Susan Schlosser’s life journey has come full circle, from Marin, from Marin around the world and back.  For the last few years, she has been Marin Chapter Field Trip Co-Leader with Carolyn Longstreth. Her varied experiences as a marine biology researcher, world cruiser, observer of subsistence agriculture and cuisine, writer, and herbarium volunteer are excellent background for ensuring that chapter field trips are safe, well planned, and botanically interesting. During the COVID-19 hiatus from her herbarium volunteering and from leading field trips, she has been studying the natural history of oaks on Mt. Burdell. She looks forward to getting back to exploring Marin’s natural areas with chapter members and the public, alike.

College of Marin Inspiration

Susan started at College of Marin in the early 1970’s where she was inspired by the late Professor Al Molina, a major force behind the formation of the CNPS Marin Chapter. In Molina’s Marine Biology and Field Ecology classes, she learned the importance of taking field notes and making detailed observations during the extensive field trips. She enjoyed the experience of collaborating with fellow students to understand the ecology of California habitats.

Susan gravitated toward marine biology at UCSC and became a research diver. While assisting graduate students with their subtidal research, she learned underwater research methods. Her senior thesis was on mollusk species inhabiting giant kelp in the Pacific. 

The Cruising Life

Susan’s search for work in marine biology extended to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Though unable to secure a marine biology job there, she enjoyed sailing around the US and British Virgin Islands with friends. During these adventures, she met her first love who shared her desire to sail around the world.

Moving to Texas, they found jobs at a marine lab in Port Aransas. They saved money and found a second-hand yacht in Florida. “We kept the previous owner’s name for the boat, ‘Chrysalis’. The name was perfect – it was our cocoon.”

In love and in their 20s, the two spent four of their eight years together on the sailboat in French Polynesia, Western Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Australia. Field guides in hand, they adopted the local pace of life, exploring beaches, tropical forests, and local villages.

South Pacific market TongaEarly in their circumnavigation, the warmth of the Caribbean lured them to the St. Vincent Grenadine Islands. While anchored off a beach they spotted a house in the trees. Going ashore in their dingy, they were welcomed by the family living there. Susan learned how to make pumpkin soup, a regional Caribbean specialty. She wrote up the encounter and the recipe on yellow sheets from a legal pad and sent it to Cruising World magazine. To her great surprise, they published the article and paid her!

She learned that others were interested in what people grew, cooked, and ate. With continued publishing success, she eventually squirreled away enough money to buy a typewriter.

“When we reached Western Samoa, we really slowed down, and stayed as long as we could – sometimes up to a year! The South Pacific was an eye-opener: beautiful, wonderful, fascinating. The people and the places had a huge impact on us.” They accepted an invitation to visit the family of a Western Samoan acquaintance. What struck them most upon arrival was both the unanticipated jubilant welcome and the unbelievable hospitality they received.

 Anchored off the family home and village for two months, they observed the amazing culture.  Families managed their gardens to produce food year-round. Susan learned how food was grown in multiple gardens, how canoes were made, and how homes were repaired or built. Two crops were grown for local use as well as export: cocoa and coconuts. South Pacific gardenOther crops included taro, banana, papaya, sweet potato, citrus, and a variety of vegetables appropriate for season. Life included lots of hard work, but with plenty of time to relax, tell stories, and visit. A favorite treat for Susan was “Cocoa Samoa,” crushed, freshly roasted cocoa seeds mixed with hot water and a little sugar – delicious!

In return for the hospitality, Susan and her partner repaired outboard motors, baked bread and cakes, and made clothing for kids. Aboard Chrysalis, they took their adopted family on numerous fishing trips to the nearby reef. On other South Pacific Island nations and throughout the circumnavigation, they had similar experiences and made lifelong friendships.

on board with W Samoan friends

Successful Career

Upon return to the U.S., Susan completed graduate school and worked for a private abalone farm. She then enjoyed an academic career with the University of California Sea Grant program in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties.  Susan developed an active program of research and extension for over 20 years.

Return to Botany and MarinIn herbarium

After retirement, Susan decided to learn something different. Moving back to Marin with her husband, she returned to the College of Marin. Enrolled in Dr. Paul da Silva’s Field Botany of Marin class, she met Carolyn Longstreth, her field trip co-leader, along with other CNPS members Kate Wing, Jane Medley, and John Longstreth.

As a regular part of the class, students learned the procedure of making herbarium specimens. Da Silva mentioned that there was a gap in the herbarium specimens that corresponded to the Great Depression, and that volunteers would be greatly appreciated to mount the specimens that had been collected but not mounted.

                               Susan volunteered to do an Independent Study project the following semester in the herbarium, and she (along with other students) finished all the mounting. Susan’s mounted specimens are works of art. She also helped to identify some of previously unidentified plants. She became interested in the collectors and eventually researched some of them. Then she embarked on completing a database of all the specimens in the herbarium, which was near completion prior to COVID-19.

During COVID, Susan has become interested in two oak species that grow on Mt Burdell, near her home. She is following the development of both female and male flowers and the subsequent acorn growth. Susan remains steadfast to discovery, measuring young acorns on steep slopes, trying to develop research questions for 2021, and finding which factors affect acorn growth. Do all the trees have acorns, or only the ones closest to water? How about the oaks on the ridgeline? Does distance to nearby trees factor into acorn production? She welcomes CNPS members who share an interest in and knowledge of oaks to suggest good ways to study them. You can reach her at Scschlosser52@gmail.com – at least until the herbarium project gets back up to speed….