Adjusting the various contentions of the elements

General views of the Fashioned, be it matter aggregated into the farthest stars of heaven, be it the phenomena of earthly things at hand, are not merely more attractive and elevating than the special studies which embrace particular portions of natural science; they further recommend themselves peculiarly to those who have little leisure to bestow on occupations of the latter kind. The descriptive natural sciences are mostly adapted to particular circumstances: they are not equally attractive at every season of the year, in every country, or in every district we inhabit. The immediate inspection of natural objects, which they require, we must often forego, either for long years, or always in these northern latitudes; and if our attention be limited to a determinate class of objects, the most graphic accounts of the travelling naturalist afford us little pleasure if the particular matters, which have been the special subjects of our studies, chance to be passed over without notice.

As universal history, when it succeeds in exposing the true causal connection of events, solves many enigmas in the fate of nations, and explains the varying phases of their intellectual progress—-why it was now impeded, now accelerated—-so must a physical history of creation, happily conceived, and executed with a due knowledge of the state of discovery, remove a portion of the contradictions which the warring forces of nature present, at first sight, in their aggregate operations. General views raise our conceptions of the dignity and grandeur of nature; and have a peculiarly enlightening and composing influence on the spirit; for they strive simultaneously to adjust the contentions of the elements by the discovery of universal laws, laws that reign in the most delicate textures which meet us on earth, no less than in the Archipelagos of thickly clustered nebulae which we see in heaven, and even in the awful depths of space-—those wastes without a world.

General views accustom us to regard each organic form as a portion of a whole; to see in the plant and in the animal less the individual or dissevered kind, than the natural form, inseparably linked with the aggregate of organic forms. General views give an irresistible charm to the assurance we have from the late voyages of discovery undertaken towards either pole, and sent from the stations now fixed under almost every parallel of latitude, of the almost simultaneous occurrence of magnetic disturbances or storms, and which furnish us with a ready means of divining the connection in which the results of later observation stand to phenomena recorded as having occurred in bygone times; general views enlarge our spiritual existence, and bring us, even if we live in solitude and seclusion, into communion with the whole circle of life and activity — with the earth, with the universe.

Alexander von Humboldt, 1845
Kosmos: A General Survey of the Physical Phenomena of the Universe, Vol. I, pp. 23-24

Warner, 1833

Just one reason why I will never tire of reading history and exploration, extracted from:
Anonymous (1891). A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California. Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago IL.

Colonel J. J. Warner, now of Los Angeles, a member of the Ewing trapping expedition, which passed north through these valleys in 1832, and back again in 1833, says:

“In the fall of 1832, there were a number of Indian villages on King’s River, between its mouth and the mountains; also on the San Joaquin River, from the base of the mountains down to and some distance below the great slough. On the Merced River, from the mountains to its junction with the San Joaquin, there were no Indian villages; but from about this point on the San Joaquin, as well as on its principal tributaries, the Indian villages were numerous, many of them containing some fifty to one hundred dwellings, built with poles and thatched with rushes. With some few exceptions, the Indians were peaceably disposed. On the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Calaveras rivers there were no Indian villages above the mouths, as also at or near their junction with the San Joaquin. The most hostile were on the Calaveras River. The banks of the Sacramento River, in its whole course through the valley, was studded with Indian villages, the houses of which, in the spring, during the day-time, were red with the salmon the aborigines were curing.

At this time there were not, on the San Joaquin or Sacramento river, or any of their tributaries, nor within the valleys of the two rivers, any inhabitants but Indians. On no part of the continent over which I had then, or have since, traveled, was so numerous an Indian population, subsisting on the natural products of the soil and waters, as in the valleys of the San Joaquin and Sacramento. There was no cultivation of the soil by them; game, fish, nuts of the forest and seeds of the field constituted their entire food. They were experts in catching fish in many ways, and in snaring game in diverse modes.

On our return, late in the summer of 1833,we found the valleys depopulated. From the head of the Sacramento to the great bend and slough of the San Joaquin we did not see more than six or eight live Indians, while large numbers of their bodies and skulls were to be seen under almost every shade-tree near water, where the uninhabited and deserted villages had been converted into grave-yards; and on the San Joaquin River, in the immediate neighborhood of the larger class of villages, which the preceding year were the abodes of large numbers of these Indians, we found not only many graves, but the vestiges of a funeral pyre. At the mouth of King’s River we encountered the first and only village of the stricken race that we had seen after entering the great valley; this village contained a large number of Indians temporarily stopping at that place.

We were encamped near the village one night only, and during that time the death angel, passing over the camping-ground of the plague stricken fugitives, waved his wand, summoning from a little remnant of a once numerous people a score of victims to muster in the land of the Manitou; and the cries of the dying, mingling with the wails of the bereaved, made the night hideous in that veritable valley of death.

History N CA cover

Range o’ Light

Not sure I ever needed to be reading anything else really, although I have pulled some rather great historical stuff out of Google Books recently so hurray for the internet I guess. And I don’t know what hoops Stephen Whitney had to jump through do to get that picture of lodgepole pine bark on his cover but man do I love it.

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“Fearfully wild, with a blaze of quick electric light in his dark eye”

Never in several lifetimes of dreams and visions will I ever tire of reading the works of this man.

Visalia is the name of a small town embowered in oaks upon the Tulare Plain in Middle California, where we made our camp one May evening of 1864. Professor Whitney, our chief, the State Geologist, had sent us out for a summer’s campaign in the High Sierras, under the lead of Professor William H. Brewer, who was more sceptical than I as to the result of the mission.

Several times during the previous winter Mr. Hoffman and I, while on duty at the Mariposa gold-mines, had climbed to the top of Mount Bullion, and gained, in those clear January days, a distinct view of the High Sierra, ranging from the Mount Lyell group many miles south to a vast pile of white peaks, which, from our estimate, should lie near the heads of the King’s and Kaweah rivers. Of their great height I was fully persuaded; and Professor Whitney, on the strength of these few observations, commissioned us to explore and survey the new Alps.

We numbered five in camp:—Professor Brewer; Mr. Charles F. Hoffman, chief topographer; Mr. James T. Gardiner, assistant surveyor; myself, assistant geologist; and our man-of-all-work, to whom science already owes its debts.

When we got together our outfit of mules and equipments of all kinds, Brewer was going to reengage, as general aid, a certain Dane, Jan Hoesch, who, besides being a faultless mule-packer, was a rapid and successful financier, having twice, when the field-purse was low and remittances delayed, enriched us by what he called “dealing bottom stock” in his little evening games with the honest miners. Not ungrateful for that, I, however, detested the fellow with great cordiality. “If I don’t take him, will you be responsible for packing mules and for daily bread?” said Brewer to me, the morning of our departure from Oakland. “I will.” “Then we’ll take your man Cotter; only, when the pack-saddles roll under the mules’ bellies, I shall light my pipe and go botanizing. Sabe?”

So my friend, Richard Cotter, came into the service, and the accomplished but filthy Jan opened a poker and rum shop on one of the San Francisco wharves, where he still mixes drinks and puts up jobs of “bottom stock.” Secretly I longed for him as we came down the Pacheco Pass, the packs having loosened with provoking frequency.

The animals of our small exploring party were upon a footing of easy social equality with us. All were excellent except mine. The choice of Hobson (whom I take to have been the youngest member of some company) falling naturally to me, I came to be possessed of the only hopeless animal in the band. Old Slum, a dignified roan mustang of a certain age, with the decorum of years and a conspicuous economy of force retained not a few of the affectations of youth, such as snorting theatrically and shying, though with absolute safety to the rider, Professor Brewer. Hoffman’s mount was a young half-breed, full of fire and gentleness. The mare Bess, my friend Gardiner’s pet, was a light-bay creature, as full of spring and perception as her sex and species may be. A rare mule, Cate, carried Cotter. Nell and Jim, two old geological mules, branded with Mexican hieroglyphics from head to tail, were bearers of the loads.

My Buckskin was incorrigibly bad. To begin with, his anatomy was desultory and incoherent, the maximum of physical effort bringing about a slow, shambling gait quite unendurable. He was further cursed with a brain wanting the elements of logic, as evinced by such non sequiturs as shying insanely at wisps of hay, and stampeding beyond control when I tried to tie him to a load of grain. My sole amusement with Buckskin grew out of a psychological peculiarity of his, namely, the unusual slowness with which waves of sensation were propelled inward toward the brain from remote parts of his periphery. A dig of the spurs administered in the flank passed unnoticed for a period of time varying from twelve to thirteen seconds, till the protoplasm of the brain received the percussive wave; then, with a suddenness which I never wholly got over, he would dash into a trot, nearly tripping himself up with his own astonishment.

A stroke of good fortune completed our outfit and my happiness by bringing to Visalia a Spaniard who was under some manner of financial cloud. His horse was offered for sale, and quickly bought for me by Professor Brewer. We named him Kaweah, after the river and its Indian tribe. He was young, strong, fleet, elegant, a pattern of fine modelling in every part of his bay body and fine black legs; every way good, only fearfully wild, with a blaze of quick electric light in his dark eye.

Shortly after sunrise one fresh morning we made a point of putting the packs on very securely, and, getting into our saddles, rode out toward the Sierras. The group of farms surrounding Visalia is gathered within a belt through which several natural, and many more artificial, channels of the Kaweah flow. Groves of large, dark-foliaged oaks follow this irrigated zone; the roads, nearly always in shadow, are flanked by small ranch-houses, fenced in with rank jungles of weeds and rows of decrepit pickets.

Our backs were now turned to this farm-belt, the road leading us out upon the open plain in our first full sight of the Sierras. Grand and cool swelled up the forest; sharp and rugged rose the wave of white peaks, their vast fields of snow rolling over the summit in broad, shining masses. Sunshine, exuberant vegetation, brilliant plant life, occupied our attention hour after hour until the middle of the second day. At last, after climbing a long, weary ascent, we rode out of the dazzling light of the foot-hills into a region of dense woodland, the road winding through avenues of pines so tall that the late evening light only came down to us in scattered rays. Under the deep shade of these trees we found an air pure and gratefully cool.

Passing from the glare of the open country into the dusky forest, one seems to enter a door and ride into a vast covered hall. The whole sensation is of being roofed and enclosed. You are never tired of gazing down long vistas, where, in stately groups, stand tall shafts of pine. Columns they are, each with its own characteristic tinting and finish, yet all standing together with the air of relationship and harmony. Feathery branches, trimmed with living green, wave through the upper air, opening broken glimpses of the far blue, and catching on their polished surfaces reflections of the sun. Broad streams of light pour in, gilding purple trunks and falling in bright pathways along an undulating floor. Here and there are wide, open spaces, around which the trees group themselves in majestic ranks.

Our eyes often ranged upward, the long shafts leading the vision up to green, lighted spires, and on to the clouds. All that is dark and cool and grave in color, the beauty of blue umbrageous distance, all the sudden brilliance of strong local lights tinted upon green boughs or red and fluted shafts, surround us in ever-changing combination as we ride along these winding roadways of the Sierra.

We had marched a few hours over high, rolling, wooded ridges, when in the late afternoon we reached the brow of an eminence and began to descend. Looking over the tops of the trees beneath us, we saw a mountain basin fifteen hundred feet deep surrounded by a rim of pine-covered hills. An even, unbroken wood covered these sweeping slopes down to the very bottom, and in the midst, open to the sun, lay a circular green meadow, about a mile in diameter.

As we descended, side wood-tracks, marked by the deep ruts of timber wagons, joined our road on either side, and in the course of an hour we reached the basin and saw the distant roofs of Thomas’s Saw-Mill Ranch. We crossed the level disc of meadow, fording a clear, cold mountain stream, flowing, as the best brooks do, over clean, white granite sand, and near the northern margin of the valley, upon a slight eminence, in the edge of a magnificent forest, pitched our camp.

The hills to the westward already cast down a sombre shadow, which fell over the eastern hills and across the meadow, dividing the basin half in golden and half in azure green. The tall young grass was living with purple and white flowers. This exquisite carpet sweeps up over the bases of the hills in green undulations, and strays far into the forest in irregular fields. A little brooklet passed close by our camp and flowed down the smooth green glacis which led from our little eminence to the meadow. Above us towered pines two hundred and fifty feet high, their straight, fluted trunks smooth and without a branch for a hundred feet. Above that, and on to the very tops, the green branches stretched out and interwove, until they spread a broad, leafy canopy from column to column.

Professor Brewer determined to make this camp a home for the week during which we were to explore and study all about the neighborhood. We were on a great granite spur, sixty miles from east to west by twenty miles wide, which lies between the Kaweah and King’s River cañons. Rising in bold sweeps from the plain, this ridge joins the Sierra summit in the midst of a high group. Experience had taught us that the cañons are impassable by animals for any great distance; so the plan of campaign was to find a way up over the rocky crest of the spur as far as mules could go.

In the little excursions from this camp, which were made usually on horseback, we became acquainted with the forest, and got a good knowledge of the topography of a considerable region. On the heights above King’s Cañon are some singularly fine assemblies of trees. Cotter and I had ridden all one morning northeast from camp under the shadowy roof of forest, catching but occasional glimpses out over the plateau, until at last we emerged upon the bare surface of a ridge of granite, and came to the brink of a sharp precipice. Rocky crags lifted just east of us. The hour devoted to climbing them proved well spent.

A single little family of alpine firs growing in a niche in the granite surface, and partly sheltered by a rock, made the only shadow, and just shielded us from the intense light as we lay down by their roots. North and south, as far as the eye could reach, heaved the broad, green waves of plateau, swelling and merging through endless modulation of slope and form.

Conspicuous upon the horizon, about due east of us, was a tall, pyramidal mass of granite, trimmed with buttresses which radiated down from its crest, each one ornamented with fantastic spires of rock. Between the buttresses lay stripes of snow, banding the pale granite peak from crown to base. Upon the north side it fell off, grandly precipitous, into the deep upper cañon of King’s River. This gorge, after uniting a number of immense rocky amphitheatres, is carved deeply into the granite two and three thousand feet. In a slightly curved line from the summit it cuts westward through the plateau, its walls, for the most part, descending in sharp, bare slopes, or lines of ragged débris, the resting-place of processions of pines. We ourselves were upon the brink of the south wall; three thousand feet below us lay the valley, a narrow, winding ribbon of green, in which, here and there, gleamed still reaches of the river. Wherever the bottom widened to a quarter or half a mile, green meadows and extensive groves occupied the level region. Upon every niche and crevice of the walls, up and down sweeping curves of easier descent, were grouped black companies of trees.

The behavior of the forest is observed most interestingly from these elevated points above the general face of the table-land. All over the gentle undulations of the more level country sweeps an unbroken covering of trees. Reaching the edge of the cañon precipices, they stand out in bold groups upon the brink, and climb all over the more ragged and broken surfaces of granite. Only the most smooth and abrupt precipices are bare. Here and there a little shelf of a foot or two in width, cracked into the face of the bluff, gives foothold to a family of pines, who twist their roots into its crevices and thrive. With no soil from which the roots may drink up moisture and absorb the slowly dissolved mineral particles, they live by breathing alone, moist vapors from the river below and the elements of the atmosphere affording them the substance of life.

If we are to believe…

…the contents of a manuscript found in 1879 in a tree on the Middle Fork of the Feather River, the first persons of Caucasian blood to penetrate the Butte County area were two soldiers who had wandered from the army of Cortez while the latter was in Mexico, in 1519. The story of the finding of this manuscript is a most interesting one. In the month of April, in the year 1879, a tree was cut down by two miners on the Middle Fork of the Feather. The outside appearance of the tree indicated that it was solid throughout. The tree however, proved to be hollow inside, and in this hollow a roll of manuscript was found, written in Spanish and wrapped in such a manner that the writing was preserved. The hole in the tree had grown over with the lapse of years. The manuscript purported to give an account of two men who had strayed from the army of Cortez and who had made their way north as far as the place where the manuscript was deposited. The date of the deposit was not given, the two soldiers apparently having lost track of time. The manuscript was written in old Spanish, and was finally sent to Madrid for interpretation.

Mansfield, G.C. 1918. History of Butte County, California, p.36. Historic Record Company, Los Angeles CA.

“A systematic record of great biological value”

Paul Sears was an early plant ecologist who did a lot of good work at the University of Nebraska and previously at Ohio State, Nebraska being the nexus of American plant ecology in the early 20th century. He was I believe, the first president of the Ecological Society of America. He was also one of the very first ecologists–of what is now a legion–to estimate landscape scale forest taxonomic composition at pre-settlement time, using the bearing/witness tree record contained within the early federal land survey. Here he takes a humorous swipe at the geometric wisdom inherent in the survey design. Ya can’t put a rectangular grid on a round planet fer cryin’ out loud, but hey, thanks for recording all those trees! 🙂

Surveying of Ohio was begun in July, 1786, under The Geographer of the United States, Thomas Hutchins, employing for the first time his device of sections one mile square. This empirical device was hailed as a great American invention, although the State of Ohio has since been found to possess a curved surface in common with the rest of the earth. All corners which lay within the forest were located with reference to nearby trees, the species of which were noted. These corners becoming permanent, the net result of Hutchins’ plan has been the preservation of a systematic record of such great biological value as to redeem its geometrical shortcomings.

A little background might be useful. Ohio was the first state surveyed under the federal land survey, all previous states being surveyed in all manner of ways by various entities under various authorities and quality control procedures, i.e. without a comprehensive and systematic plan. By law enacted in 1785–the very first congress–a hugely important law affecting how the public domain would be disposed of, all states added to the country from that point forward were to be surveyed under a systematic, regular survey design with very specific instructions regarding how to proceed (Thomas Jefferson being a driving force behind this). Ohio, being the first such state added, in 1803, also served as the test state, where various survey designs were tried out before deciding on the one that, with minor modifications, has been followed the last 200 years in the 30 federal land survey states.

To my knowledge no other branch of ecology has the quality of historic data sets dating to +/- pre-settlement times, i.e. before all the heavy impacts occurred, and most certainly not over such an enormous geographic extent. In fact, I don’t think it’s even close. We’re very lucky in that regard, and we have people like Thomas Jefferson, with his sense of mathematical order and intense interest in all things natural and landscape, for it.

Sears, Paul B. 1925. The Natural Vegetation of Ohio: I, A Map of the Virgin Forest

Around Yosemite walls and through Yosemite forests

So, I’ve been entering bearing tree data collected by land surveyors inside what is now Yosemite National Park, for work on estimating historic forest conditions in the Sierra Nevada. Bearing trees were designed to “bear witness” to the location of on-the-ground survey markers, in case something should happen to them, and several pieces of information on them were recorded in the field notes (previous post here). So up comes the next Township on the list: Township 2 South, Range 21 East, Mt. Diablo Meridian, or T2SR21E MDM in surveyors’ shorthand, an area now inside YNP, surveyed under authority of the General Land Office (GLO) in 1880, 10 years before YNP came into existence.

An original (1880) YNP bearing tree, in 2005, with blaze partially exposed.

An original (1880) YNP bearing tree, in 2005, with blaze partially exposed.

Well, damned if that isn’t a pretty good place to run into the man, Clarence King, and thereby to slow down the scientific progress on which society so utterly depends. Once I start reading King’s writings it’s all over in terms of getting things done. He’s done it to me before, and he will do it again.

Continue reading

Douglas’ “Multnomah pine”

Sugar Pine

…August 19, 1825 Mr. Douglas, who had been exploring the upper country of the Columbia, started from his headquarters at Vancouver to proceed southward, ascending the Multnomah towards the mountains at the extreme (south) end of the Willamette Valley. After a perilous three days’ trip he reaches the natives of the region and finds in their tobacco pouches “seeds of a remarkably large size, which they eat as nuts”, and which he knew to be pine seeds. He learns that the tree grows on the mountains to the south—that is, down nearly to the present California line.

“No time was to be lost,” he writes, “in ascertaining the existence of the tree,” which he at once, with only a few imperfect seeds in hand, names Pinus Lambertiana, in honor of his friend, Aylmer Bourke Lambert, the distinguished Vice-President of the Linnaean Society of England. But sickness and inclement weather, also Indian hostilities, prevented further search southward for that season. However, he explores other regions eastward, discovering two new species of pine, which he names Pinus nobilis and Pinus amabilis (now well known firs, but then included in the genus of pines), making headquarters for the winter at Fort Vancouver. During the spring and summer months of the next year, 1826, he makes various extensive journeys, rewarded constantly by important discoveries, for the country was all unknown then. In February a hunter brings him a cone of his Multnomah pine. It “was 16 inches long and 10 in circuit” and he was assured that “trees were met with that were 170-220 feet high, and 20-50 feet in circumference”.

In June, while at the junction of the Lewis and Clarke Rivers, he planned a long trip southward to the Umpqua River, in search of “the gigantic pine”, but could not get off in that direction until October. On the eighteenth Douglas, with a companion, “set off due south through the dominions of the Chief, Center-Nose, and having climbed wearily a high divide, we were cheered by the sight of the broad Umpqua River in the valley far below”. A raft was necessary for crossing it, and in its construction Douglas “grievous blistered his fingers”..October 23rd they reach the headwaters Of the Umpqua, guided by the son of old Center-Nose, and still “intent upon finding the Grand Pine so frequently mentioned in my journal”.

…Early in the morning of the same day (October 25th) Douglas quitted camp, and “after an hour’s walk met an Indian, who, on perceiving me, instantly strung his bow, then slung his raccoon skin of arrows upon his left arm, and stood on the defensive. Being quite sure that he was not hostile, but prompted by fear only, I laid my gun at my feet and beckoned him to approach me, which he did slowly and with many precautions. I then made him place his bow and quiver beside my gun, and, striking a light, gave him a smoke out of my pipe. Then with pencil and paper I drew a rough sketch of the cone and tree which I desired to find, and exhibited the sketch to him, when he quickly pointed towards the hills, fifteen or twenty miles distant, and southward.”

Hastening on, at midday Douglas “reached the locality of my longwished-for pines, and lost no time in examining them, and endeavoring to collect twigs, specimens, and seeds. “New and strange things,” Douglas pauses here to remark, sententiously, “seldom fail to make strong impressions, and are, therefore, often faulty or overrated; so, lest I should never again see my friends in England, to inform them verbally of this most beautiful and grand tree”.

“I shall here state the dimensions of the largest found among several that had been felled by the wind. At three feet from the ground its circuit was fifty-seven feet nine inches (that is, nearly nineteen feet in diameter). At one hundred and thirty-four feet it was seventeen feet five inches. Extreme length, two hundred and forty-five feet. The trunks are uncommonly straight, the bark smooth, the tallest stems unbranched for two thirds of their height, the branches outreaching or pendulous, with long cones hanging from the points like sugar loaves in a grocer shop. The cones are borne only by the largest trees, high suspended in air, and the putting myself into possession of three of them, all I could procure, nearly brought my life to a close.”

“As it was impossible either to climb the trees or to hew one down I resorted to knocking them off by firing at them with ball. The report of my gun almost instantly brought into view eight Indians, all armed with bows, bone-tipped spears, and flint knives. I endeavored to explain to them what I was doing there and what I wanted, and they seemed satisfied, sitting down to smoke with me; but presently I perceived one of them to string his bow, and another to whet his knife with a pair of wooden pincers. Further testimony of their intention was unnecessary.

“To save myself by flight was impossible, so without hesitation I sprang backwards about five paces, cocked my gun, drew one of the pistols from my belt, and showed myself determined to fight for my life. As much as possible I endeavored to preserve coolness, and thus we stood facing each other without the slightest movement or uttering a word for full ten minutes. At last the leader dropped his hand and made signs for tobacco and pipe. I signified that they should have a smoke if they would fetch me a quantity of cones. They went off immediately, and no sooner were the out of sight than I picked up my precious cones and made the quickest possible retreat.”

Poor Douglas never saw his “Grand Pine” again, and upon his second tour of western exploration the next season, after visiting Monterey Bay and vicinity, where he discovers Pinus insignia and P. sabiniana, he sailed for the Hawaiian Islands, and while exploring there he fell into a pit prepared for capturing wild cattle, and was trampled to death by an entrapped steer.

Source

Meandering Numps

If you need something conducive to positive mental health, then you want to check out Meandering Numps ASAP. I’m jealous that I didn’t think of it first. Hats off to Andy–stuff like this makes life livable.

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“The Wally was a black beast, and although he had a ferocious demeanor, he was in fact a daft ape, and a massive dope.”


Just one of the cast of characters over at Numps’ place.

“The Lake, it is said, never gives up her dead…”

So, I’ve been learning a couple of Gordon Lightfoot songs lately, and reading various things, and thinking about my home town. And also realizing that Indian Summer will soon give way to something much less enjoyable. So this post is about all that.

A couple of days ago in the library I’m reading the January 2014 entries for the “Great Lakes Calendar” in the journal Inland Seas–a month that caused all kinds of mayhem on the Lakes, mostly involving ice and the breaking thereof. There, I see it noted that on Jan. 3 the “Wilfred Sykes loaded at Escanaba and was escorted by the tug Erika Kobasic“. The next day, up on Superior, the “Downbound Arthur M. Anderson stopped…to await daylight before attempting the Rock Cut…” while way down on Lake Erie “The Griffon was expected to…break out the ice-bound Cuyahoga, stopped at the end of the Sandusky Bay ship channel by heavily packed ice”. And that the next day, the Anderson was right behind the 1000 foot Mesabi Miner, when the latter rammed the ice breaker Hollyhock after an ice ridge slowed the breaker down, about 22 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge.

Inland Seas

I’m only marginally familiar with Great Lakes maritime history but I recognized two of those ship names immediately: they are tied to two major Great Lakes shipwrecks, and the very two that bracket all of the major maritime disasters no less. These ship names are the Griffon and the Arthur M. Anderson. The third one involved was the Wilfred Sykes.

The Griffon was the very first masted sailing ship on the Great Lakes, built by Robert LaSalle’s crew somewhere along the Niagara river, Canadian side, in 1679. It sailed across Lakes Erie, St Clair, Huron and Michigan to the vicinity of what is now Green Bay Wisconsin before sinking in far northern Lake Michigan, loaded with furs, on its return voyage. LaSalle was not killed however, as he had decided to head south overland to explore a connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi drainages (and then overland from there all the way back to Montreal!). Like just about everything the French explorers and trappers did in the area at the time, it’s a thoroughly outrageous story.

At the recent end, there’s presumably no need to mention what the last major Great Lakes ship disaster was, due at least in part to Lightfoot’s famous and outstanding ballad.

The Arthur M. Anderson was very intimately involved in the entire episode. It was the Anderson that trailed 10 to 20 miles behind one Edmund Fitzgerald, kept in radio communication with it, helped it navigate after its radar went out, and first alerted the US Coast Guard of its disappearance from the radar. Most heroically, it performed the first SAR (search and rescue) operation for potential survivors, right during the height of the storm. The ship had in fact already reached the relative safety of Whitefish Bay, but upon request by the Coast Guard, it voluntarily returned out into the horrendous open water conditions to perform the search. Which speaks volumes about the ship’s captain.

The Wilfred Sykes is involved also. It loaded ore at the same dock at the same time as the Fitzgerald, and was also bound for the Soo locks. But its captain, having looked closely at the weather forecast of a major storm crossing the lake, had decided to track close to the Ontario shoreline instead of across open water. Therefore, it was just the Fitzgerald and the Anderson that crossed the lake together on the furious and fateful afternoon and evening of November 10, 1975. [That link goes to a very interesting paper that recreates the wind and wave conditions before and during the storm, using a weather model, the available surface observations, and a wind-wave model.]

Nearly 40 years later, the mystery of exactly what led to the sinking is still not fully resolved. It is known that the ship sank so fast in such ferocious conditions that there was no chance for survival. The incident was major news in the Great Lakes area at the time, even nationally, and nowhere moreso than in Toledo Ohio. About 5 or 6 (strictly from memory) of the crew of 29 lived in the area. This included the captain, Ernest McSorley, who lived about 7 or 8 miles from us, and was tragically on his very last voyage before retirement. [The most common run of the Fitzgerald was from Superior Wisconsin, to either Detroit or Toledo.] I can still vividly remember the front page story in the Toledo Blade the next day with the pictures of the missing crew. It seemed unbelievable that this could happen. The Great Lakes are littered with uncounted shipwrecks, but this was 1975.
BGSU Fitz

Anyway, today I’m back in the same library, this time reading J.B. Mansfield’s History of the Great Lakes wherein I read:

“Another very interesting, and very sad, thing about this lake [Superior], says W.S. Harwood in St. Nicholas, is that it never gives up its dead. Whoever encounters terrible disaster— happily infrequent in the tourist season—and goes down in the angry, beautiful blue waters, never comes up again. From those earliest days when the daring French voyageurs in their trim birch-bark canoes skirted the picturesque shores of this noble but relentless lake, down to this present moment, those who have met their deaths in mid-Superior still lie at the stonepaved bottom. It may be said that, so very cold is the water, some of their bodies may have been preserved through the centuries. Sometimes, not far from the shore, the bodies of people who have been wrecked from fishing-smacks or from pleasure-boats overtaken by a cruel squall have been recovered, but only after the most heroic efforts with drag-net or by the diver.”

So, to get back to the title, this is the origin, or at least the earliest known explanation, of the sentence “The Lake it is said never gives up her dead, when the gales of November come early” in Gordon Lightfoot’s song. More on that whole issue is here.

“And all that remains are the faces and the names of the wives, and the sons and the daughters.”

The mountaineer’s privelege

There are turning-points in all men’s lives which must give them both pause and retrospect. In long Sierra journeys the mountaineer looks forward eagerly, gladly, till pass or ridge-crest is gained, and then, turning with a fonder interest, surveys the scene of his march; letting the eye wander over each crag and valley, every blue hollow of pine-land or sunlit gem of alpine meadow; discerning perchance some gentle reminder of himself in yon thin blue curl of smoke floating dimly upward from the smouldering embers of his last camp-fire. With a lingering look he starts forward, and the closing pass-gate with its granite walls shuts away the retrospect, yet the delightful picture forever after hangs on the gallery wall of his memory. It is thus with me about mountaineering; the pass which divides youth from man-hood is traversed, and the serious service of science must hereafter claim me. But as the cherished memories of Sierra climbs go ever with me, I may not lack the inspiring presence of sunlit snow nor the calming influence of those broad noble views. It is the mountaineer’s privilege to carry through life this wealth of unfading treasure. At his summons the white peaks loom above him as of old; the camp-fire burns once more for him, his study walls recede in twilight revery, and around him are gathered again stately columns of pine.

Clarence King, Preface to the Fourth Edition
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada

“Our eyes often ranged upward”

At last, after climbing a long, weary ascent, we rode out of the dazzling light of the foot-hills into a region of dense woodland, the road winding through avenues of pines so tall that the late evening light only came down to us in scattered rays. Under the deep shade of these trees we found an air pure and gratefully cool. Passing from the glare of the open country into the dusky forest, one seems to enter a door and ride into a vast covered hall. The whole sensation is of being roofed and enclosed. You are never tired of gazing down long vistas, where, in stately groups, stand tall shafts of pine. Columns they are, each with its own characteristic tinting and finish, yet all standing together with the air of relationship and harmony. Feathery branches, trimmed with living green, wave through the upper air, opening broken glimpses of the far blue, and catching on their polished surfaces reflections of the sun. Broad streams of light pour in, gilding purple trunks and falling in bright pathways along an undulating floor. Here and there are wide, open spaces, around which the trees group themselves in majestic ranks.

Our eyes often ranged upward, the long shafts leading the vision up to green, lighted spires, and on to the clouds. All that is dark and cool and grave in color, the beauty of blue umbrageous distance, all the sudden brilliance of strong local lights tinted upon green boughs or red and fluted shafts, surround us in ever-changing combination as we ride along these winding roadways of the Sierra.

Clarence King,
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada