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.”

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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.


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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

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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


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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)