Saturday, 28 May 2011

John Muir, the tree and me

John Muir recorded in his diaries what a fan he was of Picea Sitchensis, the tree I grow in south Lanarkshire, and the tree we use to make our Zacharry's spruce beer. His aims overlap with that of Borders Forest Trust at Corehead, Moffat, as follows: on this day in 1892, John Muir founded the Sierra Club in San Francisco at the prompting of journalist Robert Underwood Johnson, and served as its first president until his death in 1914. One of the original aims of the Sierra Club was to encourage urbanites to leave the cities and experience nature; as he later wrote in Our National Parks (1901), "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." He hoped that once their awareness was raised, they would pressure their local, state, and federal governments to preserve the wilderness. "It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods," he wrote, "trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time -- and long before that -- God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools, -- only Uncle Sam can do that."
What Muir did with words, Ansel Adams did with photographs; as Wallace Stegner said, "A place is not fully a place until it has had its poet. Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada have had two great poets, Muir and Adams." Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916, when he was 14, two years after Muir's death. He served on the Sierra Club's board of directors from 1934 to 1971, and his photographs of Yosemite played a role, much as Muir's words had, in ensuring its preservation.
Though the Sierra Club originally concerned itself mainly with California and the West, it opened an office in Washington, D.C., in 1963, and began conservation efforts nationally and internationally. Its mission: "To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives." (information courtesy of The Writers Almanac). I took the family to Yosemite 25 years ago. One night in our cabin, where the bedrooms were divided by thin wooden partitions three of us were woken by Abi shouting 'Stop snoring!'. We all awoke with a start to discover that Abi, meanwhile, had gone back to sleep. It was on that trip that we drove from LA where I was working at the time, up the coast to San Francsco and first saw wind turbines. They lined the ocean side of the road for mile after mile, , disused and rusting - an experiment before their time. On Thursday (May 26), Elly and I went to an event organised by SAOS - the Scottish Agriculture Society (I've forgotten what the 'O' stands for) at Dunblane to hear about their scheme for collaboration between rural businesses such as ours. Examples were given of how small makers can form into groups for marketing and distribution. We were encouraged to submit samples of our spruce beer and shoots to various specialist outlets - how we fare will be reported here in due course. I have also started work with a publisher on a a big book, on a subject dear to my heart, none other than the heroic tree with the initials 'p.s.'.

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