Last year Ernst Both retired as Buffalo Museum of Science President. Ever since then I have wanted to write of my appreciation for this fine leader who has been so cordial and generous to me and, over his 36 year museum tenure, to so many others. But I know Both from personal associations at the museum and on field trips. I didnıt wish merely to list his accomplishments as I could do little justice to his achievements in astronomy, linguistics, mycology, and music. Thus I had no focus for a column.
Now, fortunately, I have found an autobiographical manuscript Both prepared at the request of his wife Billie and museum trustee George Goodyear. Entitled ³Foxfire² it tells of Bothıs experiences as a teenager through the mid-1940s. He describes the harrowing story of his ethnic German family who had until then lived comfortably in western Romania. The later months of World War II found them trapped between German, Russian, and American armies and Yugoslav guerrillas.
The Boths trekked first by tractor-drawn wagon from Transylvania across Yugoslavia into Hungary and from there by railroad boxcar through Czechoslovakia and finally into Saxony. As I read this often violent history, I felt proud of our soldiers who are today enforcing peace in the same area and among similar partisans.
Despite the often terrifying incidents he reports, an extraordinary humanity pervades Bothıs story. I cite two (edited) incidents:
³Carrying a large bundle of firewood I was just about to leave the woods when out of nowhere appeared a Lockheed Lightning, coming at me at nearly eye-level (or so it seemed), firing his guns directly at me. I immediately dropped down behind a large log. I heard a bullet hit a small tree only inches away. As fast as it had appeared the plane disappeared, but I stayed behind the log for a while. I knew that planes often circled for a second run.
³Looking around I discovered that one area of the log was covered with last seasonıs birdıs nest fungi, small thimble-shaped nestsı filled with tiny puff-ball like fungi, which when hit directly by a rain drop would be splashed out of the nest.ı This I learned much later, but the experience aroused a life-long fondness for birdıs nest fungi. I took a few to give to mother.²
On Christmas Eve in 1945, Both set out on a long hike to cut a fir tree for his familyıs straitened celebration. He continues, ³On the way home the sky darkened and it started to snow heavily. Soon the wind picked up and I found myself in a full-fledged blizzard. I improvised a shelter under a partly fallen tree. It was almost like an igloo. The storm lasted for hours, there was zero visibility, and I completely lost my bearings. How long could I stay alive? Harsh cold enveloped me and my empty stomach pained. I felt very tired but fought to remain awake since I knew that sleep would result in death. I was resolved to live.
³Long after dark and just as quickly as it had started, the blizzard stopped. I made my way out of the forest, still carrying my tree. Where was I? Which way should I go? The landscape had completely changed. Then suddenly the clouds opened up and there stood the constellation of Orion. Now I knew which direction I had to take.²
It is good to have Ernst Both remaining at the museum as emeritus mycology curator studying fungi. I commend him for his exemplary museum leadership and accomplishments and I urge him to seek publication of his remarkable manuscript.