Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Western Time Diary: Lands End and Muir Woods

Seeds. I've been thinking a lot about seeds, physically planting them and watching something grow with patience, nurturing and a hopeful heart, whether that be a child or a bed of morning glory, but seeds of ideas too. As a teenager, I used to have a picture of a young boy with a fish in an idyllic pond setting. I think it was from a Rolling Stone article on the fight to save Walden Woods back in the 1990s. There was a quote from Henry David Thoreau, "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." That was one of the seeds that planted in me a desire to love and protect the environment. I ran track and cross country in high school and we'd run in a wooded area by a reservoir that reminded me of that scene from the article. It was such a sacred place. Another seed so many years ago that took root so firmly, opening my eyes to the natural world's wonders even in our own backyard.
Before I explored Lands End in San Francisco, I read over some of the letters visitors wrote here. So much of it was about connection. It broke my heart to read a New York Times article on the defacing of national parks by some who even boast about their actions on social media. These parks are sacred places.

Jean Craighead George, reflecting on her novel published in 1959, My Side of the Mountain, about Sam, a young boy who runs away from New York City life to live off of the land in the Catskill Mountains said,
"When I pick up this book again and look at it, I realize how far we've come from the sense of the earth and its importance. We're polluting streams. We're putting arsenic in water. We are killing the endangered species, and we do not understand how connected we are to all these things and we must protect them in order to live as a human being. We are part of them. Which I think in a way Sam did as he ate the plants and the animals of the wilderness and lived in a tree where no one would find him. That’s where I want to be."

Part of what I love so much about travel is that even if I'm some place for a few hours, or even a few moments, they stay imprinted in my memory bank for accessing times of calm and reflection. Two of those places for me in California were Lands End and Muir Woods. I have been at these places only once physically, but in spirit countless times.  Do these special places exist for you?

"I hear the trees whispering sometimes. They don't talk to everyone. Or maybe they do, but not everyone listens. Do you hear them?" - from J.J. Brown's Brindle 24, a cautionary tale about fracking, the process to extract natural gas.

"The perfumed walk is a mystical part of her world." - Brindle 24.

Remembering those who lived off of the land in harmony. The connection with the environment is one of the aspects that draws me to the Native American culture.
Visitors at Muir Woods are reminded life is always in motion.
 "See that falcon? Hear those white-throated sparrows? Smell that skunk? Well, the falcon takes the sky, the white-throated sparrow takes the low bushes, the skunk takes the earth...I take the woods." - My Side of the Mountain

"The ancient trees are the deep earth's language for speaking to the universe. The earth communicates through trees to the animals and the birds living above - and to the heavens. The trees draw the earth's water up from the ground. Then breathing, they return it to the air for the clouds and the blessed rain that falls to begin the cycle again. She thinks of the thin layer of living things as a fragile space between earth's molten rock core and the frozen outer universe of stars. The thin layer is like her own life here - precious, finite." - Brindle 24
I couldn't think of a more fitting name. The grove did feel like a place of worship.
In Joanna L Stratton's book, "Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier," Lulu Fuhr observed,
"Pioneering is really wilderness experience. We all need the wisdom of the wilderness - Moses did, Jesus did, and Paul did. The wilderness is a place to find God, and the city is the place to study the multitude; a knowledge of both makes for master builders of state and nation."
I think our elected leaders should spend more time in these reserves of nature. A colleague returning from a trip to visit the parks in Montana was so moved by what he saw he declared it should be a requirement to go spend time in some of these parks.
Signs everywhere reminded visitors of their impact.
A godfather of the conservationist movement and Sierra Club founder John Muir. If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend the Ken Burns documentary, "National Parks: America's Best Idea." I have a large postcard in my home office/library that I framed with Muir's advice:
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Feast on sunlight.
Let go of your cares like autumn leaves.
Leave your legacy for the earth
Breath in nature's peace and get their good tidings.
Sharing one of my favorite poems on trees, by J.J. Brown in her novel American Dream. I feel a bit of Muir's spirit in this work.

“If he could go back in time to when Mother was a child and protect her invisibly throughout her life, he was sure that he would do it. He tried to compose a poem for her during the long ride back.

Let me be a tree.
Let me be the locust tree
her dear hands clasp as a child
where she looks up
as if I were her eternity
And give me a coat of ribbed tree bark
for her to carve her ABC’s.

Let me be a thousand locust blossoms
to perfume her walk in spring
but keep her from the poison seeds
that scatter where she plays.

Or let me be the maple tree
her strong hands tap in spring
and the flowing golden syrup in her glass
then shed the crimson leaves
to line her walk in autumn.

Yes, let me be a tree.
But let me not be hacked into logs
not planed smooth and drowned in stains
not cut by rough hands.

Or if it must be
then let me be the welcome table
laid lovingly with bread by her dear hands.
Let me not fall into disuse, be discarded or burned.

Or if it must be
then let me be the fine smooth boards
that line the coffin where she lays her head
as a final resting place.

Yes, let me be a tree.”


  1. One of these places I remember all the time is the Catskill Mountain region I grew up in, and all the old trees there - oak, maple, pine. Thanks for this moving reflection on what nature means to you, thanks for planting more seeds.

  2. Thank you for writing such inspiring reflections on nature, which in turn encourages us to be good caretakers. Also thank you for your children's book, Stream and Shale, teaching younger readers about the importance of clean water, soil and air to all of the Earth's creatures.

  3. Yes, you put it beautifully, those places we may visit only briefly but "they stay imprinted in my memory bank for accessing times of calm and reflection." Being able to visit such places fills me, and just knowing they are there comforts me.

    And I am most curious about this book, "Stone & Shale" and would like to request it for the Library I work in here in Montana! Fracking is moving into Montana from the east, out of North Dakota where there is a boom going on. There are many things about it, on many levels, that I think is upsetting the balance of nature and of the lives of people in the surrounding communities.

  4. I love how you put it, Amy, it is comforting knowing these place are there.

    Stream and Shale is a great coloring and storybook on fracking by my friend J.J. Brown, based on her visit to fracking sites in Pennsylvania. Her fracking novel Brindle 24 does an excellent job of explaining the science. She, as I, was really moved by Josh Fox's Gasland documentary.

    This is being sold to the public as cleaner energy, hard to picture when reading articles like this on methane leaks in The New York Times,


    "In recent years, a smoggy haze has crept across the front range of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver, where new wells are concentrated, partly as a result of gas leaks that have reacted with other chemicals to form ozone. Nine counties in the area, including much of Rocky Mountain National Park, exceed federal ozone limits."

    "Methane, the main component of natural gas, breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere, but its impact on global warming over a 100-year period is at least 20 times that of the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide."