Sunday, April 21, 2019

John Muir: "...Going Out, I Found, Was Really Going In."

Today marks the birthday (1839) of the great American naturalist and conservationist, John Muir. Through his personal efforts and the movements he supported with such fervor - he founded the Sierra Club - we can enjoy the spectacular wildness that is Yosemite National Park. His efforts also help establish the national park movement that today provides us with more than 400 units administered by the National Park Service. And modeled after the national park idea, there are more than 6500 state parks and thousands of local parks and preserves to enjoy. Although Muir focused on the preservation of wilderness his work provided a structure for cultural resource preservation and management. That movement originated largely with Civil War commemorations late in the 19th century and accelerated through the benevolence of industrialist including Henry Ford (The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village) and John D. Rockefeller Jr. (Colonial Williamsburg). 

Muir in his beloved Yosemite Valley in 1890

Muir was a wanderer both physically and emotionally building upon his studies in botany and geology as he traveled. In 1868 he saw Yosemite Valley for the first time and soon realized he had found his calling in the world of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is how he described the revelation in his autobiographical notebook:

There are eight members in our family....All are useful members of society - save me. One is a healer of the sick. Another, a merchant, and a deacon in good standing. The rest school teachers and farmers' wives - all exemplary, stable, anti-revolutionary. Surely then, I thought, one may be spared for so fine an experiment.

... the remnants of compunction - the struggle covering the serious business of settling down -gradually wasted and melted, and at length left me wholly free - born again! I will follow my instincts, be myself for good or ill, and see what will be the upshot...As long as I live, I'll hear the waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

Muir lived to see the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890 and the consolidation of control of the park - California had retained management of the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove  - by the federal government in 1906.

[John Muir, seated, reading a book]
John Muir, seated. reading a book                                                                ca. 1912 May 29

Two years following his death in 1914 Congress created the National Park Service to manage the preservation and use of the growing number of natural areas under federal jurisdictions.

To learn more about John Muir. Visit the John Muir Exhibit at the Sierra Club website. Yosemite National Park also has a fine tribute to Muir at this link.


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photos, Library of Congress, Washington

wikipedia entry, John Muir
title quote, John of the Mountains:The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, ed. Linnie Marsh Wolfe, University of Wisconsin Press, 1979

Easter 2019

Easter Changes Everything!

Christ is Risen!

The Angel Rolling The Stone Away From the Sepulchre        William Blake, ca. 1808

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the vict'ry, thou o'er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.

Christ As The Redeemer Of Man    William Blake, ca. 1808

He is Risen indeed!


Photos and Illustrations:
Blake images,, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Holy Saturday 2019

Holy Saturday . . . is the sound of perfect silence. Yesterday's mockery, the good thief's prayer, the cry of dereliction - all of that is past now. Mary has dried her tears, and the whole creation is still, waiting for what will happen next.

Christ in the Sepulchre                                                             William Blake, 1808

With the altar stripped bare, the Divine Service unspoken, we wait in silence immersed in universal resonance.


Photos and Illustrations:

The opening quotation is taken from an excerpt from Death on A Friday Afternoon, by Richard John Neuhaus. The excerpt was posted on in 2007.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Eudora Welty: Speaking From The South

Today we remember the great Southern writer Euroda Welty on what would be her 110th birthday. Welty lived and died in Jackson, Mississippi. Although she attended college in Wisconsin and New York, and traveled abroad, she always returned to the house on Pinehurst Street that she had called "home" since high school.

In memory of Eudora Welty, we celebrate her 106th birthday today. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author penned novels and short stories about the American South from her home in Jackson, Mississippi.

Her skill as a writer enabled her to transform observations of life in Mississippi into a body of literature including novels, short stories, reviews, letters, and an autobiography. Over sixty years she received a host of awards including the Pulitzer Prize for her 1973 novel, The Optimist's Daughter.

Here is a short CSPAN BookTV production exploring Welty and her home in Jackson.

For four years toward the end of the Great Depression (1929-1939) Welty was employed by the Works Progress Administration to document everyday life in Mississippi. Her photography from that period has become well known as an expression of her powers of observation. Smithsonian Magazine produced this short documentary on her photography on the occasion of the centennial of her birth in 2009.

For more information on Welty readers should visit the outstanding website maintained by the Euroda Welty Foundation.


Photos and Illustrations:
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Memphis, April 4, 1968

Each morning after I contemplate the world outside the window wall by my desk my focus shifts to  reviewing Internet news sources for a few hours. It was unsettling today to find little more than passing mention of the most significant event in our national history to occur on April 4. That event was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

American society was already divided over our involvement in the Vietnam War. King's assassination, and that of Robert Kennedy two months later, widened that divide and pushed domestic instability on several fronts to unheard of levels in our lifetime. Much of the anger, distrust, and uncertainty rising out of that era has been simmering ever since. As a people we pay a huge price for focusing on what divides us rather than on what unites us. The erosion of political discourse over the past two years is a daily reminder of that cost 

I doubt our Founding Fathers ever expected the American experience they created to be an easy one to maintain. Furthermore, I doubt they expected it to evolve outside the freedoms they enshrined in the rule of law. Much of what King did, much of what he said about equality and peaceful change operated within that context. Although there is much debate on whether or not he would have maintained that posture had he lived, his legacy lives on to help us perfect our union. We should take the time to stop talking and listen. 

More about this day, the man, and his legacy can be found at the King Center website and that of the Martin Luther King National Historical Park.


Photos and Illustrations:
Public domain photo,  Nobel Foundation ( and Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Emmylou Harris At 72

Emmylou Harris, my "sweetheart of the rodeo," was born this week (April 2) in 1947. She played many of the local clubs and coffee houses in and around DC when I was there in the early '70's. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the audience. Still, it was impossible not to see and hear the advertising in and around Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring. Eventually, Harris moved to Los Angeles to work with Gram Parsons and his band, The Grievous Angels. When he died in 1973, she was devastated, but carried on Parsons's search for the fusion sound he called "cosmic American music." Two years later, with the release of her album, Pieces of the Sky, she was on her way. The sound Harris and Parsons produced in their short time together would have a significant impact on decades of folk, rock, and country music to follow.

Here is Harris, then and now, and always my "sweetheart of the rodeo."

For more information on Harris and plenty of music as well, here is Scott Johnson's PowerLine birthday tribute to Harris and her place in American music.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Sarah Vaughan: Sassy And Divine

Sarah Vaughan 1946

The American jazz singer, Sarah Vaughan, known as "Sassy" and "The Divine One," performed for almost fifty years. Twenty-nine years after her passing popular music and jazz fans still wait for a singer who can approach her amazing voice. I must say that Jane Monheit has done a fine job of blending the Vaughan recipe with her own spices to bring us much of the magic we remember so well. Here is Sassy performing the signature song from late in her career, Send In The Clowns:

That is performance in song. It was recorded twenty years before Auto-Tune and other pitch correction and vocal tuning software could turn tone deaf studio metrosexuals and assorted hotties of any sex into so-called stars. We've come down a long way in what passes for both talent and popular music over the past generation. Of course, there are exceptions but for the most part real singing has become subordinate to other aspects of presentation, performance, and spectacle. And once more I ask the question, "Where is jazz, a genre birthed in the United States?" It is alive in many small markets across the country but it remains a small portfolio in the financial departments of our corporate music industry.

So as the Jane Monheits, Diana Kralls and others keep jazz alive let us honor the memory of one of its greatest interpreters, Sarah Vaughan, who was born on March 27, 1924. For another taste of her magic, here she is near the close of her career performing Tenderly, her original signature song:

A three octave vocal range, no Auto-Tune, singular perfection.


Photos and Illustrations:
William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.