[masthead for The View]

The View From John Muir's Window

December, 1997

Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association

"Take a course of good water and air, and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own."

- John Muir, Steep Trails


Days of Future Past

By David Blackburn

Recently, I was sitting at my desk compiling information for a report summarizing the interpretive activities and events around the Site from the last fiscal year. Having compiled this report for four years now, I was struck by the sense of continuity to the activities offered here at John Muir National Historic Site. There is such a sense of constancy, it is easy to assume this is the way it has always been. Yet, as per the old cliché, the only constant in our lives is change. To get a sense of the past here, I began reading past issues of The View. Indeed, there have been significant changes in programming and perceptions!

Whether it is a bird walk, squirrels scampering throughout the orchard or telling Muir's story Stickeen, animals are part of daily life around the Site. Twenty-three years ago, farm animals also roamed the grounds! Chickens, roosters, turkeys, pea hens, rabbits and even guinea pigs were all full time residents.

The menagerie began in 1974 with a coop of tumbler pigeons. Why pigeons? Did they belong here? It is hard to say. There is an unconfirmed account that Strent Hanna (one of Muir's grandsons), raised Tumbler Pigeons. Our flock was brought here by Gary Ware, the former Administrative Clerk. Gary was a pigeon enthusiast, raising and racing homing pigeons. The View reports: "Every morning [the tumbler pigeons] are released from their loft for exercise. The flock soars several hundred feet into the air and then begins the tumbling action that makes the breed famous."

The menagerie grew in 1975. The June 1975 edition of The View reported: "The addition of the guinea pig hutch and the acquisition of a matched pair of peacocks just about completed the Ranch Pets exhibit. (The Superintendent [Doris Olmudsen] was always a bit worried that Gary Ware and myself [former park historian P.J. Ryan] might ease a Rhinoceros thru the gate one dark night.)"

Once again, it was reported that Strent Hanna had recollections of both Guinea Pigs and Peacocks on the fruit ranch. The article continued: "Peacocks, as John Muir could have told us, are not the smartest of God's creatures, but they are some of the fastest, plus they have a homing instinct that would shame a carrier pigeon."

"We released the peacocks with the idea they would walk about and look regal. It took them 30 seconds to locate holes in the park's fences that we didn't know existed."

"The peacocks took residence in the Gordon Way area of Martinez for about a month until neighbors began noticing some 'strange, prehistoric looking' birds stalking about and gave us a call. It was a several stage orientation to trap the peacocks. The project was carried out by Peg Plummer and Gary Ware (Occasionally the regional office of the park service would call Gary about some fiscal matter and we were able to tell them that he was recapturing the peacocks, he was temporarily unavailable. This always resulted in a sort of audible double-take over the telephone!) At any rate, the peacocks are back and ruling the roost."

What was the fate of the Ranch Pets exhibit? Throughout the late 1970's, the staff faced several problems. The chickens were let out of the coop in the morning, would wander the grounds during the day, and were corralled by the staff in the evening. Imagine, chasing chickens at the end of every work day! It was quite a chore. Ultimately, the local raccoon population discovered the coop and continually killed and ate the park's poultry. We also discovered that Peacocks, especially males, can be very noisy. It got to a point that the park's neighbors complained about the early morning serenades of the pea hen. Ultimately, in the early 1980's the Ranch Pets exhibit was discontinued.

Over the past year and a half, the wheels were set in motion to begin planning and raising funds for a new visitor center at John Muir National Historic Site. Twenty-three years ago, our current visitor center underwent quite a transformation, generating a tremendous amount of excitement. The interior flourishes of the lobby and auditorium, as well as the exhibits, were installed in 1974 and reported in The View.

"Ever since the park visitor center opened, the visiting public had the vague feeling they were entering the dentist's office; they were not far from wrong. The visitor center is a converted veterinary hospital and its interior design reflects this purpose. The interior decor could only be described as Early Jurassic (cinder block painted beige). In addition the visitor was treated to an inspiring picture window view of a Pizza parlor and a used car lot as he entered the building. Should the visitor be of a philosophical or ironic turn of mind, such a sight might alone be worth a trip to John Muir NHS, but we feel that the visitor would like some immediate respite from 20,000 car-a-day streets."

The article describes what we currently see: the paneling, the painted profile of Muir and the collage of photos. There is an interesting story attached to the large redwood burl displayed in the lobby. In 1974, the 700 pound burl, donated by Muir Woods NM, was identified as "Big John." The burl "was washed down Redwood Creek and was in the process of getting wedged underneath one of the footbridges of the monument when it was winched out of the creek. Superintendent Hardin kindly agreed to donate the burl to John Muir NHS."

"Getting the burl from Muir Woods to John Muir NHS proved to be an interesting task. It proved necessary to block off one of the Muir Woods trails and set one of the maintenance men in a tree with block and tackle to give the needed leverage to get the burl up the slope. I imagine it looked somewhat like a scene from the TV series "Sierra" as I over heard this puzzled conversation from two visitors "George, what are they doing?" "I'm not sure Martha, but I think one ranger is marooned at the top of that tree and the others are trying to rescue him."

I'm sure 25 years from now, the future staff will marvel (or chuckle), reflect or ruminate on our current staff's accomplishments.


Artifacts and Antiques

By Pat Thomas

Family stories grow up around possessions which are handed down from one generation to another. It seems the Muir family was no exception to this rule.

In 1975, according to the Will of Miriam Coleman, a grand niece of John Muir, a sampler was stitched by John Muir's mother, Ann Gilrye Muir. Mrs. Coleman donated the sampler to John Muir NHS. A statement in pencil on the back of the sampler said "Needlework done by John Muir's mother in 1815."

The sampler is currently on loan to the Muir birthplace in Dunbar, Scotland, where it hangs on a wall in the family's home at part of the fun of working with a museum collection. This feeling of fun is enhanced when one visits 128 High Street . This is the place Muir spent his childhood.

All was well and good until 1992 when a Guide at the Dunbar Muir House began to do some research on Muir's family tree and discovered in 1815 that Ann Gilyre was two years old, a little young for embroidery work.

A detailed account was sent to John Muir NHS, in Martinez, in which the conclusion was reached that the sampler was probably done by one of Ann Gilyre's older sisters. Recently, the staff at the birthplace contacted a curator and the sampler professionally cleaned and conserved, preserving it for the future.

The above story does not have earth shaking consequences. Such research is part of the fun of working with a museum collection. This feeling of fun is enhanced when one visits 128 High Street in Dunbar and view the aforesaid sampler hanging in the Muir house.


Robert Burns and the Scots Musical Museum

by Cathy Sponseller

Readers of John Muir's writings frequently come across references to the works of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns. Muir wrote, "On my lonely walks, I have often thought how fine it would be to have the company of Burns. And indeed he was always with me, for I had him by heart. On my first long walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, I carried a copy of Burns' poems and sang them all the way. Wherever a Scotsman goes, there goes Burns."

Burns can be celebrated for his role in preserving the music and songs of his homeland. His mother passed on her love of Scottish music to her son through songs. Burns was not a composer, but collected fiddle and bagpipe tunes, which he put together with his poems. He also collected songs and sometimes re-worked the verses. In all, there are 327 "Burns Songs." Many books of his poems list the name of the tune associated with the song. A collection of Scottish fiddle or bagpipe tunes will solve mysteries for readers of Burns' poems. As with hymns, Christmas carols, and popular songs, "to the tune of...." can be enough to get you singing a Burns song.

Burns was a published poet by 1784. In 1787, he began collecting and editing songs for a series of books entitled, The Scots Musical Museum. Begun by James Johnson, another admirer of Scottish music and song, four volumes were printed between 1787 and 1792. Burns contributed three songs to Volume 1 and forty to Volume 2. Virtually everting Burns wrote for more than five years was sent to Johnson.

The words and tune actually called "Auld Lang Syne" were printed by Burns in 1796. The familiar tune known around the world for "Auld Lang Syne" is "I fee'd a Lad at Michaelmas." It was selected by George Thomson, editor of the fourth volume of The Scots Musical Museum, three years after Burns' death. More Burns' songs also appear in another multi-volume collection edited by Thomson. This is the Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice, published between 1793 and 1818.

Scottish singer Jean Redpath has released at least ten albums of Burns songs. Volume Two, Philo 1048, includes the 1796 Burns version of "Auld Lang Syne." Fiddler Ron Gonella's toe-tapping Burns' Night album uses the common tune. Both albums demonstrate Burns' contribution to Scottish music.


Superintendent's Report

by Phyllis Shaw

The park has acquired another type of work force. They are called the Master Gardeners.

They are enrolled in or have graduated from the Master Gardener program run by the University of California Extension Service. To earn the title of Master Gardener it is necessary to take lessons in gardening for six months and work 50 hours on community service projects. They are classified as volunteers here and garden for the love of it.

When you visit John Muir National Historic Site you will often see them in the orchards pruning trees, harvesting the fruit, planting and watering the vegetation.

Their service projects around the historic site included replanting the rose garden and adding Matilija poppies to the grounds.

They will be conducting short seminars on various aspects of gardening. These seminars will be presented to park visitors on a schedule to be announced.

Thank you Master Gardeners!


December Activities at John Muir NHS

Join us here at the Historic Site for our two traditional December activities.

Saturday, December 13, Las Posadas. 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 20, Victorian Christmas
Tours at 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. and Noon.
Storytelling hour under the Muir's Christmas Tree at Noon.
Holiday music from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.


As Dale Sees It

by Dale Cook, JMMA President

The Association in 1997 has reaped a rich harvest -= we have an ever-increasing membership, a super Project Development Committee without par, staged several wonderful and fun-filled events, ie. the Burns Dinner, Scottish Muir Birthday, and the Victorian-era Ranch Days.

As President, I have been blessed with a strong, professional back grounded Executive Committee.

The Association and the National Park Service in October signed off on two important documents providing the framework for a close-working partnership in the next few years ahead: In many respects echoing that envisaged by the founders decades ago. The future is bright.

Robert Stanton, the new Director of the National Park Service, signed off on our innovative agreement to privately raise the funds to build a much needed 'Visitor/Educational Center" at the Site. Actually, our proposal might be the first where a "Friends of the Park" organization has elected to go totally "outside."

Secondly, I signed off for the Association on our new five-year partnership memorandum covering JMMA's day-to-day relationships with the NPS at the Site over the next five years.

Drop me a note if you would like copies of either.

Our audit committee has selected the CPA firm of Cates Moore and Regalia, Walnut Creek, to be our independent auditors. It was a necessary step as we've had several major donations of late, a few stock transactions, and are on the threshold of a major two million dollar plus fund-raising drive. Our audit committee consisted of myself, Treasurer Tim Carlson, CPA, as chairman; 1st VP Mario Menesini, and Secretary Carol Land, also a CPA.

Being the season for expressing thanks, it is appropriate to single out Board member Don Denton for special acknowledgement. His leadership, talents, experience, enthusiasm and dedication to purpose are simply terrific. He is heading up our Project Development Committee. Denton and his group, aided by red Stickney, our fund raising firm, are putting the final touches on our goal of providing in the year 2000 at the John Muir National Historic Site a Center fitting to the memory of John Muir.


Fourth Annual Muir-Burns Supper Set for February 6 at Zeo Fraedos

The JMMA's Four Annual Burns Supper honoring the famed Scottish Bard, Robert Burns and John Muir will be February 6 at Zeo Fraedos in Pleasant Hill.

Again an evening filled with fine food, wine, song, bagpipe and fiddle music, Scottish folk dancing plus the traditional Haggis and ages-old toasts all will be a part of the evening's activities.

The Burns Supper is one of the JMMA's most popular fun-filled community outreach activities. Several Scottish clans in Central Contra Costa County, many in kilts and other Highland dress, join in the festivities. Program activity and tickets will be available right after the Christmas holidays. A reminder will be mailed to members.


Muir Glacier

Muir Glacier was painted by California artist Thomas HIll.

John Muir commissioned his friend to paint the glacier because Hill's work depicted a more authentic glacier in shape, color, and texture as observed by the naturalist. The painting originally hung in the west parlor of the Muir House. The paintingis now owned by the Oakland Museum but is not on display.

Muir first discovered the glacier that bears his name in 1879 while exploring glaciers in Glacier Bay. It was not until Muir was leaving the bay in a canoe that he saw the glacier. Stormy weather blocked it from sight on the way in. On subsequent visits the Glacier Bay Muir spent much time exploring and writing about the glacier.

Glacier Bay National Park

Muir Glacier is part of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska bounded on the north by the Takkinska Mountains, a range that averages 6,0000 to 7,000 feet in elevation. Mount Harris (elevation 6,575 feet) is the source of the Muir, Riggs, McBride, and Casement glaciers, all of which may be seen from Muir Inlet.

What is a Glacier?

A glacier is a perennial accumulation of ice, snow, water, rock, and sediment that moves under the influence of gravity. A glacier changes in response to fluctuations in temperature, precipitation, and other geologic processes.

There are three components of a glacier. First is the glacial ice and the material entrained in and on it. Second is the glacial valley, fiord, or channel and its related rock features that the ice mass flows in, on, and over. Third is the complex array of deposits that are produced by the glacier as it advances, retreats, or melts in place.

Glacial ice forms through a slow continuous change of snow to a material called "firn" and finally to bubbly glacial ice. The change takes place as yearly snowfalls pile up as layers on each other, increasing the pressure on the older layers as they are buried. This causes changes in density, volume, and crystal structure. Glacial ice is blue because the physical characteristics of the water molecules absorbs all colors except blue. (Note blue color of ice in Hill's painting.)

Sources: "Alaska's Glaciers," Alaska Geographic
Glacier Bay by William Boehm


News Flash: John Muir Postage Stamp Unveiled at the Muir House!

The United States Postal Service, as part of their "Celebrate the Century" stamp promotion, will unveil a new John Muir postage stamp here at the Site on January 7, 1998. First day of issue is planned for the first week of February, 1998.

The "Celebrate the Century" promotion puts 15 personalities from each decade of the 20tyh century on a block of stamps. John Muir is one of 15 individuals on the block released in February, honoring the first decade of the 20th century.


Published by the John Muir Memorial Association, P.O. Box 2433, Martinez, Ca 94553.



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