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)


  1. Sharon,

    I enjoyed reading this post. You are an explorer and also a historian. You were there at that location and in that house! How wonderful! I want to know all about it. I'm fascinated with every detail. And you are lucky to have known your great grandfather. Mine had died before I was born. I only know my grandfather.

    First time I learned about Muir was when I drove to Muir Beach next to Muir Woods with my kids. I wanted to live there next to the wood and beach. I thought it ideal place. Since then, I've noticed Muir all over the places and books. So I read about him.

    Pasadena is interesting and elegant city to explore. Please take me to places in your blog as you knew them. Fascinating!

  2. Keiko, I guess we know for sure now, Sharon has to be at least 100 years old, since John Muir died in 1914!

    She does tell wonderful stories, and knows Pasadena better than most of us, and has traversed its mountains and deserts... too, as she will around Tucson!

    Looking forward to following in your bootprints at least through your photos, stories and imagination, Sharon.

  3. Thank you, Keiko and Kathabela, both for reading and for noticing my advanced age. The key phrase, as you noticed and are playing along with me, is “I almost remember.” I want to have been there, should have been there. But alas I must settle for vicarious journeys most of the time. These months of anticipating Tucson are nearly over and I will soon go. Happy to have you join, no matter how old you are.

  4. Sharon and Kathabela,

    100 calls for a big celebration, so we shouldn't miss it!

    About Pasadena, I read the story about Pacific Asia Museum and Grace Nicholson. I was fascinated reading her story. I hope someone makes a fine film about her.

  5. Grace Nicholson would love our salons and meetings, and she would love Sharon's adventures too, being an adventurer herself in so many ways. I have had a poster about Grace Nicholson on our home door for a couple of years, after the Huntington Gardens and Library did a symposium about her. It's as if she lives here! I wonder what others think when they see it. Keiko and Sharon I am happy we are sharing adventures! We were happy to see Sharon here today! My new copy of the John Muir book arrived today too... it's wonderful he shared our love for Pasadena and had so many friends here. I would invite him to do a salon... if only!!!

  6. Yes Keiko and Kathabela, Grace was a little weird too, and therefore makes me feel good. It will nice to have you both along when the wilderness gets lonely.

  7. happy happy new year sharon! may it be a wild (as in wild trip) and wonderful one for you. love, susan