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What’s the Matter with Muir?

By Cheri Rae

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”—John Muir

cherilogo-150x150A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about revisionist thinking about naturalist John Muir—known for his enthusiastic embrace of the wonders of nature, particularly California’s Sierra Nevada. The article gave a platform to Jon Christensen, a UCLA historian at the school’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability.

Christensen declared, “Muir’s legacy has to go.” He continued, and “it’s just not useful anymore.” The debate over Muir’s relevance has come about as we approach the centennial of his death on Christmas Eve, 1914. The Times found plenty of scholars willing to view the man of his time through a prism of today. The call him racist for his views on Native Americans and see him as elitist, relevant only to a population of economically secure, aging white people with plenty of leisure time to travel to far-off national parks.

They argue that urban parks are more important than wilderness settings for our changing demographics.

It was bad enough to read it in the L.A. Times, and all over Facebook—where, predictably, my environmentalist and academic friends were not impressed with Christensen’s assertion: “Muir’s a dead end. It’s time to bury his legacy and move on.”

The story had just about settled when it came to my attention that the Santa Barbara News-Press decided to reprint the article last week. On the front page.

lee.stetson.face-webBut unlike the Times, the local newspaper ran an absurd graphic with the story: they included what they credited a “Courtesy photo” with the caption that read “John Muir.” But anyone who has any familiarity at all with John Muir would know that modern-looking image was not a photo of the naturalist himself. Actually it was a photograph of Lee Stetson (pictured right), a veteran actor who frequently appears in his one-man show, “An Evening With John Muir,” and other productions that honor and promote the life and work of the famed naturalist.

He’s not John Muir; he impersonates John Muir—in a positive way, popularizing the work of the man who fell in love with Yosemite, founded the Sierra Club and influenced Theodore Roosevelt to preserve vast amounts of American wilderness.

That’s about how things go these days: reasonable facsimiles are good enough. Academics make pronouncements about demographically driven environmental sustainability from their ivory towers far removed from the natural world. But in the real world, equating the splendor of the Range of Light with a local pocket park just does not compute. And it might have made headlines—and publicity for the UCLA professor and his like-minded friends—but throwing out the work of a 19th century man because he’s not a progressive 21st-century thinker makes no sense at all.

For the record, I love the powerful words of John Muir, who described an earthquake in Yosemite:  “The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely, one had to balance in walking as if on the deck of a ship among the waves, and it seemed impossible the high cliffs should escape being shattered.”

He advised, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

And he seems quite contemporary with the observation: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

John.Muir.Young-webWhat’s the matter with Muir? Nothing. Nothing at all—except maybe that not enough Californians are familiar with his writing and his work. Maybe all this controversy about his relevance, at the centennial of his death, will—instead of burying him—give him the respect he’s due by sending more people in search of his books and following in his footsteps.

Sharon’s Take: Election Results Indicate Potential Underlying Shifts

Sharon’s Take by Sharon Byrne, as featured in the Santa Barbara Sentinel

This midterm election served up some surprises, even within predictable outcomes, in my opinion.

Education bonds no longer a slam dunk. Measure S and the Montecito Union School bond both failed. I wrote about Measure S last month, and some readers told me that for the first time ever, they voted against an education bond measure. The question of infrastructure is not exclusive to City College. 60 Minutes just did a story on failing bridges, highways, railroad infrastructure, aging ports that haven’t been dredged in decades, and more. Our city is trying to sort out what should be prioritized in a $600 million capital infrastructure backlog. A whole lot of people are wondering why it is that once upon a time, we had the funding to build schools, bridges, buildings, and a highway system that was the best in the world, but can no longer find funding to adequately maintain any of it? There is a growing unease among our citizenry that something has gone very wrong on this front. How did America, with all its can-do and know-how, come to this place of crumbling infrastructure? And why is it that we can no longer maintain our schools adequately? We once had budget to do that…what happened? I expect future school bond issues will run into increasing scrutiny along these lines.

Lois Capps squeaks by. This was quite surprising. Not that she won, no that wasn’t the surprise. It was that she posted a win of merely 51.7%. The 24th Congressional was considered a Dem stronghold going into this election. Big Republican guns like Boehner were glaringly absent, though McCarthy did pop by to try to help Mitchum. I saw one Mitchum sign on the way to Buellton and a couple around Santa Barbara. Hardly a big threat. But these results move the district to toss-up status, and that’s striking. Which is probably why Capps, with 5 times the war chest of Mitchum, ran the ugliest smear campaign seen in these parts, and she ran it in full saturation mode, astonishing for a Congresswoman who wears ‘nice’ like it’s deodorant.

But maybe it wasn’t Mitchum that had her sweating. Perhaps it’s her would-be-successors circling like hungry sharks, hot on the scent of fresh chum. Midterms tend to favor Republicans, but Dems started saying, “well, I love Lois, of course….” and moved uncomfortably into a pregnant pause, or rolled their eyes outright. I guess inside-political-baseball-players expected she would retire gracefully and leave Salud and Helene to fight to the death, with Das also supposedly chomping at the bit. That scenario probably has the Democratic Central Committee sweating, on the inside, but if people are asking when is she going to finally retire, damn it…well, maybe that got back to her.

Laura-Capps-Photo-2-e1376420940682Now, I am decidedly against shoving a woman off the stage just because she’s gotten older. I love Hillary and Madonna, in that order. But that sentiment that Lois has passed the sell-by date is newly bolstered by rumors swirling that she’s planning to abdicate while still in office, to hand the seat to her daughter, Laura Capps, via a special appointment by Governor Brown.

The idea of a Capps dynastic lock on the 24th Congressional seat is going down about as smoothly as deep-fried fork with Dems and Republicans alike. But Laura Capps, pictured right, is suddenly everywhere.

Expect some very interesting developments on this front.

North County Flexes Its Muscle on Measure P. It’s old news that the 2010 census saw Santa Maria eclipse Santa Barbara in population, 100k vs 90k. The county supervisors redistricted appropriately in response, but I’ve wondered when we would see this shift reflected in one of those infamous North-vs-South County divides? Well, we’ve possibly just witnessed it with Measure P. The charge has been fairly leveled that Big Oil killed Measure P with $7 million in campaign spending. However, big campaign spending has failed here before, and the voting results indicate something a little more than just money might be at work. It appears that North County collectively voted their economic interests against the environmental ideology of the city of Santa Barbara, and prevailed. This may well be the first time we’ve seen the population shift translate into actual voting strength that flips the longstanding dynamic where South County idealism dictates to North County. If it is indeed the start of such a trend, then our county is headed into some very interesting times, to say the least.

Firefighters and Eyeglasses Help Create A December To Remember For Milpas!

By Sharon Byrne

(John Dixon of Tri County Produce puts the star up on the tree, created by residential neighbor Martha Jaime, as Santos Guzman of El Bajio and Alan Bleecker of Capitol Hardware steady the ladder. Picture: Sharon Byrne)A year ago, 15 Milpas elves stole out to the roundabout in the wee hours on the day before Thanksgiving. They mounted a 15 ft tree into the roundabout, and powered it with solar lights. A neighbor saw us putting up the tree, and ran home to create a star for the tree-top. She called me, excited, and I explained it had to be solar, as there is no power in the Milpas roundabout. So her husband put solar-powered lights on the star, and John Dixon of Tri County Produce scurried up the ladder to place it on top. It was the city of Santa Barbara’s first solar-powered public holiday lighting display, and Milpaserenos felt like rock stars heading off to work after putting up that tree.

( Photo by Sharon Byrne: John Dixon of Tri County Produce puts the star up on the tree, created by residential neighbor Martha Jaime, as Santos Guzman of El Bajio and Alan Bleecker of Capitol Hardware steady the ladder)

When do you ever hear of a community pulling together like this? Milpas just has this way of producing miracles, and we never know where they’re going to come from.

Sadly, a mean Grinch took a hammer to the solar panels, so we’ve got to replace them. We also needed to figure out how to pay for this year’s tree, as the Milpas Community Association is voluntary, and runs on a small budget of donations provided by Milpas businesses. We’re busily trying to raise money to get the starlights up on our light poles. Where would we find the funds for the tree? How are we going to create a “December to Remember” on Milpas this year?

Enter the Santa Barbara City Firefighters Association. They put a big fire engine with Santa into the Milpas Holiday Parade, and they bring the fire engine round to Kids Day at the EyeGlass Factory. Fire Station 2 is right here in the neighborhood, and the firefighters are always friendly and helpful.

Tony Pighetti, the president of the Firefighters Association, told me, “It was unanimous, instantly. Of course we’re going to help the community, and provide the Christmas tree for Milpas. How could we not?” The firefighters will pay for the tree, and provide some needed muscle to get it up in the roundabout, no small feat. There is no one better able to help us with this kind of community endeavor.

This holiday season, I am grateful yet again for the huge heart in this community. I am particularly thankful for the miracle of the community Christmas tree returning to Milpas, courtesy of our firefighters.
A Grand Marshal With A Huge Heart
The Milpas Holiday Parade, now in its 61st year, is very child-focused and features many youth organizations and community non-profits. We love highlighting the great things our kids are involved in: martial arts, dance teams, marching bands, musical groups, custom bicycles built by kids, and even Chinese Lion dancers! We ask our parade teams to turn it up, and put on a great show for parade spectators, and they sure deliver!

We try to find a Grand Marshal that reflects this commitment to kids and families in our community. This year, we selected Rick Feldman of the EyeGlass Factory. Rick is one of the core founders of the Milpas Community Association, and throws Kids Day, a huge health fair just for children that provides free eye exams, eyeglasses, health screenings, dental exams, Santa and more. Kids Day takes place the day after the Milpas Parade, on December 14th from 9 AM to 1 PM, though crowds start arriving at dawn. This is the 20th anniversary of Kids Day, a huge gift to the children of this community. Rick is all heart, and will make a fine Grand Marshal, as he is a larger-than-life personality.

The deadline for entries into the Milpas Holiday Parade is December 7th, and forms can be found at It’s free for schools to enter, and low cost for non-profits. Merchants put out hot chocolate and cookies for you, so come out and see the parade! And be sure to cheer for Rick as he leads the parade!

(Rick Feldman, left, in blue, with Supervisor Salud Carbajal talking with a happy mother of a child that received free eyeglasses at Kids Day.)

Thousand Steps Sunset

Santa Barbara View to start the week, photo by Bill Heller, click to enlarge.
1000 Steps Sunset
A beautiful evening at Thousand Steps beach. The wonderful and colorful dance the sun does as it slips below the horizon is due to the large amount of the atmosphere the light rays travel through at the steep angle near the horizon. You probably already knew that, but did you know that the moment you see the sun touch the horizon on a day like this it has actually already set? The refraction of the atmosphere bends the light around the curvature of the earth so you see the image of the sun projected slightly higher than it is in reality. The same thing happens in the morning. When you see the sun peek above the horizon the leading edge is still below the horizon by slightly more than the diameter of the sun. The results of this atmospheric refraction result in about six minutes more daylight than simple geometry would suggest, which are always welcomed especially this time of year!

Oh and don’t worry, if you want to enjoy this phenomenon at this beautiful spot, it’s only a name, it’s a big stairway no doubt, but not even nearly one thousand steps.

-Bill Heller

Old Growth Poinsettia’s

Local views of Santa Barbara by Dan Seibert

This time of year the very old poinsettia’s around town make themselves known.  Two white (cream) colored ones frame the entrance to 218 west Micheltorena, one of those vintage motor courts.
The red one is ablaze with color, on the corner of Fremont and San Pascual in the lower west side.


EcoFacts: Layers of Abundance

Weekly column by Barbara Hirsch

The nature of abundance vs. scarcity is fascinating to me, and this time of year brings it to the fore, when giving and receiving are in focus. Decisions to buy things or services as gifts, and for whom, the temptations to buy for myself, when I need nothing. Materially, I have a bit of scarcity mentality, realizing this when I feel I must be sure to have more than just enough of something, which can lead to waste. Having to go to the store once instead of twice could be part of it, but certainly not all. It seems I am always seeking a state of abundance….on some level or other.

Santa Barbara Farmers Market by Bill Heller

And yet it surrounds me, I already have it. My life is full of abundance – I can eat, usually, when I like, and eat until I’m full if I wish, and good, clean wholesome food of all kinds, and fresh fruits and vegetables abound here. The farmer’s market is certainly a local symbol of abundance. I live in a place of abundant beauty and get to experience it daily. I have lots of good work, friends and family, I have good health.

There are such layers of abundance, perceived and actual, personal and societal, material and spiritual. They are all sought after. And, there is the calmness of enough. Good health is the most important thing we seek and yet we cannot really apply abundance to it. We either have it or it is lacking. Healthy enough to enjoy life is what we seek there. After that, love is the next most important part of life, and abundance we seek there too, but it cannot be forced, only allowed. It flows freely when the sources are there, and we have enough.

If only we could have more rain….or enough, anyway.

(Santa Barbara Farmers Market photo by Bill Heller)

Thanksgiving Holiday Proclamation

By Sharon Byrne

One Thanksgiving, our family, consisting of ex-Brits, cancelled Czechs, and 1st generation American kids, had a bit of a discussion on this American holiday. My father asked us if we knew which president had made Thanksgiving permanently a national holiday?

First-Thanksgiving-LincolnI guessed Abraham Lincoln, surprising him. After all, wasn’t it mostly a northern celebration, originating with the Pilgrims in 1621? Wouldn’t earlier presidents have proclaimed Thanksgivings? And indeed they had. Washington and Adams both proclaimed Thanksgiving Day holidays in their respective presidencies. Jefferson skipped it, but Madison renewed it in 1814. From then on, states tended to set their own Thanksgiving holidays, often at different times of the year.

But Lincoln would be sorely tested at the task of holding the new nation together when it erupted into strife before even turning 100. What other president would have desperately needed to remind Americans of their beginnings in braving a long sea voyage and carving a new life out of the wild forests of the New World? What better way to remind Americans that they are first and foremost Americans, than by remembering that hard won first feast, and calling everyone in the nation to do the same? Making it a permanent, official holiday would evoke one American People to celebrate our origins and success created out of hard scrabble, in unity.

Now that, folks, is politics at its finest. At this time of reds vs blues, coast vs flyover states, the 99%, and other internal divisions in our nation, we might do well to remember we’ve been divided before, but our union held. We might also want to give thanks that these present divisions aren’t accompanied by military occupation of our homes and cities, civil war and strife.

Here is the text of the Thanksgiving Holiday proclamation, written by Secretary of State William Seward:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Thanksgiving Memories

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150It’s always been the best holiday: this day set aside for giving thanks instead of getting things. Of course, having friends and family gathered together for one terrific meal adds to the possibilities, especially when everyone is on their most mannerly behavior—deferring discussion about political or religious differences, dieting or workout schedules, or problems with children, spouses or on the job.

It’s a day to eat, drink and be merry. And to remember some standout Thanksgiving holidays.

 The Thanksgiving of childhood. Mama was never happier than when she was cooking for the entire extended family—and Thanksgiving gave her a way to blend the New World celebration with Old Country ways.  The November holiday was just a warm-up to the weeks-long Christmas extravaganza, but still a triumph.

There never was a children’s table; we kids always sat with the adults, minded our manners and ate what was dished up for us without whining or arguing. But everything was so good and we so clearly felt the love around that table that we stayed as long as possible.

It bothered my non-Sicilian father greatly that on this most American holiday, Mama stuffed the turkey with some kind of mixture of rice, hamburger meat, and Italian sausage all bound together with distinctively Italian herbs and spices. He grew up in the Midwest, and as far as he was concerned stuffing was made with bread and not to be messed with. It was the subject of much discussion between my parents every single year.

But in her dining room, the turkey was hardly the star of the show—not when a holiday—any holiday—meant heaping platters of homemade pasta and meatballs; roasted meats including lamb and rabbit; and a table of desserts that could have stocked a neighborhood bakery. There were pies, cakes, Italian cookies, cheesecake and always the labor-intensive cannoli. Then came the fruits, nuts and candies and hours around the table. We kids lingered until were finally dismissed to go play in the “little room” stocked with toys and games while the adults played penny poker long into the night.

The Thanksgiving of the land. Twenty-eight years ago this year, many of those same people around that table of my childhood gathered at my aunt and uncle’s home for a more traditional Thanksgiving celebration. I had just met a guy who wrote the hiking column for the L.A. Times, and I was working as the editor of a magazine called “California Scenic.” Both of us had been invited to the East Mojave Desert for a post-Thanksgiving tour led by staffers of then-Senator Alan Cranston, who was working on saving vast areas of the California desert lands.

When I explained to my uncle that I’d be leaving soon after dinner to drive out to the desert with my new friend, he misunderstood and thought I was going with the Senator. My uncle was born in Holland and sometimes things got lost in translation. He finally figured it out, once I married that hiking guy, he would ask me “How’s your boyfriend, Alan Cranston?”

Back in those days, there was still the post-Thanksgiving Barstow-to-Vegas off-road race that wrecked havoc with the fragile desert environment. It was finally banned and the hiker guy and I fell in love with each other and the desert. We returned there many times during our courtship and after our marriage and created a map and wrote a book about that special desert land.

After the retirement of Sen. Cranston, Senator Dianne Feinstein continued his work. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act into law. The East Mojave is now known as “Mojave National Preserve,” and it’s a magical place that was well-worth the time, investment and work it took to help save it.

The Thanksgiving of the heart. A few years ago, that uncle who had a sense of adventure and a good sense of humor was admitted to the hospital a few days before Thanksgiving. He and my aunt—my grandmother’s daughter, who prepared just a bit less elaborate Thanksgiving meals—spent the day together. Alone. In the hospital.

They perked up when my husband, our son and I arrived unannounced. We had packed up a Thanksgiving meal and brought it to them: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing, pumpkin pie. The Works. Some kind nurses allowed us to use their microwave, and when brought those steaming plates to them, it was the greatest feeling ever. It was a Thanksgiving like no other—a small celebration in an unfamiliar room far from home.  But like those Thanksgiving holidays of my childhood, all the right people were present, and it was filled with love and abundance.

Mama, Sen. Alan Cranston, Uncle Bill have all moved on now, and we can hope they’re all in a better place. They leave us with vivid holiday memories, and we give thanks.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

State of the Schools: Dr. Cash Leads the Way

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150Superintendent David Cash gave his annual State of the Schools address at a well-attended breakfast meeting at the Hyatt on Thursday. He saved the best for last, concluding his remarks with the declaration, “The state of the school in Santa Barbara; they’re good. And thank you for that.”

Union Bank and the Santa Barbara Education Foundation sponsored the event, and foundation president Craig Price introduced Dr. Cash, noting his “…boundless energy and considerable skills,” which have had such an effect on the district’s tone, buzz and positive attitude. “Good things are happening in the Santa Barbara Unified School District,” he noted.

In his three years on the job, the majordomo of the District has shown that he subscribes to the old maxim of “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Since he’s been on the job, he has undeniably been the leader as the District has been reinvigorated, perhaps even reimagined with a strategic plan that emphasizes three main goals. In his address, Cash detailed the consistent progress made on them:
1) Implementing Common Core State Standards
2) Creating technology learning environments across the district
3) Developing a strong foundation of culturally proficient classrooms.

He emphasized that this has been a time of “Change, change, change,” and acknowledged, “Change is tough.” That change has included several aims, including a focus on student, family and community engagement; organizational transformation extending to budget documents; restorative approaches to discipline issues; a facilities master plan, and almost 100 percent green practices.

“No student is anonymous, every one is recognized by someone who actually connects with them,” he declared.

Cash continued with explanations about several issues, including the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) reform measure in how schools are funded; he spoke about academic data that indicates that trends are up in the areas of students taking the SAT and ACT (as well as their scores); in those who complete the A-G requirements to prepare for college admission; and those English Language learners who are reclassified to fluent and proficient.

He addressed other trend lines that are on their way down, including use of alcohol and binge drinking, use of marijuana, as well as suspensions and expulsions.

And he noted many examples of enrichment programs that are providing our students with opportunities in the visual and performing arts; in music and afterschool sports programs. He singled out several innovations that are working, including the Core Knowledge and project-based learning at the Community Academy; dual immersion at Adelante; Montessori classrooms at Adams; the GATE magnet school at Washington; the Open Alternative School partnership with Antioch; the International Baccalaureate program at Harding; and several partnerships with colleges, nonprofits, the City and the County.

Before concluding his remarks, he observed that 2016 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and invited all to participate in the observation of 150 great years—and launch into the next 150 years. The most important way for individuals to support the schools, he suggested, is to become part of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation—the nonprofit that is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

The Foundation distributed “Seeds of Hope,” actual flower packets, with an insert that read in part, “Seeds represent hope. They are the start of something wonderful…For 30 years, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation has quietly sowed the seeds of hope by supporting all students K-12 in the Santa Barbara Unified School District. With the help of the community the Education Foundation provides support for music, science, art and early childhood development programs.”

For more information about the Santa Barbara Education Foundation:

For more information about the Santa Barbara Unified School District: