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.

EA Morleys

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.

 

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.

News About U.S. 40 and Earth Abides

Christmas and New Years are over, so there’s time to bring everyone up to date about recent George R. Stewart-related events.  The Donner Summit Historical Society reports some major work on US 40, a Route 66 leader has connected with this site through his interest in U.S. 40,  and there’s a new French translation of Earth Abides.

In the January issue of the Donner Summit Historical Society’s excellent online magazine, Donner Summit Heritage, Editor Bill Oudegeest includes articles on U.S. 40; one carries news about plans to upgrade the Historic Route over Donner Summit.   On page 14, there’s a review of a book about early travel over the road; on page 18, various items about U.S. 40, which begins with the notice of the road upgrade.    The current issue isn’t yet posted on the main DSHS pages; but will be soon.  However, if you become a paid member – and you should! – you’ll get the Heirloom every month.

U.S. 40 was, if any road was, the George R. Stewart Highway.  He hitchiked the eastern section in 1919, when it was still the National Old Trails Road, often drove it across the country, and finally wrote a classic book, the first popular “odology” (road geography) book, U.S. 40.  Stewart’s book led to another classic, Vale and Vale’s U.S. 40 Today:  Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America; the authors followed old U.S. 40 in 1983, re-photographing as many of his original locations as they could, describing landscape change in the thirty years since Stewart’s book was published.  A few years later Frank Brusca posted his wonderful U.S. 40 pages, with even more information about the historic highway and its current character.  Recently, in Roads To Quoz, William Least Heat Moon includes an entire section on Stewart and U.S. 40, opening the section with a quote from Stewart.

Finally, earlier this month, Fred Cain contacted me via Michael Ward’s wonderful George R. Stewart Wikipedia pages.  Fred is working on a plan to re-authorize U.S. 66 as a marked highway, not simply a series of older sections of the now-deauthorized highway.   As it turns out, Fred is also a great fan of Stewart’s U.S. 40 and Vale and Vale’s U.S. 40 Today.  We’ve been in an email conversation which includes Bill Oudegeest about getting better signage for the historic U.S. 40 Route.

Here’s a bonus for U.S. 40 historians and fans – a test photo for the book, never published. It’s from the Anna Evenson/George R. Stewart Family Collection, published here with permission.  (Please don’t republish it without Anna Evenson’s permission.  I can forward a request to her if you wish to use the photo.)

us 40 trials 187

 

GRS used a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex to take his photos.  The Rolleiflex is one of the great cameras of a great era in photography, when Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were creating their best works.  Stewart knew Adams, and there’s a letter in the GRS papers from Ansel Adams to Stewart.

The Rollei’s format is square, 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 inch, so the photos in the book are in that square format.  (35 mm and most digital cameras have a format that is longer than it is high.)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Here’s the cover page of the new French translation of Stewart’s great novel, courtesy of Philippe Grand.

La-terre-demeure

Earth Abides, abides.

Of FIRE and Flu

George R. Stewart was always interested in how humans react to ecological events, because he saw those reactions as defining human character.   Two of his best novels, FIRE and EARTH ABIDES, focus on such events – FIRE, on a great forest fire (and fire ecology); EARTH ABIDES,on a planet-wide disease epidemic which nearly ends the human species.

This last month California experienced fire, and some Californians had a lesson about disease.  There were massive and destructive fires, and a literary discussion of an epidemic which references Stewart’s EARTH ABIDES.

Build a home in the woods and, sooner or later, fire will come.  Defensible space is a great help; but in suburbia’s tiny lots, there can be none.   The fires of 2017 burned through the house-stacked neighborhoods so quickly that – as in the recent Oakland Hills fire – many people died trying to flee.   Entire neighborhoods were burned to cinders.   And it was lesson about the fragility of stuff – one video shows a classic, restored ’57 Chevy wagon, burned into eternity.

Anyone familiar with George R. Stewart’s work has probably read FIRE.  The novel of fire ecology, history, and fictionalized fire drama is one of his best – it, STORM, and EARTH ABIDES are probably his greatest ecological novels.  STORM ends with a reference to California history.  FIRE, with a beautiful passage about the role of fire in the ecosystem.

FIRE opens with a lightening strike in a mythical national forest set just to the north of the Tahoe National Forest.  Stewart’s forest is so well-developed – thanks to the help of his brilliant son, Jack, map-maker and geologist, and a colleague, a famous impressionist painter — that for years readers of the book would drive into that area, looking for the fictional National Forest.  In the same way, his story is developed.  It centers around people who seemed non-fictional – a young woman in a fire lookout, an old Ranger, and a young Forest Superintendent, and all those who fight the blaze – so the people read true, like the forest, and their drama brings us into the power of a California forest fire like the ones of this autumn of 2017.  By choosing rangers as key characters, Stewart is able to integrate the human drama with ecological science.  And, in his usual way, he also includes myth, broad science, place-naming, and history.

Walt Disney later filmed the novel for television, as “A Fire Called Jeremiah.”  It’s somewhat Disneyfied, but follows the novels ecological and human themes closely. Today, it seems somewhat old-fashioned and crude; but it shared Stewart’s dramatic presentation of fire ecology with millions of Disney TV viewers.

The TV film, like Disney’s TV version of Stewart’s STORM, is not available today.  When I asked old family friend, Disney Legend Bob Broughton, about the chances of getting a copy,  he said, “Don, the film is in The Vault.  And if it’s in The Vault, Walt himself can’t get to it.”  Needing to view the films for my George R. Stewart biography, I went on a quest – and actually found a copy in a university library (which shall be nameless); the university kindly set up their old Bell and Howell 16mm projector, and, after decades, I again saw Stewart’s work come to life.  There’s now a clip online, probably pirated, but you can watch it here.  (Paramount also made a version of the film – changed so much it bears no resemblance to the book. Here’s a clip, again probably pirated, so view at your own discretion.)

Fire appears in several George R. Stewart novels.  In EAST OF THE GIANTS, a cleansing fire provides closure to the chapters of the novel set on a Mexican rancho.  In FIRE, of course, a massive fire is the protagonist of the work.  And in Stewart’s EARTH ABIDES, a fire ends the story of Ish, and moves the story of The Tribe into some unknown, post-novel, new territory.

EARTH ABIDES‘s protagonist is a disease, a kind of super measles which wipes out most humans.  In these days of AIDS, Ebola, and the other plagues, the story has as great an impact on readers as it did in the days it was published or in the intervening near-70 years.

Stewart himself was the victim of a plague – the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918.  AIDS is a killer, with 38, 000,000 victims.  But the flu killed many more – perhaps 100,000,000 worldwide.  Stewart should have been safe – he was young, in excellent health, and isolated in World War I training camp where he was preparing to go overseas in the Ambulance Corps.  But the flu, ironically, hit the young and healthy with more fatal force than it hit the elderly or those in poor shape.  GRS got the flu.  He recovered enough to hitchhike halfway home from the East Coast to Pasadena.  But for the rest of his life, his lungs were always weak.

Much of EARTH ABIDES is set in the Berkeley hills and the UC Berkeley campus.  So it is appropriate that Pat Joseph’s fine recent article, “In Flew Enza,” in the California Alumni Association magazine,  CALIFORNIA, describes the effects of the 1918 flu on the UC campus.  Murphy ends the article with a reference to Stewart’s novel, setting it in the context of Stewart’s experience with the flu.  Since Murphy has kindly allowed this post to link to the article, I encourage you all to read it.  Here’s the link

As Murphy writes,  Stewart always found hope, an optimism, even in the greatest of events called disasters by humans.  Whether he wrote about the benefits of fire to the ecosystem, or indomitable will to persevere after disease had wiped out most humans, Stewart always gives us hope.

 

 

 

Philip Aaberg’s sheet music for “Earth Abides” is published

For nearly a decade, I was a traveling Educator for NASA.  Most school work, in those long-ago days on the NASA Education highway, was with 4-6 grades. Sometimes, though, we’d work with High school students.  That age group can be a challenge.  A former high school teacher myself,   I had a few appropriate activities to use.  One was to work them through The Drake Equation.  (See also this BBC Interactive Page.)  Another,  a head-down bedrest exercise that let the chosen briefly experience and document the fluid shift caused by microgravity.  The third was to read from George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides.

 

 

At Galena High School in Reno to work with Science Teacher Richard Brong’s students, I included the Earth Abides reading with other activities.  After the session ended, Richard asked, “Do you know Philip Aaberg’s music?”

 

 

“Aaberg’s written and recorded a composition called ‘Earth Abides.'”

 

It was the beginning of a quest:  To find a copy of the music; then, if possible, to find Philip Aaberg.

 

Fortunately, Missoula’s legendary Rockin Rudy’s had a copy of the Windham Hill CD, Harvest, with Aaberg’s composition.

 

 

Then, with some detective work  on the web, I found the phone number for Sweetgrass Music, Phil and Patty Aaberg’s music (etc) business.   Calling the number connected me with Patty Aaberg; Patty connected me with Phil.

 

Phil is an exceptional musician.  In high school he regularly traveled 600 miles by train from Chester, Montana, to Spokane, Washington, (and 600 miles back)  to study with a Julliard teacher who’d moved west to find students like Phil.  He received a full scholarship to Harvard.   When he found himself depressed by the Vietnam war, unable to create music, his brother sent him a copy of Stewart’s Earth Abides.  The book, and others by Stewart, encouraged and inspired him, and he could once again create.   The composition was his honoring of Stewart and Stewart’s great novel.

 

The friendship with Phil eventually led to his participation in a George R. Stewart Symposium at the annual CONTACT conference.  There, Phil spoke of Stewart’s profound influence; then played several compositions, including Earth Abides.

Now – thanks to sponsors Bob Lyon,  Junlin Pan, Ross and Charleen Bogert, Alan Kaplan, Joyce Stewart, and Doug Raybeck – the sheet music for Aaberg’s Earth Abides  has been published.  It’s for sale at a reasonable price, here:

If you play the piano or know someone who does, this is worth buying.

 

Even if you don’t play, buy it – the cover is worth framing.

 

If Stewart’s iconic novel becomes a successful mini-series, this will be a collector’s item.

 

Highly recommended.

 

Here’s more about Philip Aaberg, from an excellent website about simplification:

 

 

Amazon Drops the Price

A quick note to let you know that Amazon has dropped the price of the GRS biography – The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart  – so it’s now in line with McFarland’s price.

The biography may also be at the reduced price at other bookstores.

McFarland is a pleasure to do business with, and I believe offers free shipping; so you might consider ordering directly from them.

This is just in time for Christmas or Hanukkah – what a great gift for the Stewart fans out there!

And stay tuned for some big news about another book, a beautiful coffee table book, that honors GRS.

George R. Stewart’s Friends, I – C.S. Forester

Stewart once wrote that although his life as a scholar had been necessarily a lonely one, he’d had some remarkable encounters along the way.  Many of those encounters were with other writers of his time, some of whom became household names, and in a few cases those people became close and life-long friends.

Over the next few months, as time and the move permit, this web log will share some of those friends with its readers.   Since I’ve just finished re-reading C.S. Forester’s The Good Shepherd, and am currently watching “Horatio Hornblower” on YouTube, Forester seems a good subject.

C.S. Forester is best known for his Horatio Hornblower series, 12 novels set in the Napoleonic Wars with track the adventures and the growth of a young Englishman in the Royal Navy.  The character lives on, long after the death of Forester – Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise is modeled in part on Hornblower.

hornblower image

to see the first episode on YouTube, click here

Forester also wrote The African Queen, which was made into an excellent, award-winning film by John Huston.   The film, still excellent, and not dated, stars Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn – he, the hard-drinking grizzled skipper of a small steam-powered boat (think Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise boats), she, a prim, religious woman, both trying to escape from the German military in Africa during World War I.  After many adventures, they’re captured by the Germans and sentenced to hang.  But…… but you’ll have to see the movie or read the book to find out what happens.

The-african-queen-1-

to see the trailer, click here

Forester was born Cecil Louis Troughton Smith.  Raised by his mother in England after early childhood in Cairo, and studying medicine, he decided he wanted to be a writer. He began writing in 1921.

By 1940, he’d convinced the British government to let him move to the United States as a writer of propaganda encouraging Americans to enter the war on England’s side.  He soon found himself living in North Berkeley, where he would stay until his passing in the middle 1960s.

He was a well-known author by the time he arrived in Berkeley – The African Queen was published in 1935, and the first Hornblower novel in 1937 – and he’d published many other works as well.  His Berkeley circle quickly grew to include others who were successful academics and writers.  One of those was George R. Stewart.

By 1940, Stewart was also a well-known writer.  He’d published landmark biographies of Bret Harte and humorist George Horatio Derby.  His 1936 book on the Donner Party was a best-seller, and first “Whole Earth” book.  He’d written two novels, one scheduled to be filmed until the war interceded.  And he was working on the first ecological novel, Storm.

Stewart and Forester were innovators, who often broke the literary conventions of their day to produce works that stood head-and-shoulders above that time.  In Storm Stewart integrated history, science, and story into an unprecedented novel that looked at an ecological event and its influence on human affairs from a smooth, interdisciplinary perspective.

In The Good Shepherd, Forester also breaks convention.  The novel tells of a terrifying 48 hours in which the Commander of ships protecting an Atlantic  convoy from a German wolf pack  of U-boats must shepherd his small but important fleet through foul weather and deadly attacks.  He’s never been a commander under fire, and often worries about his ability.  But he doesn’t worry much – he does what he must, even as exhaustion and hunger and the need to go to the head creep upon him, to the point that he must against all his beliefs break protocol to remove his shoes so his feet can begin to function again.

A conventional novel like this one would be broken into several chapters, probably one for each watch on each day or for each major encounter with the enemy.  But Forester wants his readers to FEEL the all-encompassing Commander’s experience of the battle.  So he only has 3 chapters.  The first chapter is a 6 page introduction to the setting and the mission.  The third chapter is also 6 pages, as the Commander has won the battle but – now able to rest – loses the battle to stay awake.

The second chapter is a 295 page immersion in the battle, in such detail that the reader begins to gain new respect for military procedure and trigonometry and a good, hot cup of coffee.  It is almost impossible to put down.  And by the end of it, the reader feels as exhausted, and joyful, as our commander.

That unusual approach alone sets the novel apart.  The reader is, or at least this reader was, exhilarated by the out-of-the-box structure and how right it is.  But Forester does more.  He inserts small bits of personal history which take us into the Commander’s past, and his heart and his soul, and we understand why a successful mission is so important to him – he’s sacrificed the chance for a happy personal life so he can do his duty to protect his convoy, and his world.

Stewart does something similar in his second novel, Doctor’s Oral.  It is the story of a day in the life of a graduate student facing a committee who will decide whether or not he gets his Ph.D.    One member of the committee, a woman professor, is quiet and somewhat mysterious.  Then Stewart, in one brief section, opens her soul to us, and thus opens our heart and our understanding to her.

In both cases Stewart and Forester manage to put, within a larger story, unforgettable revelations of character showing us real people rather than cardboard cutouts.  They enlighten us, to the truth of human experience.  It is the quality of great, rather than conventional, art.

Stewart and Smith/Forester became good friends, often working and relaxing together or with their families.  We can imagine them talking about their various projects in a local club, inspiring each other’s work, or one of Ted (Theodosia) Stewart’s many picnics.  They were also members of The Armchair Strategists, a group of scholars who examined the events of the week during World War II, and suggested strategies based on their work.  LIFE Magazine carried a story and photograph about the Armchair Strategists, with both men in the picture.

They went on picnics together.  Ted Stewart loved picnics, and George loved to drive.  They’d head north over the new Golden Gate Bridge, then west into Marin County.  In those days, picnickers could park in a pull out and spread the lunch on the grass next to the road.  Not much traffic, and not many restrictions.   It would have been a time of relaxation, laughter, and light talk.

Here’s a photo of one such roadside picnic.  The photo, from Anna Evenson’s Stewart Family Photo Collection, looks like the photographer – almost certainly Stewart – set the camera on the ground and used a self-timer to take the picture.  It is probably taken in the early-to-mid 40s, to judge by the clothing and the apparent age of the subjects.

cs forester, grs, tbs, mrs  from the anna evenson stewart family photo collection

Ted Stewart is on the right.  GRS, seated in the back next to Mrs. Forester, is wearing sunglasses.  C.S. Forester is laying on his back in the middle foreground, apparently wearing jodphur riding pants and large hiking boots.  They’re all smiling for the camera; but those smiles are certainly honest ones.  It looks like a good time – and no picnic of Ted’s was ever anything but wonderful.  (I speak from  personal observations of a few at Thornton State Beach, and a sharing in one with the classic Ted Stewart lunch of cold chicken, good sourdough bread, and a nice white wine.)

Since GRS and Ted lived on into the 1980s, their friendship would likely have continued  until Forester’s death in 1966.  After GRS retired in 1964, there would have been more time for picnics.  I hope there were many, and many cheerful conversations about books and writing.

Read Forester, if you’re a Stewart fan.  The Good Shepherd is a fine place to start.  So is The African Queen, or any of the Hornblower novels.  As you read, think about the friendship between these two fine writers, and their families, and the influence it may have had on their work.