O Pioneers! III

Here’s the last list of those kind pioneers who have liked the Facebook page, or are following this log.  If I’ve forgotten anyone, please let me know.


Richard Payne, cousin, has recently liked the GRS facebook page.  Richard, of the large Payne dynasty of Eagle Rock,  has had an interesting life — he went to work in his salad years for Pronto Markets, as a bag boy.  When 7-11 came into Southern California, the small convenience chain’s owner, Joe, called his entire workforce together.  “We can’t compete with 7-11.  We either need a new business model, or we’ll be out of business.”  A few weeks later, he called the group together again and told them he’d found that new model:  A supermarket for unemployed PhDs.  He would open a market that sold gourmet foods at budget prices.  He called it “Trader Joe’s.”   Richard is still there; when they need to turn a store around, they send Richard.  He is an artist in retail store design and operation.  His stores often win best in chain. 

Richard and I climbed Half Dome together; then I moved and he married Mila, from Brazil.  So he’s become quite the world traveler.  Thanks for the like, Cuz.


Sally van Haitsma, Literary Agent, has been critical to the success of The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart.  She helped greatly with the proposal, found a publisher, McFarland Press, and encouraged me to do this blog and the facebook page.  Sally has quite a stable of authors; and while I’m not Stephen King in terms of sales, Sally has been very supportive of the book, and the process of marketing it.  Although she is not accepting many clients just now, you might want to visit her page to see the books by her authors — and hopefully find one or two to buy. http://vanhaitsmaliterary.com/?page_id=46


Finally – the first person to like the page and follow this blog:  The Pilgrim.  Steve Williams has also led an interesting life.  He was raised in Liverpool, not far from Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.  He attended the Liverpool Institute of Art with Lennon and McCartney.  Then married Carol, went into the business of selling high quality printer’s inks, and began raising a family.  Steve found GRS, and Earth Abides, decades ago and it changed his life.  He was so transformed by the book that he got on a plane for the first time in his life, flew across Canada and the US (“All that wilderness!” he exclaimed) to San Francisco, and spent a week researching Stewart and his world. 

When I visited England, to speak about Stewart at a conference, Steve, Carol and family kindly took me in, toured me around the area — including a trip to the Welsh Marches and their castles and the Lord Darby Arms Hotel restaurant for a fine dinner — and otherwise immeasurably enriched the trip. 

Since retirement, Steve has returned to his art.  His works are online at .  He is working on some interesting commissions, including one for Bletchley Park — http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/— which he says he can’t talk  about. (Hmmm…) Steve still keeps in touch with the McCartneys, through Paul’s brother,  a friend of Steve’s.

This page is greatly indebted to Steve for his art, which graces the Head of the page.  Steve has also done several Earth Abides themed paintings.  I’d expect some of those will wind up in national art galleries some day. To see Steve in action, go here and watch the video.   http://www.saa.co.uk/art/stevewilliamsart  (His art can also be seen here.)

And  Earth Abides?  Steve has re-read it a few times — more than 200, he thinks. 


Several bloggers are following the Earth Abides/George R. Stewart weblog.  You may want to check out their websites.  They reflect a diversity of interest in the work of George R. Stewart: 

  1 day, 22 hours ago
  3 months, 4 weeks ago
  4 months ago
Patrick Latter
  8 months, 1 week ago
  11 months, 2 weeks ago
  1 year, 3 months ago

1 year, 4 months ago

O Pioneers! II

More about the Pioneers who were the first to like the facebook post:

Philip Aaberg‘s music of place was inspired by the work of Wallace Stegner and George R. Stewart.  I met Phil thanks to Teacher Richard Brong of Galena Hi in the Reno area.   Phil composed “Earth Abides,” and Richard wondered if the title referred to Stewart’s great novel.   I tracked Phil down, called his company, Sweetgrass Music, spoke with his manager (and wife) Patty, and eventually to Phil.   And thus began a friendship.  Phil spoke and played at the CONTACT George R. Stewart Symposium, endorsed the GRS biography, and did a fine review of the book for the Great Falls Tribune.   He’s been busy recording new CD material, and is working on a classical CD at the moment.

Paul Starrs, distinguished professor of Geography at the University of Nevada, Reno, was another endorser of the GRS biography.  Jack Stewart connected us, and Paul invited me to address the Geography Graduate Colloquium.  He’s published books about one of the places Stewart wrote about; and recently, about California agriculture.   The photos from the latter book are now on display in the Bancroft Library — which is also keeper of the George Rippey Stewart, Jr., Papers.

Michael Ward is an active ePublisher, a judge for the HUGO awards, and the creator of the George R. Stewart webpages (accessed through a link in the menu at the top of the page).  He has been instrumental in the production and publicizing of the book, and is thus deserving of great praise and appreciation.

I’ve known Diane Farmer Ramirez almost since she was born.  Her mother and my then-wife worked together.  Her father, Dave, is a fine photographer, a collector of Leicas, a very good friend (notably in times of need) who once sold me a good car for 50 bucks.   Diane and her husband are raising a wonderful family – which is somewhat hard to visualize since to me she’s still a kiddo herself.

One of the leading experts on U.S. 40 and the National Road, Frank Brusca was a great help with the book.  He’s quoted in the chapter about Stewart’s classic U.S. 40.   Frank has written for AMERICAN ROAD magazine.  He has a minor starring role in William Least Heat Moon’s latest book, ROADS TO QUOZ, appearing in several chapters about the National Road and George R. Stewart.  Frank is currently working on an update to Stewart’s U.S. 40.

Gus Frederick, artist, publisher and CONTACT Board of Directors member, helped with the cover art for two books related to GRS — notably a teacher’s guide entitled From GeoS to Mars.   When he’s not working on one of his projects, he has been a great supporter of the GRS work. Gus also works closely with Dr. Penny Boston, exploring caves that may hold secrets to life on Mars.

Julie Shelberg is another kind stranger who likes the GRS page.   Since she’s a reader of science fiction, I assume she found us through searches for Stewart or EARTH ABIDES.   I do know that two of her daughters have just graduated from college, and that she has some fine, stirring quotes on her facebook postings.

Frank Brusca pointed me toward Harmut Bitomsky.  Inspired by U.S. 40, and commissioned to do a TV film about America’s Westward Movement, Bitomsky decided  to focus on the highway rather than the wagon trails.  The result was Highway 40 West, a film series which has become a classic in Germany. Bitomsky was Dean of the Film/Video School at CalArts, a university appropriately founded by Walt Disney, so our email interview was pretty easy to do.  He shared a deep understanding of why he made the film, adding some comments about other books of Stewart that have become favorites of his.  Bitomsky plans to release the film in an English version soon.

A key player at the old Walking Box Ranch – see her interviewed at about 38 minutes into this excellent BBC documentary Paula Garrett field manages the place for UNLV.  She had the great good sense to hire me as Caretaker; and the even greater wisdom to include my interpretive ideas, and me, in the planning process.   She’s also bought the book, and read it, the sign of a good mind.

In the next and final list of Pioneers, I’ll introduce those who like, and follow, the weblog pages.

O Pioneers!

Here is the first part of the list of the good pioneering folks who were first to like the facebook page, or the georgerstewart wordpress blog.

People are listed in the order they’re listed on the facebook like page.  I’ve tried to give information about each that is accurate, but please feel free to send corrections if you’d like and I’ll update this:

Dinah Showman.  Dinah has a degree from Cornell, is on the State Board of the California PTA, and was the daily manager of four NASA Educators in ten states and the Pacific Territories (a job which she did in a 3/4 time position.)  Dinah was also the first editor of the GRS biography.

Beth Lapachet.  Beth is from the esteemed Lapachet clan.  I first met her at the family home when she was a tot.  Beth excels in crew, works as a physical therapist at Kaiser SF, and travels widely with her husband Brian Byrne.

Rich Lapachet.  Another of the clan, Rich has a background in exercise physiology, but currently focuses on raising his kids, making excellent beer, and acting as a co-catalyst for Yosemite trips.

Olivia Herrera is a beach buddy from the Avila area.  We shared many sun-days and fine beach chats there.  Olivia is now catering in the Chico area.

Benn Pikayvit is a Piute Elder who I met while working at Pipe Springs National Monument (which is surrounded by the Southern Piute Nation).   Benn is an interpretive ranger who does a fine job of sharing the Piute story of the area with park visitors.  The highlights of my time at the Monument included joining Benn on a hike into the Nation to one of John Wesley Powell’s survey markers; and joining him on another hike to sacred Petroglyph sites.

Martyn Fogg.  Martyn may make his living as a dentist in London, but his is one of the greatest minds in this early space age.  His book on terraforming Mars is a classic, and has become quite collectible.  When I hear Martyn speak, I think that listening to Newton must have been similar.  Martyn also makes a very good mead.

Anna Estrada is a doctor, a musician, and the lady-partner of my musician brother Ray.  Anna has been a kind a gracious hostess at their home in San Francisco.  I’ve been lucky to hear them perform a couple of times at the Cliff House.  She has also been a driving force behind 3 CDs, which Ray has produced, and which contains his playing and her singing.  VOLANDO is the latest, and highly recommended.

Andrew Chaikin is an historian of the Space Age, an author, and one of the greatest living experts on the Apollo Era.  His book, A MAN ON THE MOON, was the basis for Tom Hanks’ HBO series, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON.  Andrew also plays a pretty mean guitar.

Brian Byrne.  Beth’s husband, the leading expert in the world on visa cards that use chip technology, and a former vice-president of Visa.  Brian has just retired from Visa to become Director of a group of international banks that use the Visa chip system.  He and Beth have a beautiful home in San Francisco, a condo on Australia’s Gold Coast, and two fine children — one of whom, Michaela, just directed her first play at the University of Michigan.  Brian thinks the movie BABETTE’S FEAST is boring — yet loves to play cricket.

Terri Jarvis is a Canadian Calgarian Cousin, once known as “Little T.”  She was one of the very first to like this page, maybe the first, and thus deserves great honor.  Terri sends Canadian family news south on Facebook, when she’s not selling Watkins home products.

Son Ken Scott carries on the Scott family’s San Francisco traditions.  He’s the fifth generation to live in the City – starting with his great-great Grandfather who arrived in the 1870s and went to work as a Cable Car Gripman the day the first line opened.  He, his son, his grandson, and his great-grandson (that’s me) all stopped for a drink or a light meal at the now-legendary Buena Vista Cafe.  Ken is the smart one — he went to work at the BV, where he can whip up a fine Irish Coffee while making any customer feel at home and appreciated.  Ken also has talent as an artist and writer.

Granddaughter   Megan Ashley Scott  carries on another family tradition – acting.  Her grandmother Barbara Lannin Wren Scott worked as an assistant film editor for DeMille in the silent days; her grandmother Patricia Pancoast Reed acted in college drama.  Megan is currently pursuing her interests in the local Children’s Theatre in her area north of Salt Lake City.

Michael Sims. Michael is a NASA and CONTACT colleague of many years standing.  He was for some years the manager of the Intelligent Mechanisms Laboratory at NASA-Ames, designing software for the Mars rovers (as I understand it)  that would allow relatively simple commands to be used in their complex tasks.  He has also worked for the Stanford Peace Innovations Lab.

Bob Valen.  I met Bob in our salad years, when he was tagging Bass for California Fish and Game at Thornton State Beach, where I was a Ranger.  Bob went to work for Ft. Point National Historic Site, and then worked in several national parks, eventually retiring as Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management at Big Thicket National Preserve.  After retirement, he was Executive Director of the Edison Museum in Beaumont, Texas; then moved to Grand Coulee, Washington, where his wife, Janet, had taken an NPS job at Roosevelt Lake National Recreation Area.  Bob’s done many things in his life, but for me, his bit of immortality is the part he played — deputy sheriff — in THE ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES.

Mark Dangerfield.  I’ve never met Mark, who lives in Chicago.  He liked the page because he liked the book, THE LIFE AND TRUTH OF GEORGE R. STEWART.  I do know that Mike is quite a reader, and a lover of music, and I am honored to have him like this page.

Baiba Strads.  A Librarian at the esteemed Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley — the Library which houses the George Rippey Stewart, Jr, Papers AND the Mark Twain Papers — Baiba has played an important role in the GRS biography.  For one thing, she helped when I was doing research at the Library.  For another, she and her husband gave invaluable last-minute research help when I was finishing the work and could not travel to the Library in person.  And most important, Baiba is in the book, because she is part of the history of George R. Stewart — she babysat the Stewart grandchildren in the home on Codornices.   One of the great joys of writing the book was to be able to include Baiba and others like her, thus guaranteeing a slight modicum of immortality for them and a very important acknowledgement of the importance of such as Baiba, folks often overlooked in history.

Mary Valleau.  One of my favorite people, and the person who opened the door to NASA.  Mary shares a similar work history with me — NPS and NASA — so we hit it off immediately.    Mary encouraged me to apply for the bedrest study and the NASA Educator position, so an entire chunk of my life is owed to her.  Her philosophy of life — “I’ve always wanted to know what was around the next corner.”  — has guided me for years.

Dan Ryan.  I met Dan Ryan on the Upper Missouri in Montana at a local cafe.  He burst into the place, asking me if I needed parts for the Chinook (he had a toyota pickup or two at his place).  Then he invited me to stay with him, since he had RV connections.  Dan is a Montanan descended from Montanans.  One of his relatives was the personal secretary of one of the copper kings.  Dan, after retirement, decided to build a straw bale house not far from one of Lewis and Clark’s campsites.  Although he has arthritis, he would walk up into his wood lot, cut trees, and move them down to the building site by himself, and by hand.  The house was a gem, and an inspiration.  The winters up there are cold – but it is as warm as toast in the house.  Dan also played a minor part in one of the “land rush” westerns; and he’s mentioned in a chapter of a book about the river.  The writer was impressed because Dan almost single-handedly saved an important Lewis and Clark site that was slated for development.  Dan lives quite comfortably with his dog buddies, and I hope to visit him again when time permits.

Donnelyn Curtis.  Donnelynn is the Librarian in charge of the second largest George R. Stewart collection on Earth, at the Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.  She was a great help in the research for my book.  She also redid the GRS splash page for the collection – there’s a link in this page’s top menu.  Writing this reminds me that I owe Donnelyn a copy of Ken Carpenter’s list of the collection – and as soon as I can get into the storage locker I’ll dig it out.

This list will be continued as time permits.  So Steve, Phil, Paul, Julie, Mike Diane, Frank, Gus, Hartmut, Paula — and the other web log folks who are kind enough to respond to it — will be showcased in the near future.

A Milestone Spring

It’s been quite a spring.  NASA Education is back, with Angelo Casaburri of JSC successfully hunting me down to encourage more work on NASA Ed.  “I’m a writer, now, Angelo,” I said; but he talked me into helping set up a new NASA workshop with UNLV and CSN, to be held partly here at the historic Walking Box Ranch.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98wtDTbGBvk) (Ranch shows up about 38 minutes into the film.)

The National Park Service is back, interested in some role in the future of the ranch.  One of the players is Alan O’Neill, twin brother of the late superintendent of the GGNRA and Alcatraz, where I last worked for the agency.  The National Parks and Conservation Association is playing a key role in this, and local business folks are heavily involved.  I can finally use some of my interpretive program development experience again.

The houses have increased in value so that after 6 years of wandering and 3 of life in the Chinook, we are above water.  And the Chinook is still alive, at least mostly.

And — THANKS TO YOU — this web log has finally passed 30 followers on Facebook.  That means Facebook will now provide page statistics, which will help me to know how well it’s being received.  We’re actually up to 35 likes on the facebook page, and there are 8 followers of this wordpress page.

I’m not sure exactly who number 30 was — contenders include Hartmut Bitomsky, Rich Lapachet, Andrew Chaikin, Martyn Fogg, Anna Estrada — but I’ll research that tomorrow.  I also plan to put together a list of the Pioneers, and will post it at some future date.  At any rate, deepest thanks to all of you who’ve liked the page.  May you continue to read and enjoy it, as we saunter our way through the life and work of George R. Stewart, related topics like NASA, the old Walking Box, the music of Ray Scott, Phil Aaberg, Anna Estrada, the art of Mike and Denise Okuda, Rick Sternbach, et al, and all the wonderful stuff of life on Earth.


George R. Stewart writes a novel

After the great success of ORDEAL BY HUNGER and the publication of the Derby biography, Stewart believed he had reached a literary plateau.  With all his writing and all his success, he felt that he needed a new challenge.  As Dag Hammarskjold put it, “Never judge the height of a mountain until you have  reached the summit.  Then you will see how low it is.”  Stewart wanted to climb to higher summits.

In those golden American literary days, it was the goal of every writer to become an author — a “creator of works.”  Stewart was no exception.  One day, he drove to Santa Rosa, California, to give a talk.  On the two-hour drive through Marin and Sonoma Counties, he made a decision — he would write a novel.

Stewart had in fact been preparing to write a novel for several years.  Jack Stewart remembered that he would work late into the night, reading novels and making notes.  Once he felt he was beginning to get the hang of it, he practiced by writing a novel or two which he didn’t intend to publish:  “Detective Story” was the most important of those practice works.   Writing a detective story is said to be excellent training for writing any fiction, because you cannot let your enthusiasm for the genre take you away from plot and character; and although it was not the type of elegant work Stewart would create for publication, the manuscript is still a page turner.

Then he began to research and write his novel. With his interest in California history, that would be the logical broad canvas for the book.  And with the success of historical novels with strong heroines — think of GONE WITH THE WIND – Stewart decided his novel would tell the history of California through the life of an American woman.

It’s interesting to note that although Stewart was a great inventor of book types, always looking to break out of traditional molds, that in the case of his first novel he wisely followed the pack with his decision to write an historical novel with a strong female protagonist.  That let him focus more of his creative energy on making sure he applied the literary techniques of a good novel in this work.

EAST OF THE GIANTS – the title is taken from the ancient Spanish romance which gives us the name “California” – is the story of Judith Hingam, the young, headstrong daughter of a New England ship’s captain, who accompanies her father and mother on a journey around the Horn to California.  Fascinated by the wild beauty of the California landscape at Monterey (in the same way it fascinated Robert Louis Stevenson), and swept off her feet by a romantic Californiano named Juan Godoy, she “jumps ship,” marries Godoy, and becomes the mistress of a huge rancho in Mexican California.  Over the years, she learns of the darker side of Juan and his culture, experiences the Yankee invasion and take-over of the region (including the theft of the rancho), watches Juan become a legendary bandit like Tiburcerio Vasquez and die at the hands of Yankees.   With her lands and husband gone, La Dona Blanca, as she is called by the Mexican people, becomes an American Californian whose life parallels the history of the young state.

Judith obviously has many ups and downs in her life, and much to be depressed or angry about.  But she finds a salvation in what originally won her to California — in the California land.  Stewart describes the land in sensual terms, “like a full-breasted woman.”  It was part of his growing understanding of the importance of “the land”  – the ecosystem – in human affairs.

Published in 1938, the book was a best-seller.  It was to be made into a major film, with Irene Dunne as Judith, and might have approached the popularity of “Gone With The Wind.”  But World War II intervened, and the film plans were dropped.  Stewart, of course, did not mope about that.  He continued writing novels.  His next novel would invent a form, and become a minor university classic.

And the novel after that, his third, would change – and maybe save – our Earth.

George R. Stewart’s forgotten biography of George Derby

After ORDEAL BY HUNGER, with its landmark Whole Earth vision, George R. Stewart wrote another biography.  The book, JOHN PHOENIX, ESQ, THE VERITABLE SQUIBOB:  A LIFE OF CAPTAIN GEORGE H. DERBY, U.S.A.,  forgotten by all but scholars, is about the first great American humorist.   Derby, A topographical engineer with the army, came from an urbane eastern background, but found himself posted to the far west.  There, he mapped the Central Valley of California and the lower Colorado River, among other places.  Posted to San Diego, and bored by the sleepy little town, Derby began writing humorous sketches about life in the west.

He fleshed out those stories by playing practical jokes on local folks.   For example, when a local Democratic editor asked Derby to take over his editorial duties for a time, Derby turned the newspaper into a voice for the Whig Party and won the election in the area for the Whigs — not for political reasons, but for fun.

Stewart believed  that Derby may have influenced Sam Clemens to take up humorous writing AND a pen name.  Derby often traveled on the Mississippi when young Sam was piloting steamboats, and could easily have encountered the future humorist.   If so – and it is often the case that when new ideas enter the world they begin with a pioneer like Derby (or Stewart) and are then refined and made famous by others mentored by the pioneers – Derby deserves great credit for his shaping of American humor.

For more on Derby, see this humorous biography of the writer published in the early twentieth century:  http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist9/derby.html