Earlier this month Dr. Bill Pruitt passed away. He was called the father of North American boreal ecology, and one of the world’s leading experts on snow ecology. I had the fortune to work at his Taiga Biological Station near Walace Lake, Manitoba during a winter, helping his student Jim Schaefer track woodland caribou. We were out skiing transects every day in -30C weather, looking for caribou tracks. Never saw many tracks, let alone caribou. But it was great experience nevertheless. Pruitt recruited me at a conference with his famous line: “we can house you, we can feed you, but we can’t pay you.” That sounded good enough to me, and the field station was sufficiently remote, so jumped aboard a train for Winnipeg as soon as I could.
As mentioned in his obituary, Pruitt was a firm believer in true, old-fashioned fieldwork, spending as much time outside as possible. His motto was: “the quality of one’s data is inversely related to the amount of glass and metal in one’s surroundings”.
He was, however, a strong supporter of everything Finnish, including saunas. No field station was complete without one, and ideally it should be built first, so it was available during construction of other buildings.
My time at Taiga station and Pruitt’s work on snow helped to inspire me to pursue a Masters in winter ecology, observing ptarmigan in the Yukon/BC for two winters. My accommodations in Chilkat Pass the first year were simple at best – Pruitt would have approved.