Archive for the 'Nature' Category

Gary Sellers – Nader’s Raider, Eccentric, and All-Around Good Person

2 Degrees of Freedom from Ralph Nader

Last night I was half-watching a PBS Independent Lens program on Ralph Nader (“An Unreasonable Man“), when the program showed one of his first aides, or Nader’s Raiders as they were called, Gary Sellers.  I thought to myself, that man looks remarkably like a Gary Sellers I once knew 25 or so years ago. 

That Gary Sellers, though I had heard tales that he was a Washington Lawyer (which I frankly didn’t believe), lived in a tiny trailer up on Knobley Mountain in Short Gap, WV.  The trailer was in the middle of a cherry and apple orchard on the top of a hillside of a beautiful piece of property that overlooked the farms and rivers of the northern Potomac Highlands near Fort Ashby, WV.  On a clear day from up there, you could see for 40 miles.  It really was a lovely piece of land except that you had to drive by some sort of deep gravel pit on the way in and an oft-used coal mining road ran through the middle of the orchard (probably some of the reasons why he left in the late 1980s – and like many such places of beauty, this orchard is now a McMansion farm). 

Gary used to make friends by bartering his cherries for goods and services in town.  Which is how my family met him, when my step-father traded some car work for a “day pass” to the orchard.  This barter-system became a way of life for our family for many years and Gary became a family friend.  And if Gary didn’t need to barter in order to obtain life’s essentials, I knew no different.  For indeed, he seemed to live simply enough to me.   As far as I knew, his only possessions were whatever old, deteriorating car he happened to own at any given point and a small camper that sat among the overgrown weeds and fruit trees of his hillside orchard. 

In fact, had I not just potentially learned that he was once a lead assistant to Ralph Nader during Nader’s most productive period and afterward was indeed an active and diligent Washington lawyer as was always rumored, I would have continued to think of him as basically an aging hippie – perhaps a Timothy Leary who happened to like black cherries instead of LSD.  Furthering this belief, was the fact that Gary did not seem to be bothered by the basic concerns of life, such as money and transportation.  He drove what might once have been considered cars but had become broken-down wrecks.  And the fact they he could not be bothered by such mundane details as obtaining reliable transportation led to many misadventures (and sometimes even the need to borrow cash). 

In Memorium  

Pre-Google, I might have never been able to confirm who this televised Washington lawyer Gary Sellers was and probably would have chalked it all up to coincidence.  But I did look up this Gary Sellers, the Washington Lawyer, the one-time Nader ally and later Nader critic, champion of worker safety and openness in government, and indeed he was that Gary Sellers, the aging hippie and jalopy-driving cherry-monger living off the land.  Sadly, I learned this fact by reading his obituary in the Washington Post.  I was saddened to learn that he died last March, as way too many Americans still do (even with Nader’s safety efforts), in a car accident.  

Though I was only in my early teens, Gary always treated me well and in a way that teens respect and appreciate – like we were peers or friends.  He had a genuineness that kids are very keen at detecting (but are forced to turn off this filter later in life so we can later cope with the generally phoniness of the world).  To be sure, he was definitely an eccentric (as evidenced by the many light-hearted stories that are associated with him), but he was also exceedingly friendly and giving – in a word, the perfect aging hippie (albeit one with a secret alter-ego as a Washington lawyer).  

What better testament to a man is there than to be fondly remembered by all who knew him and to know that he left the world a better place (as he most certainly did through both orchard planting and safety regulations)?  With his work here now done, may he now be able to spend eternity tending to his black cherry trees on a beautiful hillside on the other side of heaven. 

Gary Sellers among the Cherry Blossums
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Sharks’ Teeth and the Sands of Time

The highlight of any middle-aged, inland, family-man like myself’s year is the annual trip to the beach.  This year was particularly momentous in that the family was able to visit 3 coastal areas in one pass: the Chesapeake, the Outer Banks, and Topsail Island.

While at Topsail Island, my wife got down low in the sand and started noticing many sharks’ teeth.  For the next 20 minutes the entire family was on the hunt for sharks teeth and found 20-30 in as many minutes by simply getting down low ourselves and looking for them.

Sharks Tooth Hand

This struck me on several levels:

1. How many small, obvious things like this do we miss in our own lives every day?
2. What if we had a similar reminder of our own fleeting mortality – such as human teeth washing ashore by the millions – would we take a larger view of our own affairs? 

I then got up from my crouched position and looked at all of the newly built beach houses around me.  Now, I was on Topsail Island 6 months after Hurrican Fran (11/96) in the spring of 1997 and the place was a disaster area – completely covered in sand and not a beach house to be seen except where particularly industrious owners had uncovered a few partial remnants. 

Perhaps these new beach dwellers could look atre the fossils in my hand and be just a little mindful of the relentless onslaught of the sea and the sands of time – for at least 10 years anyway. 

Seussologic Dendrology

I was corrected by someone with more knowledge of Seussology than myself that in my Joshua Tree post I appeared to have mixed up the Truffle and Tuttle -Tuttle Trees from Seusslore. 

The tree should have been identified as matching the shape of a Tuttle-Tuttle tree (as in “Ten Tired Turtles in a Tuttle-Tuttle Tree,” from Dr. Seuss’s ABC Book) instead of the Lorax Truffle tree.  Seen here thanks to the wonder of public domain images.  But wait, it gets worse, because in the Lorax, it is actually called a Truffula Tree.

Big T..Little t…What begins with T?  Tripping Tensile Tonsils on Tricky Tuttle-Tuttle, Truffle, and Truffula Trees.

In the Garden of the Gods with the Truffle-Truffle Trees

Probably the biggest (and only) role of government could be summed up as this: “Keep the big guys from stepping on little guys.”  This often means that we have to protect the public from itself.  For instance in the case of public parks, we need to keep people who want to enjoy nature and open spaces from people who need to use these spaces for commercial interests so they can have a job. 

Nowhere is this role better demonstrated and fulfilled than in the U.S. National Park Service.  Founded by President Teddy Roosevelt (even though you can barely tell by the poor coverage of this topic on their website), the National Park Service is government at its best.  One might argue that we could do without Big Bird and the Rural Electric Association, but managed open space in the form of national parks truly benefits all.

Boulder Beach

I got to enjoy a slice of this reserved open space on a recent trip to the high desert Joshua Tree National Park.  It is good (and should be a prerequisite) that as you drive to this park from LA that you see every available hill and mountaintop capped with multi-million dollar mansions.  It makes you appreciate this open space all the more and you quickly realize what might have happened without government intervention.

Truffle Truffle Tree

The park is best know for its desert landscape (the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet in the park), huge rockpiles, and, of course, the Joshua Tree.  The park’s namesake, the Joshua Tree, reportedly got its name from the Mormon immigrants who thought it looked like the Biblical Joshua beckoning their people from the desert to the promised land.

In describing these fantastic trees, even the normally reserved Park Service is forced to write something interesting. As Jane Rodgers does in her article (published on the web and in the literature given to visitors) “I Speak for the Trees” in which she compares them to trees from Dr. Seuss books and describes their history – oddly enough starting out as humble lilies.  Just as all living things are dependent and connected, the Joshua tree depends on the Yucca moth for pollination.  And the Yucca moth on the Joshua for seeds for its developing young -a simple and perfect example of symbiosis. 

Adapting and flourishing in one of the harshest environments in the United States, these trees are a fitting symbol for rugged American Indians and early pioneers: rugged, tough, adaptive, and utterly unique. 

Joshua Looks into the Valley