Living Treasure: Teralene S. Fox

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By Colleen Olinger

Throughout her life, 2014 Living Treasure Teralene (Terry) Foxx has felt close to nature. “When I
was six, we moved to a wheat ranch in Idaho on the Little Camas Prairie. Every spring the Camas lilies bloomed. We would walk along the road and my mother would talk about the lilies or pick up a snake and let us touch it. That was my introduction”, Terry’s interest was cemented at the College of Idaho. There she took a seven- week camping field trip from Southern Idaho into Mexico, studying the flora and fauna of Mexico and the Southwest. Later she earned an MS in biology from Kansas State University.

Terry and her husband Jim arrived in Los Alamos in 1969 with two daughters Alison and Erin.
He had accepted a job as an inorganic chemist at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Their third
daughter, Kerri, was born in Los Alamos. Terry credits the pull of Los Alamos’ natural setting as
an immediate attraction. “I have a heart for the mountains. I never got use to the flatness of
Kansas. It was a chance to come back home.”

Terry started teaching at the newly established University of New Mexico-Los Alamos as its
first biology adjunct professor. She taught for seven years finding teaching especially satisfying.
In her classes, some of her students were middle-aged men and women taking advantage of
an opportunity to study again. Others were high school or freshmen college students. “The
diversity made the discussions very dynamic.” One of her pupils was Dorothy Hoard. They
became close friends, co-authors, and collaborators. For over 40 years they gave hikes and
classes on wildflowers, helping people love the out-of-doors. Their book “Flowers of the
Southwestern Woodlands” is out of print but being revised.

In the mid-1970s, Terry was involved in archaeological studies of the flood pool of soon to
be Cochiti Lake. Soon after, she began to do threaten and endangered species surveys for
the Laboratory’s first EIS. The work developed into a regular staff position and culminated
in the late 1990s as an acting group leader of ESH-20. While at the Lab, Terry participated
in biological assessments for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) investigations. This
included botanical work for the Romero Cabin which was later moved to its present location
near the Los Alamos Historical Museum.

“My most significant contribution to the Laboratory, I believe, came when we finally did a
threatened and endangered species habitat management plan. This provided a process to
assess impacts of projects to species prior to project initiation. It also provided upfront baseline
data for plants and animals.” Terry believes it is important for an organization to have baseline
data. “How do they know what the impact is unless they have that information?”
For thirty-seven years, Terry has attempted to understand the dynamics of fire on the
ecosystem. “In 1975, I began to work with Dr. Loren Potter of the University of New Mexico.”
Dr. Potter had a grant to determine the frequency of fire in the ponderosa pine forest. The
study would provide information for a fire management technique called prescribed burning.
“We studied fire frequency from the 1800s to 1976 using dendrochronology. In June 1977, the
La Mesa fire burned the plots we had set out.”

“Rather than a tragedy, this turned out to be serendipitous for our research because we could
study fire frequency before and after that fire. It started a lifetime of observation of forest
recovery for me.” Dr. Potter and Terry found that if an area had not burned in the last twenty
years, all the trees in an area died. The tree-ring studies indicated fires return was on the
average of every five to ten years before 1900 but because for fire suppression over 80 years
after 1900. “The 1977 La Mesa Fire was one of the first real chances for many researchers to
come together and study the dynamics of fire in Jemez Mountains,” Terry said. Studies ranged
from hydrology to birds, aquatic insects to wildlife. Two symposia were given on studies and
provided a baseline for understanding fire in the ecosystems of the Jemez Mountains.

“My fire work marked a real cultural change for me. I discovered not all fire is as bad. Surface
fires can make a forest healthier. When you see plants sprouting within days of a fire or aspens
a foot tall after fire, it does something to your heart – it makes you feel like there’s hope.” This
experience helped Terry understand loss and recovery after the Cerro Grande fire burned into
Los Alamos. “Many people grieved, and still do, the loss of a once tree covered landscape. But
by looking beyond the burned trees, seeing how nature recovers, there is a sense of hope. My
contribution to the healing process was getting people out to see the miracle of rebirth out
of the ashes of the burned forest. I am amazed how quickly nature begins to heal the scars
of a wildfire.” These experiences led to writing the stories of loss and recovery in several
publications: Lest We Forget and Touched by Fire and a children’s book,The Forest and the Fire.

Terry is a certified lay minister in the Methodist Church. Her church association has contributed
to a personal passion: storytelling. She is a Master Storyteller trained in a four-year
apprenticeship. This apprenticeship allowed her to travel to other countries-Iceland, Ireland,
and England as well as the regions of the US to study storytelling. Fellow apprentices came
from all over the country. “To this day we are very close because we shared stories.” They meet
once a year someplace in the US.

“I use storytelling to help explain about the natural world. I like to talk about the science and
then how various cultures understand the world. I have done this in schools, churches, and
various workshops. Stories talk to the heart; science to the head. Children and adults need
both. There’s a storytelling voice and there’s a science voice and they support each other.
Telling our stories of evacuation and loss were important in helping people heal after the Cerro
Grande and other fires.” Last June Terry had fun incorporating stories and science into a PBS
Science Café talk on ravens at PEEC.

Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC), the Fuller Lodge Art Center, Los Alamos
Historical Society have benefitted from Terry’s participation. She has given talks for the
Historical Society, had a children’s book published, and exhibited a “Then and Now”
photographic display. She was President of the Art Center board and is now President of
the Board of PEEC. “I have found being on a board is lot of responsibility. Board members
are wonderful, dedicated people.” PEEC board members and staff are tackling a big job.
Approximately a year from now, PEEC will move from its current home on Orange Street
to a newly constructed County nature center on Canyon Road next to the swimming pool.
In addition to displays, the new nature center will serve as a community meeting place and
house a planetarium. Her involvement at PEEC has included teaching classes, leading hikes and
participating in programs.

In retirement, Terry has also become active in the Los Alamos art community. “I didn’t think
I could draw until in my 40s. I began to take art classes, often the only adult in a children’s
class.” She was first self-conscious about displaying her work but has become known for her
photography, water colors, colored pencil, and fabric art. After suffering a heart attack fifteen
years ago, she sought a creative outlet to help her heal and took up quilting. “I strongly believe
creativity helps in the healing process. I had given up sewing many years before, but both
painting and sewing helped me through that difficult period.”

Thinking back about her life, “What life I have had! I have learned so much about the natural
world. I have a beautiful family. And I’ve been fortunate to do what I loved-- being outdoors,
teaching, storytelling, painting, and writing.”