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Holiday greeting from John Muir

December 24, 2013
Christmas Card from John Muir

“From eucalyptus cloistered aisles sweet wind born anthems rise and from tall silvery spires there wafts a living incense to the skies.” (1)

This 1911 New Year’s greeting from John Muir is a reflection of his fondness for eucalyptus.  He planted eucalypts around his home in Martinez, California.  Muir’s daughter reported that her father bought about a dozen different varieties of eucalyptus from a neighbor and she helped to plant them on the property.  The property was planted with many non-native plants and trees, including palms that now tower over the property.

John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo

John Muir National Historical Site, NPS photo

Muir’s home was built by his wife’s parents in 1882.  Muir and his wife moved into the home in 1890 after his wife’s father died.  Muir lived in that home for the last 24 years of his life.  It is now The John Muir National Historic Site.

The site is administered by the National Park Service which unfortunately actively engages in ecological “restorations” that destroy non-native species.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, eucalypts are one of their highest priority targets for destruction.  According to the Martinez News Gazette, the Park Service destroyed the eucalypts on Muir’s property in about 1991 and replaced them with redwoods.  Twenty years later, they destroyed the redwoods because they decided they weren’t historically accurate.  The Park Service has a contradictory mission of ecological “restoration” to a native landscape which is inconsistent with its mission of maintaining the historical integrity of the properties it manages.

John Muir was co-founder of the Sierra Club.  He is also given credit for convincing President Teddy Roosevelt to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as National Parks.  Wouldn’t Muir be appalled by the current policies of the Sierra Club and the National Park Service which advocate for the destruction of eucalyptus in our public lands? 

Theodore Lukens was another eucalyptus aficionado

The recipient of John Muir’s New Year’s greeting was another eucalyptus aficionado.  Jared Farmer mentions Muir’s holiday card to Theodore Lukens in Trees in Paradise:  “In 1911 Muir sent a holiday card to his friend Lukens with a watercolor depicting gum trees and a poem evoking the ‘cloistered aisles,’ ‘silvery spires,’ and ‘living incense’ of eucalypts.” (2)

According to Farmer’s excellent historical account of eucalyptus in California, Lukens was a “banker, real estate developer, one-time mayor, and self-taught forester” in Southern California who “worked tirelessly on behalf of afforestation.”  Lukens and Muir shared the belief that “forest cover was key to the whole hydrological system:  trees and tree litter encouraged rainfall, captured fog drip, increased rainfall retention, decreased transpiration and regulated stream flow.”

We recommend Jared Farmer’s book to our readers.  This is a serious history of eucalyptus in California. It’s a complex story that requires an understanding of scientific as well as historical documents. Although we would quibble about some details, it is also a fair treatment of a controversial subject. Mr. Farmer is an historian, not a tree or native plant advocate.

Mr. Farmer tells the story in an engaging way and he puts it into a social context that deserves respect from both tree and native plant advocates. We are grateful to Mr. Farmer for bringing some solid information to an otherwise emotional debate. If it is widely read it could contribute to the resolution of a conflict that has been intractable.

We wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  We are hopeful that the New Year will bring more success to our mission to save healthy trees from destruction which will also reduce the needless use of pesticides in our public open spaces.

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(1) Published in Images of the Pacific Rim by Erika Esau, Power Publishing, February 2011.

(2) Jared Farmer, Trees in Paradise:  A California History, Norton & Company, 2013.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 24, 2013 2:19 pm

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you. Keep up the good work.

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