Feeling Nostalgic For a Better Future

By Bob Ferris

Santa Barbara Anniversary Trip 2014 001

OK, I am feeling nostalgic today.  In part it is because of the treasures (or detritus) I find on my desk.  To wit: 
1—An old Herder’s folding knife I bought more than 50 years ago from the Eddie Bauer catalog when they were actually outfitters.
2—A copy of Animal Heroes by Ernest Thompson Seton (1905) stamped with the mysterious name Prassede Calabi on the backside of the frontispiece (thank you Suzanne Stone).
3—A Tarahumara Indian pine needle basket filled with paper clips, fool’s gold and an old wood screw (thank you Scotty Johnson).   
4—A vintage M.A. Hadley sailing ship coffee mug with “low tide” emblazoned on the bottom (thanks Dad).
Also contributing to this reflectiveness were a recent discussion about the Rev. William J. Long, Theodore Roosevelt and the “nature faker” controversy with friend and supporter Shawn Donnille of Mountain Rose Herbs and a piece I wrote about some of the nonsensical, anti-wolf rhetoric coming out of Guy Eastman.  Collectively, they made me think about times past.  Times not so much in my past but within reach of my past through people I have known and experiences touched and molded by that past.  For me touching the past is often a gateway for envisioning the future.
RJ Settles 1911I come from a family of readers and also writers in an avocational sense.  Two of my great-grandmothers were writers and my grandmother too.   In fact, my grandmother ties this all together (sort of) in that she—just before she married my grandfather—co-authored an article for Field and Stream magazine (February 1916) about her camping experiences in and around Seward, Alaska just before the Roaring Twenties burst onto the scene.  
My grandfather (pictured at left in 1911 near Lake Tahoe) was in Alaska with the newly formed Forest Service and my grandmother was pretty much the schoolmarm who had followed her sister and banker brother-in-law to Alaska for adventure.  Their chance meeting in Seward eventually produced my mother.  
I bring up Field and Stream magazine because it is a little like the violin in the movie The Red Violin in that a story can be told through time around it.  Field and Stream was born and matured during the early days of the conservation movement.  This was a time when Abercrombie and Fitch (named after real people) was a respected adventure brand that sold high-end expedition equipment and was the first such store to carry outdoor attire for women.  I visited the old A&F store once in San Francisco before it closed and it was like a candy shop for a young boy enthralled by the out-of-doors.  
Eddie Bauer, also a real person, grew up during this time in Cascadia and was having the cold weather experiences that ultimately led to his development of quilted down apparel and sleeping bags that launched his own outdoor gear empire.  He too would likely not recognize his brand today.
This period also saw the launch of Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts in America with naturalist and conservationist Ernest Thompson Seton writing the first US Boy Scout manual in 1911.  Seton was a former trapper who captured the famous wolf "Lobo" and through that process–much like Aldo Leopold–realized that wolves needed to be preserved rather than persecuted and annihilated.  
You can see his respect for predators throughout the first US Boy Scout manual and then more directly in the imagery and symbolism of Webelowthe Cub Scouts.  The Cub Scout animal totems were wolves, bears, and lions (WEBELOS until the latter 1960s meant wolves, bears and lions) directly taken from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book with “packs” and “dens” being led by Akela—Kipling’s wise wolf.  It should be noted here that “respect for predators” in this context does not mean that they are never killed or managed, but that they are not treated disrespectfully, cruelly or targeted for persecution. 
This period—1907-1951—was also the time of Eltinge F. Warner who took control of a failing Field and Stream magazine in 1908.  Mr. Warner was a Princeton educated mid-Westerner who fully embraced conservation, understood the value of science, was mainly respectful of wildlife agencies.  As a result he was able, with the help of managing editor Warren Hastings Miller, to attract world-class writers and outdoors people such as Ernest Thompson Seton, Aldo Leopold, Gifford Pinchot, and Zane Grey. 
The magazine also served for a time as the house organ for the Campfire Fire Club of America founded by William Hornaday of bison preservation fame who wanted  to create an everyman Boone and Crockett Club-like organization.  That is not to say that there were not some questionable antics described by writers on its pages during this period like shooting mountain goats from planes and roping cougars, but times were a little wilder then and all of this has to be taken within the context of the era.   
Warner was a classic, cigar-chomping publisher who dealt with a number of magazines including The Smart Set where he navigated a relationship with H.L. Menken.  He was also rumored to have been the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Eltynge in The Beautiful and the Damned and he served as an early movie producer for Zane Greys’ westerns.  The point of this digression is that Warner was cosmopolitan, progressive and he along with his magazine were also excellent ambassadors for hunting, angling and other outdoor pursuits.  In short, he acted as a connecter bringing together diverse people, disciplines and viewpoints. This strikes me as a sharp contrast to the actions of folks like Guy Eastman or the infamous and alienating Phil Robertson of Duck Commando fame.
In fly fishing a good backcast is essential for a good forward cast. I think the same is true for conservation.  As we look to find ways forward and past the manufactured divisiveness we now see, one of the first steps in my mind is understanding our true roots.  The productive successes wrought by those early pioneers in conservation were accomplished by progressive thinkers who consistently embraced science, fought exploitative industries and actions, had strong ethical codes, looked for ways to work together and had respect for animals—including predators. When we pick or support our future leaders, they should cut a similar profile.


One thought on “Feeling Nostalgic For a Better Future

  1. Kim says:



    Great piece.  I think our look back should also include the late 1960s- early 1970s, when Republilcans were creating the EPA, signing the Endangred Species Act into law, banning DDT by exectutive order…names like McCall, Evans were forward thinking Western governors who loved the mountains and shores of Oregon and Washington.  Nixon was one of the last great environmental presidents, seriously!  


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