Monday, April 6, 2009

Day 1 - Underway!

Greetings all,

The trip has begun!

A tired morning, a walk to the train station, a cramped ride with backpack on lap and book in hand, a long and pleasant meeting with Maria La Ganga of the LA Times, a ferry ride from San Francisco to Oakland, a walk through downtown Oakland, and finally arrival at the Oakland public library on the shores of Lake Merritt have comprised my day so far. Here I sit typing in the library, a process I'll have to get used to as I've determined to use libraries along the route for internet access and blog posting.

Muir was a man who loved to write to and update his loved ones and journal extensively on most of his journeys - with one exception being his walk from San Francisco to Yosemite. It is a shame he did not write more, as this was his first visit to a place that would become tied to his name. Instead of the language one would expect however, Muir briefly touches on Yosemite in the final paragraph of the essay about the walk, "Rambles of a Botanist," focusing chiefly on the flowers of the Central Valley.

Though I did not at first realize the significance of Muir's unexpected focus, I now find this a fascinating part of an infrequently read article by Muir. Muir's later works often praise wild places while vilifying the character and environmental degradation associated with cities. In "Rambles," however, he praises the Central Valley, already a changed landscape, for its beauty, admiring it with more detail and affection than he does the Sierra, and emerges from his "ether baptism" not in Yosemite Valley, but in the Santa Clara Valley.

I too am interested in the possibilities of human dominated landscapes. While Muir focused on the aesthetic and emotional, I will focus on the potential for conservation and maintenance of ecosystem functioning. Once again, the history and account of Muir's original trip proves a perfect backdrop for my own.

Perhaps this, the first day of the trip, is the right time to unravel where this idea came from in the first place. I have long been interested in lands that lie at the interface of "human" and "natural," and have found these distinctions to be closer to a gradient than is typically considered. Two years ago, a friend of mine, Peter Wright, mentioned that he had read "Rambles of a Botanist" for a class, and that the essay described Muir's account of his walk from San Francisco to Yosemite, his first journey in California. From this conversation, the basic framework of this project quickly emerged. As a figure, Muir represents the beginning of conservation as it has been practiced in the last century, and his transect of California is ideal in a number of ways: it traverses the major geological and ecological provinces of the state, as well as dominant types of land use and management, from the highly urbanized to the highly untouched. What better circumstance to explore gradients of management and of naturalness, what better context to consider the past and future of conservation? Additionally, Muir's strong rhetoric about separating people and nature differs from my own thinking. While I agree that parks have been instrumental in protecting genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity, I think a broad array of strategies will be required to maintain and more effectively protect diversity and landscapes in the future. Many private lands are highly productive, well-watered, and supportive of ecosystems, sometimes more than protected lands. Disregarding these lands as tainted and irrecoverable seems a mistake. In the past few days I have driven by several razor-thin riparian corridors. They may not be ideal environments, but are an improvement from the concrete channelized rivers so often seen snaking through the Bay Area.

Given my academic interests and leanings, and a love of walking, I decided to pursue the idea of recreating Muir's walk with a new perspective on conservation and the land.

Time is running out on the computer, so I will leave this post unproofread and rambling. The important thing is, I am out the door and on the way, at long last, and eager to see what I can learn from the trip as it unfolds. Hopefully I can post a longer message tonight. A kind thanks to Zanetta and roommates for hospitality.


  1. I still think Muir wrote a journal while on this "ramble". He kept referring back to it in so many other writings. Peter and I talked to a Muir scholar in Snelling who is sure the missing journal is somewhere in Hopeton near 20 Hill Hollow....
    Have a great walk tomorrow, maybe get some rain?

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