Every Year is a Vintage Year in Napa valley

Class of '84




 For the past 40 or so years, the weather, soil, improved viticulture and winemaking techniques have combined to produce highly prized wines in the Napa Valley. In fact, there is a common adage, “Every year is a vintage year for Napa Valley wines.” Early in the Biodesign evolution, I discovered that each succeeding class was a “vintage year.” Each class was a unique and therefore extraordinary blend of personalities that could not be repeated or duplicated. Furthermore, each class was typically convinced that they were the best class, a claim that I was not about to dispute.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Class of ’84. They were colorful, dynamic and eager to learn all that they could. However, they had a melancholic quality that no other class could approach. Eight of their fathers had died before they would graduate from high school. Obviously their classmates were aware of this and in a mysterious way they seemed to have a deeper-than-normal appreciation for how precious life really is.

On the second trip to Grand Canyon, Christie handed out little cards with the names of “secret pals” on them. Students were simply asked to do whatever they chose to make the trip special for their secret pal. The Class of ’84 had been doing this all along.

In the spring we were camped at Van Damme State park, along the Mendocino Coast. During a break in the action, Mike Dunn said, “Mr. Young, these trips take a lot out of you, how many more years will you be able to pull off three of them?” I laughed and said that he must have been reading my mind because I was wondering the same thing. As mentioned, they were the second trip to Grand Canyon, and Christie and I were able to minimize logistical demands and lessen the stress level. Therefore, we were able to complete 13 more, 3-trip-years.

The Class of ’84 was fortunate to be able to visit Sasha the potter in Mendocino. As he demonstrated the art of throwing pots he mentioned, “The key to becoming a skilful potter is learning how to let go of the clay with “unspeakable tenderness.” On a later trip to Yosemite, I borrowed part of his idea.

We were sitting in a circle on top of Half Dome. It was a crisp, clear, moonless night and the stars arched above us like a canopy of brilliant diamonds. Heather secretly discovered it was nearly my birthday and assumed leadership of the evening circle. Without my guidance (or input) she conjured up an event that was above and beyond earthly description or understanding. I was left with the only plausible conclusion that each one of them was an “unspeakably perfect miracle.” They would deny it of course, but that did not mean that it wasn’t true. This does not mean that they could not be argumentative, even combative at times, but that is what teens do as they battle out of their protective, yet restrictive cocoons. John Muir would have rejoiced in their company and it would not have surprised me if his living spirit was guiding and inspiring our event.

 I used to tell “Boba” (from the former Yugoslavia) “You are amazing!” She would laugh and say, “I AM NOT!”

Many members of the Class of ‘84 have high school kids of their own and I am guessing that when they look upon them they will agree that they too are “unspeakably perfect miracles.”

It is heartbreaking to know that many of them will never sit in a single “spirit-circle,” and none of them will be able to sleep on top of Half Dome with their classmates. This is why, in part, I wrote, Biodesign Out For A Walk. John Muir properly warned that no book can transport them to the mountains, however if the collection of student adventures stirs the sleeping-spirit within them, it will make the two years of writing it superbly worthwhile

Happy Anniversary, Class of ’84. You not only touched me profoundly, you contributed to the next 13 years of Biodesign and proved that “Every Year Was a Vintage Year” in The Biodesign Class.

Grand Canyon by Moonlight

Grand canyon Trail insp




Depending on the weather, seasons and time of day, the views and moods of Grand Canyon are as endless as a child’s kaleidoscope. Clouds can add mesmerizing shadows as they creep across the famous chasm. Lightning adds pizzazz, rainbows add mystical auras and snow can soften angles and offer a fluffy white blanket. All of these can be truly magnificent, however, walking alone, along the rim of The Canyon, in the moonlight, can be as eerie and spooky as an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Somehow, the silence seems to be exaggerated in the dark. It can feel like something ominous is lurking, “down there.” I have heard that there are subspecies of birds on the North and South rims that are quite capable of flying across The Canyon and breeding, but they don’t. One theory is that when they fly out over one rim or the other, they become frightened or disoriented and return to their familiar habitat. Walking along the rim at night can generate a similar sense of disorientation.

Each year, millions of nature lovers flock to the Grand Canyon hoping to see the single greatest page of evolution/creation on planet Earth. Many are awed, some overwhelmed, some confused, and some so baffled that they leave disappointed. Most find their I-phone or other small-format camera essentially useless. Even those with the larger format 35 mm S-L-R  can not capture the Canyon’s magnificence. Even if overjoyed, or profoundly inspired, most reluctantly agree with Major John Wesley Powell:

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon can not be adequately

represented in symbols of speech, nor speech itself. The

resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers

in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration

combined must fail.”


Some photographers accept Powell’s resignation and creatively focus on the smaller pieces of glass in the Canyon Kaleidoscope.

This photo represents such an attempt. The intentionally narrow, vertical frame, accentuates the depth of The Canyon. The mind and soul are drawn to deeper and deeper depths. Even so, only those who have hiked to the bottom realize that the photo stops at The Tonto Platform. Typically, when hikers arrive at this level, they are surprised (shocked) to see an additional 1800 feet drop to the Colorado River. Of course, when the return trek begins, hikers become intimately aware of the depth with every upward step. Hikers ascending the Bright Angel Trail are usually encouraged when they reach Indian Gardens, but any joy is often short-lived when they realize that they still have 3500 feet of vertical to walk. It is not uncommon, even for experienced hikers, to “hit the wall” which is a feeling that they may never get out. It is during these times when people have to “dig deep” and draw on energy reserves that they may not have known existed. It is also during these times of physical exhaustion that they often experience mental and spiritual revelations that simply can not be experienced from the comfort of the El Tovar Hotel.

One of the most commonly underappreciated aspects of hiking the trails is the creative talent and effort that went into engineering and building them. Looking at this photo, it is numbing to think that sections of The Bright Angel Trail cling to the Canyon walls and “switchback” their way either up or down.

Hiking down to rocks that are 1.2 billion years old helps hikers deepen their sense of universal mystery and may remind them that there are 100 trillion galaxies behind the moon they are seeing. Celebrate the mystery.

“Mr. Ainslie”—Peacock Mantis Shrimp—Poetry

Peacock Mantis Shrimp




“Their vision is so sensitive that a mantis shrimp can see in both infrared and ultraviolet spectra, and uses 16 color receptor cones (compared to just three for humans).

Inman observes: ‘Where we see a rainbow, the mantis shrimp sees a thermonuclear bomb of light and beauty.’”

When I saw the “Peacock Shrimp” post, from The Monterey Bay Aquarium, I was instantly reminded of Peter Ainslie, one of St. Helena High School’s most colorful and dynamic teachers. It wasn’t the Peacock Shrimp, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium that jogged my memory.

Students attending St. Helena High School, during the mid-60s to the mid-90s, might have known that one of his favorite poets was Robinson Jeffers. Pete had walked by Jeffers’ “Tor House” in Carmel Ca. and was amazed at the construction. He introduced me to Jeffers by sharing the poem, “The Excesses of God.” Jeffers drew deep inspiration by living next to the sea and much of his poetry celebrates nature.

Unlike the Peacock Shrimp, Pete’s appearance was modest, however his teaching style resembled The Shrimp, outrageously flamboyant. His stories evoked laughter and sorrow, anger and bliss. He could transition easily (and unpredictably) from prayerful to provocative, to profane. Pete was an “Ivy-leaguer,” having graduated from Princeton Univ. Several times each year I would have to pause and let my students listen to him belt out the Princeton Fight Song. His ex-students who visit the campus might still hear echoes of him belting out:

“Roar tiger roar, in the name of old Nassau!”

 Teachers can often be described as “a little like this or a blend of that,” however, Ainslie was iconoclastic. He became legendary and it was an honor to teach next to him until the painful end.  Teaching is an energy-sapping profession and it was boggling to imagine how he was able to continue teaching while coping with dreaded effects of what is now known as a bipolar disorder.

While searching for Jeffers’ poem, I found this biographical sketch on an on-line poetry review site.

 “Robinson Jeffers is famous for building by-hand his own stone home, “Tor House and Hawk Tower,” in Carmel, California. Because of that, it is natural for readers to approach a Jeffers’ poem as if it were also built stone-by-stone.

The image of poet as stone-builder is a good one: the perfect combination of the primitive and the craftsman and the anachronistic. Poetry is, after all, all of that.

Poetry is the oldest art. Even those who painted on cave walls were moved to try and shape their own world ultimately by the magic and religious words that gave their world and their lives meaning.

Words like stones have weight. We may treat words sometimes like they are merely the movements of breath, and play with them that way… like stones we skip across the water to kill a few moments of the day. But words have a weight unto themselves. A weight we can hold in our hands and feel and measure. Words like God, beauty, desire, secret.

Jeffers, maybe more than any poet, understood the true weight of words, a primitive and anachronistic weight. A weight we cannot always articulate but which is always able to articulate us.”

The Excesses of God:
Is it not by his high superfluousness we know
Our God? For to equal a need
Is natural, animal, mineral: but to fling
Rainbows over the rain
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells,
And make the necessary embrace of breeding
Beautiful also as fire,
Not even the weeds to multiply without blossom
Nor the birds without music:
There is the great humaneness at the heart of things,
The extravagant kindness, the fountain
Humanity can understand, and would flow likewise
If power and desire were perch-mates.

Not surprisingly, the word “superfluousness” connected with the Peacock Shrimp. How this shrimp looks,  sees and acts is “over-the-top” outlandish.  In his book, The Great Evolution Mystery, Gordon Taylor claims that Darwin’s Theory can not explain “organs of extreme perfection.” He includes eyes in this category and suggests that the billions of cellular/molecular variables in eye anatomy make it impossible to credit natural selection as their cause. The Peacock Shrimp’s eye anatomy and physiology easily qualify as a Loren Eiseley-kind-of-miracle, not to mention its pincer capability which seems like something from a Star Wars movie.

Creatures like these assured Eiseley that “The Mystery” remains and I suspect that Jeffers, “Ainslie” and Robert Frost surely would agree:

“We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

                                                                                    Robert Frost.



The Elephant Whisperer


Photo courtesy of National Geographic

As a “scientist” I put very little value in living my life according to the signs of the Zodiac. Having said that, however, as a Libra ;-), I can usually see at least two sides of most arguments. Recently, a touching story about Lawrence Anthony and elephants was shared on the BOFAWFb timeline.

I scrolled through some of the comments and saw an angry protest about focusing on God and not the mystery of man and elephants. The commenter opined that the mystery remains and can be celebrated by believers and nons. I found myself agreeing with him ala Libra, half way. After all, the story was about a man and his mysterious relationship with elephants. The leap to elephants “knowing God” is interesting, but not conclusive. However, it is a valid question to wonder where the mutual love and compassion between Lawrence and his elephants came from. Darwin’s Theory does not explain it. There was no survival benefit to the elephants to walk miles to visit Anthony’s home. Neither was there a survival benefit for Anthony to dedicate his life to saving endangered animals. He probably could have made more money and lived more comfortably working for a pharmaceutical co. or veterinary clinic.

After reading the story, I checked out the source:


The banner for their cover reads, “Civil Rights Movement for the Soul,” and includes ghosted images of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa. Although the three held widely divergent religious views, they shared a common bond of trying to improve humanity. It was not a surprise to see Lawrence Anthony included in their company.

Scrolling through their page showed uplifting thoughts from Maya Angelou, Lao Tzu, Rumi and an international, inter-spiritual, group of inspired writers.

 The critic has every right to express his disapproval of the post, however, whether he knows it or not, his criticism stands in opposition to the ideals of the three spiritual giants shown on the cover of the Humanitys Team page. He may also not know that Henry Thoreau’s essay and lectures on, “Civil Disobedience” inspired Gandhi to lead the relatively peaceful ousting of the British from India. In turn, Gandhi’s writings and actions inspired Dr. King to lead peaceful protests against a white-dominated American government that was tacitly (or overtly) complicit in repressing people of color. Gandhi and Dr. King shared a dream of universal spirituality that helped liberate and empower millions of people, physically, mentally and spiritually.

But, the critic raises some deeper issues. Is it possible that scientists are missing out on some of the mystery, intrigue and excitement of life by assuming that everything can be reduced to a soul-less formula? Conversely, are some religious people missing out on some of the amazing complexities of the universe by glibly reducing every mystery to a three letter word? There is nothing “religiously beautiful” about an African Lion leaping on a gazelle and ripping it limb from limb in order to feed herself and her cubs. Conversely, there is no scientific explanation for the mysterious relationship that Anthony had with his elephants.

This takes us back top the wisdom of Loren Eiseley who wrote in “The Immense Journey:”

We are now in a position to see the wonder and terror of the human predicament: man is totally dependent on society. Creature of dream, he has created an invisible world of ideas, beliefs, beliefs, habits and customs which buttress him about and replace for him the precise instincts of the lower creatures. In this invisible universe he takes refuge, but just as instinct may fail an animal under some shift of environmental conditions, so man’s cultural beliefs may prove inadequate to meet a new situation, or, on an individual level, the confused mind may substitute, by some terrible alchemy, cruelty for love.

The Ultra-deep Field—The Greatest Image On Earth













As a young, idealistic biology teacher, I naively assumed that all of the “big” questions about life would eventually be answered by science. Eight years into my teaching career, however, Lettie rendered that assumption invalid and turned my life topsy-turvy.


She was the spark that ignited a life-long journey of un-learning the singular importance of science. It’s not that science is not important, it is; after all, the microscope opened an unknown mini-universe of “cavorting beasties” which led to amazing discoveries in ecology, medical technology, disease prevention and control. The telescope has taken the human mind out to the very edge of the known universe into dimensions, distances and time/space paradigms that are beyond the most brilliant minds. Recently, the Hubble Space Telescope, captured the Greatest Image On Earth.


The fact is, however, that science did not evolve in a vacuum. It would not have been possible without the evolution of language arts, creative arts, poetry, philosophy and religion.


Interestingly, before the renaissance, 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart predicted that the big questions of life would not be answered by science. This reminds me of a comment by Robert Jastrow, former director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He is a self-proclaimed agnostic, and humbly and humorously mused that thousands of years from now, after scientists have scaled the last peak of knowledge, they will be greeted by a band of theologians who have been waiting there for centuries. Are we having fun yet?


As a trained “scientist” I am still baffled as to how artists, musicians and poets can use their “right brains” to transcend the pragmatic limits of what is “known” and enter the higher realms of mystery. Poet William Blake demonstrated this with his opening quatrain from, Auguries of Innocence:



To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.



Four simple lines that stretch the mind into the depths of floral beauty and into the dual “twilight zones” of eternity and infinity.


Sometimes I would have students close their eyes and try to travel out to infinity. I could see them pondering until one of them would begin laugh and say:


 “I can’t do it”! How can it go forever? Isn’t there an edge there, beyond which there is nothing? But how can nothing go on forever?



I could never keep from laughing with them and suggested that perhaps there was a cosmic incarnation of Bugs Bunny who was standing out there saying, “Abitty, abitty, that’s all folks”!


Blake was celebrating mystery which is something that Albert Einstein emulated.



“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”



Thanks to Herb Burquez, I recently got to go on a fantastic voyage .Tony Darnell created a video that is breath-stopping. It is titled, Ultra Deep Field and includes an image that he claims is the most important image ever recorded by man. I am not one to quibble.


It was taken by astronomers who aimed the Hubble Telescope at a dark area in space about the size of a grain of sand.  I wonder if they were hoping to find a black peep- hole in the universal canopy that would take them to the very edge of infinity. Instead, using a time-lapse technique, they captured an image of at least 10,000 galaxies. This has led them to believe that there are 100 billion galaxies, however, if infinity and eternity exist, this number itself is equal to a grain of sand. Little wonder my students said, “we can’t go there.” If history offers any clue, arriving at the “Ultra Deep Field” is only one small step for mankind. In order to begin to think infinity, we must accept that from our perspective of 100 billion galaxies, there are countless other “Ultra Deep Fields,” each containing billions of galaxies and so on ad-infinitum. It simply never ends!


It is little wonder that Isaac Newton, perhaps the world’s greatest scientist, humbly proclaimed:



“I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

He also stated:

“Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who sets the planets in motion.”

  Many scientists have likly never heard of Meister Eckhart and if they had would likely would scoff at his thinking as obsolete.


I am sitting here laughing with my ex-students and recalling another Eckhart quote:



“God is home, it is we who are out for a walk.”



Or is it “out to lunch”?


Note: Darnell’s video has had nearly 8 million hits. I am surprised there have not been more.

Peter, Paul & Mary—Wedding Song—Valentines Day






Although Valentines Day has been designated as a day to celebrate love, its roots date back 100,000 years before St. Valentine lived. Loren Eiseley alluded to this:

… “in the dim morning shadows of humanity, the inarticulate creature who first hesitantly formed the words for pity and love must have received similar guffaws around a fire. Yet some men listened, for the words survive.” (The Immense Journey)


Three of the greatest mysteries associated with human evolution are the origin of love (Darwin had no clue), the roles of human sexuality, and the physical, mental and spiritual importance of the marriage commitment. What makes humans unique is that millions of other plants and animals engage in sexual reproduction (with or without body contact) but, as far as we know, none involves the mystery, passion and drama associated with being “married.” There are various forms of marriage that pre-date recorded history, but the essential biological importance is mixing gene pools, creating more variety, which enhance evolution and thus survival. Charles Darwin brilliantly figured this out, but his work is incomplete.

Written records are lacking, however, many Native American cultures developed marriage ceremonies, perhaps beyond 10,000 years ago. It is intriguing that in order to avoid a limited gene pool they intuitively understood that it was important for males (or females) to marry outside their clan.

Hindus perceived that there was a spiritual connection to marriage 3000 years BC, and about the same time Egyptians began “double-ring” wedding celebrations.  About 1200 BC, Moses described the spiritual connection of marriage in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Oddly, however, as brilliant as Greek scholars have been portrayed, most regarded women as second class citizens, primarily necessary for procreation.

I am not a Biblical scholar, but find it intriguing that the first miracle that Jesus has been credited with was making wine for a wedding celebration; a fact that 400 wineries in the Napa Valley are eager to share. 😉

 “For the Anglo-Saxons and Britain’s early tribal groups, marriage was all about relationships – just not in the modern sense. The Anglo-Saxons saw marriage as a strategic tool to establish diplomatic and trade ties. ‘You established peaceful relationships, trading relationships, mutual obligations with others by marrying them.’”  Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.

During the 11th Century, marriage was about securing an economic or political advantage. The wishes of the married couple – much less their consent – were of little importance. The bride, particularly, was assumed to bow to her father’s wishes and the marriage arrangements made on her behalf.

However, for the Benedictine monk Gratian the consent of the couple mattered more than their family’s approval. Gratian brought consent into the fold of formalized marriage in 1140 with his canon law textbook, Decretum Gratiani. The Decretum required couples to give their verbal consent and consummate the marriage to forge a marital bond. No longer was a bride or groom’s presence at a ceremony enough to signify their assent. The book formed the foundation for the Church’s marriage policies in the 12th Century and “set out the rules for marriage and sexuality in a changing social environment”, says historian Joanne Bailey of Oxford Brookes University.

“As early as the 12th Century, Roman Catholic theologians and writers referred to marriage as a sacrament, a sacred ceremony tied to experiencing God’s presence. However, it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563 that marriage was officially deemed one of the seven sacraments,” says Elizabeth Davies, of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Whether or not the allegory of Adam and Eve represents the “first spiritual marriage,” as man’s sense of spirituality grew, so did his understanding that a man and woman joining in wedlock was far more complicated and profound than mere physical contact. As the length of time to successfully raise children increased, so did the time of mutual support and cooperation between mates. As the human concept of love grew, so did the need to develop rituals and symbols that were outward signs of an inner transformation. The marriage success rate in the US is a disappointing 50%, however, there are still millions of couples who are enjoying long, productive, loving marriages.


One of my very favorite “folk” songs is titled, Wedding Song (There is Love). It was made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary and I recently decided to Google a UTube version. In a wonderful synchronicity, I not only found the song, but an extraordinary story.

Evidently, Peter Yarrow asked his friend and singing partner, Noel “Paul” Stookey, to write a song for his upcoming wedding ceremony. Noel was deeply honored but equally frightened about the request. He thought that writing and singing a song for a couple’s wedding must be one of the most intimate and profound things a friend could do. However, the possibility of it falling flat or missing the mark was daunting to say the least.

He did what he had learned to do in crisis moments and prayed. He described the feeling of being guided to use a quote from the Gospel of St. Matthew:

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

However, he worried that some guests might find the verse too religious and so he changed the passage to read:  “For wherever two or more of you are gathered together in His name, there is love.”

 The song was completed the day before the wedding. As he performed it for the first time, the wedding party, and many guests, described an amazing spiritual aura filling the room. Later, however, a problem arose. Noel was recording Wedding Song for an album and the issue of copyrighting came up. He believed that the lyrics were “the words of God” and he should not plagiarize.  On the other hand, if he did not copyright it, unscrupulous record dealers would surely profit from the omission. Again, he felt guided and set up a special copyright domain that directed all royalty fees to worthwhile charities. The song has spread world wide, been enjoyed by countless millions and been sung at thousands (?) of weddings.

 When I finished reading the account, I was reminded that, in spite of protests from many of his friends, John Muir refused to take out patents on any of his (over 50) inventions. He believed that all of them were inspired by God and, therefore, belonged to all mankind. This being so, he reasoned that he had no right to profit from them.  

Two amazing men, each influenced millions of people, and they gave all credit to their Higher Power. Stories like these give me goose bumps.

Hoping that your Valentines Day is a celebration of love and life.

“Thank God for Yosemite Bears!” John Muir

God Bless Yosemite Bears





 Although I was dedicated to get as close as I could to the heart and soul of legendary John Muir, I was naively unaware that, in order to do this, I would have to experience some ordeals that he would have identified with. He properly warned that books (including his own) were useless in describing the intense adrenaline rush following surviving an avalanche ride, spending a snow-stormy night (without a tent or blanket) on Mt. Shasta, or a face-to-face confrontation with an American Black Bear (Ursus americanus).


It was Muir’s self-imposed vocation to get as close to the heart of Mother Nature as he could, which meant studying all of her plants and animals. In his first summer at Yosemite he was eager to make the acquaintance of what he thought was a “Cinamon Bear.”

Excerpt: The Wilderness World of John Muir. Edwin Way Teal.

“I watched his gestures and tried to make the most of my opportunity to learn what I could about him, fearing that he would catch sight of me and run away. For I had been told that this sort of bear always ran away from his bad brother man, never showing fight  unless wounded or in defense of young. He made a telling picture in the sunny forest garden. How well he played his part, harmonizing in bulk and color and shaggy hair with the trunks of trees and lush vegetation, as natural a feature as any other in the landscape.

After examining at leisure, noting the sharp muzzle thrust inquiringly forward, the long shaggy hair on his broad chest, the stiff erect ears nearly buried in hair, and the heavy way he moved his head, I thought I should like to see his gait in running, so I made a sudden rush at him, shouting and swinging my hat to frighten him, expecting him to make haste to get away. But to my dismay he did not run or show any sign of running. On the contrary, he stood his ground ready to defend himself, lowered his head, thrust it forward, and looked sharply and fiercely at me. Then I suddenly began to fear that that upon me would fall the work of running; but I was afraid to run, and therefore, like the bear, held my ground. We stood staring at each other in solemn silence within a dozen yards or thereabouts, while I fervently hoped that the power of the human eye over wild beasts would prove as great as it is said to be. How long our awfully strenuous interview lasted, I do not know; but at length in slow fullness of time…and with magnificent deliberation turned and walked leisurely up the meadow, stopping frequently to look back over his shoulder to see whether I was pursuing him, then moving on again, evidently neither fearing me much nor trusting me.”

When the Biodesign Class of ’92 arrived at Yosemite Valley, the first order of business was to set up our base camp and prepare for the next day’s backpack trip to the top of Half Dome. The campsite was a flurry of activity of erecting tents, preparing the cooking area and campers moving into their tent-dwellings. The students had been warned to put all food items in the steel, bear-proof boxes that Yosemite Park provided. I was busy with a plethora of details, one of which was not looking out for student backpack food storage.  Suddenly someone yelled, “Anna, a bear has your food bag!” and there was a huge commotion. I spotted a medium-sized female Black Bear with two cubs. She, indeed, had Anna’s bag in her mouth and was lumbering down the trail towards the nearby meadow. Thinking only of a student without several days of trail food, I sprinted toward the unwanted raider. Exactly like John Muir, I began yelling loudly and waving my arms and hat. When I exceeded her comfort zone, she wheeled on her haunches, dropped the food bag, lowered her head, made a terrifying squealing noise and charged me. Unlike Muir, however, I did an abrupt U-turn and ran back toward camp. However, a quick glance over my shoulder showed that she had reversed and was about to retrieve the food bag. Not to be denied, I reversed and charged with more yelling and flailing arms. Once again, she reversed and renewed her charge with an increased sense of urgency. Once again, I reversed and beat a speedy retreat. By now, many students were watching and were probably not sure whether to laugh or feel alarmed over the spectacle. Another glance over my shoulder showed her returning to the food bag. Like the bear, I must have felt an increased sense of urgency and roared and flailed more aggressively. She glanced over her shoulder and saw what she must have thought was a madman, paused briefly at the food bag, and ambled off into the meadow. Part of Anna’s food bag had a slimy coating of bear saliva on it, but otherwise the food was not damaged.

When I returned to camp, the students were having difficulty processing what they had seen. Some must have thought I foolishly risked being injured and that we could have shared to help Anna out. Like Muir, I had read that Black Bear attacks on humans are rare, especially if they are allowed a pathway for retreat. Even so, I enjoyed an ambivalent blend of terror and humor over the episode.      

In Memory of Pete Seeger

Heroes walk through life carrying their torches to light the pathways of others. Saints walk through life as living beacons for others. Anon.

How utterly important are the words from the Book of Ecclesiastes:


There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.

The world lost a true Saint. Pete Seeger leaves a vacuum in our society that only his legacy will be able to fill. He and his beloved wife fought the good fight for 70+ years. He eschewed the “good-life” of comfort and convenience, sought out and confronted cruelty and injustice. I saw him on an old video and he mentioned that his publisher had recently called him and asked if he could come up with another hit song like, “Irene Good night.” He laughed, but later was reading his, “Good Old Book” and the words and music emerged into a hit as famous as “Irene.”

The words have been around for thousands of years, perhaps because of their poignant, timeless message. Even so, the truly great folksingers are dieing off and with them the life-style and music that they represented. Fewer and fewer people sit around campfires and sing the great old folksongs. It makes me really sad!

Rest in peace noble champion of the downcast, downtrodden, and victims of injustice. You have run the good race and fought the good fight.  


Turn! Turn! Turn!”

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time of war, a time of peace
A time of love, a time of hate
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time of peace, I swear it’s not too late!

Evolution—Carl Sagan—Secular Humanism

Carl Sagan




I owe a huge double thank you to a BOFAW friend.  First of all, he shared, Carl Sagan’s YouTube video, “Pale Blue Dot.” And secondly, although I suspect that we have some differing views about Sagan, he provided the stimulus to present a view that very few students are aware of.  “The Pale Blue Dot” is an excerpt from his wonderful PBS series adapted from his book, “Cosmos.”  Sagan was a brilliant scholar, creative genius, excellent educator and did much to make the sometimes boggling study of astronomy more understandable to the “scientifically challenged.”  I showed the classroom version of “Cosmos” to all of my biology classes as a means of helping them appreciate how amazingly special it is to be alive on, “The Pale Blue Dot.”

I heartily agreed with most of the information in “Cosmos” but just as heartily disagreed with some of Sagan’s ideas. So, astronomers tell us that the universe is 13.8 billion years old; there are 7 billion people living on Earth and Dr. Sagan expects intelligent people to believe that this all occurred without a plan or planner? He presents the Universe with no known cause and chalks it up to chance.

His explanation for the “origin of life” and part of Darwin’s Theory are “science fiction.” Darwin himself, admitted that he had no clue as to how life began. Whether the story of “The Garden Of Eden” is true or allegorical it is not typically disputed that humans have the greatest amount of “free will” of all animals. This free will includes the right to think whatever we choose to think. However, the latest word from one popular Humanist, is that people do not have free will and that their thoughts and fate are the result of random molecular activity.

Sagan was a hugely popular scientist and proudly proclaimed that he was a “Secular Humanist.” I later learned that he was selected as, “Humanist of the year,” by the American Humanist Assoc. and named, “Humanist Laureate,” in the International Academy of Humanists.” In the early years of Biodesign, I didn’t know or care what Secular Humanism was. However, after the events detailed in BOFAW, chapter 3, “The Fire Storm,” it was necessary that I learn more about it. I discovered that Humanists generally think that all religions represent regressive thinking because they are based on myths, legends and folklore. They emphasize that the power of the human mind replaces the need to believe in intangible and unprovable religious beliefs. Respecting the spirit of The Garden Of Eden, I had no concerns with Sagan’s beliefs, or Humanism, until I realized that he had allowed them to skew his views on Darwin’s Theory and the origin of life.

In the 1950’s, scientists boldly claimed that they were on the brink of discovering the origin of life and would soon able to create life. After failing in both endeavors, anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote in the final chapter of “The Immense Journey:”

“With the failure of these many efforts science was left in the somewhat embarrassing position of having to postulate theories of living organisms which it could not demonstrate. After having chided the theologian for his reliance on myth and miracle, science found itself in the unenviable position of having to create a mythology of its own: namely, the assumption that what, after long effort, could not be proved to take place today had, in truth, taken place in the primeval past.”

 This is exactly what Carl Sagan did in his book, “Cosmos.” He made statements about the origin of life that were not factual and, even today, can not be “scientifically” supported. Essentially, Sagan “created” his version of biological history using his own mythology. Even worse, he misconstrued Darwin’s theory to conform to the Godless, soul-less, spiritless world of “Scientism.” Either he was unaware of, “The Autobiography Of Charles Darwin” or he chose to ignore it to promote his anti-creationist agenda regarding the origin and evolution of life. Darwin wrote:

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity for looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a theist.”

In an absolutely wonderful irony, Sagan used Edwin Abbott’s story of “The Flat People” in an attempt to explain the “Fourth Dimension.” These people have length and width, but no height. When “someone,” from the land of “Up,” contacts a flatlander, he/she has no idea of what is happening. It is a clever ploy, however, it does not work. No amount of word-making can help a flatlander see “UP! The irony is that, in terms of spirituality, Sagan had no clue that anything that could not be “proven” could possibly exist. There are an estimated 5 million Humanists, including some very prominent people, however, 90% of the world population believes in some kind of higher power.

After receiving the video, I did some research and was surprised at what I discovered. The demographics of scientists who believe in a higher power is about the same as general the population; about 90% are believers. This list includes many of the world’s greatest scientists and naturalists: Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Boyle, Faraday, Planck, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Mendel, Agassi, Thoreau, Muir and most shocking to most Americans, Charles Darwin. Also, in spite of being educated in public schools, which have removed nearly all references to spirituality, only 21% of the American people believe that human evolution occurred without the presence of divine guidance.

“Vashon Jane”—Muir—Emerson







 Excerpt: BOFAW, chap, 9, “Gratefulness.


Before each trip, I would say that I could not predict what they would experience.


I could predict, however, that they would experience things


that would be impossible to imagine from the comfort of their beds


with their electric blankets turned on.



John Muir was a huge fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a celebrated American essayist, lecturer, and poet, who led the Transcendentalist movement.  Muir admired his essays on the relationship of nature, soul and self-reliance. By writing, “The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind,” Emerson was unifying man—creation—Creator. Also, like Muir and Thoreau, he emphasized the importance of being “reborn” in nature.


Emerson visited Muir at Yosemite in the spring of 1871. Muir was beside himself with excitement and later describing his arrival wrote:



I proposed an immeasurable camping trip back into the heart of the mountains. He seemed anxious to go, but considerately mentioned his party. I said: ‘Never mind. The mountains are calling; run away, and let plans and parties and dragging lowland duties ‘gang tapsal terrie.’ We’ll go up a canyon singing your own song, “Good-by, proud world! I’m going home,” in divine earnest.’ Up there lies a new heaven and a new earth; let us go to the show. But alas, it was too late—too near the sundown of his life. The shadows were growing long, and he leaned on his friends. His party, full of indoor philosophy, failed to see the natural beauty and fullness of promise of my wild plan, and laughed at it in good-natured ignorance, as if it were necessarily amusing to imagine that Boston people might be led to accept Sierra manifestations of God at the price of rough camping. Anyhow, they would have none of it, and held Mr. Emerson to the hotels and trail




Muir accompanied Emerson’s entourage to the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias, where he made one final attempt to get the Boston Bard to sleep one night beneath the giant trees. His pleas were ignored and the group mounted their horses to begin their journey back to Boston. As he reached a rise in the road, Emerson reined in his horse, turned around and waved his hat in good-by to his mountain-man friend.



Muir would reflect later:



I felt lonely, so sure that Emerson, of all men, would be the quickest to see the mountains and sing them.



It is considered boorish to reveal a lady’s age, however, in this case, I think it is appropriate to mention that Emerson was four years younger than Jane Berg when he declined to sleep, even one night, in Muir’s company, under the protection of the giant Sequoias.


Jane was one of the earliest fans of BOFAWFb and it quickly became clear that we shared a love for Yosemite, John Muir, and all of nature. Even so, I was a bit surprised (shocked actually) (;o) when she mentioned that she was going to leave the comfort of her Vashon Island home and gardens in April, 2013 to camp at Grand Canyon NP. She spent 9 amazing days camped on the South Rim. The trip included a mule ride, down Bright Angel Trail, overnight at Phantom Ranch, and ride up the South Kaibab Trail which offers some of the most stunning views of Grand Canyon.


She has described it as one of her greatest experiences, however, it happened to be just a warm-up for an even longer adventure. In the fall, she left Vashon again and traveled to Yosemite NP and volunteered with “Yosemite Conservancy,” assisting visitors in various locations. This required her to camp five weeks in a small tent.  Actually, the trip turned out to be 49 days, and included a week in the Eastern Sierras of Mono County.



Of the three great naturalists, Emerson, Thoreau and Muir, Muir was the wildest and his passion inspired the National Park movement which has spread globally. Jane responded to his call, “Come to the mountains and get their glad tidings.” What she did was really quite remarkable. She left her comfortable nest on Vashon Island and made two challenging journeys to two glorious National Parks. In so doing, she saw visions, marvels and wonders that Emerson could not have imagined. When I asked for permission to share her stories she said that she felt honored and hoped that others would be inspired to try their own new adventures. Furthermore, she said that her experiences made her feel younger and she is filled with so many memories of the beautiful places that she hiked and explored. Whether she was hiking in Yosemite high country or the Eastern Sierras she felt an abiding presence of the spirit of John Muir.


 She wrote:



“I found it amazing and wonderful to wake up close to the earth and profoundly beautiful wilderness. In addition to thinking of John Muir, and native peoples, I also thought of the Biodesign students and how important I feel it is to have children, and adults, experience nature.”



On our last trip to Grand Canyon, a married couple (both 85 years young) hiked up from Phantom Ranch to The South Rim. The first time they made the round-trip hike was to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, and they had done it annually ever since then.  Park rangers were on hand to welcome them back to the top and celebrate their wonderful accomplishment. Based on this, Jane has at least 13 more years of hiking to look forward to. The last time I talked to her she sounded like a teenager, eager to go “out for a walk” and see more of Mother Nature’s treasures.


Way to go Jane!