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In the News - Friday, September 24, 2010


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)



Naming names: The origins of Sequoia

by Brian Rothhammer

  How the world’s tallest and most massive trees came to be known by the name Sequoia is an enduring mystery. The earliest written description of them is by Father Juan Crespi on October 10, 1769.
   Crespi was the diarist for the Portolà mission, the first European expedition by land to explore the coastal regions of California. Encountering the astonishing trees near Monterey Bay he named them Palo Colorado, or Red Trees.
   These coastal redwoods were designated Taxodium sempervirens, or evergreen cypress, when samples sent to England were examined in 1823. Later, in 1847, German botanist Stephen Endlicher renamed them Sequoia sempervirens, the name by which they are still referred.
   By then their cousins, the Sierra redwoods, had been “discovered” by members of the Joseph Walker expedition of 1833. The trees they described were in the Merced and Tuolumne groves of present-day Yosemite National Park.
   In 1858 Hale Tharp came upon a large grove of the most massive trees in the world while grazing cattle in what would become Sequoia National Park. When Tharp showed the grove to naturalist John Muir, the delighted Muir named it “Giant Forest.”
   Botanists examining samples of the Sierran redwoods soon found it evident that they were a species apart from their coastal relatives.  With egos, politics, and glory at stake, no less than 13 different botanical names were assigned to these remarkable works of nature.
English botanists preferred Wellingtonia gigantea, after the Duke of Wellington. Americans countered with such names as Americus gigantea, Washingtonia Californica, and the like before settling on Sequoia giganteum, which later became Sequoiadendron giganteum, as it is known today.
   So why Sequoia? Though disputed, popular theory is that Endlicher named the trees for a remarkable Native American who between 1809 and 1821 had single-handedly developed a system of writing that gave the gift of literacy to his people. On documents, he signed the characters for S si Qua ya, but the common English spelling of his name is Sequoyah.
   Sequoyah did not speak, read, or write English, but devised a system in which a symbol, or character, would represent each of the 84 syllables of the Cherokee language. Within a few short years almost every Cherokee could read, and a bilingual newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, was founded that exists to this day.
   Endlicher left no record or reference to why he chose the name Sequoia, but Sequoyah’s achievement was hailed worldwide, and perhaps the botanist chose to honor him. In 1890, when the nation’s second national park was formed in the southern Sierra Nevada, the name Sequoia was chosen because of the groves of Big Trees the park was charged with protecting.

Former Sequoia ranger

named Sitka superintendent

  Randy Larson, who served at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks from 1993 to 2001, has been named the new superintendent at Sitka National Historical Park, Alaska. He officially assumes that park’s top job on September 26.
   While the Larsons were living in Three Rivers, sons Brian and Kyle graduated from Three Rivers School. Brian is currently working for ESPN in Connecticut while Kyle is seeking a Ph.D. in math at the University of Texas.
   Wife Roberta, who most recently with her husband was a resident of Gustavus, Alaska, will relocate to the historic community of Sitka.
Randy, a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, has a NPS career spanning 26 years that also included stints at nine other parks in addition to his eight years at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. His last position here was as supervisory park ranger. He departed the local parks in 2001 to take the chief ranger position at Padre Island National Seashore.
   Randy said recently that as a youth he was already thinking about the possibilities of a NPS career.

  “Our family took driving vacations every year, and from a very young age I learned what the national park experience was all about,” he said. “Those trips defined my appreciation for the preservation of our natural, historical and cultural heritage – all of which are important to Sitka National Historical Park.”
   Larson’s new task will be to turn around a park that has recently had its superintendent removed and has been known for its low morale. Earlier this year, an internal report stated that of the 16 permanent employees, 13 had left or were making plans to leave.
   On May 5, prior to the start of the busy summer season, Larson replaced the former superintendent, Mary Miller, on an interim basis. His former position was that of chief ranger at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
   Larson said he is looking forward to his new post at Sitka.

  “Both our urban setting and our cooperating partnerships with key local stakeholders are significant to me,” Larson said. “The sharing of the history and traditions of Sitka National Historical Park with the local community and visitors is enhanced by our partnerships. I fully intend to expand on past work to build stronger ties with tribal organizations and Sitka’s cultural museums and associations.”
   Sitka National Historical Park was preserved as a federal park for the Sitka community in 1890. In order to further protect the hallowed ground of the Battle of 1804, the park was formally designated Sitka National Monument by President William Howard Taft in 1910.
   The park was redesignated Sitka National Historical Park by Congress in 1972 when the Russian Bishops House was acquired.

In brief... (Sequoia edition)

Sheep Fire growth causes area closures
   It’s the prescribed fire that’s like the Energizer bunny. Started by a lightning strike in July it keeps growing and growing. On Wednesday, Interagency officials announced that the creeping complex of blazes had charred 7,887 acres; 4,798 acres in Sequoia National Forest (including the 18-acre Marvin Fire) and 3,089 in Kings Canyon National Park north of Cedar Grove.
   Warmer temperatures in the weekend forecast will increase fire activity; visitors to the Cedar Grove area should anticipate significant periods of smoke.
   Closures remain in effect for the Don Cecil and Rattlesnake trails in Kings Canyon National Park; closures are also in effect in Sequoia National Forest between Horse Corral Meadow and the south side of Highway 180 and from Boulder Creek east of the boundary with Kings Canyon National Park.

National parks welcome new citizens
   Twenty National Parks across the country conducted a series of citizenship ceremonies between September 13 and 24 in celebration of Constitution Day (September 17) and Citizenship Week (September 27 to October 1). The theme for the ceremonies was “Embrace Citizenship: Experience America through Your National Parks.”
   On Wednesday, Sept. 15, a group of 32 Central Valley residents took their citizenship oath beneath the towering branches of the General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon National Park. The new citizens hailed from 13 nations: 17 from Mexico, three from India, and two from the Philippines Also represented were China, El Salvador, Lebanon, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Japan, Iran, Guatemala and New Zealand.

Alternatives available for Kings Canyon concessions
   With the Kings Canyon current concessions contract scheduled to end October 31, 2011, the Park Service is preparing a prospectus for a new contract and is seeking public comments on some preliminary alternatives.
   The restaurant in the Grant Grove complex is in need of a total rehab project so alternatives are being proposed.
   In terms of lodging, either current accommodations would be maintained or 20 new tent cabins could be added. There are also alternatives being proposed that would maintain current employee housing at Wormwood despite its substandard condition.
   Park planners are requiring that all comments be received by October 23, 2010. For more information or to make comments online log onto: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/seki.
   Comments may also be mailed to Superintendent, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Attn: Kings Canyon Prospectus Preliminary Alternatives, 47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers, CA 93271.
Information: 565-3131.

History of a man and his work

Timely Exposures:

The Life and Images

of C.C. Curtis,

Pioneer California Photographer

by Jackie McDougall Weiner

Self-published, 2009

158 pages, hardcover


  This glossy, hardcover book belongs both on the coffee table and in the research stacks. Timely Exposures is a pictorial album and a biography of the photographer.
   The book chronicles the life of C.C. Curtis, 19th century photographer and Kaweah Colony member. As a result of his association with the controversial Colony, many of the Kaweah Colony photos in circulation today were taken by Charles Clifford Curtis.
   In the book, there are “four new Kaweah Colony photographs and a Traver map of the Colony office,” said the author Jackie Weiner. In fact, in 2009, more than 50 glass plate negatives and several rarely before seen Curtis photographs were discovered, adding yet another dimension to Jackie’s dream of publishing this memoir.
   The author is a former ranger at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, where she worked for 15 years. Her research began when she became curious about the lumbering of giant sequoias.
   In addition to documenting life in the Kaweah Colony, the book contains dozens of C.C. Curtis photos that bear witness to the assault on the giant sequoia groves by lumbermen. There is a nearly frame-by-frame account of the cutting of the General Noble Tree in 1892.
   This is the tree that the following year was on display at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was hollowed out, cut into 50 sections, and hauled down the mountain by wagon, then shipped to Chicago by train, where it was reassembled. The remains of this giant sequoia are today called the Chicago Stump. It is located in the Converse Basin.
   And speaking of stumps, at one point, C.C. Curtis and his wife Maria lived in their home and studio that was built on top of a felled sequoia stump.
   The book contains more than 125 black-and-white photographs. It is currently available at park visitor centers and from the Tulare County Historical Society.

s i g n s

  As one may imagine, the sign shop in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is a bustling place. There are road signs, and signs in parking lots and campgrounds and signs posted at strategic points along the parks’ vast network of trails.

  There are signs at trailheads, visitor attractions, entrance stations, and historic structures. There are street signs, and signs are also needed for resource protection (Don’t Feed the Bears!); specialty events; plaques, awards, and gifts; and exhibits, displays, and other informational purposes.

  And then there are the most photographed signs of all: the park entrance signs, such as Sequoia National Park’s Indian head sign and Kings Canyon National Park’s beautiful granite and wood sign. The sign shop also maintains these thousands of signs, the majority of which are outside in the elements where temperatures might reach over 100 degrees or below zero.
   Steve Esson was the parks’ sign maker from 1995 to 2010; previously, he was a sign maker at Yosemite National Park since 1985. Under Steve’s leadership, many sign projects were completed including, in 2009, the new signs at every trailhead in the Mineral King area of Sequoia (special pictorial of the new trailhead signs only in the September 24, 2010, print edition).

  This same sign design will soon be at every trailhead in Sequoia-Kings Canyon. These signs are a collaborative effort between the sign shop and the Division of Interpretation.

  Steve also designed a seat with a granite top that may someday be incorporated into each sign structure. Backpackers could then have the luxury of comfortably sitting to load and unload their packs.
   After 25 years, Steve, who resides in Three Rivers, retired from the Park Service on May 31, 2010, stating this was “the greatest job I’ve ever had.” These days, Marcy Frazier is the parks’ sign maker. She will carry on the standard of excellence that was set by the sign makers who came before and set the bar high for those who will follow.


'Environmental Weekend'

features Home Tour

by Mona Fox Selph

   The long hot summer is over, and that means it is time for one of my favorite things: The Green Home Tour, part of Three Rivers Environmental Weekend. Every year, I have been inspired by the creativity of the architects, builders, and that of the homeowners themselves, such as the driftwood door archways in one of the homes last year.
   As an artist, I am especially appreciative of the colors and textures integrated into the designs throughout, the unusual materials, the play of light, the thoughtful use of space, and the individual qualities of each that speaks to who the owners are and their way of life. Each home was designed by a different architect, and two were owner-built; the other three were constructed by Pete Crandall and company.
   As part of the American Solar Energy Society’s annual home tour, each of the homes must have either passive or active solar features. In addition, the homes on our tours make use of many other green features to reduce the carbon footprint for a better and more sustainable world.
Crandall Construction uses a lot of natural and recycled materials: rammed earth, natural stone, telephone poles, wine tanks and used wood, and hand-forged metal details, etc. Somehow it all comes together in the most beautiful compositions.
   The homes on this year’s tour use many different approaches for energy efficiency, including thick walls and insulation, insulated concrete forms, overhangs, heated floors (solar and otherwise), photovoltaic panels (owned or leased), and solar and on-demand water heaters. One incorporates a cooling tower, an Old World desert concept used to push hot air from the interior up and out in a sort of Venturi effect. Nearly all have vegetable gardens.
   One of the homes is the Opie-Burleigh Glass House, which won Sunset magazine’s Small Space Award this year. What makes it   especially “green” is its small size, small amount of disruption of the environment, and lack of waste in construction.
   It also uses hydronic radiant heating, photovoltaic electricity, and solar water heating. It was designed as a kit and shipped to the site for assembly.
   In the past, our tours have supported Habitat for Humanity’s green building fund and Sierra Nevada Alliance for TCCRG. This year, proceeds will go to the Sierra Club legal defense fund to promote responsible growth rather than sprawl.
   The cost is $15 per person or $25 per couple. The two tour groups will leave from the Valley Oak Credit Union parking lot at noon and 1 p.m. in car caravans. For reservations, call 561-4676.


Ballymaloe Cookery School

Part Four: Soups

by Tina St. John

  This is the fourth installment in a continuing series about the author’s two-week visit last month to the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in rural County Cork, Ireland. Previous installments may be found in the Newspaper Archives on this site: September 3, 10, 17, 2010).

* * *

  Even though it was summertime in Ireland when I attended the school, the weather was still on the cool side. I remember one day in particular, the temperatures had hit an all time high of 70 degrees. One of the cooks had commented to me how hot it was.

  “Hot?” I politely suggested to her that perhaps she hadn’t experienced hot weather yet.
   I found it to be ideal as it was never cold but rather cool. Only one day was it misty, which turned to rain later on that afternoon. However, because of the mild weather, soup on the menu was a common and most welcomed dish.
   I learned the value of a good stock, chicken or vegetable. Being a vegetarian, I was happy to know that a well-prepared vegetable stock can be just as delicious as any chicken stock. However, a good stock is an excellent base that lends to a straightforward pot of soup.
   Another thing I learned about soup is how many ways you can serve it with presentation and types of breads. The possibilities are endless and when included, make all the difference in enjoying a meal.
   For instance, placing a serving in a ceramic bowl of any size, whether serving single portions or a larger quantity, makes the soup tempting. Think Tuscany.
   Place the bowl on a old wooden cutting board with some rustic breads, such as Ballymaloe Brown Bread or even some savory scones. Place a handful of rosemary sprigs alongside the bread knife.
   Remember the small detailed touches of beauty suggest that you as the cook have put thought and heart into your meal. Doesn’t that sound delicious?
   With the winter months on the horizon, soup is on.
   Bon Appetit!


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