The Year 71

This is certainly the Year of Earth Abides, Year 71 to carve on Indian Rock, and there will a new printing of Earth Abides in October to celebrate.  It will be notable for two reasons:

Most of the previous covers for the novel have focused on people or the ruins of a post-pandemic world. The new printing has a distinctive, beautiful cover featuring  Ish’s Hammer.(The Hammer of Ish is one of two major symbols in Stewart’s work.  The Pitcher in Sheep Rock is his female symbol.  The Hammer of Ish, his male symbol.)

 

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to be released October 13, 2020

Its “Introduction” is by distinguished writer Kim Stanley Robinson.  Even if you already have a copy of the novel, buying this edition will bring the Hammer of Ish and Robinson’s excellent survey of the book and Stewart’s life and work to your library.  (You can preorder it from Amazon or your local independent bookseller.)

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Robinson’s  “Introduction” joins two other essays on Earth Abides to make a trilogy of considerations of novel and author.    Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Introduction” is a wonderfully-written, well-researched essay about the book as influenced by Stewart’s life, and in comparison to his other work.  James Sallis’s fine essay is a poetic consideration of the book as great literature.  Pat Joseph’s article for California, the University of California  Alumni Magazine, is written with an eye to Berkeley and the University’s role in the novel; and  it examines the parallels with Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague.

Pat Joseph’s article is a fine contribution to the book’s data and lore.   His research turned up a few things I wish I’d found in my George R. Stewart scholarship.  But better late than never, and his discoveries have enriched my understanding of the great work.

Joseph’s framing of the article in the context of U. C.  Berkeley means this will be of special interest to those who know the University.  For those who don’t, his article, like Stewart’s novel, may well act as a draw when our pandemic ends.  At least one Stewart scholar, Steve Williams, was so drawn by his reading of Earth Abides; his trip from England to the Bay Area resulted in a lengthy article and substantial contributions to the Bancroft Stewart Papers – gifts for future scholars.

Joseph’s comments about The Scarlet Plague are provocative.  The parallels are strong.  The major differences I note – and they are significant – is that there’s more science and deeper philosophy in Stewart’s book.  And there’s no Em, one of Stewart’s greatest characters, in London’s novel.

 James Sallis’s essay  in the Boston Globe, “Earth Abides:  Stewart’s dark eulogy for humankind,” gives a more global look at Earth Abides.  It also emphasizes that the novel is far more than a science fiction book.  It’s great literature – one of our finest novels – and has a profound effect on readers.  It’s a beautiful bit of writing, musical in its effects.  No accident, since Sallis is a poet and a novelist.

The third essay in the trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson’s,  gracefully surveys Stewart’s work and life, putting Earth Abides into the context of both.  As Robinson is careful to point out much if not all of Stewart’s work can be considered, in the truest meaning of the words, “science fiction.”  Storm, Fire, Sheep Rock, are works with strong underpinnings of science – that is to say, works of fiction about science.  Other books, like Ordeal By Hunger and  The Years of the City,  also have that sense of human events dramatized within Stewart’s seminal belief that “….the land is a character in the work.

The “Earth Abides Considerations” trilogy now joins other essays about Stewart’s work, focused on different books or more general appreciations.   Matt Weiland’s “Introduction” to the New York Review of Books Press printing of Names On the Land. Christine Smallwood, “Stewartsville,” The Nation, December 8, 2008, pp. 25.  Patrick T. Reardon’s overview of Stewart’s work in The Chicago Tribune, “George R. Stewart:  Unrestrained by Literary Borders”.  Wallace Stegner’s “George R. Stewart and the American Land,” published in his collection of essays, Where the Bluebird sings to the Lemonade SpringsErnest Callenbach’s “Introduction” to the California Legacy printing of Storm.

You may want to pre-order Stewart’s fine novel from your local bookstore or Amazon and re-read it; then review the “Trilogy of Considerations.”  Compare Robinson’s “Introduction” to Pat Joseph’s article and Sallis’s essay.  The three complement each other, so when you finish you’ll have a much deeper understanding of the novel, its relationship to the University of California, Berkeley, and Stewart’s life and work.

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On October 13 of this year, the new Mariner Press printing of Earth Abides will be released.  Since the book was originally published on October 7, 1949,  the date puts it just inside the boundary of its 71st year.

If the Tribe was to record it they’d carve “71” on Indian Rock near Ish’s House in Berkeley.  Modifying a phrase borrowed from Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Introduction,” they might decide to name Year 71  “The Year Earth Abides‘ time has come.”

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GEO.S: George R. Stewart and Earth Day

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Many people credit the Sierra Club’s Exhibit This Is The American Earth and the subsequent Sierra Club book based on the exhibit as the foundation of Earth Day.  Others credit the first Whole Earth photographs taken by the Apollo 8 crew.  Both are important events.  I believe, however, that the initial inspiration came from the widely-read works of George R. Stewart – published and widely read decades before the exhibit or Apollo 8’s photograph.

 

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In 1936, Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger opened with a view of Northern Nevada from low Earth orbit, so precisely described that eventual ISS images of the area closely matched his text.  And Stewart closed the history with the comment that “…I consider the land to be a character in the work.”  That is a remarkable statement of the ecological viewpoint 34 years before Earth Day I.   Since the book was (and is) widely read, readers were learning the Whole Earth viewpoint long before there was a Day to celebrate it.

In the next decade, Stewart wrote 3 ecological novels.  Two of them – 1941’s Storm and 1949’s enduring classic Earth Abides – included passages with the view of Earth from space.  All three were profoundly ecological in nature.  In fact, in 1948, before Fire was published George R. Stewart identified himself as “what might be called an ecologist” –  – 22 years before Earth Day I.

Storm gave us the practice of naming storms.   To make the point that the storm in his novel was the main protagonist Stewart didn’t name most of the human characters, but named the storm.  It’s a excellent read, still frequently re-printed, as is Fire, his novel of fire ecology.   Both novels are tour de forces of ecology, weaving lifeforms, landforms, climate, humans, and human history and myth together with a deep sense of “the land.”

EA Morleys

Earth Abides is Stewart’s extraordinary never out-of-print classic.  It prophesied the current coronavirus pandemic 71 years ago.  When protagonist Isherwood Williams learns most humans have been wiped out by disease he decides to survive so he can observe the ecosystem adjust to the removal of humans — in what we would call the post-Anthropocene.  Ish observes what we are now seeing – the return of wildlife to human areas and humans experiencing a world without the noise, pollution, and similar nonsense of the Anthropocene.

(Earth Abides  is scheduled to be reprinted next October; it can be pre-ordered now.)

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BIG NEWS – TODAY, 4-22-2020, EARTH DAY 50,  IT CAN BE PURCHASED ON KINDLE FOR $1.99!

Stewart published a fourth ecological novel, Sheep Rock, in 1952. It was the first work he called ecological – “in the older sense, that is, all the things that go to make up a place.”  It is possibly his most controversial novel, praised by some, criticized by others.  He stretched his already innovative style beyond the limits of the day – it’s been called the first post-modernist novel – and did not have the enduring and widespread popularity of Storm, Fire, and Earth Abides.

The other three ecological novels had and have huge readerships.  They were best-sellers,  and two were Book-of-the-Month Club selections.  Those two, Fire and Storm, were also made into Disney TV films; Disney kept their ecological underpinnings, especially with Fire.  Other authors referred to them in their works.

So long before This is the American Earth was printed in book form and  Apollo 8’s Anders, Borman, and Lovell took the photo of Earth from the moon,  George R. Stewart was educating his huge readership in the principles of ecology, and doing it in the best manner, through dramatic narratives.    He was a prophet, in an intellectual wilderness, preparing humans for Earth Day I.

It’s interesting (and disappointing) that there’s been so little honoring of this great ecological prophet. But Stewart would be fine with that.  A teacher above all, he would know that his work taught millions upon millions about ecology and the land and that would be sufficient.

 

(A personal note – on Earth Day I my students and I worked on a Golden Gate Park cleanup.  It was an eye-opener.  No litter was visible.  But under the shrubs, out of sight, it was voluminous.  The City simply did not have the manpower to clean up after humans.   In our two hours, they filled several large leaf bags with trash.  Discussing it later, the students decided their tiny efforts locally were the key to solving such problems globally.  I hope and believe that stays with them.)

 

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If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land
I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning…

 

George R. Stewart had a Hammer. Ish’s Hammer.  He used it well, preparing us for Earth Day I AND the current pandemic.

One final comment:  “Geo,” the abbreviation for George, means “Earth.”  How appropriate for this pioneering ecologist and geographer, who taught so many of us about our Earth system.

On this day,  Earth Day 50, we honor him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Short update for Brother Ray’s performance with Keith and Donna

This is an update to the link for the YouTube video of the Keith and Donna concert at Winterland on 10/4/75, which highlights a long guitar solo by my talented brother Raymond John Scott.   If you simply want to see the concert  this link will  take you directly to the concert video.  But if you want to read more about Ray’s career, which included some performances with the Grateful Dear, here’s a longer post about this.

Keith, Donna, Ray, and Jerry Garcia met in high school.  They played together several times over the years.  The first time I attended one of their gigs, before they were well-known, the group played bluegrass.

 

 

Is Coronavirus the Earth Abides plague?

George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

In his first great work, Ordeal By Hunger, he told the story from an ecological (or Ranger’s) point of view.  But he began with the Astronaut’s point of view from Low Earth Orbit.  Not bad for a book published in 1936. (It’s still the best book about the Donner Party).

As he prepared for the publication of his ecological novel Fire he sent a letter to a Book-of-the-Month club publicist that prophetically explained:

“I consider the main theme … to be the problem of the relationship of man to his environment.  I really think of myself, in most of my books, as what might be called an ecologist. ”  (From a letter in the Bancroft Library’s George Rippey Stewart Papers. Published here by permission of the Stewart family.)

In the Third Book of The Years of the City, Stewart predicted how societies fade away, in a novel with disturbing parallels for today.

And in his classic work, Earth Abides, he predicted the end of the Anthropocene – the human era –  through a disease that spreads rapidly throughout society, decimating most of the human race.

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His interest in the idea came from his own experience.  After graduation from Princeton University in the Class of 1917 (one of his classmates was F. Scott Fitzgerald), Stewart, like many of his classmates wrapped in patriotic passion by the US’s entry into WW I, enlisted.  Like other army soldiers – young healthy men expected to be the most resistant to disease – he contracted the Spanish Flu.  It nearly killed him; and it would interfere with his health for decades – eventually leading him to have one lung removed.

The flu infected ONE THIRD of the human population of the Earth.  It may have killed as many as 50,000,000 people.  And, like other recent epidemics, it became deadly when some component of a virus jumped from animal populations into a strain of human flu.  This is exactly what caused the launch of coronavirus – almost certainly from a live animal market in China.   Read about the 1918 epidemic.    It killed perhaps 50,000,000.

(An excellent article about the Spanish Flu epidemic, In Flew Enza, focuses on the effects at UC Berkeley — discussing Stewart’s experience, and  Earth Abides.)

So far COVID has killed about 6000, and has a 95% cure rate.   This is not meant to discourage prudence but to point out that we are far from the 1918 pandemic.

Be prudent.  Don’t panic.

If this already frightening disease, coronavirus, should mutate, Stewart’s prophesy could well become (at least partially) true.  There are still isolated human populations – as many as 100 tribes, the Sentinelese being the best known – which might avoid the disaster.

Will this be the Earth Abides virus?  Hopefully not.  At least Stewart helped prepare us with his novel.  The book is so widely-read and in so many languages that certainly many of those who are in the leading roles to battle this epidemic have likely read it, and have thus been thinking for decades about what to do if and when such an epidemic should happen.  It has in fact been impressive to see how quickly they have begun to respond to it.  So we shall wish them well and hope for the best.

In the meantime, you may want to re-read Earth Abide.

POSTSCRIPT, on the first day of spring 2020:

There is major economic and social disruption today – the economic weakening of a society, and the isolation of neighbors from each other when cooperation and high social capital are needed but prevented by locking down a town.  A city with which I am familiar (as was George R. Stewart) has one case. They have demanded the closure of all businesses except food and drug stores and the hospital.  Businesses can’t pay rent or employees; employees can’t pay rent or buy food.  For ONE case in a city of more than 50,000.

And there are proposals to close the national parks – the best places for people to get the medical benefits of fresh air and exercise with the best of social distancing.

This would be a good time to consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF – especially the first few lines:

 

If

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

 

Let’s also follow the example of the locked-down Italians:  Sing songs of hope.

Be prudent, keep your head, keep the faith.  And sing from your balcony.

 

The More-or-Less Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post

Here’s the annual re-post of a story of the close connections between George R. Stewart and Jimmy Stewart, and between the mythical town of Bedford Falls and the real  town of Indiana, Pennsylvania – the boyhood home of both Stewarts.  

 

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It’s A Wonderful Story

This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 34th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and   It’s a Wonderful Life.     The local theater in Arroyo Grande, California, owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.

To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Today we watch movies on TV, often alone, and usually less intently than in a movie theater.  Yet at a showing of Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  How long since you’ve experienced that?

For many people It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans will be interested in the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart spent his boyhood in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher and even helped found a school nearby (it would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.  Their paths apparently never crossed.  12-year-old GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905,  the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Even though their paths never crossed, during the Christmas season we should remember there is one thing they shared:   The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place.  For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Here’s a passage from the biography of Stewart,  about Indiana, Pennsylvania as Bedford Falls:

George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart,  “George Bailey” in Capra’s film.   Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.

Although the film’s Producer/Director, Frank Capra, is said to have modeled his mythical town on the upstate New York town of Seneca Falls,  for Jimmy Stewart Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he and George R. Stewart grew up, was the place he had in his heart as he brought George Bailey to life.

Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate,  tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum.  It’s a winter festival so the people lining the streets in their warm clothing bring life to a snow-bound town, like the movie brings life to the streets of the movie set town.

As you watch Capra’s great film this Christmas, keep in mind that GRS celebrated his Christmases in a town which for another Stewart,  Jimmy, was the model for iconic,  Bedford Falls.

Merry Christmas to all.

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  1. A Christmas gift, for 2019 readers – a link to the radio interview with “Tommy Bailey,” one of the Bailey children growing up in Bedford Falls, setting for It’s a Wonderful Life. 

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Of Carl Jung, Carl Sauer, and George R. Stewart

Carl Jung is supposed to have said that there are no accidents.  If an important encounter seems beyond coincidence, Jung is certain it is NOT a coincidence.  Jung even coined a term to describe such encounters:  “synchronicity.”

There have been many Jungian synchronicities in my George R. Stewart work.  Consider today’s extraordinary encounter.

There’s a small cafe here in the care center where I’m sequestered while antibiotics are poured through the system. Today was the day I was supposed to leave, but the antibiotic infusions have been extended.  Deciding to to celebrate anyway, with real coffee, I went to the cafe.

A couple came up to the counter, ordered some items to go, saying they’d been visiting a friend here but had to rush back to San Francisco.

Always neighborly, I asked where in San Francisco they might be going.

“Actually,” she said, “We’re going to Berkeley.”

“Where in Berkeley?”

“Solano Street.”

“Sure, I know Solano. Friends live there.”

On impulse I asked, “Have you read Earth Abides?” (The book is set in Berkeley up the hill from the Solano neighborhood.)

“Have I? I grew up in Berkeley, where it’s set.

“In fact, I’m Carl Sauer’s granddaughter. My mother was his daughter.  GRS and Granddad were great friends.

“I saw him almost every week hen I was a child”

“Your grandfather?”

“George Stewart – he often came to visit my grandfather when I was there.”

 

Carl_O._SauerCarl Sauer

 She was a member of a family of academic royals, and it was an honor to shake her hand (and her husband’s).

Sauer was considered the greatest geographer of his time.  He had a profound influence on Earth Abides, since GRS often discussed the effects of the removal of humans from the ecosystem with him — a major theme of the pioneering novel.  Stewart acknowledged his debt to Sauer by mentioning him in Earth Abides.

Stewart took also Sauer on research trips to the place that was the focus of his final ecological novel, a place he called Sheep Rock.

At the end of the novel, Stewart steps out of the text to explain how he did the research:

            I, George Stewart, did this work…

            I have looked into the blue and green depths of the spring, and have climbed  the rock, and gazed out across the desert. That first night, the grim fascination of  the place rose within me, and I thought of this book.

           That time I was with Charlie. I was there again— with Jack, with Selar, with Carl and Parker and Starker, with Brig and Roy. I said to myself, “I shall know more about this place than anyone knows of any place in the world.” So I took the others there, and one looked at the beaches and the hills, and another at the grass and the shrubs, and another at the stone-work among the hummocks, and so it went, until at last each had shared with me what he knew. Besides, I read the books.

            But if you ask me, “What is true, and what is not? Is there really such a place?” I can only say, “It is all mingled! What does it matter? In the end, is what-is-seen any truer than what-is-imagined?” Yet, if you should look hard enough, you might find a black rock and a spring—and of the other things too, more than you might suspect.

            So here, I write of myself, for I also was there, and I am of it….

“Carl,” of course, is Carl Sauer.

The couple had to leave. I gave them my card, silently wishing we’d met when the biography was being written – her story would have been as valuable as Baiba Strad’s or those of the Stewarts.

This is the type of encounter that makes one believe the gods – or at least Carl Jung – are at work in our lives.

2019: EARTH ABIDES ACHIEVES PLATINUM

(In less than one week, Earth Abides will celebrate its 70th anniversary in print, without any gaps in publication history. So I’m re-posting this for the millions of readers and thinkers who’ve kept it in their hearts — and in print — for 7 decades.)

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Painting by Steve Williams.  Used with permission

According to Google, both the 70th and hundredth anniversaries are honored with platinum gifts.  Since Earth Abides is closing in on the 70th anniversary of publication, George R. Stewart’s epic work is approaching platinum.

The novel was published on October 7, 1949.  It immediately caught the attention of reviewers for its well-written, epic tale of humans living in a world they no longer dominate.  One later reviewer went so far as to call it “a second work of Genesis.”  With its title from Ecclesiastes, and the old testament rhythm of its language, it is almost biblical in its feeling.

Stewart later insisted he didn’t intend it to be a religious work.  But even he admitted that there was “a certain quality there.”  The language was one reason.  Stewart taught himself Hebrew before he wrote the book.  He wanted to translate portions of the Bible into more-modern English.  He was surely influenced by the style of ancient Hebrew.

The book has had enormous influence.  Stephen King based The Stand on Earth Abides, Grammy-nominated composer Philip Aaberg wrote “Earth Abides,”  Jimi Hendrix was inspired to write “Third Rock From the Sun” by the novel (his favorite book), other authors and scientists honor Stewart’s works.  It is published in either 20 or 27 languages, depending on who you ask.  There is some talk of producing a film version of the novel.

The best essay about the novel was written by James Sallis and published in The Boston Globe.  Like Stewart, Sallis realizes the importance of integrity and beauty in his work, and it’s reflected in his essay.  (Sallis is a distinguished novelist and poet, whose noir novella Drive was filmed by Nicolas Winding Refn.)

The novel has never been out of print –no thanks to its original publisher,  Random House, who decided to pull the novel in the early 1970s.  Fortunately small fine press publisher Alan Ligda quickly got the rights from Stewart and and brought out a beautiful copy from Ligda’s Hermes Press.

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The Hermes edition sold well.  Random House quickly realized they’d made a mistake and bought the rights back.

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Thanks to Alan Ligda, Earth Abides has been in print for seventy years come next October. Sadly, although he’s a Hero of the Novel, he died young and won’t be able to help celebrate the book’s Platinum Anniversary.  So please take a minute (or more) to say a silent thanks to Alan Ligda while you celebrate the novel.

As you read the novel again, reflect on Stewart’s role in raising our consciousness of the ecosystem.  His wildly popular ecological novels, Storm, Fire, and Earth Abides, and his less-widely read “post-modernist” ecological novel, Sheep Rock, have shaped our thinking.  Like most great creative works of thought, they have more power than all the armies in existence.  That pen (or, in Stewart’s case, pencil, since all his drafts were written in sharp pencil) is mightier than the sword.

By the way – if you want to buy a signed first edition,  Morley’s Books in Carson City just happens to have one.  It comes with a custom box to protect the classic.  Only $1600 – about half the price of another on offer at ABE.  (Sold in 2019!)

EA Morleys

 

 

 

the EARTH ABIDES project

Ish's Hammer(1)According to Google, both the 70th and hundredth anniversaries are honored with platinum gifts.  Since Earth Abides is closing in on the 70th anniversary of publication, George R. Stewart’s epic work is approaching platinum.

The novel was published on October 7, 1949.  It immediately caught the attention of reviewers for its well-written, epic tale of humans living in a world they no longer dominate.  One later reviewer went so far as to call it “a second work of Genesis.”  With its title from Ecclesiastes, and the old testament rhythm of its language, it is almost biblical in its feeling.

Stewart later insisted he didn’t intend it to be a religious work.  But even he admitted that there was “a certain quality there.”  The language was one reason.  Stewart taught himself Hebrew before he wrote the book.  He wanted to translate portions of the Bible into more-modern English.  He…

View original post 407 more words

A Gathering of “Space” Rangers

Since today is the 103rd Anniversary of the birth of the National Park Service, and we’re into the Service’s second century, it’s a good time to report on another gathering of Rangers – this time with an eye toward the future, a time when there may indeed be Rangers on other worlds.

In July, on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, there was a gathering of  Rangers – “Space Rangers” – at Craters of the Moon National Monument.  This time, an Astronaut, students and teachers would join the Rangers.

Earlier in the year a call came from the Chief of Interpretation and Education – the Chief Naturalist – at Craters of the Moon.  Ted Stout and I chatted for a while.  Then he got to the point:  “What are you doing on July 20th?”  I’d worked with Ted in the National Park Service days, and later done NASA Education work in Idaho, so he suggested I might want to join his celebration at Craters of the Moon.

I have the greatest respect for Ted, so I said”Sure” and began planning.  Granddaughter Megan lives near Ogden, Utah, so it would be a chance for a real summer vacation:  camping in Nevada, being hosted in Idaho by Ted and Rose Stout (Rose is also a National Park Service Ranger), helping with the Apollo 11 celebration, and visiting Megan.

Just as plans were firming up, Ranger Phil Butler, who worked with Ted, Rose, and I in the Park Service and who has a deep interest in space exploration, called and asked to come along.  Phil had his own schedule and wishes, so plans had to be redone.  But soon enough he arrived in Carson City.  We packed, and headed east and north.  We followed the Pony Express Trail/Lincoln Highway and the California Trail/U.S. 40/U.S. 93 into Idaho – a George R. Stewart route.  After a night camping in a hidden gem of a BLM campground – shared with a horde of Mormon Crickets – and an expensive night in Twin Falls, we arrived at Craters of the Moon.

Craters of the Moon played, and plays, an important role in space exploration.  The Apollo Astronauts trained there, learning to be field geologists.  More recently, major NASA Mars and Astrobiology research was done there, operating out of a portable field lab set up in the park.  So Craters of the Moon is the ONLY National Park Service unit to be a member of the NASA Space Grant Consortium.   This excellent short video from Idaho Public Television tells the story.

Ted asked me to present NASA education activities to students from the Idaho Out Of School Network.  Time was limited and there were many students but two volunteers, Solar System Ambassador Natalie MacBeth and Astro Ranger Molly (who does the star parties at the Monument, an international dark sky park) helped out and the activities went well.

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Guest of Honor was Astronaut John Phillips.  Astronaut Phillips traveled in space three times – two Shuttle missions, and a six month expedition on the International Space Station.  He presented a day program in the Visitor Center, a special program for students, and the evening “campfire” program at the park’s outdoor amphitheater.

The evening program started a few minutes late, due to a tech glitch, but thanks to the delay, the program and the Apollo 11 50th Celebration at Craters of the Moon ended in an unforgettable way.

After he’d finished his talk, Astronaut Phillips said,

“Everyone stand up.

“OK.  Turn 180 degrees and look at the sky.

“That bright fast-moving star is the Space Station.”

Applause rocked the rocks of Craters of the Moon as the ISS took a long pass across the southern horizon.

P1080352     Ted Stout and Astronaut Phillips    

P1080350  Rangers Rose, Phil and Ted

Event over, there was a day or two with Ted and Rose and Phil.  Ted took Phil and I on several explorations, and a couple of hikes into the Idaho Mountains.  At night, there were excellent meals and conversation with Rose and Ted and Phil.

Then Phil and I hit the road again.

It’s always good to see Megan.  And she’d brought a remarkable gift – salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the Apollo Command and Service Module and the Lunar Lander.  A perfect gift for Space Ranger Gramps.

Gramps and Megan polaroid

Megan Ashley (Scott), Actress, and Space Ranger Gramps

Back on the road.  Phil and I camped at the BLM campground near Hickison Petroglyphs, where we were soon immersed in a thunderous lightening storm.  The next day, at nearby Spencer Hot Springs  burros and Pronghorns were neighbors.  Pronghorns have been around for 40,000,000 years, and that’s a fact that made me think of the vastness of space and time ahead of us as we enter the Age of Space Exploration.

A perfect end for a Space Ranger journey.

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 All during the trip and at the gatherings, George R. Stewart was in mind.  GRS was the mentor who taught the importance of using the viewpoints of the Ranger and the Astronaut to understand Earth, and he inspired me to become a Ranger.  So, on this,  the 103rd anniversary of the National Park Service’s founding, I tip my Ranger hat to Stewart. … and the others who helped inspire the NASA-NPS program at Craters of the Moon NM, including Chris McKay, Al Harrison, Doug Owen, Ted Stout, Mary Valleau, Garth Hull, Irene Sterling,  and the sturdy crew of Wider Focus.

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In honor of tomorrow’s Rangers – perhaps real Space Rangers – here is a NASA-NPS Space Explorer  book that Ted Stout and his Rangers distribute:

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And what will Rangers do on other worlds?  Perhaps patrol and protect and interpret a site like this one,  as imagined by visionary artist Douglas Shrock – Shrox (who works with NASA’s legendary Astrobiologist Dr. Chris McKay to visualize NASA space concepts):

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Used with the artist’s permission.  (You may want to visit his website to see his other work.) 

Onward into the great OutThere, Rangers.

 

 

Gatherings of Rangers

 

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The 1974 dedication of the George R. Stewart Nature Trail at Thornton State Beach: George R. Stewart, seated, is listening to one of the Rangers read from Stewart’s Earth Abides.

 

The first gathering of the Rangers – as far as this tale of George R. Stewart is concerned – was at Thornton State Beach near San Francisco.  Ranger Don, seen in the photo reading from Earth Abides, began his hike up the trail there.  It would lead to the publication of the GRS Biography and this weblog.

Other Rangers who would follow the GRS trail or the Ranger trail also gathered at Thornton State Beach.  Ranger Bob would become the Chief Naturalist at a National Preserve.  Ranger Steve, a Search and Rescue Ranger.  Ranger Nick a Regional Park Ranger and the Interpretive Program at Fort Ross State Historic Park.

Another who started the Ranger Trail at Thornton Beach was only a boy in those days.  Johnny was a bit of a Huckleberry Finn, often bringing down the gentle wrath of Ranger Don by letting his dog run free.

But something about the State Beach and the Rangers there reached that young fellow.  He eventually joined the National Park Service at Fort Point National Historic Site.  Eventually he transferred to Alcatraz National Historic Site in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as Ranger John.

Over the years since, he has become an extraordinary Ranger….the ideal urban National Park Ranger.  He carries a strong foundation of National Park History and values and the history of the American Penitentiary system – which goes back to the Founding Fathers – and constantly improves the interpretive program in new and exceptional ways.  He even earned an Emmy for co-producing the best documentary about The Rock.

Ranger John carries the torch. The flame of enlightenment that the first National Park Service Director,  Founder, Stephen T. Mather first lit.  You should all be proud of Ranger John, and the others like him who give the name, and the image of Ranger, such honor.

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Alcatraz:  Ranger John and Ranger Lori, and the Rangers of Alcatraz

Ranger John poses casually, his foot on the bumper, on the left 

Ranger Lori stands in the middle, on the running board between two taller Rangers

 Now the George R. Stewart story take a most remarkable twist, which involves another fine Ranger, Ranger Lori Thompson.

Long before she stood on the running board of the fire  truck, long before she became a Ranger, even before Alcatraz joined the National Park Service, she was there, on the Rock, with her father.

Her father was a cameraman for Walt Disney.  When Disney decided to film George R. Stewart’s Storm, Lori’s father-to-be (she would be born in a year or two after the film was released) was chosen as the cameraman. It was a TV film; but it carried a faithful representation of the novel:  following the ecological theme of the novel and using real people to play the roles of telephone lineman, dam operator, Division of Highways snow removal crew, and others. Thompson’s family also had minor roles in the movie.

After Alcatraz Penitentiary closed, Lori’s father got permission to film there.  He took her  along – she was a young girl – and  filmed her exploring the then-lonely cellhouse.  Later, Lori joined the National Park Service, spending decades as a distinguished Ranger on the Rock.

But the journey wasn’t over, nor the gatherings of the Rangers.

 

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Ranger John and Ranger Karen’s Big Birthday Bash

(Ranger Phil and Ranger Jenny to Ranger John’s right; Ranger Karen linked to her husband, on his left. )

45 years after the first gathering of the Rangers who would follow, one way or another, the GRS Trail Ranger John and Ranger Karen held a Grand Bash in honor of their birthdays. They invited a plethora of people, including a congress of Rangers. Ranger Lori was there.  Ranger Don, now a geezer, was there.  So were Ranger Phil and Ranger Jenny.  And the others: Ranger /Superintendent Jim, District Ranger Armando, Ranger Bob, Ranger/Superintendent Naomi, Ranger/ Superintendent Frank, and volunteer Rangers, those  who cheerfully fill the gaps in the severely underfunded National Park Service.

… And in the misty winds of San Francisco, there were also the Rangers and Volunteer Rangers since gone onto other lives, or the National Park in the Sky.

Three Photos, three time periods, linking George R. Stewart, and the Rangers.  And that’s as it should be – George R. Stewart admired Rangers.  He would eventually weave his ecological novel FIRE around Rangers – including one named “Ranger”!

Rangers are people of legend – think of Strider in Lord of the Rings.  That’s because their work is far more than interpretation or patrolling of magnificent places of human  and natural grandeur.  They carry the light.

“They call themselves “Rangers”…

“Tell the other Rangers…everyone in this army of light – that a line has been drawn against the darkness; and we will hold that line no matter the cost.”                                        J. Michael Stracyznski

A little dramatic and overstated, perhaps, but a good goal to live by.

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There was one more gathering, in the summer of 2019….   A gathering of what could be called “space rangers.” (Click the link to read about that.)