The Doctor and the Students: learning through letters

Date: 14 January, 1997
From: Jefferson Elementary and Dr. Ralph Bovard, Palmer Station.

Over the past few months, Palmer's resident doctor, Dr. Ralph Bovard, has corresponded via e-mail with students from the 5th grade class taught by one of Ralph's old high school friends, Scott Peterson, and another 5th grade class taught by Scott's wife, Janet. These letters provide a fascinating portrait both of a place and a person, and also shows what interests young people about Antarctica and the unusual group of people who live and work there.

Mason City, Iowa, is the River City of Meredith Wilson's "Music Man" and Ralph's hometown. Ralph's folks still live there. His family lives up at Clear Lake in the summers which is where Buddy Holly played his last gig with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens before they were killed in a plane crash in February 1959. Some of these letters served double duty going both to family and the 5th grade class.

P.S. We really will try to find out why Ralph has the nom d'email, Dogear (or is it Doggear?)


From: Ralph Bovard
To: Jefferson Elementary
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 23:13:24 -0500

Dear Ashton, Katherine, Tyler, Derek, Nicole, Mr. Petersen and the rest of the class:

Thanks for your letter/email. We call e-mail "email" and letters: "snail mail". Actually the postal service has done and continues to do a pretty amazing job when you really think about it. I have had letters show up from awfully exotic places and conversely reach me in equally exotic sites with only half an address. Those postal people really have given us years of faithful service; even if the cyber pony-express is fiberoptically faster, I still prefer a nicely written letter with pictures drawn or painted on it. More 3 dimensional and personal.

Two friends of mine here at Palmer Station, Eric Holm and Wendy Kozlowski, are spending the month out on the Polar Duke icebreaker doing research before coming back to station. Eric has a bouffant of blond hair tied up in red bandanas half the time. They are going to correspond with Mrs. Petersen's class at Roosevelt. Perhaps you will see them on the LFA i.e. Live From Antarctica programs if you are able to record it or see it. I hope that you are able to get in touch with the producers on the Web to ask them questions, but if not it should be fun just the same and we will all learn something and have an enjoyable time.

A tourist ship visited the station today with 126 passengers from 11 different nations on board. Most of the ships crew were German, some from the Phillipines, and a lot of Swiss, French, English, Australians, and others. I was able to make a trade with a cute German girl/woman for a T-shirt with the name of the ship on it, the Discoverer... all in the name of foreign relations, mind you.

Pile of elephant seals, Humble Island.

There have been 4 big, blubbering elephant seals lying on the rocks outside the station door for the past few weeks. They make a lot of noise, constantly belching and are quite odiferous. They are like giant garden slugs without the shell, slithering and galumphing up out of the water onto the rocks, but when they are in the water they are sleek and graceful. By attaching sensors to some of these pinnipeds, scientists know that they can dive to almost 2,000 feet below the surface. That is more than a third of a mile straight down. Zounds.

The producer of the LFA tv program here is named Deane Rink.Very interesting fellow a few years my senior... helped produce the Carl Sagan Cosmos piece in late 70's-80's. He knows one of the camera guys I worked with on (the feature film) "River Wild". Did I tell you I was offered a job as set doc for "Mask of Zorro" being filmed in Mexico ASAP, but the next doc can't get here 'til April? Arggggh. Angst.

Oh woe. Oh well. Miss you all.
Rafer Bovardski, Class of 71


Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 08:14:25 +0000
From: Jefferson Elementary
To: Ralph Bovard

Dear Dr. Bovard

Happy New Year! Were back at school...hitting the ground on the run. First thing we did was write our New Year's Resolutions. Some were: go to church more often, to learn the Ten Commandments, keep my room clean, be nicer to my brother, try to save my allowance, stop bugging my sister, be more responsible, all noble goals.

We also started reading "Island of the Blue Dolphins" by Scott O'Dell. We got lots of projects with this book. Some examples are: make primitive weapons, map of the island, obituary, write news paper article, create a diorama, and other things. This is the beginning of our survival unit. Mr. Petersen is reading "Call of the Wild" to us. He just finished "My Side of the Mountain".

After reading Is. of the Bl. Dolphins we'll have a beach party. ( Mr. Petersen will mail you a letter he sent home to our parents. ) Later in January we're going to Lime Creek Nature Center for Survival Day. We will learn to use snow shoes, make a shelter, find our way through the woods with a compass, have dog sled races [we're the dogs], and learn to start a fire using only three matches in the snow. We sure could us your help on this adventure! Hope you are well ! The TV [ PBS] crew sounds exciting.

Will be watching the live broadcasts in class. We'll also try and get on line with them and tell them what a great guy you've been to us.

Best Wishes,
Ashton Ciccetti, Katherine Petersen, Tyler Miller, Derrek French,Nicole Smith

P.S Boys Mohawk basketball is undefeated. They play number 2 team Urbarndahl Saturday , here.


From: Ralph Bovard
To: Jefferson Elementary
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 1997 23:28:56 -0500

Dear class,

I got to blathering so quickly that I forget to say that I admire all your New Year's resolutions. One of mine would be to remember that the glass is half full, rather than half empty; actually it is very full.

I would also say that the idea to quit picking on your younger siblings is a good idea, and I am not making this up (as Dave Barry would say), but they may well grow up to be BIGGER than you someday and then yer in trouble. I had two little brothers who grew up from the goober-jelly brothers to the smackin brothers in a few short years and soon had me tied in knots.

I think your survival and ingenuity projects at Lime creek and the books you are reading sound very interesting. You guys will be a bunch of Daniel Boones and Shana, Queen of the Jungles, in no time thanks to the tutelage of Mr. "Wolf-Boy" Petersen. Didn't you know he was raised by a pack of wolves? He never told you? It was just like in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books... only the Iowa version, the Cornfield Books. Mowgli Petersen, they used to call him. With his buddies Akela the junkyard dog, Baghera the tom cat, Baloo the bumbling racoon, Kaa the garter snake, and Pepe le Pew, the skunk. He hasn't told you? Well, I'll let him tell you; don't want to steal his thunder.

Leopard seal showing why he's the most feared seal.

Time to go wrassle some Leopard Seals. Gotta run.

Later 'Gators,

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