bird and take photos
One day in April, back in that last millennium

While there, and on later trips
He “borrowed” the myriad birds
We took from the nets
And took headshots of them in hand

You will recognize many of those photos
From his stories and books over the years
Painted Bunting
Hooded Warbler
Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I remember seeing a slide show once
Recognizing my fingers in it
And thinking how he had photographed
My dirty nails as lovingly as
He had photographed those birds

At the time of these visits he was deeply engaged
In photographing mammals for
One of David Schmidly’s books
And because we had a family of Swamp Rabbits
Hanging about the station
And daily visits from a family of River Otters
Which Greg had found and was photographing too
John made it a regular stop to partake in the
Disneylike craziness happening around us
I wondered the other day
About how many generations of those
Critters have now passed on the peninsula
And marveled at how we humans
Would give most anything to have portraits
Of our ancestors so far back
And to have had them made permanent by such a master

On the peninsula i once netted what i thought was a Hoary Bat
Called John, and he rushed straight down
As it was a species missing from his series
That bat, which he took home to photograph
In controlled lighting
Was then passed on to Texas A&M and it
Then became the first coastal record
Of that critter in Texas
He often pointed out to me how important
That series of photos was
I often show people that map dot in Schmidly
And Davis’ books on the mammals of Texas
And tell that story

We spent many hours talking . . .
Besides those things about John
You already know
And which i’ll detail in a moment
There are two things
I remember most fondly
From those sessions with him

First, that he brought me copies of the pictures
Of those special critters
I imagine he thought of them as small gestures
To me they amounted to being put on a pedestal
I still have them
I run across them on occasion
And they conjure such deeply-felt memories
Of those wildest . . .
And funnest, and most educational
Of my days on this planet

Second, and i do not want to minimize the
Contributions of others, because there were others
Who did this and are much cherished
But John i think was first
And for all i know he conspired with,
Enlisted others

To leave money hidden about the car
And banding station
Like Easter eggs
Spread out perhaps not so much as a game
But so i could find some now and again
Whenever i reached desperation
In the way that poor grad students
Do for whatever compulsion binds them

Some years later, when i was beginning
To get serious about butterflies
I netted a small sulphur that i puzzled over
For quite a while
But finally decided had to be a Barred Yellow
Something i had never seen before
Beaming, i took it to John
Who took a quick look and said Dainty Sulphur
My lifer morphed suddenly into something
I saw abundantly
I blushed, but John did what John always did
He found a way to turn it into something special
That i had been confounded by its being an unusual form
And then off he was into the John Tveten world
Of amazing stories about Dainty Sulphurs

Did you ever notice how he always
Found a way to make you feel like the expert and
He the observer?

And that smile!
And that infectious laugh!

I am preaching to the choir aren’t i?

I know this
His heart knew no bounds

Over the years we shared some birds
His books tell some of those stories
But i seldom saw him
Kelly Bryan, our mutual connection
Updated me occasionally
Via the world of hummingbird festivals

But as we all do, much to our later chagrin,
I not so much lost track of,
As failed to keep in touch with

But as happens lately in our eco-touristic
Plugged-in times
I was able to re-establish contact
With him and Gloria in the last few years
As we shared some moments in between
Leading trips for Nature Quest
And i am so much richer for
Having had a chance to soak up
His wisdom again
After too much lost time

It was always just a few moments
But a few moments of perfection
John telling exciting stories
Of his day’s finds
The caterpillars cooking in chrysali back home
The latest trip to someplace he savored

And now this . . .

I consider it somewhat prescient
That Nature Quest ran for the last time
Last spring
Maybe it was telling us all “it’s time”

In remembering
That last time i spoke with him
I remembered too that he had signed some books
For our kids here at the ranch
And realized that he’s still teaching
Will always be teaching
Right here in my own backyard

tony gallucci
ingram, texas

The Service

We hope you can attend a celebration of John’s extraordinary life on October 29 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Armand Bayou Nature Center, 8500 Bay Area Blvd, Pasadena, TX. If you would like to bring cookies, snacks, or beverages, please do. We obviously do not want John’s family to provide refreshments. This will be an informal but important occasion for all of us to share our memories of John. Please inform anyone you know who may not be on Texbirds of the celebration.

Gary Clark
The Woodlands, TX

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