More About Egolfs

Posted Jun 8, 2008
Last Updated Jun 8, 2008
I've grossly neglected blogging lately, in order to finish the rough draft of a historical novel, ARMFELT.  Then came a week's trip to Kansas, with son Jack, daughter-in-law Jill, and granddaughter Kristen, to sprinkle the ashes of my wife Gail in the yard of  the family farmn and to re-energize family relations.  That was followed by a long weekend at MarCon (Multiple Alternate Realities Convention), a large regional science fiction get-together here in Columbus, Ohio.
    Meanwhile I'd received three additional data sets on Egolfs: one of them from one of his students and mentees, Professor Dick Waring.  It was forwarded to me by Egolfs' devoted colleague, Cindy Buschena.   Another is excerpted from an email from one of Egolf's daughters, Ilze.  The third is from Professor Rolfe Leary, a long-time friend of Egolfs.
    I'll begin with Professor Waring's account.

More Memories of Egolfs Bakuzis

    I met Egolfs at the Quetico-Superior Wilderness Research Center on Basswood Lake in 1953.  There I was a field assistant to Orie Loucks who was attaining an M.S. degree from Toronto University, assessing the effects of leaving a fringe of uncut timber along lake shores during WW II.
    I probably spent more time with Egolfs than any other student because I drove him across all 87 counties [in Minnesota] to gather information for his Ph.D. Every night in the motel we would key-out [identify botanically] a bail of hay consisting of all the numbered but unrecognized species of plants [we'd] encountered during the day.  While driving, he told me stories of his youth and survival through WW II.  The first ship that he took out of port to come to America sunk with his Latvian thesis on board. He came to America and settled in Minnesota with his wife and six children, starting work at a nursery but with a goal [of becoming] a scholar, showing a medieval dedication similar to monks entering their call.  
    When I became a graduate student myself in 1958, Egolfs taught me to translate German and gave me books to read in that language that provided a theoretical base for both of our field studies.  The challenge that I saw was to put numbers on the environmental gradients that European scientists like Egolfs, had long recognized (light, water, nutrients).  It took about a decade to find physiologically-based measurements that quantified those theoretical gradients.
    Eventually, the field moved on to where Egolfs knew we had to go, toward integrating ecosystems.  This is where cybernetics and system modeling came in during the 1970s with the International Biological Program.  It brought me great pleasure to have Egolfs visit Oregon during that time and travel through forests that represented the full range of forest productivity in North America.
    Eventually, these modeling approaches combined with remote sensing to give us insights into the effects of climate on water, carbon, and nutrient cycling across the Earth’s surface. 
    In 1998, Egolfs received a textbook dedicated to him and my Berkeley mentor, Ed Stone.  Although I never became, nor sought to be, the scholar that Egolfs may have wished, I appreciated his dedication to seek integrative methods and his interests in inspiring students.  Both of my mentors died…with warn-out bodies but with clear minds and kind hearts toward all students who crossed their paths.  That’s a legacy for any professor.

With respect,
Dick Waring


Now we come to comments from a letter by Egolfs' daughter Ilze, which elaborate on or correct my earlier impressions, and can be considered quite accurate.  They add to our understanding of this remarkable man.

    The Baltic University was established in Hamburg but transferred to Pinneberg. That's where my dad did most of his teaching and work.

[Early in the war] my parents spent several weeks at the Baltic seashore hiding in "zose booshes" awaiting the arrival of a boat from Sweden to take us there, but it never showed up. Shortly after, my father was arrested by the Nazis in the streets of Riga into forced labor in Germany as he was working in the underground assisting others to escape to Sweden. While he was in Germany, my mother had to escape by herself with her three young children, Peter, then 3, Dace 2, and myself 6 months old to Germany.  This was the ship that was bombed by the Russians. In the ensuing chaos, Dace was lost and wound up at a different port following the rescue.  She was found two days later by a great uncle of ours who wrestled her from the arms of a German woman who claimed that Dace was her daughter.  This woman had just lost her own daughter.  [By entering "maritime history WWII 1944-1945 in the internet search text box, Ilze's brother, Peter Bakuzis] learned recently that the ship was called the Bremerhaven.

My youngest sister, Alida has my father's diary. Much of it is smudged, blurred or illegible.  She recently purchased a scanner in order to enlarge the text and hopefully be able to decipher the writing better.  He began making entries at age 16 and continued during the war.  At that age he dreamt of being a poet,and later a mathematician.  Those hopes were dashed due to poverty.  His mother divorced his father when my dad was 6 years old, due to alcoholism....  His mother supported my dad and his sister by herself, operating a kiosk and at times living in Moscow.

Sincerely, Ilze

Thank you, Ilze.
And from a very different part of Egolfs' life, afterthoughts from Professor Rolfe Leary, Egolf's long-time respected friend and sometime colleague:

Further thoughts / memories of Egolfs V. Bakuzis:

1. Egolfs taught a graduate course at U. MN called Forest Ecosystems.  It was a different kind of course. Egolfs would bring in a stack of books from his extensive collection and briefly, or not so briefly, go over the contents of each book, one by one, and pass them around for class persons to peruse.  There  were many non-convential students – faculty from other departments who would audit the class, like I did.  A ‘normal’ year would have more auditors than tuition paying students.  

2. Egolfs was an expert in triangular coordinates.  He once sent a manuscript to Forest Science, and the editor at the time remarked to Egolfs in his acceptance letter that “reviewing this paper was not for the faint hearted” – or something like that. [see: Elements of Model Construction and the use of Triangular models in forestry research.  by E.V. Bakuzis and R. M. Brown.  Forest Science 8(2):119-131 [1962]]

3. Egolfs was interested in some kind of a ‘grand synthesis’.  He felt that the synthesis would be based on the accumulated sum of what was being researched at the time.  He continued his quest for this synthesis of current thinking [about forest ecosystems?] by collecting and collecting and organizing and organizing, and printing the result in 8 or 9 volumes of “Lecture and Research Notes on Forest Ecosystems”.  These were distributed free to anyone who knew about them and requested a copy.  Some early volumes were printed with a small grant from USDA Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station.  

4. Egolfs definitely had an encyclopedic synthesis ‘style’.  Interestingly when auditing his Forest Ecosystems course, he introduced to the class the works of Edward F. Haskell.  Haskell had published a paper in Ecology in 1940 where he called for development of an ecological field theory.  Being a strong believer in the supremacy of physics as a science, Egolfs was very impressed by Haskell’s insight.  Interestingly, Haskell was also intent on making a grand synthesis using as a foundation the concepts underlying Mendeleev’s Period Table of the Chemical Elements to formulate a mathematical coordinate system that he, Haskell, claimed was a synthesis of the geometries of Euclid, Reiman and Lobachevsky.  Haskell used almost the opposite strategy of Egolfs – he hit the high points and just “assumed on limited evidence” that certain systems fit here or there.

5. Once in his class Egolfs reviewed and circulated a 2 volume set of books called “Scientific Research: The search for system” and “Scientific Research: The search for truth” by Prof. Mario Bunge, McGill University.  I was very attracted to the writings of Prof. Bunge, and some years later I convinced Dr. John Ohman, NCFES Director at the time, to hire Bunge to come to the North Central Forest Experiment Station and give 20 of us scientists a 2 week refresher course in research methods.  In retrospect this was a huge deal – to have someone of Bunge’s stature teach a bunch of foresters about research methods.  By 2008, Bunge had published something like 80 books on philosophy, philosophy of science, methodology of science, etc.  Do a Google search on “Mario Bunge” and see how many hits you get.  Importantly, Dr. Bakuzis and Dr. Bunge had time to get together, take a walk, and talk about some of the questions Egolfs found important.  Here is a photo taken at the training session:

 [My apologies: the photo didn't make it through the system.  I'll see what my webmaster suggests.]

6. Egolfs’ penchant for collecting suffered a setback when he found himself bounced out of his top floor office in Green Hall, in preparation for building renovation.  He was moved to a large office on the ground floor of North Hall on the St. Paul Campus.  Because of its character, Egolfs called it ‘deadwood hall’.  The extra office space seemed to accelerate his collecting of literature by making Xerox copies of more and more materials.  Eventually, the University of Minnesota decided to demolish North Hall (to make way for a parking lot) and Egolfs was forced to move to a smallish (but very adequate) office on the first floor of the refurbished Green Hall.  In preparation for his move Egolfs threw away over 25 barrels of Xerox copies of scientific articles.  Ouch!!!  [A ‘barrel’ is one of those units on 4 wheels that janitors pull around to empty paper towels into. That size.]  [Below] is a picture of Egolfs and myself in his office at Deadwood Hall in front of a floor to ceiling collection of Xerox copies – possibly most of which had to be discarded ☹.  [Egolfs on the left.]

[Again my apologies for the photo not making it.  I'll see what my webmaster suggests.]    

7.  During a meeting in his office 10/15/97 Egolfs told me that as a child of about 5 years of age he had found some cognac in his parents home and had drunk more than he should have.  As a teenager he made a pledge of no-alcohol use, which was during the prohibition era in the USA.  For about 15 years he was Secretary of Band of Hope Youth (PupilsStudent) Movement – an anti-alcohol group.  He said he enjoyed good reading material in the local library, playing chess, art (Ibsen especially), and Shakespeare.  [He often bought books of Emily Dickenson’s poems as gifts for others].  

8. During that visit in 1997 Egolfs told me of the ‘high points and low points’ of his scientific career.  They occurred close in time; the high point occurred when he was giving a paper on synecological coordinates at the 1961 Vienna IUFRO Subject Group 13 meeting in Vienna, Austria.  Egolfs was the last speaker on the program and earlier speakers went over their allotted time – they took 15 of Egolfs’ 20 minutes.  So when his time came, he laid aside his prepared notes and just went to the blackboard and made some quick graphs (perhaps eco-graphs, but I’m not certain), and hit the important high points quickly but thoroughly.  He then sat down after his 5 minutes, and the convener of the session, the world famous German ecologist Heinz Ellenberg (1913-1997) exclaimed “Endlich was Neus!!” [approximately ‘finally something new’].  That was the high point of his career, he said.  The low point occurred a short time later when he returned to U. MN from Vienna, and he excitedly told his Dean of Prof. Ellenberg’s remark.  His Dean’s response was – "no more work on synecological coordinates will be permitted.  We’ve received a complaint from an extension forester in Duluth who says he can’t understand them."  So, within a few days – most assuredly less than 1 week – he had experienced the high and low points of his scientific career.