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Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace
Newsletter No. 6, July 2008 Dear friends, It has been a busy time since the last newsletter. We were delighted to be involved once again in welcoming a group from Yosemite Junior School and arranging their programme. Treasurer Will Collin and his wife, Val, hosted the parents of one of the children and our secretary Susan Panton with husband Jim did likewise with two of the children. Will and Val also accompanied the group on their mini tour of John Muir’s Scotland. So with complimentary fish and chips from the Central Café and a high speed trip on the RNLI Lifeboat, I believe they were well satisfied with their visit. Earlier the Birthplace was delighted to accept from Mrs Simpson a maquette of the statue of the Boy Muir which stands in the High Street here in Dunbar and it is now housed on the top floor of the Birthplace. Mrs Simpson’s grandson was the model for the statue. The Tree and Wine night was most interesting and the tasting of the various goodies was enjoyed by all who attended. Our sandcastle competition has had to be postponed until 23rd August as the original date clashed with Lifeboat Day, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Dunbar Station. For those of you about to go on holiday, have a happy time and to all Friends, we would be delighted for you to come in and see us at the Birthplace. Yours aye,
John Muir House Superintendent Visits Birthplace
On 3 May, US National Parks Service superintendent Martha Lee visited Dunbar with her cousin Stirling University psychology professor Phyllis Lee. Martha succeeded Glenn Fuller, an earlier Birthplace visitor, as the person responsible for the John Muir home in Martinez in 2005. With a BA degree from California’s Stanford University and 25 years NPS experience, she is well qualified for the demanding role of running the John Muir House National Historic Site and three other NPS sites in California’s Contra Costa county. Among earlier NPS posts have been periods as editor-in-chief for Yosemite National Park, curator of Yosemite Museum and Hetch Hetchy programme manager, coordinating NPS responsibilities with the city and county of San Francisco for the Tuolumne River watershed and the O'Shaughnessy Dam. After a guided walk round John Muir’s Dunbar in decidedly chilly conditions and lunch with Val and Will Collin, Martha and Phyllis spent some time looking round a busy Birthplace where families were enjoying a science demonstration workshop. Birthplace manager Jo Moulin and Martha then discussed the way forward to strengthen the existing links between Dunbar and Martinez. Staff exchanges between Muir’s first and final homes, pioneered in 2007 by Pauline Smeed who spent four weeks in Martinez, featured high on the agenda. It is hoped that another staff secondment will take place in 2009.
Other Visitors to the Birthplace
In the six weeks or so between John Muir’s birthday on 21 April and the beginning of June, those signing the Birthplace visitors book have continued to come ‘frae a’ the airts’. Scottish visitors ranged from St Boswells in the Borders to Shetland in the north. English counties in the order they appear in the book included Northumberland, Durham, South Yorkshire, Lancashire, Bucks, Beds, Hants, Devon, Derbyshire, Warwickshire, North Yorkshire, Worcs, Surrey, Leicestershire and Cumbria. In addition to a number of visitors from California, other US states included Oregon, Washington State, North Carolina and Kentucky while other countries included Canada, Norway, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Chile and New Zealand. Again, comments were hugely positive, complimentary and encouraging. They included “It is an honour and a treat to visit this house.” “Seriously memorable.” “Great to see the beginnings.” “A wonderful learning
experience.” “Lovely, inspiring and fascinating man he was.” The visitor from North Carolina wrote, “Very well done. Thanks for ‘sharing’ him.” From New Zealand came “Wonderful. May the world finally hear his words.” The Japanese visitor wrote, “At last, after a lifetime of admiration for John Muir, I visit here.” As a Friend of the Birthplace, please spread the word. As well as the Birthplace, there are John Muir’s Dunbar, the John Muir Clifftop Trail and, for those feeling a bit more energetic, the John Muir Way southwards to Berwickshire or northwards to North Berwick.
Dunbar School Pupils Visit Yosemite
Senior pupils and staff from Dunbar Grammar School left on Monday 23 June for their third trip to California, taking in San Francisco, Martinez and Yosemite Valley, where they will stay in the Valley school. We will try to include an account of their visit in our next newsletter.
Yosemite School Pupils Visit Dunbar
Dunbar has played host in June to a group of eight students, three staff, five parents and one former student from Yosemite Valley Elementary School in California. The school is sited close to the foot of Yosemite Falls and near the site of the cabin John Muir built in 1872. Led by school principal Catherine Soria, the party arrived in Dunbar from London on Friday 13 June and spent their first two nights with host families. A busy Saturday programme saw them visit the Birthplace and walk round John Muir’s Dunbar with Jim Thompson in the morning. They then followed the Civic Week parade to take part in the fun of the Primary School fete before a visit to Dunbar leisure pool and a pizza tea sponsored by Dunbar Community Council. Early on Sunday morning, the group, accompanied by Jo Moulin and Val and Will Collin, left Dunbar for a whirlwind tour of some of the places visited by John Muir during his 1893 return to Scotland. Among them were Inverness and the Great Glen where Urquhart Castle was a popular stopping point; Glencoe; Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. Badger watching on
Tuesday evening at New Lanark was followed on Wednesday by a look back to Robert Owen’s pioneering 18th century social revolution. Then it was back to Dunbar and on to Innerwick outdoor centre which was home for the next three nights. If it had been a busy time till then, Friday proved to be even busier. A trip on the school bus took the group to Dunbar Primary School for a whole school assembly with a decidedly Scottish flavour. Highland dancers, Scottish tunes expertly played by young violin and recorder soloists and a spirited recitation of part of Tam O’Shanter, one of John Muir’s favourites, were just some of the highlights. Another was a gymnastic display that had the audience holding its collective breath as the somersaults and tumbling got progressively more daring. Mrs Soria then presented a cheque for the RNLI to lifeboat coxswain Garry Fairbairn and engineer Kenny Peters, both former DPS pupils. The Yosemite students spent the rest of the morning with senior classes in the Primary School before moving to the Grammar School. There headteacher Paul Rafaelli, staff and senior pupils hosted a civic reception and lunch attended by, among others, East Lothian’s chief executive Alan Blackie, Dunbar Community Council chairman Stephen Bunyan, EL councillor Jacquie Bell and Friends convener Jim Thompson. The excellent buffet, songs and Highland dancing display were enjoyed by all. An afternoon trip to the Bass Rock, courtesy of Friends member and local fisherman Gordon Easingwood, had to be cancelled at midday because of the weather conditions. However, Garry, Kenny and the crew of Dunbar lifeboat came to the rescue and the group enjoyed a spectacular, high speed sail to the Bass and back before returning to Innerwick. That night, they played hosts at an American night at the outdoor centre as a ‘thank you’ and farewell. On Saturday 21 June, they travelled to Edinburgh to spend two days in the capital prior to the 6,000 mile journey back to California. This was the fourth visit by groups from Yosemite Valley School, the first being in 1999, 150 years after the Muir family left Dunbar for the New World.
[Photographs courtesy of Jim Thompson]
All Aboard Dunbar Lifeboat for the Yosemite School Pupils’ Bass Rock Trip
Yosemite School Pupils Receive Their John Muir Awards
Friends’ Bass Rock Boat Trip
[Friends would like to thank local fisherman and Friend Gordon Easingwood of the ‘Fisher Lassie’ and his brother George of the ‘Var Lisa’ for a wonderful evening sail round the Bass Rock. The following account is by Fiona Campbell.] On the evening of the 16th May, 18 Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace set off for a boat trip round the scenic coastline from Dunbar Harbour to Tantallon Castle. The evening sun glinting upon the North Sea and Dunbar Castle on our departure from the harbour was a terrific sight to see. A number of seals lying sunning themselves on a rock high above the tide was only the beginning of a number of excellent photo opportunities on the trip. As we made our way along the coastline, it was a wonderful surprise when Gordon steered the boat towards the Bass Rock. I had been admiring it from a distance not anticipating that we would actually venture that far. He managed to position the boat right at the foot of the Bass Rock, so that we were able to witness the fantastic spectacle of the hundreds of gannets nesting and flying around high above our heads. Our experience was heightened when Gordon began throwing fish over the side of the boat to attract the gannets to the water. They would literally dart into the water like torpedoes at such great speed you had to be quick to see them. Their acute accuracy was incredible when catching their targeted fish in their beaks. It was interesting to see how these colonies arranged themselves and how they built their nests. The birds were using all sorts of things to build their nests; one in particular had found some fishing net so that it's bright, orange-netted nest stood out from the others on the rock. As the sun began to set the silhouette-like appearance of all these hundreds of birds looked incredible against the warm colours in the sky. We began our journey back to Dunbar, after a very enjoyable couple of hours together out at sea.
[Photographs courtesy of Susan Panton and Fiona Campbell]
Friends’ Bass Rock Boat Trip Above: Leaving Dunbar Left: Seals off Dunbar Below: Fisher Lassie and North Berwick Law
Fisher Lassie arrives at Bass Rock
Bass Rock Gannets
Friends’ Talk by Professor Fred Last
On the evening of Wednesday, 26th March, Professor Fred Last, the first President of DJMA, gave a fascinating talk about Phenology. Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena such as the dates of the first occurrence of natural events in their annual cycle. Fred’s phenological studies have specifically concentrated on recording the first flowering dates in East Lothian between 1978 and 2006. Fred’s dedication to his research, his findings, and the enthusiasm with which he presented these, made his presentation highly enjoyable and though-provoking, and gave a fascinating insight into how flowering dates contribute to the evidence of global warming. As the theme of the talk suggested, Fred has been monitoring the many specifies of plants in his garden near Longniddry for thirty years or more and has meticulously recorded their first flowering dates over that time. There can be few scientific studies conducted by one person that can match this level of dedication and longevity and it was a privilege to hear first hand the results of Fred’s life work. It is hoped that in a future newsletter more details can be given of Fred’s research methodology and his interpretation of the data.
New Edition of ‘John Muir’s Dunbar’
Birthplace staff member and local historian David Anderson has been working away over the winter on a rewrite of John Muir’s Dunbar. The present edition is now 10 years old and still sells steadily. However, it has almost sold out and the opportunity has been taken to revamp the popular guide to the old part of the town that John Muir knew. The book has now been considerably extended and new photographs and a new map have been added. The cover layout will be similar to Friends’ other publications, giving the four a recognisable ‘house’ style. David has given generously of his own time and he passed on his text to Friends a number of weeks ago. Since then, it has been edited and is now with Source Design, Edinburgh, who were responsible for the other publications. It is hoped that it will be on the shelves at the Birthplace by the middle of July. It can be ordered for postal delivery from Will Collin, 2 Rosebery Place, Dunbar, EH42 1AQ. It will be priced £3.50 and initially copies will be sent p&p free. (Unfortunately, this offer is only available to UK members.) Cheques should be made payable to DJMA.
John Muir the Botanist
Susan Panton writes: “When I think about John Muir the botanist, Samuel Hall Young’s very humorous account of Muir addressing and examining flower after flower as he leapt about the high mountain pasture in Alaska always springs to mind.” "Ah! my blue-eyed darlin', little did I think to see you here. How did you stray away from Shasta? … Ah ! I thought I'd find you, my homely little sweetheart," and so on unceasingly. One plant after another, with its sand-covered roots, went into his pockets, his handkerchief and the "full" of his shirt, until he was bulging and sprouting all over, and could carry no more. He was taking them to the boat to analyze and compare at leisure. Then he began to requisition my receptacles. I stood it while he stuffed my pockets, but rebelled when he tried to poke the prickly, scratchy things inside my shirt. I had not yet attained that sublime indifference to physical comfort, that Nirvana of passivity, that Muir had found.
Alaska Days with John Muir, S. Hall Young, 1915
Those interested in Muir’s botanising may be interested in a new publication: Nature’s Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy This is a beautiful new hardback publication written by Bonnie J Gisel, curator of the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite. It is illustrated with striking images of Muir’s own botanical specimens by photographer Stephen J. Joseph. Nature’s Beloved Son examines Muir’s evolving relationship with the natural world, touching on his childhood in Scotland and Wisconsin, his soujorn in Canada, his thousand-mile walk from Louisville, Kentucky, to the Gulf of Mexico, his ecstatic travels in California’s Sierra Nevada, and his thrilling exploration of Alaska. John Muir’s Birthplace has been offered a 40% discount on this book if we pre-order more than 5 copies. Price to Friends would be in the region of £13 plus shipping cost. We would like to gauge interest in this book1, so if you are interested in buying a copy please leave your name with Susan Panton at John Muir’s Birthplace: 01368 865899.
Cloth 256 pages, 9x12 inches, 150 historical and botanical images. Published by Heyday.
Walks and Talks programme – Autumn 2008
From this autumn, our regular Walks and Talks programme will take place on the first Wednesday of each month. There will also be the occasional daytime activities such as conservation volunteering. We plan to let you know about these events in good time, but please feel free to wander into the Birthplace and look at Friends section on the new notice board. You will also find out what other local environmental groups are doing.
Sat 23rd Aug Sand Sculpture Competition, 12noon–4pm, weather permitting. Bring spades and a picnic lunch! Wed 3rd Sep Wed 1st Oct Wed 5th Nov Walk the NEW John Muir’s Dunbar, 7:30pm, meet at JMB. Guided walk. AGM and guest speaker, 7.30pm. JMB Yosemite painters and photographers ,7.30pm. JMB. Talk by Will Collin
Walk around John Muir’s Dunbar
Free guided walks leave from JMB on Wednesdays at 11am and Thursdays at 3pm. Find out more about Victorian Dunbar and visit Muir’s childhood haunts. Please phone JMB on 865899 to book.
Official address: Friends of John Muir’s Birthplace, John Muir’s Birthplace, 126 High Street, Dunbar EH42 1JJ: tel: 01368 865899 Friends Website: www.muirbirthplacefriends.org.uk Birthplace Email: email@example.com Website: www.jmbt.org.uk Convener: Jim Thompson, Secretary: Susan Panton, Membership Sec: Duncan Smeed, Treasurer: Will Collin. All can be contacted through the Birthplace.
John Muir’s Birthplace is now open every day – 10 am to 5 pm from Monday to Saturday, and 1 pm to 5 pm on Sunday
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