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:

George R. Stewart, Space Explorer

Say what?  GRS a space explorer, decades before we had humans in space?  How so?

In Ordeal By Hunger and Storm, Stewart writes the view from space into the work.  The Ordeal By Hunger entry is especially interesting.  He describes the view of northern Nevada along the California Trail so precisely that in the NASA days when I asked Astronaut Dr. Ed Lu to photograph it on ISS Expedition 7, and had the passage sent to him, the photos that came back showed how accurately Stewart had visualized the space explorer’s view – 25 years before any human actually saw it for themselves.

 

Storm begins and ends with a view of Earth from space – the opening passages, like those in Ordeal By Hunger, give a view from near space.  The closing passages move farther out, into the solar system, where he gives the view from Venus.

Interestingly, he changed the space-perspective section in Ordeal By Hunger for the second edition; but once humans had gone into space, he put the original back.

He was a pioneer in the Whole Earth Perspective, including the close view from within the ecosystem here on Earth, and the overview, the Astronaut’s View, from Low Earth Orbit.  So it seemed to make sense to use him as a model for a new way to interpret the Earth and educate others about it. When the opportunity came to present a teacher’s workshop at a Mars Conference, in 1998,  I used that theme.   Accidentally, today, I came upon that workshop paper in researching another talk.  The paper lists all the resources for space education, many now gone, available to teachers in 1998.  GRS wanders into the paper on page 8.

Here’s the paper,  for your edification and amusement.

 

The Chicago Tribune publishes its tribute to George R. Stewart

“George R. Stewart: Unrestrained by literary borders,” Patrick T. Reardon’s fine tribute to George R. Stewart, was published yesterday in The Chicago Tribune‘s literary magazine, Printers Row Journal.    Editorial Assistant Andreea Ciulac was kind enough to send the link. (The Journal is published online only.)

The essay gives a good introduction to Stewart’s vast literary output.  As Reardon says, GRS wrote in many fields – history, geography, environmentalism, civil rights, and fiction – creating several new types of literature along the way.

Reardon highlights several of Stewart’s books – Earth Abides, Names On The Land, Pickett’s Charge, Storm, Ordeal By Hunger, and others.  He quotes from the books to show Stewart’s style in each type of work, thus giving readers a sense of how the books read.

The portrait Andreea Ciulac chose for the article was taken in 1938, probably for East of the Giants.  It shows Stewart as the distinguished scholar and author he was – in a time when the publication of a book by a company like Random House meant honor and a huge readership. (Thanks to Anna Evenson for permitting use of the photo.)

To see that portrait with its fine accompanying article in The Chicago Tribune is to feel immensely satisfied – this is the kind of honorable place where GRS belongs.  In the literary magazine of one of the great newspapers of the country.

The article should encourage a new readership for Stewart’s work.  As Andreea Ciulac writes,  “… I think the article makes you jump from your seat and go read something written by GRS!”  (Andreea is a pleasure to work with – cheerful, enthusiastic, efficient, a friend of literature, and now, we hope, of GRS.  Printers Row Journal is lucky to have her on the staff.)

By the way – I wrote in the last post that you can subscribe to the Printers Row Journal; but no longer.  On the other hand, you CAN subscribe online to The Chicago Tribune, and receive the Journal as part of the subscription, for a reasonable price.  I was impressed with the Journal,  and have subscribed for a few months to try The Tribune and the Journal.

 

 

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.

outpost-tavern-fire

George R. Stewart, 1948: Taking Stock

By 1949, George R. Stewart was successful beyond any possible imaginings he might have had in the early 1930s.  In those days, early in his writing and professorial career, he seemed stuck in a low-level academic position, held there by a particularly unpleasant English Department Head who had taken a dislike to him.  His only books were the sort of composition books expected of English professors – one on the Technique of English Verse, another on English composition.  His marriage was a great success – Ted (Theodosia) Stewart supported him as his best friend, and encouraged him to keep at the writing.  Although he would not have won any awards as parent of the year, his children were doing acceptably.

The situation with the English Department Head turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Since he was apparently not going anywhere in the Department, he turned to writing instead – the writing of books that appealed to both scholars and the general literate audience – books that would sell, and sell well.  Since he enjoyed wilderness and history and the strange beauty of American names, he decided to write about those things.  Since many of his favorite colleagues were in the geography, history, or science departments, he decided to write about those areas of knowledge.

His first best-selling book, Ordeal By Hunger, introduced the Whole Earth Perspective – the understanding of Earth as one place, and as a system of ecological systems.  His first novel, East of the Giants, was about California history and told from the viewpoint of an independent California woman.    Storm was the first ecological (or geographic) novel.  Names on the Land – a remarkable and never-equaled book – was the first in the history of the Earth to tell the tale of national place-naming.   And Fire carried the ecological, geographic, cross-discipline methods used in Storm to new heights.

His influence was beginning to be felt, and honored.  He became a character in a radio play.  Disney invited him to the studio to help develop new types of films (and later made Storm and Fire into Disney movies.)  Stewart’s influence on his friend Wallace Stegner encouraged Stegner to begin writing the environmental/history works that would define much of Stegner’s later creative life.  Stewart won awards – both the silver and gold medals of the California Commonwealth Club.

During his service in World War II, writing up the Submarine Sailing Directions for the Navy, he had an encounter which showed him the influence of his work.  During a flight to Hawaii, he met Vic Moitoret, a young Navy meteorologist who enthusiastically shook Stewart’s hand and then told him a war story.  Moitoret kept a small diary of the books he’d read which he felt most influenced his life and career.  One of those was Storm.   Moritoret survived two aircraft carrier sinkings, once in shark-infested waters.  But he never lost that diary, which he showed  Stewart.  It was, in a way, a talisman or charm.  Later, Moitoret, who had gone to UC Berkeley and then on to the Naval Academy, would become the Chief Hydrographer of the US Navy.

Moitoret’s story was a great honoring of Stewart’s work.  Stewart received a high professional honor as well – he was invited to join the faculty of Columbia University – a high honor indeed.

Stewart did not go to Columbia.  His nemesis was no longer the Department Head, and the University admired him.  Besides, he loved the wild nature of the West.  And at any rate, he didn’t have the time for a major career move.

He had begun work on a third ecological novel.  This one would expand the ideas and the literary devices developed in Fire and Storm. This time, the protagonist would not be an event of the ecosystem, nor human character revealed by how someone reacted to a fire or a storm.  This time, the protagonist would be the ecosystem itself.  And the characters of its primary human characters would be revealed over the span of lifetimes.

By 1948, Stewart had achieved great things.  Now, he would achieve a pinnacle of human thought and literature of the late third millennium.

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!

BUY THE LIFE AND TRUTH OF GEORGE R. STEWART FOR ANDROID

If you’d like to read the book, don’t use Kindle, and don’t want to pay the price for the printed version, you can now order it for Android.  The price is the same as the Kindle price, $19 and change.

Here’s the link to the Android eBook:

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Donald_M_Scott_The_Life_and_Truth_of_George_R_Stew?id=tcm9gxH5IWwC&feature=nav_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDMsImJvb2stdGNtOWd4SDVJV3dDIl0.

Like the Kindle version, this version can also be read on a PC.