Frank Brusca’s Route 40 Today website is live

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, George R. Stewart traveled the “main street of America,” U. S. 40, from coast to coast several times:  He had an idea for a book.  Like most of his works, it would be completely unique, ushering in a new type of book – the popular “odological” or road book.   

U.S. 40: Cross Section of the United States of America was published in 1953.  He chose U. S. 40 since it connected the Atlantic with the Pacific, followed the most central route, and was built upon several historic and prehistoric trails.

It contains essays about the history and development of American roads, the sounds and smells of driving the highway (before air conditioning sealed cars’ windows closed and shut out the external aromas and anti-smoking laws banished the internal aromas of smoke),  a final reflection on the future of highways (freeways were just being developed)  and a photo essay of road signs and and text  about the place names they carry.  He divides the US into sections, east to west, often doing so by the former historic trails that took humans over that particular part of the geography; each has an introductory essay about that section. 

Then Stewart gets to the meat of the work – a series of photographs of  archetypal  locations along the road, some of which contain road-related activities and people, carefully described in the most precise (yet poetic) manner on an accompanying page. 

Thus, photo 26, “Tavern,” shows the historic Red Brick Tavern, built as a waterhole for the “pike-boys” who drove the wagons carrying freight along the National Road that preceded U.S. 40.  Photo 50, “Two Species,” taken at a buffalo preserve just west of Denver, shows grazing buffalo and a few humans observing and photographing them.  Photo 85, “Donner Pass,” taken from an elevation a good climb up a mountain just south of the Pass, shows the beautiful curving highway as it climbs from Donner Lake over the central Sierra Nevada, with the magnificent Rainbow Bridge and a prominent Sierra peak behind it.  And so on, for the 92 photos that define the book. 

(By the way,  the peak behind the Rainbow Bridge at Donner Pass is now officially  “George R. Stewart Peak.”)

With U. S. 40 George R. Stewart created a roadside interpretive guide to the United States of America.  Travelers along the highway used and use it as such a guide.  (I do.)  My collection includes two first editions of U.S. 40 with travelers’ notes in them.  When Wingards of Pasadena, California, for example,  visited a place Stewart described, they penciled in the date on the page; so we know they drove through Kansas City on June 10, 1956, and crossed Colorado’s Berthoud and Rabbit Ears Passes on the 13th.  And some unidentified driver typed and taped a small page on the frontispiece of their copy recording the year and model of their car (a 1941 Dodge Sedan, NY license plate) and listing each day’s mileage and the places they stopped that night. 

The book doesn’t have the widespread fame of Stewart’s Earth Abides, but it has its own power and has created and inspired a network of creative people.  Tom and Geraldine Vale wrote what is certainly the first “descendant”  of a George R. Stewart work:

U.S. 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America

Now considered a minor classic, the Vales’ book followed Stewart’s route, photographing and describing most of his sites 30 years after the original U. S. 40 was published. 

William Least Heat Moon was partly inspired by the book to write the brilliant American masterpiece , Blue Highways:  A Journey Into America. A few years later,  working with  road colleague Frank Brusca, he wrote an entire section about GRS and U. S. 40 in his  work, Roads to Quoz, an American Mosey

One more accolade to George R. Stewart and U.S. 40 deserves a mention here.  Production is beginning on a documentary by Filmmaker Doug Nichol about Stewart and the road.  As the project develops, I’ll be sending progress reports.  In the meantime, if you want to see his well-regarded, highly rated, and darn-right-enjoyable work, here’s the link to a wonderful film he recently produced, California Typewriter.

In the meantime,  Frank Brusca is carrying the U.S. 40 torch onward.  For decades, he’s been working to create a work of literature, geography, and photographic that would carry Stewart’s book into the 21st century and the current world of the web.  Now, I can announce that he is premiering the work.   On the “Return to Route 40” website, Frank  carries the site’s followers from east to west along U. S. 40, with maps and current photographs of most of Stewart’s sites.  He adds a description of each site as seen and photographed by Stewart and by the Vales, and includes his own contemporary comments.  It’s really a brilliant site and I highly recommend it to all lovers of things Stewartian, and all lovers of roads – especially the classic blue highways like U. S. 40.  There is very reasonable fee to join his site’s premiere section – well worth it – but also a free section.  So you can get a good idea of his masterwork even without paying the $2.50 a month fee.  In fact, you can even preview the first post on the paid site for free  (There is an error on the page.  Ignore the “this plan cannot be found” and scroll down to see the links to the free website or the paid site.)

Frank’s Return to Route 40 is a work that honors the work of his predecessors, like William Least Heat Moon, Tom and Geraldine Vale, and, of course, George R. Stewart.  If you are an odologist – one who follows the Blue Highways – an armchair traveler, or simply one who, like old Chaucer’s folke —

Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
— longen to goon on a pilgrimage,  Frank’s website is a good place to begin. 
Return to Route 40
Return to Route 40 Image courtesy Frank Brusca

A Resource for Stewart Collectors

Over the years, many of those who become followers of George R. Stewart collect his books for their personal libraries. Since “fine” First Editions are rare and increasingly expensive many choose to buy the books without dust jackets. Dust jackets are highly desired by book collectors and are therefore copies with dust jackets expensive. But with a little searching a good “reading copy” without a dust jacket can usually be found at a budget-friendly price, thus allowing the Stewart fan to have personal copies to read or share with friends. Eventually collectors may want to “dress up” their reading copies with a custom or standard book storage box or a dust cover. Custom boxes can be ordered from several places (as this google search shows).

 It’s almost impossible to find good used dust jackets.  They’re rare because as the paper cover of the work they are exposed to rough handling over many years, and when one is found high-end collectors will pay high prices for them.  Sometimes a budget collector – like me and most of my GRS friends – will be lucky enough to find a copy with a cover at a reasonable price and so add that to their collection.  But good luck finding one for Earth Abides, Names on the Land, Sheep Rock, or Storm.  Especially Earth Abides, since Stewart’s great novel in fine condition with a fine dust jacket is now a four-figure purchase.

But there are some ways to add dust jacket art to a GRS collection, or to almost any book. 

The first is do something ‘homemade”.  Find an illustration of the book cover you want online; copy that; and print it into a “dust jacket” format.  There are problems with this approach – mainly the fact that online images are usually very small and thus don’t print well to dust jacket dimensions.  If you have a friend with a good dust jacket, you can ask to scan that, to a higher resolution and get a better result. 

There are a couple of cautions.  

Most dust jackets, like the books they cover, are under copyright.  So while publishers who can no longer offer a dust jacket for sale and are thus OK with your printing one for your copy of a GRS book, don’t print in quantity.

Also, make sure that you clearly mark your printed copy of a dust jacket as a reproduction.

Whatever you do, never try to sell the reproduction cover as an original.  That’s forgery. 

The other way to get a reproduction dust jacket is to by from a legitimate publisher.  One I’ve worked with and have great respect for is Mark Terry of San Francisco. He and his family have been restoring and reproducing dust jackets nearly 25 years.  The income supports his goal to preserve as many of these works of art as he can, and to do so in part by selling the reproduction covers to collectors all over the world.  He has nearly 15,000 dust jackets on his site, available for order.  Considering the amount of work each cover requires, his prices are very reasonable. 

Mark receives high (if I may) marks from at least one other site

There are other dust jacket reproducers listed on Google.  But if I were you, I’d start with Mark.  (Note – I do NOT receive any commission or other emolument  for this recommendation.)

However you decide to do it, I recommend dressing up those first editions by adding the unique works of art that we call “dust jackets.”  In Stewart’s case, several were done by excellent artists; and usually each book had a different artist and therefore a unique style.  For example:

Ordeal By HungerStorm covernotl






“Best Regards, Fred M. Cain”

One of the reasons George R. Stewart has such a wide range of fans is that he wrote on a wide range of subjects – sometimes inventing a type of literature in order to do so.  For those interested in California or Western history, Stewart wrote Ordeal By Hunger, The California Trail, and the novel East of the Giants.  For readers interested in Western authors he wrote Bret Harte, Argonaut and Exile and John Phoenix Esq., The Veritable Squibob: A Life Of Captain George H. Derby, U.s.a.  For the lovers of the land, and the ecosystem, the novels Storm, Fire, Earth Abides, and Sheep Rock.  He invented the microhistory to write a history of the day of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.  No history of national place-naming had ever been written so he created that literature with Names On The Land. And for those who love roads and highways, he invented the odology – road study – book with


and the two volume NA 1:

  George R Stewart N.A. 1: LOOKING SOUTH Mexico to Costa Rica

N.A. 1 Looking North: From the Canadian Border to Circle, Alaska

(Odology, by the way, probably derives from Hodology, the study of paths.)

Thus, Stewart’s fans come to his work through the many doors of his different books.   Authors Christopher Priest and James Sallis from Earth Abides, Ivan Doig from Names on the Land, William Least Heat Moon from the same book and U. S. 40.  Composer Philip Aaberg from Earth Abides.  And, for today’s post, Fred Cain. 

Fred Cain is interested in historic highways, especially Route 66, so it is likely that he “met” Stewart through U.S. 40.  Here’s is a message from Fred which, like the posts by John Lucia about the Caldor  Fire, show how reading the work of GRS gives a new dimension to understanding what we do.

Dear Mr. Scott,

I have to confess that I have never read Earth Abides. However, during Christmas vacation, I reread your biography or GRS again and decided to obtain a copy of the book. So, when I returned to work, I ordered a copy on Amazon.

As a lifelong Stewart fan, I’m sure I’ll like it.

As a kid, I had my own “Earth Abides” moment. Allow me to explain.

In 1962, when I was just 10 years old, my family and I undertook a coast-to-coast trip on U.S. 40. Then three years later, we went back over the Route in the opposite direction but only as far as St. Louis.

It was an experience that I never forgot. I became a young U.S. 40 fan. I couldn’t stop talking about Route 40 in school and my classmates began to grow weary of hearing me talk about it.
Well, one fine day I happened to be in the library and just for kicks, decided to look up “U.S. 40” in the subject card catalog. (I really show my age with that statement. That was back when there were still card catalogs).

My eyes just about popped out of my head. There it was! “U.S. 40; A Cross Section of the United States of America.”

I was absolutely ecstatic! I checked the book out and took it home to show Mom. Mother was an English major who had graduated from Berkeley. She was just as astounded at my find as I was but for different reasons. Stewart, you see, had been one of Mom’s professors. So, there you have it. I feel like I have at least an indirect connection to GRS through my mother.

I always wished that I could’ve been fortunate enough to have met the man. Although I am not a writer, I have always felt as though Stewart and I had similar interests, nature, wilderness, forestry, weather and transportation and communication systems. So, I feel like there is an invisible connection there.

Later, I also read Fire and Storm. (I’ve read Storm three times). So now I, too, will finally get to Earth Abides. Better late than never. I’m sure it’ll be a good read.

Fred M. Cain,

Here’s another post from Fred, longer, inspired by John Lucia’s posts on the Caldor Fire.  It is a good example of how reading Stewart can put something like a huge forest fire – or climate change – into a new perspective.


I’d like to share some thoughts about the Caldor fire and these big, mega fires in general. I’ve been thinking about this now for some time.

We have been told over and over that these terrible fires are the direct result of climate change. That is a very logical conclusion to draw, however that scenario has never actually been proven. The droughts in the West might be caused by climate change or perhaps something else or perhaps even climate change combined with other factors.

It’s possible that the West goes through some kind of long-range, wet-dry cycle with or without anthropogenic-induced climate change. George R. Stewart alluded to this in “Fire”. He suggested that much of California’s forests had evolved in an era where California was wetter.

“Indeed, some said pessimistically that the forests of California had established themselves in some wetter cycle of centuries and that brush, once rooted, would remain until some wetter cycle returned”. – George R. Stewart from “Fire”.

However, another contributing factor to these big fires has to do with the total exclusion of fire from the natural environment. Before European settlers arrived on the scene, lightning-induced ground fires would go through the forests every few years, reduce the fuel loads and expose mineral soil that’s beneficial to new seedlings.

Pine trees, especially ponderosa and Jeffrey pine, are very fire tolerant and fire adapted. The lingering residue from turpentine and other related volatile hydrocarbons in dead pine needles and twigs allows them to burn when they are damp. The result is what we might call a “cool” fire that spreads across the forest floor doing little or no damage to the established pines but kills young hardwood saplings that would otherwise compete with the pines.

GRS was well aware of this. In the novel “Fire”, The Supervisor felt sorry for Bart because he took the Spitcat Fire so hard and told him, “…where there are pine trees, there’s fire, because if there’s no dry season, you’ll have a hardwood forest. You might say if there weren’t fire, there wouldn’t be pines”. – GRS from “Fire”

The human-caused, unnatural exclusion of fire during the 20th Century allowed the forests to grow very thick. So thick, in fact, that in a dry year there is simply insufficient moisture to support that kind of dense growth.

If you can, try and look at this Google Earth “Street View” near Grizzly Flats before the fire:,-120.529816,3a,75y,308.5h,91.02t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1skWVfd9I4qClCrAvhaluk-Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Some of that stuff is so dense that it’s what’s called in some circles a “dog hair thicket”. I read online somewhere where much of the forest in the Caldor Fire had not burned since the 1930s – nor had any thinning taken place.

Complicating the issue still further is the fact that in the past, bad logging practices and general forest mismanagement have also come into play.

“The western forests were no longer primeval woodlands of big trees through which a fire could sweep and do little damage. On the contrary, because of logging and man-caused fires, the forest consisted mostly of thick and highly inflammable second-growth, made all the worse by slash piles and brush fields”. – GRS from “Earth Abides”.

But there is yet another factor in these large fires. Congress has for years kept the U.S. Forest Service on a very tight, nearly starvation budget. There is simply insufficient staff to jump on and stamp out a small fire when a “red flag day” is in the forecast.

For example, crews were stretched so thin fighting the massive Dixie Fire that they allowed the Tamarack Fire to go since it was burning in a highly inaccessible area anyways. Well, it exploded and burned 68,637 acres before it was finally contained.

I don’t know, but that might also be the case with the Caldor Fire. Perhaps they could’ve jumped on it and contained it the first day *IF* they’d had the personnel.

Although the situation appears both bleak and depressing, there is hope and cause for some GRS-style optimism. I can share a personal experience I had.

When we moved to our seven-acre lot in Indiana back in 1990, there were NO trees nearby. I mean none! The wind whipping our house was so bad that one day it just about ripped my screen door off. I resolved to do something about this.

So, I planted evergreens around our house. White pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, white fir and spruce. Some of the seedlings I planted were no more than two inches tall. My father looked at them in amazement and remarked, “Oh my! Those ARE tiny! You must be quite an optimist!”
Well, at 20 years, they were as high as our two-story house! Now at 30 years they are much higher than the house. Indeed, I unfortunately had to have some removed because I was afraid they might fall ON the house.

My point is, that these trees, once they get a good start, actually grow faster than a lot of people assume. You hear remarks like, “After the The Fire, things will NEVER look the same again.” Or, “It’ll take centuries”, etc.

Well, 30 years after the fire it might not look exactly like it did before the fire, but once those seedlings get started and begin reaching for the sky, it will look somewhat like a forest again. In 50-60 years, perhaps, only a trained forester will recognize that there had been an old fire there.
In 2002 the 468,638-acre Rodeo-Chediski Fire destroyed much of the ponderosa pine forest along the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. Now today, much of that forest is regenerating nicely. Does it look like it did before the fire? No. But much of area is starting to look rather nice again.

Google Earth “Street View” showing pinus ponderosa regenerating near Arizona’s Mogollon Rim:

Mother Nature has a powerful ability to heal herself and to heal her forests quite possibly even in spite of climate change. “Moist and clean, the northwest wind from the ocean blew steadily across the long ridges, and from high-swinging cones, opened by the fiery heat, the winged seeds drifted downward to the earth”. – GRS concluding sentence from “Fire”.

Thank you, Professor Stewart, for writing “Fire”, “Storm” and “Earth Abides”.

Times will change and new problems and crises will come to pass, “but Earth Abides”.

Best Regards,
Fred M. Cain,


George R. Stewart’s most powerful literary symbol is the Hammer of Ish – Ish’s hammer in Earth Abides.  It symbolizes all of human technology and the civilization it produces.  Stewart in fact used that hammer – which, like Ish, he found in the American River Canyon – in building projects around his home. 

Stewart’s real hammers were his books – the tools he, great teacher that he was, used to teach Fred Cain; and James Sallis, Walt Disney, Theodore Steinway, Ivan Doig, NASA’s Dr. James D. Burke, and innumerable others about history, ecology, place names, highways, and so on.  Clearly George R. Stewart’s tools influenced Fred Cain – as they have influenced many others – including me.

Ranger Bob Valen on George R. Stewart’s Ecological Novels Storm and Fire

A few years ago I published a post here about one of San Francisco’s fine old used bookstores,  Holmes Books .  Last week, Bob Valen sent me a copy of his latest weather column and it brought back many memories of the days he and I spent browsing Holmes Books.

Bob and I met at Thornton State Beach near San Francisco in the early 1970’s. He was majoring in Geography at San Francisco State and working the Striped Bass tag survey during summers.  I’d graduated from State, taught for a while, and then found myself working several months each year as a “SPRINT” – a State Park Ranger Permanent Intermittent.

Bob and I were later able to say that we’d worked in the then-planned Golden Gate National Recreation Area before it opened.  After the GGNRA opened and Bob graduated, he went to work for the National Park Service as a Ranger/Naturalist.  He married another Ranger when they both worked at Cabrillo National Monument; they had shared careers all over the west.  He retired a few years ago, his wife Janet just retired.

While Bob and I worked together, I made the startling discovery that George R. Stewart, who had pointed me down the trail toward Rangering years earlier, was (with his wife Theodosia and often his family) a regular Thornton visitor.  So we got to know the Stewarts well.

On days off, Bob and I would search used book stores for first editions of Storm and Fire, and Stewart’s other works – a leisure activity that led to (in my case at least) a large Stewart collection.

Eventually, Bob and I went on to our different life paths.  But we always kept those Thornton State Beach days – our George R. Stewart Days  – in warm spots of our hearts.  And when our paths crossed again, we’d often chew over the memories of that extraordinary place and those days. stewart.1-2021 STORM cover When you read the just-released New York Review of Books Press edition of Storm that Bob mentions in his column, note how beautifully Nathaniel Rich brings his Introduction to a close at Thornton State Beach.

Here’s Bob’s column.

Storm and Fire

 By Bob Valen

 Together we have experienced another meteorological threshold and we are now in autumn. Temperatures are falling and many of us are breathing a slight sigh of relief. Wildfire smoke as dissipated yet, we are still in drought. Nationally, our region is in the sixth percentile of Exceptional Drought, also known as “D4”. Areas to our south are still burning. The largest wildfire still active is the Dixie Fire in Northern California at well over 900,000 acres. Here in Washington state, the Schneider Springs Fire near Yakama is 106,000 acres.


The El Nino–Southern Oscillation (ENSO),  the varying temperature phenomena of the Tropical Pacific Ocean, the El Nino/La Nina system, is emerging into La Nina again. This system affects much of our global climate. Climatologists watch this system carefully. Up-to-date measurements are pointing at a La Nina event this fall-winter. For the Inland Northwest, our diminutive region of Planet, may see cooler temperatures and more precipitation. Precipitation in the form of winter snow storms – we shall see.  


Considering wildfires and storms, I’m reminded of two books written by the author George R. Stewart. Stewart was born in 1895. He was educated at some of nation’s finest universities. He became a professor of English Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He was much more than professor – he was a historian, novelist, toponymist and a founding member of the American Name Society. It was in his later years that I met him and his wife through a good friend – twice in fact. By this time, the early ‘70’s, he had nearly completed his writing. His earliest book in 1930 and the final in 1979. I believe a total of [28] titles.


Storm was first published in 1941 – the year the United States entered World War 2 – a type of global storm created by madmen. Fire came out in 1948 – I was just an infant. Later, as an adult, I would spend 15 years of my career on seasonal duty with western wildfire Incident Command Teams. Storm was recently republished by New York Review Books (New York Review of Books Press) with a forward by Nathaniel Rich.


As you begin this book, consider this, the protagonist isn’t a person. The protagonist is a storm – a thing of immense air and water vapor affected and sculpted by atmospheric pressure, topography and the jet stream. The people in (the) book are like us. When we find ourselves in an event that is utterly and absolutely out of our control, we hunker down. We tolerate what occurs all around us; we cannot change it. Part of our lives is shaped in those hours. All the while we hope to pull through without harm to us or others.   


In Storm, a name appears, Maria. It is the storm’s name. Stewart and his novel Storm are credited as (providing) the motivation for naming storms. The United States officially started the practice in 1953.


Stewart’s Fire captures early fall conditions of a Sierra Nevada forest and the ultimate aftermath of a lightning storm. Our protagonist, once again, is a thing, a thing of heat, fuel and air. Yes, the fire has a name – Spitcat. The people in the story, rangers, smoke jumpers, fire lookouts – reflect the era this novel was written. It’s post World War 2. Stewart captures the essence of a California forest. Though the name of the forest is fictional, the nature of a living forest is real. The trees, the animals, living separately from each other yet, all are truly interconnected and are part of a larger, organic, functioning ecological system. In his research for Fire, Stewart actually spent time with the Forest Service fighting fire.


I encourage our local Friends of the Library to add the above titles that Stewart wrote as well. …….


After the Caldor Fire – Thoughts From A Volunteer Ranger

fire first cover

In Fire, George R. Stewart closes his pioneering and page-turning novel with optimism.  The last sentence in the book beautifully describes the serotinous pines – which only set seeds after a hot fire melts the resin holding the cones closed – and the gentle floating to the ground of the coated seeds thus released – seeds which sit in the nutritious ash from the fires until the heat of a future fire melts the coating so the seeds can germinate. 

Here’s another version of events post-fire. 

John Lucia, GRS follower, has finished his Volunteer Ranger work on the Caldor Fire at Kyburz in the Sierra Nevada Mountains west of Echo Summit,. .  Here is his final report to date, which includes lessons from the experience. 

Sunday, September 9, 2021 – The Volunteer Ranger’s Final Report on the Caldor Fire

A welcome rain, early this morning.  The air is clean and for the most part, the fire has burned around and not through Kyburz.  Three weeks ago, a small burn near Caldor (from the abbreviation, California Door) has now become almost 200,000 acres.  Six times the area of the county of San Francisco.  It will continue to expand, I am told, for at least another month.   Resin-loaded stumps will burn for weeks.   What was green and pleasing to the eye, will appear as sepia in an old photo.  The forest is exactly the same size and shape, but now only brown, dead, brittle and lifeless.  During the three months of winter, most will lose all their needles.  The beautiful gown that once was, will transform from exquisite to skeletal.  Heads will turn wanting to ignore and put out of their brain, what was imprinted for so long, as a way it always would be.  Like something beautiful slowly aging and dying, this is but instantaneous and more lasting.  Restoration of a forest, with good luck, takes 40 years or more. 

Children, family, friends less than a month before came into this cathedral of nature taking it all for granted.  Enjoying the cooling of the shade, the ultra-green hues close and distant, the fragrance of life to be enjoyed with every breath. Now the forest will try to heal itself.   This fire fortunately was mostly slow and was not too hot around Kyburz. Soon, the north facing slopes will show the first indication of life.  Countless evergreen and deciduous trees, millions of seed laden plants and flowers sprouting in the warmth of next spring.  Fighting to survive all competing for the one required resource, water. 

If God is kind, the winter will be hard, the snows heavy, the road closed more than usual, the spring late, dogwoods flowering into June.  Maybe even remnant snowbanks over the summit on the three days associated with labor.  Nature fighting to keep us all out as long, as possible.  Allowing us back only when the days are long.  Telling us it needs to be alone.  It needs to heal.  Wounding nature was easy.  It was always vulnerable, it was always there for you, just as you assumed it would be.  We say how much we enjoy our wooded surroundings, but we became complacent, lazy, and failed to protect.  As in any relationship, words are fine, but they alone cannot prove fidelity.  It matters not what you think or feel, actions always speak loudest. You cannot possibly love this land if you don’t at least notice it fighting to survive.

If our forests could speak, it might say, “your abusive, selfish desires may seal my fate”. Thousands of Keep Tahoe Blue stickers, on countless Tundra’s, Sequoia’s, Yukon’s and Tahoe’s do little to maintain the Azul.  What are we really willing to give up to save our relationship with our only home?  We constantly utter words of admiration, but rarely support them with proper actions.  Do we really love to be in nature?  When did camping become a 24-foot-long house dragged along by an F250 diesel?  How can one honestly justify dish tv on their time of being one with nature?  The guaranteed fact is those days and nights in that carbon heavy assault will be quickly forgotten.  The hot shower, the comfortable bed, 140 channels, the climate/bug control, the aluminum ceiling blocking the stars, the frozen food and ice cream, the real half and half for the Starbuck’s coffee and all that makes us believe we are happy.  There was a time, a few short years ago, when tents were only used in time of rain.  Most campers said, it just wasn’t camping inside a tent, and now those in tent’s are “roughing it”. 

This is just one of several wildfires burning in the Sierra right now.  The Caldor, with 3000 firefighters, at least 1000 direct support members, I guess 700-800 law enforcement officers make up the human component.  I estimate a ton of line lunches and five tons of bottled water every day.  Over 1500 trucks of all shapes and sizes, a few dozen attack planes and helicopters, around 50 earth movers and with all that, the one thing that can never be supplied, is luck.  If all goes well, the winds are normal we could still be wrestling this burn into October.   Today’s fires start in the spring and continue through Halloween.  Success or failure is measured on structure loss.  I will be forever grateful all our neighbor’s homes were saved.  Over 500 families have lost their home, and many will never rebuild.  A house can be replaced in a few months, but how many will have the desire or ability to wait thirty years to experience the same views from their porch and windows? Most forests on the Pacific slope just never fully recover.  I have witnessed four major fires on the 50 Corridor.  Some leave a small scar, but most expose a sterile landscape, even after 50 years.  People are impatient.  We will bring a house to a forest but are not willing or able to wait for the forest to surround the house. 

I don’t know the answer or solution to this problem that affects us all.  I now believe slow moving, control burns done in late fall or early winter may be one of the only ways to bring our forest closer to a natural cycle.  Are we, as a society, capable of budgeting more dollars to action than reaction?

We live in the new age.  The age of the super fire.  Like it or not, we are forced to deal with it.



A Major George R. Stewart Anniversary is Soon Upon Us

EA Morleys

In early October, 1949, Random House published the First Edition, First Printing of George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides. Since that day, October 7, 1949, Stewart’s novel has never been out of print, and the impact of the work on society and culture has been substantial. See this article for a summary of the book, its themes, and its influence.


Recently republished by Mariner Books, with a fine new Introduction by Kim Stanley Robinson, the novel continues to inspire its readers with page-turning prose and provocative ideas. If you’ve never read it, this would be a good time – as the nights lengthen and the weather encourages evenings sitting by the fire with a good book at hand – to read the new edition. If you’re a fan of the novel, this would be a good time to read it again, seated in the easy chair by the fireplace.

Ish's Hammer(1)

Nathaniel Rich and Chris Jennings Discuss George R. Stewart’s STORM

George R. Stewart’s pioneering and prescient writings about humans and the ecosystem are reaching out to a new generation of writers.


Nathaniel Rich  is the author of several well-received books.  He writes non-fiction books and essays about contemporary environmental issues, like Second Nature and Losing Earth; an intriguing novel set in New Orleans a century ago, King Zeno; the novel Odds Against Tomorrow,  about the possibilities both good and bad of the immediate future.  See the complete list here. ( He’s also written a book I’m anxious to get my hands on:  San Francisco Noir, a description of more than 40 noir films set in San Francisco and  their settings.)

Rich has written a fine new Introduction to the recent New York Review of Books Press edition of Stewart’s pioneering ecological novel Storm.  He closes with a reference to the storm that destroyed the George R. Stewart Trail at Thornton State Beach – a fitting end to the story of GRS and that place on Earth once described as “of small compass and unusual value.”

utopia now cover

Rich’s friend, colleague, and fellow writer, Chris Jennings, has published a history of those American utopian communities that hoped to change society for the better:  Paradise Now:  The Story of American Utopianism.   One of the interesting ideas Jennings explores in the is how the Utopians’ ideas were affected by where they lived  – not unlike Stewart’s idea that “the land is a character in the work.” 

Rich and Jennings recently joined in a web conversation to discuss Stewart’s Storm from the environmentalist viewpoint.  The discussion was sponsored by an excellent local independent bookstore, Point Reyes Books – which as the store’s name indicates is located in the small town of Point Reyes Station near magnificent Point Reyes National Seashore.

Their excellent discussion, a thorough and wide-ranging description and consideration of the book, lasted for about an hour.  I was especially happy to note how the novel and the ideas of Stewart’s it contains had come almost as a revelation to Rich and Jennings, members of a new generation of  ecosystem warriors.  The book was teaching them – as it taught so many of us in the mid-twentieth century.

Watch the discussion here.  (If you haven’t yet read the book please be aware that there are a few spoilers in the talk.)

Afterwards, I suggest that you read or re-read Stewart’s page-turner of a novel, which is a mind-enriching, pioneering book.  It is the first ecological novel and the book from which we get the practice of naming storms.  For those of you who live in the central swath of California where the storm takes place, it will help you prepare mentally for the storms sure to come this winter. If you live elsewhere, the novel’s global vision will teach you how weather ties all of us together, and ties everything in the ecosystem into one web of life, land, air and water.


stewart.1-2021 STORM cover

If you decide to purchase (the reasonably priced) Storm or one of the books by the speakers you may want to do so through Point Reyes Books, as a thanks for sponsoring the talk.

A  George R. Stewart-inspired Perspective on Fire, From the Front Line

fire first cover

John and Angela Lucia have Ranger backgrounds and a GRS connection.  Both those things were revealed when John went into the Caldor Fire as a Fire Volunteer, providing courageous support in Kyburz, on US 50, with Angela offering critical home base support by forwarding his messages and providing R & R – including excellent meals – when he was finally able to take a break last weekend.

John and I met at Thornton State Beach on my first day as a Ranger, .   We met Angela when we all worked at Half Moon Bay State Beach near Angela’s  family home.  Over the years we’ve shared many meals and many tales of adventure. John’s tales of the Caldor fire are especially gripping, worthy of inclusion in a library like the Bancroft.

I’m including three of his posts, and a link to a news story about John.  The first post is John’s general report (forwarded by Angela) about his efforts in the fire.  The second contains his reflections on the fire from the viewpoint of someone well versed in  the novels of George R. Stewart – as if John had stepped into Fire and Earth Abides for a time.  The third is joyful – as a friendly rain falls from Carson City Nevada to Half Moon Bay, and over the Caldor Fire!

John and Angela and I have gone on to different careers; but as the story shows we’re always Rangers, and always thinking in the ecological way that George R. Stewart taught us.



John Lucia

Mostly this is to all our neighbors who have friends and family along the highway 50 corridor between Riverton and Tract 35, but I encourage the rest of you to want to read along. The Wednesday before last (8/25) I was called out to repair and operate the DB4 drafting pumps near station 16 in Kyburz. Arriving just before the fire hit, and only able to return late last night when the electric power was restored to the area. Station 16 is the only high-volume water source between Fresh Pond and Camp Sacramento. I can tell you many stories of the last 10 days, but the fact is the fire crews did a great job! They all work shifts that exceeded 25 hours, travel up to 45 minutes to their hotel, clean up, eat, rest and to return an hour or so before their shift begins. They receive a briefing, do another 25 hours and repeat. It is grueling! This is a job for the young, District chiefs that I saw, were in their early fifties or younger. The firefighters were all younger than my two sons, and I met over hundreds of them. They were friendly and were always concerned about my well-being always asking if I needed anything. Water, food, masks, etc. “I love those line lunches”!  As I filled their tanker, they would tell me about their families, how they long they have been away, and the towns they come from. Yreka, Humboldt to Murietta, Encinitas, Oak Harbor, Washington and Yuma Arizona. And even Sky Walker Ranch for you Star Wars fans. If you have a cabin in the area of Riverton and Milestone 35 I can tell you first hand it is exactly as you remember it. As I was able to view them personally. Most of this area shows very little fire damage. There was a very well-orchestrated down burn on the south side of the American River which was still consuming ground fuel as I drove through late last night. During the fire, there was either an engine with four fire fighters posted in front of your home or in front of your next door neighbor. Hose upon hose stretched in every direction anticipating the approaching inferno. They stayed, stood their ground and not a single structure was lost, period. All night and day you could hear them shouting, chain saws whining, and burnt trees falling to the ground. For those of you in Sacramento that think that AQI index of 120 was high, it was well over 500, days on end. Visibility at best was 500 – 800 ft max. At the end of their 24-hour shift, they would convoy down HWY 50 in their dirty tired engines. Most of them waving as they passed the drafting station. The lucky crews would be returning to their families after some of them being away for weeks. The point and the fact that I want to make is when you make your home or cabin a defensible space, you are proving to the firefighters that you care about their safety which ensures that they will even fight harder to protect your home. It would be very easy to go on but in closing I would say, it was an honor to work with and meet all these young heroes.


John Lucia


2.  The Caldor fire has been burning now for 4 weeks and seems as it may finally be slowing down. For the first three weeks I felt as I was living and breathing “Fire” there was a constant pressure, with a foreboding sense of the unknown .  Everyone was vital and we all had our place in this battle, those going without nearly enough rest to the front lines and those returning dirty and exhausted. I was fortunately in a very safe place able to aid but more importantly from my standpoint  able to observe. Making a point to speak to as many firefighters as possible and engaging  them in conversation of things other than what was on everyone’s  mind. After asking about their families the one question I ask most of these guys was “have you read Fire?”  You both would be impressed how many responded with a yes!  They agreed it was the best account of the real thing  they had read;  I told the ones that hadn’t it was a must read.

The fire passed has through here now, the pumps have been shut down for almost a week ,the hundreds of hoses laid out everywhere have been collected and most all resources are in the Tahoe basin. For the last few days it feels a little bit like Earth Abides, there is heavy traffic for a couple of hours in the early morning due to the shift change and then a quiet which I have never experienced here before, highway 50 is  almost deserted, all of the homes in Silverfork and Kyburz are vacant, the water lines are empty and the electric is on although most everyone evacuated during the day so hardly any lights are on, at night there is darkness were there was previously lights . I can not recall ever see so much wildlife, in just these few short days there seems to be a lot more activity on the ground and in the air close to the houses, also bird species I hadn’t made note of ,maybe with no one here there is less to fear. Because it has been three days since I spoke with anyone face to face I think I have a small window as to what Ish must have sensed, although unlike Ish I am pretty much staying in one place and he traveled about. I know I am living a capsule version only, but that is still more than I ever thought possible.

As  sidenote Earth Abides was published the year I was born and the house we live in here in Kyburz was built by a Stewart ,Bernie Stewart. Our complete Stewart  library, thanks almost entirely to Don Scott, is normally housed here but when we were evacuated we brought down to Sacramento for safe keeping.  I am looking forward to those days in the near future and  beyond with the sound of children on vacation, and friends and family relaxing take center stage. A time when we all get to enjoy Angela’s wonderful cooking!

Sincerely John


stewart.1-2021 STORM cover

3.  Good morning     Big news is it rained early this morning. A little after midnight I awoke to very load thunder claps sans lightning, a few minutes later a gentle rain started to fall.  To my surprise  within a few minutes my sinus was irritated and my eyes started to water.  I believe the accumulation of ash everywhere, especially on the roof in this case was the culprit . this morning visibility is very good   and the AQI is 39  but it is still difficult to breath , I believe we are experiencing a form of acid rain . It is now 10 am and the air quality  has improved only slightly .

  This morning saw fewer engines and law enforcement.     Groups of PG&E equipment were headed east early  this morning, yesterday afternoon I noted PG&E dump trucks coming down filled with burnt transformers wire etc. restoration of power on top is a priority.

 . I am curious about the effect of the rain on the hot spots and how that will affect the opening of the road which for 20 out of 24 hours is deserted .


Here’s a link to Channel 13’s interview with John, in Kyburz. (It is copyrighted; used here under Fair Use Law)

The Case of George R. Stewart and the Lore of STORM

This is indeed the summer – and the week – of George R. Stewart.

A film, currently planned to be a documentary about one of Stewart’s non-fiction books, is under development.  STORM is being republished by the New York Review of Books Press and offered as the NYRB Classics Book Club selection for August. The Dixie Fire is burning almost exactly where Stewart placed his fire, “the spitcat,” in FIRE‘s fictional “Ponderosa National Forest.” And a slice of Lore about the writing of STORM  has resurfaced.

A message has come from old friend and Bookman Roger, announcing a tour of 2706 Virginia by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.  It’s a remarkable coincidence, because the description of the property’s provenance says that George R. Stewart once owned the house, and that STORM was written there.  That’s almost certainly Lore; but since it’s connected to STORM, it may have some truth to it. So as a Holmes or Watson of things Stewartian, I must take the case on.


2706 Virginia Street, Berkeley, from the entrance pathway                                               Photo used by permission of Norah Brower

The source for the story is an article published a few years ago in American Bungalow Magazine, an excellent publication about Arts and Crafts architecture, in Issue 55. The article by John Ribovich  profiles the house and its provenance.  It mentions that GRS wrote STORM in the house.

In 2017, when the article was published, I contacted Mr. Ribovich to find out who his source was for the GRS comment.  During a pleasant conversation he directed me to someone (whose name I’ve since forgotten) who gave him that information.  I contacted that person, we discussed it, and – as I recall – she said she heard the story from a member of the Taylor-Lange Family.

Yesterday, Daniella Thompson, the Website Editor for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, sent an email which pretty much clears up the mystery about this bit of Lore about the Storm —  and also adds significant information to the GRS story.   She writes “…Paul Taylor and Dorothea Lange never owned 2706 Virginia Street. They rented it in 1935 and remained until 1940, when they moved to 1163 Euclid Avenue, which they did own. As for George R. Stewart, he was listed at 2706 Virginia Street in the 1934 city directory, meaning that he lived there before the Taylors.”

campanile at dusk

Campanile, University of California, Berkeley, and Bay Area from 2706 Virginia Street.     Photo used by permission of Norah Brower


Daniella Thompson’s information helps everything fall into place.

The Stewarts rented 2706 Virginia for less than a year.  Daughter Jill recalled the “House on Virginia Street”  as the place of some trauma:

…Jill Stewart was old enough to remember life in “the house at the top of  Virginia Street” as particularly unsettling. One day she heard “a terrifying  noise” from the flats of Berkeley—a house leaking natural gas had blown up.  Not long after, she heard a crash near the Stewart home and ran out to see a car teetering over the drop-off at the edge of the street. The passengers were sitting in the car, afraid to move. The car was eventually righted without injury to its passengers, but for a long time Jill was afraid to travel in cars. Jill’s third memory of the house was the most traumatic: she fell through a glass door.  She still carries a small facial scar from the fall. ..

Thanks to Daniella Thompson, we know now that the “house at the top of Virginia Street” is the legendary 2706 Virginia.  (It is a remarkable house, by the way, now for sale.)

In 1934, the Stewarts moved to the first house they could afford to buy, nearby in the Berkeley Hills.  Since the Stewarts knew the Taylors, Thompson’s guess is that George (or Ted) Stewart told them the house on Virginia Street was available for rental and Taylor and Lange moved in.

But was STORM written there?

Stewart was researching the book in the winter of 1940-41.  We know that because Ted Stewart told a story about GRS’s ride on a steam engine’s cowcatcher over Donner Summit in a major winter Sierra storm to get a sense of the storm, which is included in the biography:

Years later, Ted remembered how much she worried over the chances George took to do his research. To get the feeling of a Sierra storm, for example, he rode a locomotive cowcatcher through a snow flurry to the top of Donner Pass. Ted, who had driven to the Pass to meet him, found him almost frozen.  

STORM was published in late 1941.  During the time of research and writing the Stewarts were living in the house they had owned for several years, so the novel wouldn’t have been written on Virginia Street. The Stewarts had been long gone from the house on Virginia Street when STORM was being written.

To verify that, I asked Jack Stewart if he remembered his father writing at their friends’ house.  “No, I don’t.  And I don’t think he would do that.  It’s not like my father.”

Since GRS had an excellent “monk’s cell” in their house which was filled with resources a writer needs and the volumes of research material he needed while writing the novel Jack’s expert intuition was certainly correct.

So:  is there any truth to the story?  Or is it simply STORM  Lore?

Here are some possibilities:

Since the Stewarts and Taylors were friends, we can assume that the Stewarts visited them regularly.  If they visited while GRS was writing his novel, they may well have discussed it and those discussions may have influenced the writing.

There is a possible chance GRS was asked to watch the house for a short time when the Taylors had to leave for a family emergency or vacation. If so, it would be likely that he worked on it while in the house.

Or perhaps the two bits of Data – “The Stewarts lived in this house in the early 1930s; and, his friends Taylor and Lange lived here while GRS was writing STORM, ” mingled and were transmuted into Lore:  “George R. Stewart wrote STORM in this house.”

We’ll never know.  But this is the type of interesting scholarly mystery that needs to be investigated as far as we can go with it if our books are to be true, believable, and interesting.

Thanks to Bookman Roger and Daniella Thompson, we know now much more about the lives of GRS and his family than when the biography was written.  I find it of great interest to know the Stewarts lived in that exceptional, iconic house on Virginia Street just as GRS was beginning to change the world’s vision of human-Earth relationships; and that the remarkable Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor moved into the house when the Stewarts left.

Many of you may not know Lange and Taylor, but they were perfect friends for the Stewarts, and like GRS worked to change the world.  Lange immortalized the common folk of the time, creating one of the greatest and best-known photographic portraits  of the era;  Taylor, like GRS, a professor at UC Berkeley, integrated social concerns of workers and other common people with photography, and hired Lange to take the photos (then married her); GRS was a great admirer of the uncommon common people that the Taylors worked, and used similar characters in his novels.

The friendship of the Lange and Taylor, and the Stewarts, and their sequential sharing of that house is worth a book in itself. In fact, I believe the house is worthy of National Historic Landmark status.

At least the mystery has been more or less cleared up, and we can turn our gleanings over to future scholars.

“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange, once a resident of the House on Upper Virginia Street.


stewart.1-2021 STORM cover

George R. Stewart’s STORM is getting stop-the-presses-treament.

This month, the New York Review of Books Press is re-publishing Stewart’s classic novel – the first ecological novel – and offering it as the August selection for those in the NYRB Classics Book Club.  It’s available for purchase from their site (or your local bookseller). 

The book has a new introduction, written by novelist and historian Nathaniel Rich.  Rich joins a small, distinguished company of those who’ve written introductions for earlier editions of the novel – Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegner and Ernest Callenbach

It is as timely a read as Stewart’s FIRE, profiled here recently.  Already, flash flood warnings are going up in areas still burning as recent rains rush over the now-burned-bare ground.  Those dangerous conditions will continue for some time, until new ground cover and trees grow large enough to slow the speed of rain water hitting the ground.  So mudslides, floods, avalanches, and debris flows will be the norm in those areas. 

Stewart’s book, his first ecological novel – in fact THE first ecological novel –  is the autobiography of a massive winter storm that sweeps across the central section of California, bringing floods, blizzards, massive banks of snow in the mountains – and death.  As in FIRE, GRS writes in the best STEAM manner – weaving science, technology, engineering, art, and math together in a compelling manner to create a book which is still a page-turner, and still accurate, even after the 80 years since it was published.  He is so successful that the book can be found on sites or in other books about weather science, literature, or history.  It is a true interdisciplinary work. 

Stewart’s novel was a best-seller and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, read by millions, It was referenced in literature (James Jones “Some Came Running”) and the movies (Disney filmed a version for his TV show which had about 35,000,000 viewers per week). In addition to giving readers a fine literary adventure, it educated them.  Anyone who reads the book learns the details as well as the drama and sacrifices of humans in the vast community we share, to keep the roads open, the towns dry, the airplanes or trains safe and running, the phone lines connected. 

Stewart teaches readers about the incredible web of life all lifeforms share on this Earth.  He also ntroduces  the science and the vision of ecology.  Beginning with STORM and continuing with FIRE, EARTH ABIDES, and SHEEP ROCK, he would give tens of millions – or maybe hundreds of millions – an eco-epiphany, and teach them the knowledge that underlies it. 

By 1948, in a reply to a publicist, Stewart realized,  or at least admitted, what he was doing:  he wrote that he was “might be called an ecologist.”

One of the results of STORM probably came from a decision to distribute a portable pocket version to US soldiers during WW II.  At least GRS thought so.  He assumed thousands of troops read the novel.  When they returned to peacetime America,some of them became meteorologists, and they thought Stewart’s idea to name his storm made sense.

There are human characters; but most  are unnamed, only known by the titles Stewart gives them:  The Young Meteorologist, The Pilot, The General.  The primary name is reserved for the storm itself:  Maria (“pronounced in the old-fashioned way” as Mariah).  The result, which has spread around Earth, is that storms are now named. 

Few people today alive know Stewart’s work  (although that is changing) but almost everyone knows we name the storms.  And most of us know that the wind is named Mariah.

Storm with dj, military

“She was a wild Woman On The Loose!”  The military version with tantalizing cover art.  What young soldier could resist?

rare army storm

A more sedate version that could be taken home to share with the folks

(Much harder to find now!)

Stewart’s novel also shaped the life of a young Californian who would become a pioneer of the Space Age.  James D. Burke spent some of his formative years living with his family in a cabin near Big Bear Lake in the Transverse Ranges of Southern California.  While there, he read STORM.  Stewart’s ability to teach another lesson – about how humans work together to solve problems or explore new worlds – led Dr. Burke to NASA_JPL.  There, he became the first program manager for the Ranger program, then worked on many other projects as well. And he gained another distinction which GRS, place name expert that he was,  would have found most satisfactory – Dr. Burke has an asteroid named for him: 4874 Burke

STORM is still a wonderful read, teaches the reader about ecology using the techniques of STEAM, and as the book gives us the practice of naming storms is well worth a read.  The NYRB re-issues of Stewart’s novels have excellent introductions and are bound ruggedly.  I’m anxious to read the new Introduction by Rich.  And, although I have many editions of the novel in my collection this edition’s rugged cover will make it perfect to carry in the Toyota Chinook micro-camper for camp reading.

Highly recommended to all.