To See: George R. Stewart’s Whole Earth Vision Realized

George R. Stewart was an “inventor” of the Whole Earth Vision – the recent realization that Earth, in an immense universe, is one small, blue, life-bearing place, only fully understood if it’s explored from two perspectives – that of the ecologist, who studies it from ground level, and that of the astronaut, who examines Earth from space.

Stewart used that vision for the first time in Ordeal By Hunger.  He begins the book by asking the reader to “imagine yourself poised in space” in what we would now call LEO or Low Earth Orbit, about 200 miles up.  In the book’s Foreword he describes northern Nevada precisely, as photos taken from the International Space Station reveal.  (Stewart used the techniques of fiction to make the history dramatic and engaging, and did that so well that some readers still think they’re reading a novel.  They’re not; they’re reading history.)

The book then moves into the ecologist’s point of view, ground level, as Stewart makes the case that the Donner Party’s tragedy was the result of the party’s ignorance of the ecosystems it passed through.  At the book’s end, he writes, “It should be obvious…I consider the land a character in the work.”  The land, of course, is the ecosystem.

Today, most of us can wander our ecosystems easily.  So far, the perspective of the astronaut is restricted to a lucky few.  But – would Stewart not love this? – we can watch Earth from LEO on a continuous feed, here.

NASA Strategic Planner Jesco von Puttkamer suggested we are now living in the “New Enlightenment of Spaceflight.”    That Enlightenment began with Stewart’s Whole Earth Vision.  The New Enlightenment expanded its reach exponentially with the first photos of the Whole Earth from space, most dramatically “Earthrise” from Apollo 8. von Puttkamer’s slogan for the age, borrowed by Star Trek for the series’ first movie, is

Space:  The Human Adventure is Just Beginning

Today, we know Stewart’s pioneering Whole Earth vision from both perspectives – of the land, and from LEO.  We have joined von Puttkamer’s New Enlightenment of Spaceflight, and gained Stewart’s Whole Earth vision and have a greater understanding of and love for our home planet.

We have become enlightened.

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Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

George R. Stewart, Predictor of 7-20-1969

George R. Stewart opened Ordeal By Hunger, in 1936, with a look at northern Nevada from a 200 mile high orbit – and described the scene so perfectly that when Astronaut Ed Lu, of ISS Expedition Seven, photographed it,  Stewart’s words and Lu’s photos matched precisely. In Storm, Stewart ended the book with a view from Venus, in which his imagined watcher from that world saw no sign of storms disturbing our world. In both these books, Stewart – perhaps not realizing it, or perhaps realizing it, was preparing for that great event that took place 47 years ago today:  the First Step on another world.

Working for NASA, and working with Star Trek artists,  I’ve been honored with some exceptional gifts that memorialize that great day.  I’ll celebrate by contemplating a wonderful gift given by Mike Okuda and another gift from NASA education days.

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Saturn 5 by Mike Okuda

 

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Space flown Apollo 25th Anniversary flag, courtesy NASA. (Signatures collected later.)

Take a moment, if you will, to honor those heroes, and all those who supported them, and the artists who inspire us to follow that dream.  Artists like Mike Okuda, Rick Sternbach, Doug Drexler,  Chesley Bonestell, David Hardy, and so many others, who fire our imaginations to design and build ships to explore other worlds.  And literary artists like George R. Stewart, who prepared us wonderfully for that First Step.

By the way, NASA has restored the entire 3+hours that Armstrong and Aldrin spent on the moon on Apollo Day I.   You can see it or download it here:

Buying a Beer For Cosmonaut Sali

George R. Stewart, as he often does for his readers, took me places I had only dreamed of when I was a lad.  Stewart’s emphasis on Earth and its ecosystems encouraged me to become a ranger; and I did that for both one state park system and the National Park Service.  Stewart’s Whole Earth vision, describing Earth from space in Ordeal By Hunger, Storm, and Earth Abides, encouraged me to seek work with NASA.  Fortunately – thanks to Mary Valleau of NASA who had also worked for the NPS, and her boss Garth Hull – I was hired as a NASA “Aerospace Education Specialist” – a traveling field educator who helped teachers, students, and communities learn about STEAM – the social and natural science, technology, engineering, art, and math required for spaceflight.  I worked at AESP for nearly ten years, first as State Representative for Southern California and Arizona; then as SR for Nevada and Montana.  (I have a Secondary Credential, BA and MA, and worked as a teacher on secondary and college levels.)

There’s a book in that work.

It was wonderful to work with students and teachers.  And working with astronauts and scientists to help develop educational material to teach about their missions was a milestone of my teaching career.  There were many adventures – one thing we did was to go to Johnson Space Center to learn about upcoming missions, which included going through some small sample of astronaut training.  So I practiced docking the shuttle to MIR station; and road along on the high-fidelity shuttle lift-off, abort, and landing simulator.  That was an E ticket ride.  I also met many of the Astronauts, including Barbara Morgan who was the first Mission Specialist with a teaching background. Barbara opened the door to space for teachers; several others have since gone up, full astronauts; two were  spacewalkers.  (Later members of the program would be known as Educator Astronauts)

But one of the most memorable encounters happened in the summer of 1997 at a bar near Johnson Space Center.  The 40 or so of us in the program were at the Center to be educated about the upcoming International Space Station construction and missions.  There were many briefings by Astronauts and astronaut crews who were to be involved.  William “Shep” Shepard, who was to be Commander of Expedition I – the first manning of the ISS – spoke at JSC; then invited those of us who were interested to meet him at the legendary Outpost, an Astronaut and scientist watering hole for 30 years. (You’ve seen the place if you’ve seen Space Cowboys.)

Only a few of us went.  I sat next to a very quiet man, who I didn’t know, and who had come there with Shep Shepard. I asked him how he knew Shepard.  “I’m Sali,” he said, “The first Uzbekistani Cosmonaut.  I go up on the Shuttle in January.”  After I got over the surprise, I decided to try out some high school Russian on him.  But he insisted on English:  “Shep said if I want to learn English I should go to a bar.”

“Well, then – can I buy you a beer?”

“Yes.”

And so I did.

The rest of the evening we listened to Shepard, a former Navy Seal, explain why we will not get to Mars without the Russians.  “I used to fight these guys,” he said, “but when it comes to long-duration space exploration they’ve written the book.  We need to work with them.”  We went back to our hotel, they went back to the Astronaut quarters.  I’d like to think that evening, and that beer, put a small stone in the cathedral of mankind.

Later that summer, I had the chance to work with high school students from the former Soviet Union.  One of the girls was from Uzbekistan.  “Sure.  Sali.”  “You know Sali?” she asked, in a wondering voice.  “Bought him a beer.”  My stock went very high; hers went higher with her companions.

Sali went up the next January; then went again, to spend nearly six months on the International Space Station. Click on the photo for more information:

220px-SharipovSalizhan Shakirovich Sharipov Салижан Шакирович Шарипов

All that from doors George R. Stewart opened.

I sometimes think of Sali, and his space explorer colleagues, looking out at Earth from orbit, and seeing the state of Nevada from space looking just like GRS described in Ordeal By Hunger – long before anyone had seen or photographed it. In fact, I was later to send up that passage, and ask Astronaut Ed Lu to photograph it from space – a way of honoring my old mentor GRS.

The Outpost, in a way, also reflected GRS’s work.  In East of the Giants and Earth Abides, fires sweep through to provide closure to the tale.  And thus it was with the Outpost:  In 2010, after a landlord threatened the long-time owners, a mysterious fire burned it to the ground.  Like Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club at Edwards Air Force Base, the mythical Judith Godoy’s ranch, and the post-apocalyptic University of California at Berkeley, the Outpost passed into legend.  But it had done its job well.  Certainly it did so, on the night that, inspired by George R. Stewart, I bought Cosmonaut Sali a beer.

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Ina Coolbrith, Jack London, George R. Stewart — and Star Trek Synchronicities

It’s been an interesting week, here in the Mojave Desert.  Last Saturday, I drove to Las Vegas, which is about 60 miles north, to see old acquaintances and friends.   Mike Okuda, Denise Okuda, Doug Drexler, and Rick Sternbach are legends of the Star Trek shows, the people who created much of the art of the series, and they were to present  at the annual Star Trek Convention. But serendipity and synchronicity seem to reign of late.  So after I had the chance to see my friends,  I met Jack London.

Jack — actually actor Michael Aron, who played Jack London on the twin Trek episodes entitled Time’s Arrow — was a surprise.  We talked for a while about Jack London and Star Trek.  Jack’s role  was one of those wonderful Star Trek: The Next Generation parts which can help teach history and literature to the uninspired.  This particular brace of episodes was largely set in nineteenth century San Francisco, and included Mark Twain as well as a young Jack London.  The history was not entirely accurate. But the programs interest students in those writers, and that time.

Back at the ranch, the idea came — Why not invite Jack London to speak to the Ina Coolbrith Circle?

The Circle, one of the oldest literary groups in the west, is a renaissance of Ina Coolbrith’s original literary circle in nineteenth century San Francisco and Oakland.  Denise Lapachet Barney, poet and long-time member of the Circle, is chief program planner.  Denise, an old friend and colleague who helped with the editing of the George R. Stewart book, kindly invited me to talk to the Circle about the book.  (She is also a former history and photography student of mine, and our families have spent many a happy hour sauntering through the Yosemite high country or singing around Yosemite campfires together.)  So I called Dee, and I called Jack London,  and it seems likely that Jack and Ina will meet again.

Ina Coolbrith and Jack London — and especially Ina Coolbrith — were founders of the first golden age of California Literature.

Ina Coolbrith, who eventually became California’s first Poet Laureate, was born to the brother of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith.  After Smith was murdered, Coolbrith’s mother left the Mormons, moved to St. Louis, and married a printer.   The family emigrated to California by covered wagon in 1851.  In one of the legendary scenes of the Westward Movement, ten-year old Ina entered California over what is now called Beckwourth Pass, seated with Mountain Man Jim Beckwourth on his horse; as they crossed the pass, Beckwourth stopped, gestured at the land ahead, and said, “There, little girl, is your kingdom.”  And it would be so.

The family moved to the Los Angeles area, where Ina married an abusive man.  After losing a child to an early death, she divorced her husband and fled with her mother and siblings to San Francisco.  Depressed, she began to re-invent herself.   she changed her name to Ina Coolbrith — Ina for Josephina and Coolbrith for her mother’s maiden family name — in part to disguise the family connection with Joseph Smith and the Mormons, in part to begin a new life.

What a life she would lead!  To read about it, which you can do here, at Wikipedia, is to read the entire history of the young California’s  literature and art, with its passion for wilderness, and to immerse yourself in San Francisco’s Golden Age.  Coolbrith became friends with Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce (for a time), William Keith, Charles Fletcher Lummis (who created the architectural style known as “Southwestern Arts and Crafts”), John Muir, Maynard Dixon, and Gertrude Atherton.  She held literary gatherings at her house — a tradition which Denise Lapachet Barney and the other members of  the current Ina Coolbrith Circle continue.   Most important, Ina Coolbrith mentored others, especially when she worked as the Librarian for the city of Oakland.

Women were widely discriminated against in those times, even in the libraries.  In San Francisco, for example, it was illegal for a woman to become the Librarian.  But for a time, at least, Ina was the Oakland Librarian.  She ran the library as a small, intimate reading room. (Not too many books, no complicated system of indexing.)  That allowed her to get to know the users of the Library, and  guide their reading.

For some readers, it became a university.   One of those “students”  (Ina had also worked as a teacher, and knew how to encourage learning) was  Isadore Duncan, who became a famous, if tragic, dancer.  Another, a ten year old boy who discovered that he liked to read would consider Ina Coolbrith his “literary mother.”    Years later, he wrote her a letter:
“…I named you ‘Noble’. That is what you were to me—noble. That was the feeling I got from you. Oh, yes, I got, also, the feeling of sorrow and suffering, but dominating them, always riding above all, was noble. No woman has so affected me to the extent you did. I was only a little lad. I knew absolutely nothing about you. Yet in all the years that have passed I have met no woman so noble as you.”   “Jack London.”
There is much more to the story of Ina Coolbrith — she would be photographed in her late years by Ansel Adams, become one of the first women allowed at the old Bohemian Club (where she would become the Librarian), be helped financially by the legendary Gold Rush entertainer Lotta Crabtree, and be honored by luminaries like Longfellow, Edwin Markham, John Greenleaf Whittier, Mary Austin, and Joaquin Miller — whose “persona” she invented.  And, of course, there is much more to the story of Jack London, who went on to become one of the best-paid, most widely-read writers of the time, and one of the few who we still read to get a flavor of California and the West of those golden days.
George R. Stewart was also influenced by Coolbrith, and London.  He never met Jack London, but it is seems that London’s The Scarlet Plague influenced Earth Abides at some level.  There are many similarities between the two books. I once asked Stewart if he knew London’s book.  He did not say that he had used it as one of the inspirations for Earth Abides, but he did admit that he’d read a lot of London and had probably been influenced by The Scarlet Plague.  (By the way, the plague in London’s book happens in 2013!)  Stewart DID meet Ina Coolbrith, interviewing her for his book on the Donner Party.  He describes the meeting, as I recall, in the much later book,  The California Trail.  A letter in his Papers makes for an interesting follow-up to his description of the meeting   — One of Coolbrith’s descendants corrects some of his observations about Coolbrith; noting, for example, that while there were pipes in the room where he interviewed her, she herself did not smoke a pipe.  (Stewart had assumed the pipes were hers.)And so, the connections, in this continuing series of essays about George R. Stewart and his work.  Jack London to Ina Coolbrith.  London and Coolbrith to Stewart.   And, a completion of the circle at, of all places, a Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas.  And with some planning and luck, Jack London and Ina Coolbrith’s  literary heirs in the Ina Coolbrith Circle will meet.  What a chemistry might result!

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.