Maria Returns

For those not familiar with the novels of George R. Stewart, Storm is the well-researched story of a California storm that slams into and across the central transect of the state in one dynamic week.  It was a ground-breaking work, the first fictional work to make the ecosystem a protagonist in human affairs.  Still in print, Storm continues to get good reviews from its readers.

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Cover of the Modern Library Edition

Stewart, who taught English at UC Berkeley, was always deeply interested in geography and its related sciences.  So he used the input from his colleagues in those fields to bring accuracy to the book.

Stewart also did field research – sometimes dangerous research – to get the feeling of a storm.  He traveled with the California Division of Highways (now Caltrans), worked with those who maintained the P.G.&E. dams in the Sierra, and even rode with the California Highway Patrol over the central Sierra Nevada highways.

His wife, Ted,  remembered that on one trip he rode over 7000 foot + Donner Pass, during a major snowstorm, on the cowcatcher at the front of a steam locomotive.  When she picked him up on the other side he was nearly frozen.

Stewart, in writing the book, slowly realized it was a novel about the role of the ecosystem in human affairs.  To make the point, he named few of the human characters.  But he named his storm.

Wildly popular, the novel was distributed to soldiers in World War II.  Those who returned to become meteorologists were so taken with the book, and the idea of naming storms, that they adopted the naming practice, now widespread.  One of the readers, Vic Moitoret, went on to become Chief Areologist (Meteorologist) for the U. S. Navy — later founding the George R. Stewart fan club, and becoming a fine amateur fine quality printer.  (Moitoret survived two aircraft carrier sinkings, never losing a small book which included a list of his favorite books – first listed was Storm.)

The novel was filmed by Walt Disney for Television in the 1950s.*  So its ecological approach, and the name Stewart gave his storm, became part of the common culture of the time.  Disney even used the name of Stewart’s storm as the title of his film.

And the name?  Maria.  Pronounced, Stewart was careful to point out, “in the old-fashioned way” with a long i:  Mar eye ah.   That, by the way is why the wind is called Maria.

The book is now considered a California Legacy Book.  It’s still a good read, as the reviews reveal.

Stewart’s name has endured, too.  It was used for a 2005 storm, a 2011 storm.  Now it’s the name of a storm heading toward Florida:  This storm is not in the Central Sierra Nevada – although we’re getting a big solstice storm here, which includes tornado warnings.   But in the Caribbean, it’s as powerful as Stewart’s Maria, with Category Five winds.

This would be a good time to give Storm a read; and give a nod of thanks to George R. Stewart, “The Man Who Named The Storms.”

And, as Stewart’s “Young Meteorologist” says, in Storm, “Good luck, Maria!”

*It may be possible soon to view Disney’s “A Storm Called Maria” on Amazon.  That’s assuming this Amazon link goes live.

3 thoughts on “Maria Returns

  1. I’m sure I’m not the only George R. Stewart fan on the east coast keeping a close eye on the newest “Maria”. Let’s just hope she turns north and dissipates at sea.

    I did pull my copy of ‘Storm’ from my GRS collection and noticed I paid 15 cents for it! I can’t recall where, but likely a book fair many years ago. Copyright 1941, perhaps a 1st edition?

    So many years since my days with the USFS on Tahoe National Forest. This might well be the perfect time to reacquaint with an old friend and reminisce about the Mother Lode Country.

    MJS
    Pawleys Island, SC

    • Dear MJS,

      Yes, 1941 should be a first edition. If it’s a light blue cloth cover. 15 cents was a bargain, even in those days – we usually paid a buck at Holmes Books in San Francisco. If yours has a dust jacket in good condition, and is itself in good condition, it’s probably worth about $40 now.

      I’d encourage you to re-read it. It’s a fine book. and since your’e a former USFS Tahoe Ranger (or whatever) I’d strongly recommend FIRE – similar novel about a forest fire, which Stewart sets in a mythical NF just north of the Tahoe. Also, Ordeal by Hunger about the Donner Party may be of interest.

      Thanks for the kind note,

      Don Scott

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