Muir in Stockton

"When we contemplate the whole Globe as one great dewdrop," Muir wrote, "striped and dotted with islands and continents, flying through space with all the other stars, all singing and shining together as one, the whole Universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty" ...

"Muir said the fight we are fighting has no end," White said. "The real Muir was kind of dangerous." -- Stockton Record, March 19, 206

It has been fashionable in American intellectual circles to talk about the "end of history" since the conclusion of the Cold War. (Now, when was that, exactly?) An American empire would control the world through the genius of globalcorporate domination backed by US nuclear weapons, so why bother with history -- was how the argument went.

This propaganda, made to persuade public opinion that America, the super power, is lord and master of the Great Game of Empire, has resulted in a general trashing of the whole subject of history. Without it, conservatives have become as rootless and exploitive as the environmental gutting Pomboza (representatives RichPAC Pombo, Buffalo Slayer-Tracy and Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced).

Merced proudly calls itself "Gateway to Yosemite," an overcrowded, polluted and
river-polluting concession stand that fills up that great valley in the high Sierras. It is unimaginable today, except through paintings from the turn of the last century, to grasp what John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt saw in Yosemite when they camped there, discussing the establishment of the national park system the Pomboza would like to sell off to miners and loggers, as if miners and loggers did not exist in the 1890s.

Muir himself may be unimaginable except to those who had relatives born in California before Muir died and heard the stories of Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy and Muir and grew up with the conservation ethic and a feeling for the high Sierras.

When, stepping ever so briefly out of the Era of the Pomboza, some remind themselves of the impact John Muir had on our elders, this region, this state, this nation and the world, they wonder what Muir might have thought of the present moment. Something harsh stirs in the wind.

Muir inspired and informed the greatest spirit and vision California ever had. It was tied to the beauty and grandeur of our environment; and it would be foolish to deny its impact on the great literary tradition forming here as he fought to preserve Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy -- Frank Norris, Mary Austin, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, Ambrose Bierce, Joaquin Miller, Josiah Royce.

But, says the rear end of the Pomboza, we now have UC Merced and its fabulous Sierra Nevada Research Institute, represented in the following UC Bobcat Flak, so we don't need history.

Sierra Nevada Research Institute

The SNRI is creating new knowledge on questions of national and international scope through the prism of the natural laboratory that is UC Merced's home – the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Nevada region. It is carrying out research on the critical issues that affect humankind's ability to live in an environmentally sustainable way such as:

population growth and development
water and watersheds
air quality
fire ecology
climate change
resource management and policy
public recreation
These issues are especially vital to sustaining the unparalleled agricultural resources and magnificent natural landscapes of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada.

The Sierra Nevada Research Institute will draw in the natural sciences, engineering and policy sciences.

UC Merced, described by prominent critics as both a boondoggle and a pork barrel for Valley developers, has created an academic boondoggle and pork barrel with its SNRI. An anchor tenant of corruptly planned, purely destructive urban growth in one of the worst air quality basins in the nation, sitting at the feet of the Sierras and Yosemite, the SNRI is just another aspect of the big real estate deal behind the establishment of this campus.

Muir might have wondered: How can this public/private conglomerate university, inventor of the atomic bomb and designer of every subsequent advance in the technology of nuclear mass destruction including an on-going competition between its two national laboratories on the next generation of nuclear weapons, walk these trails in these mountains, and learn or teach
anything about the conservation of anything?

It's a matter of ethics, he might have said -- not the ethics of destroying environmental law, regulation and agencies for the benefit of developers, family and political contributors; not the ethics of scientific grant whoring for a ecological disaster your institution is creating by the day.

Neither the University of California nor the Pomboza are known for ethics. They are known for aggression against the environment.

Perhaps there is a connection between the wholesale corruption of the era and the disdain for history. History provides examples of heroes like Muir and bums like the Pomboza. History asks the most difficult questions, like: How did California evolve into a society of 36 million people distracted to the point of near political idiocy by the abundance of their neighbors and the limits of their natural resources? How did California politicians go from the pockets of the Railroad through a prolonged period of progressive, clean government to
the pockets of the developers? Why do developers have to pay so much to buy votes, bills and laws for their benefit?

Although scholars may meet at University of the Pacific in Stockton at the end of the month over Muir's papers, it is the challenge of the story of his life to the story of our lives that is the point of the meeting, as far as the public is concerned. What do you want, the vision of John Muir or the vision of the Pomboza? Muir's medicine stings like hell, the Pomboza's is as soothing as cool lard. Which one is good for you?

Sometimes, the story that revives is too close to see -- like a backyard weed instead of a prescription drug.

Bill Hatch

Conservation pioneer
Pacific event to examine the legacy of John Muir

Record Staff Writer
Published Sunday, Mar 19, 2006

STOCKTON - The life of John Muir inspires poets, botanists, rock climbers and cloud watchers.

He died on Christmas Eve in 1914, but he's alive today in the hearts of millions of tourists and trekkers to scenic lands around the world.

He founded the Sierra Club in 1892 with the hope of influencing generations to preserve wild places from development. After a three-day camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, Muir secured the protection of Yosemite, one of the United States' grandest natural wonders, for posterity and helped establish our national parks system.

Muir scholars and those drawn to him will meet March 30-April 1 at University of the Pacific for a three-day conference titled "John Muir in Global Perspective." Its speakers include author Robert Righter, who will give the keynote address on Hetch Hetchy. The place prompted some of Muir's most eloquent prose and spurred the growth of the environmental movement when the sister valley to Yosemite was dammed and flooded to produce a water supply for San
Francisco in 1923.

Other conference speakers include Bonnie Gisel, author of "Kindred and Related Spirits" (University of Utah Press, 2001), who was interested in the relationships that influenced Muir's ideas.

Muir was a self-taught inventor and displayed some of his contraptions, including a bed that would toss the sleeper upright, at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1860. Jeanne Carr, the wife of a university professor, met him and from then on guided his career, Gisel said. Carr suggested books, encouraged his writing and thinking, and sent men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson to meet him after he had sequestered himself in Yosemite. She even had a hand in his marriage to Louie Wanda Strentzel, an educated woman who recognized Muir's worth to the world
and let him wander the globe while she raised their two daughters.

Gisel spends six months of her year in a tent and curates the La Conte Memorial Lodge, an environmental education center in Yosemite. She will be talking about Muir the botanist at the conference.

Muir's vision of Earth as an interdependent biosphere predated the dumbfounded gaze of astronauts who looked down at the planet from space.

"When we contemplate the whole Globe as one great dewdrop," Muir wrote, "striped and dotted with islands and continents, flying through space with all the other stars, all singing and shining together as one, the whole Universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty."

Today, however, the protective regulations that have been put in place are being eroded.

To fund a federal program that sends money to rural counties, the Bush administration is proposing to sell 200,000 acres of national forest across the United States, including up to 3,300 acres of the Stanislaus National Forest in Calaveras County. Environmentalists wonder if national parks are next.

"I think the selling of national forests is robbing future generations for a few bucks today that won't make a dent in the budget," said Bill Muir Hanna, Muir's great-grandson. "One of the most important points that John Muir observed very early on is (everything) ... is hitched to everything else in the universe."

However, the conference focuses on history, not activism, said Bill Swaggerty, the conference coordinator and director of the John Muir Center at Pacific. Its value is to expand Muir's message further afield and find out what other countries are doing as a result of his being and writing.

Pacific is home to the John Muir Center, and in the basement of the library, in the
Holt-Atherton Collections, are his thousands of letters and documents, 27 notebooks, 84 journals and sketchbooks, 300 drawings and related photographs, and papers of those who knew him and influenced his thinking. The bulk of Muir's work resides at Pacific because Muir Hanna, a Pacific alumnus, suggested the university for its commitment to undergraduate education and its small size, he said.

Other scholars include Graham White, a fellow Scotsman, who will talk about Muir's return trip to his homeland in 1893. Muir's seaside ancestral home in Dunbar, Scotland, is developed with subdivisions similar to those crawling across the Golden State's landscape.

"Muir said the fight we are fighting has no end," White said. "The real Muir was kind of dangerous."

Faced with the land-grabbing, the timber-hauling and the cattle-ranging, "a lesser man would say nothing could be done," White said. "Today, it takes the same courage to stand up and be counted. We have no equivalent organization in our country."