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John Muir, My Neighbor



I grew up in Alhambra Valley where John Muir's pear orchards dotted the landscape. At the end of our street, his small family graveyard rested, tucked under the trees, encircled by a low cement wall. My family owned his granddaughter’s house, a fifties rancher, and we loved it. Muir was of the era when landowners were bringing in eucalyptus trees from Australia to plant on their property, because they made good windbreaks. A few huge eucalyptus trees are still in the area, planted by Muir and his father-in-law Dr. John Strentzel. This was a rare white eucalyptus hovering over his family graveyard. I hope it is still upright.


My childhood home is on Wanda Way, the street named for Muir's daughter Wanda. There are about forty homes situated there. Years ago, the bridge over Alhambra Creek at the end of the street became unsafe and was removed, making Wanda dead-end.


During last week's huge storm, we had wind gusts up to sixty mph. I heard that some of the big trees in the valley were blown down and drove over to see. One had fallen across the entrance to Wanda Way, trapping the homeowners for a short time. Its circumference looked to be about fifteen feet. We were told, growing up, that many of these huge trees were planted by Muir himself, so they are quite aged. Born in 1838, he would have been 185 years old this year. I wish I had seen the tree down on the ground. When I arrived, it had been cut up and mostly removed but the keeled-over stump remained. The big tree had fallen exactly where my bus stop shack used to teeter on the edge of the creek.


I have always loved to sing and as a little kid, I'd ride my bike to Muir's gravesite. The graves were enclosed by a step-over cement wall. Several family members are buried there. Muir, his wife Louie, his Strentzel in-laws, and a few others. I used to sit against his gravestone and sing my heart out. There were no homes nearby at that time, so I only sang for him, having no idea who he really was.


Yesterday, with my memories stirred, I drove to the old gravesite. Years have passed since I was last there and what a shock. Tall fencing with a locked gate surrounds an area so large, it’s impossible to see the graveyard from the fence. Now it is part of the National Park system, as is his huge Italianate Victorian mansion, which sits on a rise overlooking the town of Martinez about two miles away. I might go back to the revisit sometime when the park is open. Though, I might want to save the scene in my memories. Whatever you feel about John Muir, the place felt peaceful and sacred to me. Now, it is hard to believe I once had it all to myself.


John Muir Day, April 21st.


The Value of John Muir Day "John Muir Day", celebrated each April 21, provides us with a day to recognize the modern ecological insight that humankind is a part of Nature, and that our well-being, our very survival depends upon an ecologically sound natural environment.

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