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.
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)