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General comments and the November/December 2008 issue

I have really enjoyed receiving your magazine these last three years or so, and even though I'm scraping for a bare-minimum contribution every year, I've always been very happy to give what I can to such a wonderful organization.

However, lately I've become a little disenchanted with your magazine. It's gotten to feel like there's nothing I can relate to or enjoy in its articles anymore. While I appreciate the updates from Washington, it seems like easily two-thirds of the magazine is now stuffed with advertisements for outdoor equipment and adventures that I could never in this lifetime afford or articles written by people going on adventures that I could never afford. I'm getting a tad irritated with supposedly helpful hints on how to be a better servant of the earth when the products being advertised to do so are beyond the reasonable price range of the average working stoop such as myself.

The economy is going to pieces before our eyes, and those of us who have always been on the bottom are struggling even more so. Trading in our vehicles for a hybrid or buying that organic gallon of milk is just not financially realistic when you're already burning candles to save on electricity at every possible moment. How about taking a tiny edge off the rather elitist tone that your publication seems to have taken and maybe feature a spot on how even low-income people can still be stewards of the environment without going outside of an already stretched budget?

I am a single, paycheck-to-paycheck apartment dweller. I have a college degree and spent four years in the Army as a veterinary assistant. It's not an occupation that pays a great deal, but short of personally standing guard to protect the national wolf population, it's all I can do for now. While there are several small things I can personally do in my living space to conserve resources, articles on cooperate tycoons who build nifty straw-insulated homes in gated, golf-cart-driving communities are not in any way helpful. If anything, it's only symbolic of the attitude with which we Americans are so often sullied, that of flaunting our riches and taking natural space with new buildings as opposed to using and improving the ones we have.

Environmental technology is still a long way from being affordable for regular people. That's just the way of the Force, and I accept that. But throwing your magazine in the recycling bin because it is no longer of any practical use to me is a sad statement. I would just like to see a little more focus on the everyday as opposed to the multi-thousand-dollar treks to Yellowstone. Why not a feature written by the average peasant?
Samantha Groom (submitted by e-mail)


There is so much political vitriol in Sierra it has made me wonder: Is there any room for political conservatives in the Sierra Club?
Richard Becker
Saint Helena, California


While I do enjoy most of the articles in your fine magazine, and I am not denying their appeal to a large percentage of your readership, I want to urge your to start giving space to science-based dissertations about the whole issue of global warming. Always claiming that the case is settled and all uncorrupted scientists are on our side will not [convince] anyone who is being presented the points made by opposing, or at least skeptical, scientist. Not all of them are just patsies of the extraction industries. So not only explain our findings but also critically analyze the counterarguments of the opposition. All this can be presented in an interesting and compelling series of articles with a vigorous back-and-forth.

Thank you for your attention.
Juergen Schweitzer
Acworth, Georgia


"Cold Sweat" package (November/December 2008)

The introduction [to "Cold Sweat"] says, "No need for fossil fuels to keep warm this winter: Just pull on the mukluks and rev up your own internal combustion engine." What follows is a series of puff pieces for expensive clothing and deluxe vacations. C'mon, folks. Get real. Winter is a tough season. The world is falling into a major economic recession, and millions of families are struggling to pay for the basics of food and fuel.
Robert Murphy
Falmouth, Massachusetts


I flipped to page 30 of your November/December issue and had to remind myself that I was not reading Maxim. While the "Ice Manliness Cometh" heading may be simple wordplay, I found it ironic, especially after reading about the Sierra Club's strife to diversify. Women continue to be marginalized throughout aspects of society; please do not contribute further. During my first (and only) ice-climbing experience, I recall remarking that the skilled climbers I observed moved with grace, like dancing, a perspective in stark contrast to your story.
Anj Ronay
Austin, Texas


"Welcome Back to the World" (November/December 2008)

I wanted to send a note of praise to Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder and CEO of the Ugandan nonprofit Conservation Through Public Health. Of all of the featured environmental leaders who offered advice to the new U.S. president, Ms. Kalema-Zikusoka was the only one who made the connection between global warming, poverty, and population growth. Women of the world are crying out for access to the healthcare services that would allow them to control their own fertility and raise healthy children. Why is this not at the top of the environmental agenda?
John Pritchard
Watsonville, California


"Rotten Fish Tales" (November/December 2008)

In "Rotten Fish Tales": "He has more than a hundred, fighting cocks all. He devotes an entire wall in his house to displaying the dozens of plaques and trophies he's won in cockfighting tourneys. This and fishing are his passions. He speaks with glee about his roosters; about fishing he speaks in a tone more akin to nostalgia."

Cockfighting? Please explain this, because I do not wish to participate in any "environmentalism" that abides cruelty to animals.
Rick Schmoyer
Powell, Tennessee


I'm astounded and shocked that the Sierra Club would include the piece about Kentucky cockfighter Ermel Bevins in the November/December 2008 Sierra. This blood sport is a crime in all 50 states, and a blase mention of the many plaques and trophies Bevins has won in cockfights seems to glorify and suggest this vile treatment of animals is as benign as growing flowers. Besides being cruel to animals, cockfighting is closely connected to other crimes like gambling, drug dealing, illegal firearms sales, and even homicide. I expect more-responsible reporting from an organization that is dedicated to protecting the environment and the creatures living in it--including roosters.
Eric Sakach
Director, West Coast Regional Office, Humane Society of the United States
Sacramento, California


On page 44 of the November/December 2008 issue, you quote a man who regrets the ruin of his fishing hole. But you also tell us that he raises poultry for cockfighting! Like your previous story about the hunter ("Ponder," September/October 2008), this is certainly not consistent with your attempt to live lightly on the earth! We are very disappointed in these stories.
Dr. and Mrs. Julius Roth (submitted by e-mail)


I read "Rotten Fish Tales" while watching election coverage. My empathy with Messers Bevins, Justice, and Philips over the destruction of Kentucky river fishing disappeared when I saw that the first state to be called was Kentucky, and it was called for McCain. Doesn't anyone get the connection between voting for the party whose mantra is "drill, baby, drill" and the resulting adverse environmental impacts?
Christine Deproperty (submitted by e-mail)


"Big Fun in the Green Zone" (November/December 2008)

As a side note to the wonderful article "Big Fun in the Green Zone," I find it disturbing that we have not instilled in our young a sense of self-preservation--only misplaced sympathy for our enemies. Suicide bombers in many Muslim countries grow up watching television programs such as Farfur the Mouse, a Mickey Mouse look-alike who urges young children to become suicide bombers. Parents of suicide "martyrs" are paid compensation by the likes of Al Qaeda, and many celebrate death and destruction, as we saw quite vividly after September 11. I find the quote "I don't feel like we have a place to be saying that they're wrong and we're right even if they want to kill us" pretty unsettling.
Judith Deutsch
Los Angeles, California


"In Biodynamic Vino Veritas" ("Smile," November/December 2008)

Yes, I smiled, even laughed, at "In Biodynamic Vino Veritas" while my bovine manure detector came on big time. Are guys like Steven Canter serious, or have they conned themselves or just stumbled onto a money-making scam?

"Imprinting" fertility information on 50 gallons of water from a few cc's of rotted grass clippings calls to mind the macrobiotic diet fad of hippiedom 30 years ago in which one eats nothing but brown rice to motivate the body's metabolism to produce internally all necessary vitamins and minerals from this base alone.

What this New Age approach to organic wine production, especially the non-irrigation part, has to do with real organic farming and conservation escapes me. In farming, as in all other chemical processes, the laws of thermodynamics are inescapable. You really can't get something for nothing, and there is always going to be irreducible useless residue.
Andrew N. Smith
Eldrige, Missouri


I read Joel Stein's articles weekly in Time, and I hope that he researches those articles better than he did "In Biodynamic Vino Veritas." He mentions that Grgich Hills dry-farms, "which means that unlike everyone else, the winery doesn't irrigate its vines." Unlike everyone else, there are many wineries that dry-farm. In so far as using special yeasts rather than the native yeasts, this is almost a theological question. Paul Draper at Ridge belongs to the school of native yeasts only, but many winemakers with equally good reputations use the custom yeasts, and others do it both ways depending on various criteria. It also varies by the varietals that one is vinifying.
Ted Johnston
Atherton, California


"Act" (November/December 2008)

I bought a solar oven from the Solar Oven Society three years ago. It's out on my patio, and I use it more than my grill. It's good for cooking rice, which uses half as much water; hard-"boiled" eggs, which use no water (they're not boiled; they're baked); canning peaches; cooking eggplant; black beans starting from the dried beans; and "baking" biscuits for strawberry shortcake. I don't heat up my kitchen in the spring or summer, and I'm not using any gas or electricity. What's not to love?
Lynn Lee
Pennington, New Jersey


"Grapple" (November/December 2008)

I was glad to see that you included Glen Martin's "Seventies Flashback" article about nuclear waste storage. I would love to read an article about if we are experiencing any effects from the nuclear waste dumped into our oceans and seas. It's been 50 years for some containers. I want to know if we know where these containers are, whether they are in good condition, and whether they have leaked. Is climate change going to affect them, especially if the oceans' temperatures change? I'm also concerned about other countries dumping their nuclear waste into the ocean over the past 50 years. Do we know where these containers are located? Is there a risk of oil-drilling companies accidentally disturbing a nest of waste containers?

This particular waste is so "out of sight, out of mind" that I'm not sure if Generation X and Generation Y even realize there's nuclear waste off of our coastlines. Please educate us! I don't understand all of this!
Laura Robinson (submitted by e-mail)


First, I want to say I have been a member of the Sierra Club for many years. I definitely believe in their environmental and wilderness actions. I support them in their legislative actions 100 percent, except for one very major issue of tremendous importance to me.

I am very disturbed by legislative actions taken by the Sierra Club to change the name of the North Palisade peak, in the California Sierra Nevada, to the name of a former Sierra Club leader. This legislative action is talked about in an article in the November/December 2008 issue of Sierra magazine (a very major Sierra Club publication). That article, written by David Ferris, supports very strongly the Sierra Club legislative actions to change the name of North Palisade to Mt. David Brower. Ferris cites David Brower's wilderness and environmental actions as major reasons for this Sierra Nevada peak name change.

I totally disagree with this Sierra Club action, to change the name of a very spectacular Sierra Nevada peak to the name of a very important wilderness advocate. Let me tell you why I strongly disagree with that current Sierra Club action. I have been a rock climber and mountaineer for almost 35 years (I was leading 5.9 rock climbs at the age of 54) until a non-climbing accident, which left me permanently physically disabled, put an end to all strenuous outdoor activities for me.

I started my rock-climbing activities while I was a sophomore at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1968. My college major was mathematics, but my real major became rock climbing while I was at UCLA.

Going rock climbing at Tahquitz Rock (near Idyllwild, California) on weekends was a lot more fun and enjoyable than studying mathematics and physics. I knew nothing about the Sierra Club at this time of my life, but I was becoming very familiar with the climbing routes on Tahquitz Rock (a local Indian name for that geological formation). I was leading 5.8 roped rock climbs within a year of being introduced to rock climbing by the UCLA Mountaineering Club. Rock climbing and associated mountaineering activities have been important to me all my adult life. I have not climbed every year of my life, but I have kept rock-climbing activities going on in my life quite a bit over the years.

When I was in my 30s, I decided that I wanted to climb every 14,000-foot mountain on the western side of the United States. Those mountains included the North Palisade peak. I did all the 14,000-foot peaks, from Mt. Rainier in Washington State to Mt. Shasta in Northern California and all the 14,000-foot peaks in the Sierra Nevada.

North Palisade was pretty much the final 14,000-foot peak I climbed. Doing the north face of North Palisade is not easy. You have to use ice axes and rock-climbing equipment to ascend to the summit of that mountain. But the beauty of North Palisade itself on the summit, and the view you get of the surrounding mountains, is breathtaking.

For mountaineers around the country, a successful North Palisade ascent by the north face route is something you talk about for years. And a large part of the beauty of an ascent of North Palisade is in the name of the peak itself.

The dictionary definition of the word palisade is: "A high fence of stakes; a line of steep cliffs." North Palisade is flanked by other 14,000-foot peaks: Middle Palisade, Mt. Sill, Mt Polonium, Starlight Pillar, and Thor Peak. Those peaks are all difficult to climb by their north faces.

Truly, the name "Palisade" is a perfect name for those majestic peaks. Why does the Sierra Club want to change the name of North Palisade to Mt. David Brower? The word palisade is of French origin and sounds beautiful to the ear. The use of the word to describe the peaks around North Palisade is very poetic and very rational. The palisades are a line of steep cliffs.

Mt. David Brower does not sound beautiful to the ear, nor is that proposed peak name very descriptive of the surrounding mountains like the word palisade. Brower was evidently a good mountaineer, as well as a leading wilderness areas activist. But his name is not very nice sounding. And his name has political connotations that some Republicans do not like.

The name North Palisade has no political connotations. Mountaineers, no matter what their political or philosophical views are, can enjoy an ascent of the north face of North Palisade. Why on earth does the Sierra Club want to change a beautiful name of a mountain peak to something so common as a man's name?

Cannot you honor the good work of Brower by naming another, less famous, and less beautifully and poetically named peak as North Palisade? Can you name another spectacular Sierra Nevada peak for David Brower? Why not change the name of Mt. Sill, next to North Palisade, to Mt. David Brower? Who on earth was Mt. Sill named for, and who really cares? Mountaineers around the country are fascinated by North Palisade, as it is now perfectly named. That is why those mountaineers are against this Sierra Club action to change the name of North Palisade from its long-standing, poetic, and descriptive name.

Ferris describes these mountaineers, who justifiably like the original name of North Palisade and who make online protests, as "grumbling." Those online protests are not grumbling. Mountaineers around the country who have climbed North Palisade have a valid and ethical right to state their disagreement with the Sierra Club's actions to change the name of that already perfectly named Sierra Nevada peak.

The Sierra Club should abandon its efforts to change the name of this very cherished peak, North Palisade. Instead the Sierra Club should work on changing the name of Mt. McKinley, in Alaska, to the very beautiful and more appropriate local Indian name of Denali. Denali means "the high one," a very apt description for the highest mountain in the Northern Hemisphere. That name-change effort would be much more appreciated by world mountaineers who already use the name Denali when talking about that very beautiful, majestic, and dangerous mountain.

Also, the mountain in the Sierra Nevada range dedicated to the legacy of John Muir is nothing but a small peak on the hike up to Mt. Whitney. Most hikers do not even try for that summit on their way to the summit of Mt. Whitney. Why should Muir rate such an unimportant mountain named for him and Brower rate the very unique and spectacular North Palisade? Was not Muir more important to the preservation of Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada?

The Sierra Club should consult with mountaineering clubs and organizations about proposed name changes of peaks that are considered classic climbs like the north face of North Palisade. I am not critical of Brower. He has done a lot for wilderness preservation through the Sierra Club. He also sounded like a very competent mountaineer. But his name on the tremendously awe-inspiring North Palisade just does not seem justified or very rational.

This is turning out to be a long letter to the editor. I will end this letter now.
Derek Starr
Riverside, California

Editor's note: The proposed name change for North Palisade is Brower Palisade, not Mt. David Brower. Read more about the measure introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer here.

As the chair of the Loma Prieta Peak Climbing Section, based in Palo Alto, California, I have polled our members, and I have to tell you that we're opposed to a rename of North Palisade for David Brower. We climb all year round and bring new people to the Sierra all summer to "climb the mountains and get their good tidings"; we regularly climb North Pal, and all of our trips have a conservation component. We greatly admire and respect David Brower both as a climber and a conservationist.

We are appalled at the idea of politicizing a mountain. We note that wilderness is one place where humans do not hold sway. To be in wilderness primeval, far from a road with nature's voice of birdsong and the wind in the trees, is the essence of our joy. To climb a remote peak and feel the force in the rocks is most precious. But think: Did Edmund Hillary propose to rename Mt. Everest? First ascenders don't think of naming a peak in their own name because climbing is as much an act of humility and bowing to the mountain as an act of physical endurance and determination. We don't think that David would approve.
Lisa Barboza
Chair,
Peak Climbing Section, Loma Prieta Chapter
Palo Alto, California


"Comfort Zone" (November/December 2008)

I enjoyed your article about the amazing Sam Maloof in last month's issue of Sierra. What a beautifully crafted life he has lived.

As a collector of Native American pottery, I'm sure Mr. Maloof would like to know that the pots from his collection you featured are not Hopi but most likely Santo Domingo.

Keep up the good work.
John Wiley
Seattle, Washington

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