Saturday, December 31, 2011

Settling In


They settled in the valley below Sentinel Peak—to feed, mate, and rest from a long journey, as monarch butterflies do.  They flutter about half-tired, half-excited, traversing their local environs along lines, like ants.  They have flown a long migration to home never seen; and now I see them, join them, directed in some way as they are, to leave friendly surroundings, pulled to unknown and much anticipated home.  It’s not so much that we want to leave as it is that we feel naturally and illogically pulled to another place.


I climbed above them this morning, summited a cone-shaped mountain, Sentinal Peak, just west of Tucson.  From there, I looked down as a fluttering monarch might, on home I had never seen.  Compelled to fly here, strongly and nonsensically, to live here a month, to explore these desolate mountains and deserts and report on conditions of scorched saguaros and ancient uplifted rock.

Last evening, I settled into a small floorplan at this motel and, on this New Years Eve, this eve of a new adventure, explored my immediate neighborhood.  I felt the culmination of a vibration that had pulled me here and away from home that was, away from what was good.  It’s not a search for home that drives me, but, like the butterfly, an urge to go.  I feel her inexplicable sense as to which direction; her simple and natural following a call.  Perhaps there remains in some of us an unidentified string of junk DNA shared in common with certain kinds of birds and butterflies.

Sentinal Peak viewed from Tucson has an “A” on its side, put there to exalt the University of Arizona.  Back in the 1950s, a “T” adorned the side of Hennigher Flat above Pasadena, cleared from of chaparral by students at Caltech.  I wonder if the propriety of such intrusions will reach Tucson.

My shadow is moving on in.

And yes, Occupy Tucson is alive today.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“On the Shoulders of Giants”

Explorer and activist, John Muir, sat one evening in the village of Pasadena.  At a kind of artists and activists salon, he enthralled guests with his theory of glacial carving, based on a recent trek in Alaska.  He thought, against common knowledge among geologists, that glaciers had formed much of California like giant bulldozers, using the excavating power of flowing ice.  And he spoke in poetic terms, i.e., “The chimes of icebergs and the artillery of the sea.”  His kindly face and almost bashful manner exerted a magical hold on the guests in 1895 as he spoke in the home of Theodore Lukens, still standing at 267 North El Molino Avenue, just north of Walnut. 

My great-grandfather, William T. Root, living in Pasadena at the time, must have admired John Muir as a fellow adventurer.  Grandpa Root’s trek was not to Alaska, but through the political quagmire of Pasadena, striving as a city councilman, to make his hometown the cultural center of Southern California.  He led, with others, to the building of our magnificent City Hall, Central Library, and Civic Auditorium.  I almost remember that I sat beside him in that living room on El Molino, listening to John Muir.

Though my talks at venues in Southern California have fallen short of John Muir’s and my great-grandfather’s, I come with a calling to adventure and risk of their kind.  I came late to where I should have come before.  I will not discover what I should have discovered, but go instead to Tucson, to experience wilderness that surrounds a small city.  I will photograph where cameras seldom click, and place bootprints on seldom-trekked ridges.  Nothing great will come of it, as greatness should, for I have within me more.  Fifty years ago I might have found the substance of Dark Matter.  But today, I go where few go just because it’s there.

William T. Root                                            John Muir

John Muir thought that Yosemite Valley (left) was gouged out by glaciers, because he saw the same action of flowing ice currently happening in Alaska at what is now called Muir Glacier (right)

House of Theodore Lukens still standing at 267 North El Molino Avenue, just north of Walnut (left)   Pasadena City Hall (right)