Inspired by John Muir: The Eternal Conflict Between Right and Wrong

Every day greets us with another wonderful opportunity to rejoice in and save another acre of wildness. While we can not control what others think or do, or determine the results of our actions, we can choose to live in the light and celebrate our efforts to speak for all the indigenous plants and animals that call earth their home – Nature deserves nothing less.

John Muir chose the light and provided the wisdom that we must remind ourselves of every morning.

The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it. … So we must count on watching and striving for these trees, and should always be glad to find anything so surely good and noble to strive for.


The joyous, never-ending fight. That is our charge as environmentalists. Without hesitation. Without doubt. Without exhaustion. The plants and animals will always need us to speak for them. We must move forward through both defeats and successes, with the clear understanding that the fight is eternal, being renewed by the preciousness of life every single morning, because there will always be more. We must be forever vigilant to reject whatever challenges the temple destroyers throw at us, whatever discouragement, and be joyful for the honor to do so. We can never let Nature down.

I’m hoping someday the Sierra Club, the organization that Muir founded in 1892, will rediscover how to live in the light. The Club has recently lost its focus on celebration and preservation, but as with all challenges in life, its path into the abyss provides multiple opportunities to reach even higher summits.

But before we dive into the Club’s drama, the important story here is about how we can maintain our courage to live in the light.

It’s a challenge. We have evolved to react to immediate danger above almost everything else. This is why negative news sells, warnings of impending doom raises the most donations, and why it has proven extremely difficult to address climate change, something that requires us to think beyond the immediate (a quality our species constantly struggles with).

There’s also a tendency, or a cultural script, that demands a measure of grief for those who fight for a just cause. Wallowing in sorrow from time to time confirms the commitment. And if you lose the fight, you should be torn up about it, filled with regret and sadness. “He was never the same.” Otherwise, your heart must not have been in it. “I can’t believe he was laughing at the party less than a week after his loss!” Knowing other people are suffering too, can validate our own. This is one reason why I avoided the teacher’s lunch room while teaching high school biology for 20 years.

There’s a story about Muir that was created by our tendency to focus on the negative, reaffirming the power others think they have over us in determining our emotions.

After losing his long battle to stop San Francisco from damming the precious Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, the Park Muir had pushed Congress to create, we are told the defeat was so crushing that it caused Muir to die of a broken heart a year later, on Christmas Eve, 1914.

What image of Muir does this story create for you?

The truth provides a different one.

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How does the Forest Service define forest health?

By George Wuerthner

The Forest Service justifies logging forests based on what it calls “forest health.” The agency claims logging will “restore” resiliency. But few ask what exactly constitutes a healthy forest ecosystem?

The agency defines forest health as a lack of tree mortality, mainly from wildfire, bark beetles, root rot, mistletoe, drought, and a host of other natural agents. To the Forest Service, such biological agents are “destructive,” but this demonstrates a complete failure to understand how forest ecosystems work.

This Industrial Forestry Paradigm espoused by the Forest Service views any mortality other than that resulting from a chainsaw as unacceptable.

This perspective is analogous to how fish and game agencies used to view the influence of natural predators like wolves and cougars on elk and deer. Over time biologists learned that culling of the less fit animals by predators enhanced the survival of the prey species.

Similarly, wildfire, bark beetles, and other natural sources of mortality enhance the long-term resilience of the forest ecosystem.

For example, the snag forests resulting from a high severity fire have the second-highest biodiversity found in forested landscapes. Large, high severity fires promote more birds, bees, butterflies, wildflowers, bats, fungi, small rodents, trout, grizzly bears, deer, elk, and moose.

Many species of wildlife and plants are so dependent on snags and down wood that they live in mortal “fear” of green forests. Some estimates suggest that as much as two-thirds of all wildlife species utilize dead trees at some point in their lifecycle.

Even worse for forest ecosystems, the Forest Service emphasizes chainsaw medicine to “fix” what they define incorrectly as a “health” problem. Chainsaw medicine ignores the long-lasting effects of logging on forest genetics.

Research has demonstrated that all trees vary in their genetic ability to adapt to various stress agents. Some lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine have a genetic resistance to bark beetles. Others are better adapted to deal with drought and so forth. Yet, a forester with a paint gun marking trees for logging has no idea which trees have such adaptive genetics.

A designated “unhealthy forest” by the US Forest Service, scheduled for clearance in the Stanislaus National Forest.
Photo by Richard Halsey.
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The Schwinn – Therapy to Calm the Mind

“Be home for dinner.”

If you remember hearing your parents shouting this just before you flew out the door as a kid, there’s a fair chance that you’ll likely also remember what gave you the freedom to escape – your bike.

Sometimes with a box of stuff strapped on your book rack (for me, jars for bug collecting, BB gun, Snickers, a bottle of Nesbitt’s orange soda), you raced to meet your friends. Where you’d end up, no one really knew. You just rode – sometimes without hands, sometimes standing, always yelling, laughing, talking.

Freedom. Bike. Two of the same.

Although bikes have been around for a long time, there was a special time when they showed a couple generations the meaning of independence forged with an indestructible iron frame painted blue, red, green, or black with white pinstriping on the tubes, the front wheel fork, and fenders. Schwinn.

The only safety feature was a single, red reflector on the rear fender. And no helmet.

You didn’t come home early unless you’d taken a spill on the asphalt.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fighting the Four Horsemen of Nature Suppression, and still having room to enjoy life and the beauty around me, has been a major challenge over the past 17 years. Daily email reminders, “Have you seen this!?,” of yet another destructive habitat clearance project by Cal Fire or the US Forest Service were slowly consuming my heart. After multiple attempts to deal with the abyss, I finally learned how to protect myself through my 7th Rehab experience.

One of the most effective therapies during rehab was, and remains, discovering a task that involves creating something with my hands, something that allows me to set an achievable goal, something that allows my mind to create new neural pathways to replace the well worn ones that descended straight into the abyss.

The task didn’t take long to reveal itself – the 1961 Schwinn Speedster bicycle my parents had given me when I was a kid.

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