Spout | Rant, React, Chat, Blather
Everyone's Fight | Letters
Nature doesn't discriminate. Until 1945, national parks like Virginia's Shenandoah did.
The Moment Tracy Chapman, who is black, strummed the iconic first chords of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," I decided that 2009 will go down as the year green stopped being white.
The signs had been appearing long before the dreadlocked Grammy winner sang at the 20th annual Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony. Michelle Obama had planted a garden. Her husband had refused to decouple his vision of a prosperous future from one with healthy air, clean water, and an atmosphere that's not going to cause the planet to combust. Then there was the recently ubiquitous Van Jones, an Oakland enviro-activist who speaks about the irony of African Americans' detachment, real and perceived, from a natural world their ancestors held sacred.
The week of the Goldman awards, I attended an event focused on filmmaker Ken Burns's upcoming PBS series about the national parks. I chatted with Shelton Johnson, a park ranger at Yosemite who appears in the series discussing his love of the wild and his research into the buffalo soldiers, the all-black, post-Civil War cavalry regiments whose assignments included serving as, essentially, Yosemite's first rangers.
The next issue of Sierra will excerpt Gloryland (Sierra Club Books), Johnson's new novel about the soldiers. The issue you're holding follows Johnson as he captivates Los Angeles high school students visiting Yosemite. These students experienced the same sort of transforming moment in the park as did the Burns team filming geysers, waterfalls, lava flows, hoodoos, and pinnacles in parks nationally. Every editor and camera operator, Burns said, "had their molecules rearranged."
At the glitzy Goldman ceremonies at San Francisco's opera house, Robert Redford narrated inspiring videos about the prizewinners, whose battles included fighting mining in Gabon's Congo basin rainforest, resisting the land- and sea-fouling business of dismantling large ships in Bangladesh, and confronting Indonesia's waste-management problems.
The winners from Suriname, on South America's northeastern coast, were particularly moving. Activists Wanze Eduards and Hugo Jabini are Saramaka Maroons, descendants of African slaves who escaped into the rainforests in the 1700s. In recent years, they've used aerial photography, GPS devices, and computers to prevent Chinese loggers from waltzing in to cut timber in the rainforest to which their people remain so intimately linked.
John Muir would have embraced these men as kindred spirits, and I'm sure they were groovin' as they watched Chapman sing, "Don't it always seem to go . . . " --Bob Sipchen, editor in chief
Athlete or Anorexic?
I received my May/June issue of Sierra, and I can't believe you used that cover photo. I'm assuming you wouldn't have shown a skimpily clad male paddleboarder. Come on, Sierra Club. You are better than this!
Rochester, New York
I've been an avid paddler for over three decades. I got started at age 15 through the Sierra Club River Touring Section. I took up stand-up paddling (SUP) here in Santa Cruz two years ago, so had a doubled enthusiasm for the SUP coverage in the May/June issue. That article on SUP by the Half Moon Bay guy was quite nice ("Heightened Observations"). But when I looked closer at your cover SUPer, I got disgusted. Who decided to put an anorexic model who does not know how to hold a paddle on your cover? Get real. Please.
Santa Cruz, California
Editor's note: Rachel Spear, who appears on the May/June cover, is a skilled stand-up paddler. She recently placed fourth in the women's longboard division of a professional contest held at Pipeline, an experts-only surf spot on Oahu's North Shore.
A Truly Naked Babe
I applaud Doug Fine and Amanda for taking their newborn on a river adventure ("Baby on Board," May/June). Little Quinn is a lucky guy, indeed! Modern humans (at least in "first world" countries) shelter their children way too much. We would probably have fewer misfits and dangerous psychopaths in the world if more parents got their children outside and active in nature at an early age.
Culver City, California
Nuking King Coal
I was troubled by the article "King Coal in Court" (May/June) because of its neglect of nuclear power. The only hope for our planet is honesty, balance, and reason, and we count on organizations like the Sierra Club to support these virtues for the future of our Earth.
Paul M. Schaaf
More than 500 Sierra readers withstood bad egg-related puns to complete our 13th annual travel contest. The three winners, selected at random from among those who answered correctly, have been notified. (For their names, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Sierra.) Check out the March/April issue online for the complete contest and a list of the prizes contributed by Sierra Club Outings, Primus, Platypus, Therm-a-Rest, SPOT, Tappening, Light My Fire, Tilley Endurables, and New England Natural Bakers.
Answer 1 Our warbler is the melodious warbler; its southern migration jumping-off point is Gibraltar. Answer 2 The flightless bird is the ostrich, found in southern Africa. Answer 3 The deep-diving bird is a thick-billed murre. Travel to Digges Islands, Canada, to see one. Answer 4 The non-platypus egg-laying mammal is the echidna, native to Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. Answer 5 Our well-traveled birds are Heermann's gulls. Their main breeding site is Isla Raza in the Sea of Cortez. Answer 6 Our back-from-the-brink egg layer is the olive ridley sea turtle, found in La Escobilla, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Bonus Question The egg-related tune is "I Am the Walrus," credited to Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
In "Start 'em Young" ("Enjoy," May/June), two facts about the book Big Earth, Little Me were incorrect. It costs $6 and is not printed on recycled paper.
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Photo: National Park Service. Lewis Mountain and other Segregated Facilities, 1939-1950, Shenandoah National Park; used with permission.