Theodora Cope Gray – Nature’s Own Child

She died as she had wished, propped up in her bed so she could watch the birds at her feeder. At 94 years of age, Teddy Gray had lived a long and interesting life.

She would say that her happiest days were those spent when she was married to Philip Gray whom she wed when she was sixty.

But fans all over the world remember her for her marriage to Englishman John Stanwell-Fletcher, a trapper and Arctic explorer, and their sojourn in the wilds of British Columbia which resulted in Teddy’s best-selling book Driftwood Valley. It was the ultimate wilderness adventure, what many people dream about doing but few venture to try.

Based on a diary Teddy kept, Driftwood Valley was published in 1946 and received the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding literary work in the field of natural history. Over the years, the book has gone through many printings, including the latest in 1998. New generations continue to read the book and be inspired by it.

Soon after my husband Bruce and I were married, in 1962, we read Driftwood Valley and dreamed of living in such a place. Instead, we settled for a remote, but accessible home in central Pennsylvania.

Years later, while working on my first book about Pennsylvania’s natural places–Outbound Journeys in Pennsylvania–we visited Woodbourne Forest and Wildlife Sanctuary in Susquehanna County. Owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy, it has one of the best old-growth forests in eastern Pennsylvania. The land had been donated to the conservancy by the Francis R. Cope family in three separate pieces–478 acres in 1956, 72 acres in 1965, and 52 acres in 1978.

“You know,” then caretaker and naturalist Joyce Stone, told me, “Teddy Gray, Cope’s daughter, is still alive and lives in the family home. She wrote Driftwood Valley.”

I was flabbergasted.

“But she doesn’t give interviews,” Joyce added. So I respected her privacy and didn’t mention her when I wrote my chapter on Woodbourne.

Then, more than a decade later, in 1993, I was contacted by writer John Elder. He was editing a two-volume reference set called American Nature Writers. Because I am a Pennsylvania nature writer who has also written two books about pioneering American women naturalists, he thought I would be able to write an 8,000-word essay about Teddy Gray’s life and books for his reference work.

“But she doesn’t give interviews,” I told him.

“See what you can do,” he replied.

Not only did she not give interviews, there had never been one biographical article about her despite her fame.

“I do loathe publicity of any sort–annoyed publishers, now so long ago, by refusing to attend social affairs or appear in public,” she wrote to me in answer to my letter asking if I could interview her. But she agreed to an interview.

Near the end of the incredible winter of 1993-94, Bruce and I traveled to the small home she lived in on her family property near Woodbourne. Even though it was March 19, three-foot-high snowbanks lined the icy rural roads. Teddy didn’t mind, though. At 88 she still snowshoed every day, a skill she had learned when she was six years old and attending the local, four-room Dimock school. In winter she either showshoed to school or traveled on a bobsled pulled by a team of horses.

Soon after her birth in Germantown, Pennsylvania on January 4, 1906, her father, Francis R. Cope, decided to move to the family home built by his father, Alexis T. Cope, in 1883 near Dimock. There he started an orchard business.

Cope, like several of his relatives, including a third cousin–the famous nineteenth-century paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope–was a naturalist and teacher. His special passion was birds, and he became an expert amateur ornithologist. At age 8, instructed by her father, Teddy started a daily bird list, a habit she kept up all her life.

Both Cope and his wife Evelyn F. Morris Cope, loved the outdoors and communicated that love not only to their child, but to her cousins and the local farmers’ children. As part of their commitment to educate children about nature, the Copes conducted their informal Dimock Nature Study Camp every summer. They either camped in the 200-acre old growth forest tract at Woodbourne or at East Fishing Creek on land owned by Cope’s friend Colonel Bruce Ricketts. That land later became part of Ricketts Glen State Park. At the camp they taught not only camping skills and natural history, but also lessons in personal ideals and behavior, based on the Cope family’s long tradition of Quaker idealism and public service.

As a teenager, Teddy lived part time with her Quaker grandmother and aunts in Germantown so she could attend Germantown Friends’ School.

“Has thee made a little quiet time for thyself today?” they continually asked her. She took this query seriously and throughout her life, sparsely inhabited, quiet places maintained a hold on her. She also loved to read and grew up surrounded by books and adults who read aloud every evening.

In 1924 she entered Mount Holyoke College. Its isolated, beautiful setting in South Hadley, Massachusetts suited her perfectly. Because of her interest in the interrelationship of nature and humanity, she majored in economic geography. After her graduation from college, her father took her in search of rare birds for a year, visiting such remote places as Fiji, Java, and Sumatra as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Then, encouraged by her parents, she entered Cornell University in 1930 to study for a Master of Science Degree. A founding member of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, she worked under ornithologist Arthur A. Allen and Albert H. Wright. Wright allowed her to pursue fieldwork–“personal observation of the species in their natural haunts” as she researched and wrote her master’s thesis entitled “Some Observations of the Vertebrate Ecology of a Pennsylvania Mountain Farm.” Although she conducted her fieldwork for the thesis during the summer of 1931 and the spring of 1932, she based much of her study on earlier notes and observations she had made under her father’s tutelage. She described how she watched a pileated woodpecker nest, a red fox den, a mink installed in an old woodchuck den, and the behavior of muskrats.

As part of her research, she also conducted bird censuses in Woodbourne’s old growth forest and on a chilly day in May recorded 23 species. She performed similar censuses on other sections of the varied property and concluded that the large numbers of birds were due to “the relatively large amount of forest land which has been allowed to remain on this farm, thus helping to furnish the birds with plenty of shelter and food.” She added that her family was trying to save as much native forestland as possible and to reforest cleared areas that were not productive for farming. Her twin themes of conservation of old growth forest and reforestation of marginal farmland–relatively new ideas in the 1930s–are still being debated.

Continuing her interest in old growth forests, Teddy went on to obtain her Ph.D. in vertebrate ecology from Cornell, entitling her dissertation “Observations on the Vertebrate Ecology of Some Pennsylvania Virgin Forests.” In addition to studying Woodbourne’s 200 acres of old growth, she chose three other old growth forests–a 600-acre tract at Silver Lake, also in Susquehanna County, the 800-acre old growth tract on Ricketts’s property, and the 4300-acre Tionesta Tract in the Allegheny National Forest.

Her father, as vice president of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, had been influential in saving the Tionesta Tract, and together they conducted a survey of its flora and fauna. In writing her dissertation, she wanted to leave a record for future naturalists or what these forests contained “before [they] had been ruthlessly changed by the hand of man.”

She showed empathy for even despised creatures such as rattlesnakes (which are “not harmful unless molested”), snapping turtles (“most adaptable. They learned to take food off a fork”), and little brown bats which she hand fed. She also recorded the mating of spotted salamanders, collected a rare bog lemming at Woodbourne, and faithfully listed and described the woody and herbaceous plants, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, breeding birds, and mammals living in each old growth forest.

She concluded that varied habitats contain an abundance of species, “that much may be learned from Nature’s methods of growing trees and all forms of plant and animal life, and that these methods may well be superior to those employed by man,” and that predators, such as bobcats, “may well be more beneficial than harmful in helping to maintain a balance of healthy wild animal life in any given year.”

After receiving her Ph.D. in 1936, Teddy had her chance to live in wilderness. During one of two summers she spent in Churchill, Manitoba, studying birds and plants as part of a team of Cornell scientists and students, she had met her future husband, John Stanwell-Fletcher, whom she married in 1937. Together they headed for a remote valley in British Columbia 200 miles northeast of the southern tip of Alaska. The nearest telephone, railroad, and road were 240 miles away. No humans had ever lived in the valley they chose. It was “virgin territory…untouched wilderness” where they could build a home, live a peaceful, simple life, and study the flora and fauna in natural conditions throughout all the seasons.

They collected plant and animal specimens for the British Columbia Provincial Museum often under the most trying conditions–“mosquitoes attack one’s neck, or ear, or arm just as one reaches the crucial and most difficult part of the job,” she wrote. They found mountain maple far north of its known range, extended the range of northern skunks, pygmy owls, and evening grosbeaks, and set a new record for the northern range of cougars. Altogether they produced an annotated list that included 280 plants, 13 fishes, 4 amphibians, 139 birds, and 41 mammal species and subspecies.

Best of all, though, were the wolves. Their valley became “a consert hall filled with wolf music.”

“The Natives,” she told me during my visit, “were never afraid of wolves. They knew of no one who had been attacked by them. I think hearing them sing in the mating season opened our eyes to their real character.”

Both Teddy and her husband championed the wolves as intelligent predators deserving respect from humans. In 1942, two years before Adolph Murie’s The Wolves of Mount McKinley was published, Stanwell-Fletcher wrote an illustrated, sympathetic study of the wolves they had observed for Natural History magazine.

By then the idyll was over. Teddy had returned to Woodbourne to raise her baby daughter. Her husband had gone off to war.

Despite being a fulltime mother, Teddy managed to write Driftwood Valley and two other books in the next two decades. The Tundra World was a fictionalized account of her summers in Churchill and Clear Lands and Icy Seas was based on two summer trips she made to the eastern Arctic in 1952 and 1953 on a Hudson’s Bay Company supply ship. In both books, nature takes the front seat.

She traveled to and sometimes lived in many places during her life–Alaska, California, the American Southwest, Scandinavia, Kenya, Tanzania, Tahiti, Great Britain, the Gaspe peninsula–but she always came back to Woodbourne. After the death of her husband, Philip Gray, in 1978, she led a quiet and retired life, but she still attended the regular meetings of the Woodbourne Management Committee. When they argued about whether or not deer-hunting and beaver-trapping should be allowed on the sanctuary, Teddy said that “In order to preserve the forest, some hunting of deer should be allowed and some trapping of beaver.”

She was a small, lively woman with clear, blue eyes who enjoyed picnicking in the woods every day, even in the winter. Her favorite birds were hermit thrushes and winter wrens. She disliked technology and refused to use a typewriter.

“I’m an ecologist,” she once told her husband Philip. “To my nature-mill, everything’s grist.”

At her memorial service last July, I was struck by how many local people stood up to say how she had turned them on to the beauties of the natural world. Even those nurses who had cared for her in her last days learned about the birds she was still watching from her windows.

“Man talks much,” she wrote in Driftwood Valley, “about serving his fellow men, very little about serving the earth which has served him faithfully throughout the centuries of his being, and without whose cooperation he could not even exist.”

Throughout her life, Teddy Gray faithfully served the earth and its wild creatures. She and her family have also left us the wonderful gift of Woodbourne Forest and Wildlife Sanctuary.



70 responses to “Theodora Cope Gray – Nature’s Own Child”

  1. Jeff Schroeder Avatar
    Jeff Schroeder

    I am Jeff Schroeder, the husband of Jennifer Anne Cope Bidlake who was a granddaughter of Teddy or Mimi as we called her.
    I thank you for writing such a beautiful article about such a wonderful and beautiful lady. Teddy touched a place in our hearts with all of her wonderful stories, tales and thoughts on nature.
    Many times when I see a chickadee when I am enjoying nature I believe it is Teddy coming along to enjoy our journeys and adventures.

    Wonderful memories of a wonderful person.

  2. Conn Wittwer Avatar
    Conn Wittwer

    Ihave read all thre of Theodoras books. The first on Driftwood Valley when I was 13 years old in Montana. In 1998 I found a Driftwood Valley book in perfect condition in an old bookstore. It was the one with all the sketches inclluded. I was so pleased to read your article about the life of Theodora c Stanwell Fletcher (Theodora C Gray).
    I would love to have a copy of your writing Natures Child.
    Conn Wittwer age 78

  3. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Thanks for your comment Mr. Wittwer. The 8,000-word piece I wrote for AMERICAN NATURE WRITERS is only available in that reference book. I imagine that if you would contact your local library and ask if they could get a copy of that book through interlibrary loan, you would be able to read my much longer article on Teddy. It would be in volume 2 under “Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher.” Or they might just send you a copy of the article.

  4. Bradley SaintJohn Avatar

    Driftwood Valley was the first novel that I read in my life, at the age of 17, in 1972. in the following years I read The Dangerous River by Patterson and Nahanni by Dick Turner. I would say that Theodoras book DV was my initiation to, and was the start to my life in the wilderness, and eventually living on my own wilderness property, almost due west of the Driftwood, in Alberta. I lived on my treed lot in a tent for two years (yes even in –40 winters) before I built a small plywood thick cabin. I am sad to find that Teddy gave no interview, save yours, and as you advised above shall do as advised as well, and I am sure to source out her other books to read. I have just purchased a copy of a third reprint in 1946, of Driftwood Valley, and about to start reading it to my young daughters, 7 and 5, who already wish to camp in a tent in the wilderness. I will build a flat bottom canoe and we have islands in the river-lakes around us, which we can tent on with out fear of bears, which are plentiful in our area.
    I have also found an aerial photo of the cabin at Lake Tetana, including the trail in, and hope to visit this summer.
    Bradley SaintJohn, 53

  5. Marcia Bonta Avatar


    How wonderful that you were able to follow your dream based on reading DRIFTWOOD VALLEY. I’m sure your daughters will enjoy the book as you did and good luck with your endeavors.

  6. joss Barrie Avatar
    joss Barrie

    Driftwood valley was a huge discovery for me as a child, it opened up new worlds and is a book that still delights me almost 30 years after my first reading.
    Beautifully written, it was responsible for starting a good many adventures in my life. I would love to visit that area in the future.

  7. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Teddy told me, before she died, that many people were still visiting the area. She seemed surprised that her book had meant so much to so many people.

  8. Jack Willey Avatar
    Jack Willey

    I just finished reading Driftwood Valley. I recently read an excerpt from it in “Green Treasury” an old book by Edwin Way Teale, and I thought it looked interesting. It was!
    What a brave and adventurous woman. And here I thought I was roughing it in my so called wilderness adventures.
    Great Website!

  9. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Glad you enjoyed the book. There are many more women who roughed it in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than you would imagine, as I discovered while researching and writing my book WOMEN IN THE FIELD.

  10. Jack Willey Avatar
    Jack Willey

    I’m sure you are right about that and I will read your book. I have passed on your Website location to my nature appreciating friends.

  11. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Thanks so much, Jack. Meeting Teddy Gray was one of the nicest things that has happened to me in my writing career.

  12. Maureen Schaber Avatar
    Maureen Schaber

    So glad to find this site and hear “the rest of the story” -I’ve just re-read Driftwood Valley. The copy I have was given to me when I was living in Hazelton BC by my Uncle who lived there most of his life. I love that country and go back whenever I can.
    When you read the book you feel so close to Teddy and Jack – and I was very disappointed to learn that they had divorced. But pleased to know she lived a long and fruitful life..thank you for making the effort to interview her…

  13. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Did I make it clear that he is the one who walked away and that included from his daughter. Teddy was devastated.

  14. Ruth Douglas Avatar
    Ruth Douglas

    I recently finished reading Driftwood Valley, which I discovered after reading Tundra World, which I picked up in my own home, given me at some point by someone, I suspect it was my sister, though she says she doesn’t remember it! I then went on to read Driftwood Valley, which has the most beautiful nature writing I have ever read, bar none. I have just been entranced by it. I will purchase a copy of the book for myself. As a result of reading DV, I have googled her name, and that led to my reading about her on your web site. I will have to read your book, and look up the article you wrote on her in American Nature Writers. Thank you so much for doing that.

    I, too was very saddened to learn that she and Jack had divorced. It is so easy to feel one knows her based on her writing.

    I only wish I had read her books 50 years ago so they could have been part of my life for all those years. But…they are now.

    Ruth Douglas

  15. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Driftwood Valley and The Tundra World. I have both of those books but had to borrow Clear Lands and Icy Seas on Interlibrary Loan. I’m sure you would like that book too, especially if you like reading books about the Arctic.

  16. Melanie Drall Avatar
    Melanie Drall

    I just finished reading Driftwood Valley. I loved it and was hoping they returned, but i am guessing not. I was trying to find out more about Jack and why he died so young. Are there any articles on him? Does anyone know why he walked away from there marriage? I loved the article on Teddy. She lived such a wonderful life. thanks for the book.

  17. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Jack did not die that young. He remarried and did more exploration. Teddy never went back to Driftwood Valley. She had another unhappy marriage many years later and then, finally, had a wonderful marriage for ten years until he died. She seemed amazed that her book was still so popular and that folks actually went to the valley and took photos, which they sent to her.

  18. Lisa Canada Avatar

    Thanks for a wonderful article about Teddy. I’ve read Driftwood Valley several times over the last decade after receiving a dog-eared copy from one of my husband’s colleagues. I conducted a little research trying to find out more about Tetana and Teddy’s later life. (I also read her other works, but they didn’t inspire me as much as Driftwood Valley.) I have been interested in putting together some sort of annotated version of Driftwood Valley, providing photos and identifying which of the flora and fauna remain, current animal and human populations, and so forth. Has anything like that been attempted? I am a writer and nature lover, but I fear I don’t have the expertise she did to try such a project. An upcoming trip to BC has made me thing I should give it a go. Any thoughts?

  19. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Sounds like an interesting project that would take a good deal of time and expertise. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

  20. Dave Edwards Avatar
    Dave Edwards

    Hi, I am Dave Edwards, I had the honor of knowing Mrs.Gray growing up. She taught me everything I know about nature more importantly how to respect it. She and her pet wolf Teddy are some of the best memories I have as a child. Thank you for such a nice write up about her.

  21. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    What a wonderful memory to have. Thanks for the interesting comment.

  22. Muryl Geary Avatar
    Muryl Geary

    Hi, I’m Muryl Geary in Vancouver BC Canada. I recently pulled a dog-eared copy of Driftwood Valley out of a box of books belonging to my late brother who died in 1985. As it was about BC I thought I’d glance through before adding it to a box set to go to the Sally Ann. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down til the end. Unexpectedly I found tears in my eyes. This book is staying in my collection. Mrs. Stanwell-Fletcher’s love of the animals was tantamount. I’m sure “Teddy” worried about Baldy the horse that she lovingly spoke about and hoped it had a good new owner. I was so glad that the dogs Rex and Wahoo remained her stalwart companions. Any update on what happened to them? I’m taking a trip to the Victoria BC Museum to see if they have any of the photos and movie film that was taken plus the flora and fauna given in the collection by Teddy and her husband John, just to prolong this adventure. Thanks for your informative article updating life after DV.

  23. Marcia Bonta Avatar
    Marcia Bonta

    I’m so glad you discovered Driftwood Valley and that you are following up at the Victoria BC Museum. I’d be interested to hear what you learn. If you can get hold of my 13-page piece on her in American Nature Writers, Volume 2, pp. 847-860, edited by John Elder and published in 1996 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, you might enjoy reading it. You’d probably have to request it through interlibrary loan. It is a hefty, two-volume reference book.

  24. Philippa McCallum Avatar
    Philippa McCallum

    I am so glad to have found this site. I have just read Driftwood Valley and felt I wanted to know more about “Teddy” ,I would have loved to see a photo! I could feel in the book that her private life was very private.
    I first read driftwood valley when I was 12, as I was brought up as an Exclusive Brethren , only non-ficton books were to be read. My husband and I left the EB’s and I could no longer get my hands on the book and really wanted to read it again,
    In Canada in 2003 I searched for it,but to no avail, so a few weeks ago I went onto amazon books and there it was! It was posted to me from the USA to New Zealand in no time.

  25. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Thanks, Philippa. Yes, Driftwood Valley was republished several years ago and has gained many new readers. Amazon in a great site for foks who do not have a cooperative bookstore nearby. We use it all the time.

    1. cvilleruth Avatar

      This past August, I visited a friend who is currently living in Norman Wells, Northwest Territories (on the MacKenzie River, about 3 degrees south of the Arctic Circle). There is a small museum and associated gift shop, and one of the few books they had to purchase was Driftwood Valley! I was quite amazed.

      Ruth Douglas

  26. Michael Akey and Bridget Walshe Avatar
    Michael Akey and Bridget Walshe

    You might be interested in our story. Friends introduced my wife and I to “Driftwood Valley” in 1992 when we were searching for a suitable location for our own adventure (we had long dreamed of spending a year in wilderness). Our friend handed us the book and said, “I think this place is still wild”. We had already read all the wilderness adventure books we could get our hands on but Theodora’s work was by far the best and most inspiring. The next summer, we embarked on a scouting mission and paddled our canoe up the Driftwood River from Takla Lake to Tetana and there found the remnants of the Stanwell-Fletcher cabin. Unfortunately, we also found that an industrial rail line had been built close by and that logging roads were making their way up the valley at an alarming rate. Undaunted, the following summer we undertook another scouting trip and hired a float plane to take us and our canoe much farther up the valley to an unnamed lake whose outlet, like Tetana’s, flowed into the Driftwood River. Our pilot took off with instructions to come look for us if we didn’t return to Takla in ten days. We spent several days scouting the lake, which we judged to be perfect for our purposes, and several more days paddling down the Driftwood to Takla. In the spring of 1996 we went back, this time with the everything necessary for a year in the wilderness, including a one-year supply of dried foods, log building tools, and a copy of “Driftwood Valley”, which we referred to often during our stay. It was an amazing year, all we had hoped for and more. I only wish more people could have a similar experience before these places disappear altogether.

  27. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    What a fascinating story. I would like to know if the place still stands amid a forest or a wasteland. I know logging has been going strong in British Columbia.

  28. Michael Akey Avatar
    Michael Akey

    As far as I am aware, through the Fort St. James Land and Resource Management Plan of 1999, Tetana Lake itself is being managed as an “historical interest area” due solely to Theodora’s book. So, while there has been no logging in its immediate vicinity, one does not have to go far in any direction from Tetana’s shores to find clearcut logging.

  29. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Thanks for the update. Nice to know that Teddy’s book has, at least, preserved the immediate area.

  30. Anna Mae Schroeder Avatar

    As I have been going through my storage boxes recently, I thought about the book Driftwood Valley which I knew I had purchased at a used book shop near Mansfield, PA. I suddenly found it late last night and was very delighted.
    I had lived near Dimock, Pennsylvania and attended grade school at Dimock in the mid-1940s. Our class had a visit to the virgin woods of The Woodbourne Forest and Wildlife Sanctuary very near to the school, and that visit has stayed in my heart ever since. I also went on the tour as an adult about twenty years ago. It was so peaceful.
    The tour included a little jaunt on the grounds near the home, and the daffodils were simply magnificent!

  31. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    I’m glad you have happy memories of the place. I do too and so have no intention of returning and seeing what shale gas drilling has done to Dimock and its surroundings. I understand Woodbourne is more or less surrounded by the industry.

  32. J Vinnedge Avatar
    J Vinnedge

    I grew up in Fort St. James and read DV when I was young. I became a biologist and have worked for years to try and maintain ecological values in the Driftwood country. I have referred to the collections made by Teddy and her husband, that are still in the Royal BC Museum. I have just reread the book, and am soon heading north with the species list at the end of her book to participate in a breeding bird inventory. The area has been hit hard by mountain pine beetle, and the salmon and kokanee runs have dropped off significantly. I am so glad that she at least left us a legacy that can be used to help provide some sort of baseline.

    1. Marcia Bonta Avatar

      Thank you for the update. No region remains untouched by the overuse of humanity, not even a place as remote as Driftwood Valley. I’ve tried to keep similar information about our 640 acres in the mountains of central Pennsylvania with the same idea of leaving a legacy of lists and journals. Our hemlocks are nearly all dead from the woolly adelgid, we lost our butternuts years ago, a host of invasives are moving even into our primary forest areas. It is truly sad. So far, my records span 40 years.

  33. Christmas books for nature-lovers « Marcia Bonta Avatar

    […] this point, I must confess that years ago we traveled to Dimock to visit the late Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher, then known as Teddy Gray, author of Driftwood Valley. Previously, we had been in the area when I […]

  34. Patricia Vroman-Stuart Avatar
    Patricia Vroman-Stuart

    What a great read…Thank you. I grew up in Dimock Pa and had the greatest pleasure of knowing Theodora. I exercised her horses – every day after school. She paid us 50 cents and hour and I gladly would have paid her. If she were in “town” she would ride Gene (Son of Champion – Gene Autry;s horse) and I would ride Billy the Shetland pony. It was a wonderful experience riding with her as she pointed out all the flora and fauna, and the birds. In the winter we might picnic – she would light a fire and cook meat and we sat on the ground and ate and listened to nature. The forest that was donated by the Copes was my backyard. After the death of Gene and Billy, my parents bought me my own horse. Theodora gave me permission to ride in the woods – I was the only one allowed, so off I used to go on my horse, spending hours just riding and enjoying the silence. After high school, I bought all 3 of her books and had her autograph them for me. She found that amusing. She will always hold a dear spot in my heart.

  35. Marcia Bonta Avatar

    Thank you so much for your remembrances of Teddy. I appreciate hearing about still another side of that great woman.

  36. Doug Brown Avatar
    Doug Brown

    Hi Marcia bonta,
    I was very interested in your comments and memories of Teddy.
    I am related to her first husband john stanwell fletcher, as my grandfather , joseph stanwell fletcher was his cousin.
    It is with great regret and amasement that I never knew of john and teddy when I was growing up. I have recently researched a little of their time together, and I know a little of his exploits in the arctic in 1944.
    However, I would be extremely greatful of any information you have of why he and teddy divorced, and his life after that event.
    Yours in anticipation, Doug Brown, Brackla, Bridgend, South Wales, UK

    1. Patricia Vroman-Stuart Avatar

      Hi Doug….My memories ( and I could be wrong ) was that Teddy’s first husband, Stanwell-Fletcher had “run off” with another woman. Teddy then married Sumner who ended up in a mental institution, her last husband was Phil Gray, a professor at Scripts College in Calif. John and Teddy had a daughter, Patricia, who resides in Canada as well as spends her summers at the Dimock, Pa home that Teddy’s parents, the Copes, own. I do not remember if Teddy told me all this or one of the neighbors. She truly was a wonderful woman. I believe that John was an authority on wolves. Hopefully you have read Driftwood Valley – if not, I highly recommend you do!
      Patricia Vroman-Stuart

    2. Geoffrey de Moraes Avatar
      Geoffrey de Moraes

      Hi Doug,
      I am a relative of someone that reported directly on the 1955 American Polar Basin Expedition that John Stanwell Fletcher commanded. I am trying to track down relatives of his. The reason is as follows: I have a Longines Chronograph watch that is inscribed with the words “American Polar Basin Expedition 1955” on the back. The watch is in original condition, though it needs repair. I am trying to find out if Stanwell Fletcher gave all the participants one of these watches and if any of his surviving relatives might also have one. This is not for monetary purposes, I am not looking to sell or buy, i simply am trying to trace the “story” of the watch. And if another exists, then perhaps exchanging of photographs for comparison would be possible?
      FYI – the expedition did not succeed in reaching the North Pole, it had to turn back due to supply issues.
      Best Regards and a Happy New Year To You,
      Geoffrey de Moraes
      Toronto, Canada

  37. Marcia Bonta Avatar
    Marcia Bonta

    Doug, Please order a copy of Oregon University Press’s reprint of Driftwood Valley. It includes an Afterword by Rhoda M. Love in which she gives a biographical account of both Teddy and Stanwell-Fletcher. When I wrote my own account of Teddy’s life and work for American Nature Writers she did not allow me to mention the “D” word, i.e. “divorce.” Ms. Love was much more open about this and Teddy’s daughter was not happy about it. That was back in 2000 and I don’t know what else developed. But it’s pretty obvious that he left Teddy and their daughter around 1945 and was married to another woman thereafter.

  38. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Marcia Bonta

  39. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    I was entranced by Driftwood Valley as a naturalistically-inclined teenager in Scotland. In a small pup tent in the middle of the Budongo Forest on the Uganda-Congo border, I read it to my new wife on our honeymoon in 1960 – because she can no longer read, I am reading it again to her of an evening by request. As a published biographer of Scottish explorer/naturalists now considering Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher as a potential subject, (possibly in tandem with the Scottish explorer/naturalist Isobel Wylie Hutchinson who investigated the Arctic flora around the same time.) As the former Deputy-Director(Scotland) of the Nature Conservancy Council (previously the official wildlife agency in UK) I am also much interested in the her family’s conservation efforts. I am currently attempting to obtain a copy of Rhoda M Love’s essay on Stanwell-Fletcher in vol.9 of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment of 2002 from the British Library. The various responses to your article on Theodora Cope Gray have shed a most interesting light on her background and influence on may others like myself and have been most helpful. Entering my 80th year I am somewhat technologically-challenged (not on any social media) but can be reached by e-mail at


  40. Marcia Bonta Avatar
    Marcia Bonta

    Thank you so much for writing. I’ll reply by email re some information about Teddy.

  41. Ellen Traylor Avatar

    Thank you so much for your article about Teddy! My favorite pastime is reading about people who have gone “back to the earth,” or lived in a daring, wilderness way. I am especially intrigued by women who have done this. I fantasize such a life, but know that I probably would not be successful at it, so I indulge the fantasy vicariously.

    I came across and old copy of Driftwood Valley in a tiny thrift shop bookstore in Polson, Montana a few months ago. I have been savoring it bit by bit each night for weeks, not wanting it to end.

    As a writer myself, I linger in appreciative wonder over her descriptions of scenery, animal behavior, etc. Her essay on the love song of the wolf brought tears to my eyes!

    Feeling as though I know Teddy and J. makes it very hard to learn that he left her as he apparently did, and the little girl as well. But, throughout the book, I have been repeatedly disappointed in his treatment of Teddy, his impatience and seeming lack of sympathy for the amazingly strong yet feminine soul who shared his world with him. So often she speaks apologetically of her inability to match his strength and endurance. In my opinion, he did not value her as he should have, and probably did not deserve her.

    So much for the personal commentary. I am loving the book and don’t want it to end. Can you recommend similar stories for our reading pleasure?

  42. Ellen Traylor Avatar

    So sorry…I tried to post two websites, and messed up the link. I am correcting that now. Thanks.

  43. Marcia Bonta Avatar
    Marcia Bonta


    Thanks for your comment above. I guess I would recommend my two books on American women naturalists–Women in the Field: America’s Pioneering Women Naturalists, and American Women Afield: Writings by America’s Pioneering Women Naturalists. Both books are still in print and were published by Texas A & M University Press. Because of these books, I was asked to write the long account of Teddy for John Elder’s two volume set–American Nature Writers–which is much more comprehensive than my column above.

  44. Peter Frinton Avatar
    Peter Frinton

    Has anyone gone up to Tetanu Lake in search of remnants of the Driftwood Valley cabin? The area is now riddled with logging roads and the Dease railway spur runs very close by.

  45. Peter Frinton Avatar
    Peter Frinton

    sorry for the spelling error.The auto-spiel check took over… Lake Tetana.

  46. Michael Akey Avatar
    Michael Akey

    Yes, see my post of October 30, 2011. At that time all that was left were some floorboards and parts of the woodstove. There was also a trapper’s cabin at the site about 100 metres away from the Stanwell-Fletcher cabin. We were to find out later that the trapper who owned it was William Charlie, who you will recall from Teddy’s book was one of Bear Lake Charlie’s sons. We got to know William, who passed a few years ago. He spoke fondly of Teddy and said he enjoyed receiving a Christmas card from her every year.

  47. Marcia Bonta Avatar
    Marcia Bonta

    Thanks for your comments. I hope others respond re the old cabin area. On the other hand, maybe it’s best to remember it as Teddy wrote about it. Reality seems to be more depressing, although I must admit that I wish I had seen it back in the 1960s when I first read Driftwood Valley.

  48. Glen B. Avatar

    I am presently reading Driftwood Valley for about the tenth time in 20 years. I am enjoying it every bit as much now as I did the first time I ever read it. A remarkable story, and a remarkable woman. Several years ago I began a correspondence with Teddy’s daughter, (whom she had with John Stanwell-Fletcher) and she was kind enough to send us a signed copy of Driftwood Valley. When I decided this week to re-read this wonderful story, I realized that all I had in my possession was my tired old copy which is now literally in pieces, and almost unreadable. Turns out our daughter had taken our good copy with her when she moved away to Alberta to begin her career as a Mountie. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer) I just spoke with her moments ago by phone, and she has promised to mail our good copy back to us at her earliest convenience! She had read the book herself last year while at the RCMP Academy in Saskatchewan. Our other daughter had also read it, as well as my wife, my parents, and even our next door neighbors! Everyone who reads it wants to read it all over again!

    As a side note, I did a Google Maps/Google Earth search yesterday, and in the most recent satellite imagery there is clearly a building, in apparently a good state of repair, visible at the north end of Tetana Lake, precisely where Teddy had described the location of their cabin. It makes me wonder if perhaps some historical society has taken it upon themselves to restore/rebuild the cabin, or possibly just some sentimental fellow like myself who decided to build in that exact spot. Either way, I would enjoy nothing more than to one day travel there to see the lake and area firsthand… though I would likely be saddened to see the present state of the area. That same satellite imagery shows much clearcutting on all sides of the lake, though nothing within about a kilometer or so. Also, a railway line goes past just to the east of Tetana.

    I have looked online for some of the photographs they took, or drawings they made, to no avail. I understand that some versions of this book over the years included both photos and sketches, thought I have been unsuccessful in finding anything online. Perhaps someone can point us in the right direction…

    Glen B.
    Fogo Island, Newfoundland

    1. Ellen Traylor Avatar

      I guess I am one of the lucky ones, whose copy has both photos and sketches! I will not be parting with it soon. As a rare book dealer, I am happy to do free searches for such copies, if anyone is interested in that service.

      1. Glen B. Avatar

        I have managed to find just one photo of Teddy; a small dark image of her sitting in her cabin. Are there many photos in your book? Any way for you to scan them and share with the rest of us?

        Glen B.

        1. Ellen Traylor Avatar

          My book is in Montana and I am in Oregon. I will ask my husband to bring it with him when he leaves for Christmas here.

        2. Glen B. Avatar

          Oh my goodness Ellen, that would be so wonderful! We managed to find an old hardcover copy on, but they wanted a whopping $200+ for it… and nothing was even mentioned of its condition! As I wrote earlier, I have a like-new paperback copy, kindly given to us as a gift from Teddy’s daughter several years ago, but my wife and I would give our eye teeth for the photos/sketches which are published in some versions of the hardcover.

          I am particularly drawn to this story, as I have always been a lover of the outdoors, have always enjoyed observing nature/wildlife, and am still to this day an avid nature/landscape photographer. I now regret that I did not travel to the Driftwood Valley years ago, when we still lived in BC. I am now 54 and no longer in the best of health, having suffered a permanent spinal injury from a bad fall in the workplace back in 2004. So it would be a difficult feat for me today… though I am admittedly still sorely tempted to give it a try. If my wife could get enough time away from her work, I could still see us making the “pilgrimage” to Lake Tetana!

          Ellen, if you can manage to scan the photos/drawings from your copy of Driftwood Valley, my wife and I would be eternally grateful! You can reach us any time at

          Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, from your “newfound” penpals from Fogo Island, off the northeast coast of Newfoundland!

          Glen and Linda B.

  49. Melissa Avatar

    I, too, have found DV to be an amazing book and have read it numerous times. I loaned my copy to a neighbor and he insists he gave it back, but I can’t find it! I had the old one with photos etc. and am heartbroken. Perhaps he decided he loved it too much to give it back! If you like to read about women and the wilderness, I highly recommend a book called, Woman of the Boundary Waters, by Justine Kerfoot. I had the pleasure of meeting Justine and getting an autographed copy of the book. Thanks for the information about Teddy-I have always wondered about her background.

    1. Ellen Avatar

      What region does the Boundary Waters book deal with? Thanks.

  50. Melissa Avatar

    The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, or BWCAW, is located in NE Minnesota. It’s one of the few unspoiled canoe camping areas left in the USA. It’s something that we Minnesotans are very proud of. You should read the book-it’s wonderful!

    1. Ellen Avatar

      I will order it very soon! Thanks! And any other suggestions for “women in the outback” books would be appreciated, everyone! (I have read the Woodswoman series.)

  51. Marcia Bonta Avatar
    Marcia Bonta

    Thanks for the recommendation, Melissa. It sounds like a fun book.

  52. Melissa Avatar

    Two other authors come to mind as I look in my book case. Florence Page Jaques is the first. She wrote two books related to the Minnesota BWACW. ” Canoe Country” and “Snowshoe Country.” Her husband did the illustrations which are beautiful. They stayed with Justine Kerfoot for awhile at the end of the Gunflint Trail in NE Minnesota and wrote about their adventures. The other author is Helen Hoover who also writes about her adventures in the same area with her husband. I recommend all her books, especially “The Long-S
    hadowed Forest” and “The Gift of the Deer.” Same themes as DV with husband/wife teams in the wilderness in the 1940’s. Please let me know if you read these and enjoy them! :)

    1. Ellen Avatar

      I have read Gift of the Deer…not sure if I have read the other Hoover book. I will check out Florence Page. Have a collection of these sorts of books at my Montana jo5me. Will post them when I am there. Thanks so much!

  53. Marcia Bonta Avatar
    Marcia Bonta

    Have both the Page and Hoover books in my extensive collection of books by women naturalists. Helen Hoover was an inspiration back in the late 1960s when we moved here and I followed her life with great interest and sadness when they had to leave.

    1. Ellen Avatar

      Awesome! Take a picture of your collection, sometime. Would love to see it!

  54. Melissa Avatar

    Ellen, in what part of Montana is your home located? I worked in Yellowstone Park for a couple years with the Fish and Wildlife Service doing fisheries studies. Miss the mountains so much!!

    1. Ellen Avatar

      Polson, on Flathead Lake.

  55. Steve Avatar

    Hi I trust you are doing well since last posting. I am came across DV in the Women Thrift shop in Squamish BC. Am just reading it for the first time (@68),what an inspiration. Goggled her and came across your site. Thank you, thank you, what a discovery! A wealth of resources.
    I spent a summer semester above Manson Lake at the 5000 foot level in 1973 cooking for some BP geologists. Helicopter dropped us in July into several feet of snow. Saw my first Aurora borealis on the evening of our leaving.
    Went back to Manson lake in 2013 on a motorcycle trip. Place has a lot more residents.
    This has inspired me to go to Tetena lake by motorcycle with little dog at the end of August as a way to get centered prior to launching a new venture in Vancouver BC I will the first End of Life Doula in the area.

  56. Steve Avatar

    I meant to say ‘first MALE End of Life Doula in the area.☺

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