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Wild creatures love her

by Lisa Gavon
R-C Alpine Bureau
Susan Korngold in Woodfords.
Lisa Gavon/Special to The R-C

Once he realized it wasn’t fake, he started screaming hysterically. “In high school guys would bring me all sorts of critters: tarantulas, birds, bugs, and snakes of course!” reported the remarkable Susan Korngold. One boy brought her a “beautiful big huge gopher snake” and the next day she wore a black sweater and wound the snake several times around her neck.

It took all day for one of the teachers to finally notice. Before that, she had been one of his favorite students. Susan concluded: “I guess he just didn’t know how to deal with the incongruous nature of discussing Shakespeare one minute and turning into a heathen the next!”

It was long before this that her special way with wild creatures became apparent. She was a mere toddler when untamed deer came out of the deep green woods to eat apples out of her hand. “They like the way you smell!” her father would say with a laugh. But it became more and more true as the years went by. She is a “whisperer,” and her path to becoming a wildlife biologist was clear.

She was raised in an exceptionally tight-knit family with a tremendous amount of love. They have always been her guiding light and compass. Her father, mother, and brother were all pilots. Perhaps Susan would have been also, but she always got terribly airsick.

Born in Palo Alto, Calif., she had a childhood lived mostly in the outdoors. She would spend summers near Monterey with her grandparents exploring the Moss Landing tide pools, tending the chickens, ducks, and pigs, and roaming the costal woodlands around the family ranch. As she grew older she would collect wild berries to bake pies, and swim in the reservoirs and lakes near her home.

Out of high school she received her AA degree from Foothill College and was hired as a lithographer and photographer in Sylvania’s photo lab. During the Vietnam War, she was given Top Secret clearance to work on sensitive projects. She saved all her money for college, but her plans quickly changed.

Susan had met a group of off-road racing enthusiasts. She crashed her motorcycle and ended up using everything to pay her medical bills. Back to darkroom work again; this time for Philco-Ford. After putting aside enough to move forward, she graduated from San Jose State with a BS degree in 1972, and continued with graduate studies right after.

Osteo Paleontology is the study of mammalian and avian ancient bones. Susan would explore midden piles (where animal bones were thrown after a meal) to determine what species lived in the area during different epochs. The goal was to get good enough to be able to identify and preserve significant finds. She co-authored a paper on the Native Americans who had lived in Big Sur, discovering that 500 years ago the area had been heavily forested with animals such as porcupine and Belding ground squirrels. The time that had lapsed had brought significant change to the landscape.

She attended a West Coast Wildlife Biologists Conference while she was in grad school. It was here she met her first husband Ron who had a position with California Fish and Game. They worked closely together in Mineral King and other wilderness locations in the Sierras. Her field work included tagging or putting radio collars on deer so they could study their patterns and movements.

Susan then accepted a position as a wildlife biologist for Fish and Game, moving to Visalia. Using air boats on Tulare Lake during an intense outbreak of botulism among the water fowl, she was able to help control the disease from spreading by removing the already dead birds. She had definitely found her niche.

Susan and Ron moved to Coleville in 1979 to live and work at the old ranch house in Slinkard/Little Antelope Wildlife area between Alpine and Mono Counties. During her time there, she designed an expandable deer collar that could be fitted on a buck, allowing it to stretch with their movements during rutting season. It was made so that it would eventually rot and fall off. Prior to her invention, there was not a collar that would work on a male deer.

For 16 years, she did consulting work helping other biologists, along with starting her own business. Susan not only carried the best in natural foods, but also grew herbs and harvested wild plants, selling to the finest restaurants in the area and throughout California. One of her most popular items was watercress collected fresh from a nearby spring.

Relocating to Woodfords, she continued Little Antelope Trading Company but stopped the delivery of fresh herbs. She and her partner Roger had many good years until his passing in 2016. They found their property on a Thanksgiving Day drive with her parents. It was where both of them had always dreamed of living.

They built a home for Susan’s parents right next to their house. It is now known as “Quail Hollow,” a vacation rental right on the West Fork of the Carson River. It is a spot of lyrical beauty, with towering cliffs above the majestic lands of Old Carson River Road. Her cell phone is 530-545-2136, and her email is office@quailhollow.net. It is the perfect refuge away from the world.

Her special connection with “critters” also extends to bees. In 2014, her first year as a novice beekeeper, she won the First Place Championship Award in the Annual Mason Valley Beekeepers Honey Contest. She has also continued growing her organic garden, something that has been consistent throughout her life.

She is a practicing Buddhist, and spent six years of intensive study in Tai Chi. Her spirituality is woven into every aspect of her existence, giving her a unique perspective of the world. It has been one of her great joys to mentor a local homeschooling family in biology. She is able to use all her years of study to pass on the knowledge of our natural world to the next generations in this way. Her connection to the wild animals, plants, and lands of Alpine County give her a deep sense of peace, allowing her to live a genuinely intuitive life.