A “Killer-Type Virus” Ends the World!

Revisiting "Earth Abides," the novel that inspired Stephen King and Jimi Hendrix
By Pat Joseph

LATELY, I’VE BEEN COLLECTING NEWS of wildlife appearing in deserted towns and cities around the world: Wild goats roaming shuttered Welsh villages, jackals skulking in the streets of Tel Aviv, Indian bison ambling along vacant highways in New Delhi, coyotes howling in North Beach. As we shelter in place, the animals are rushing into the void. And not just the charismatic megafauna, either. Witness the legions of dumpster-deprived rats battling nightly on Bourbon Street. 

None of this would have surprised George Rippey Stewart, Berkeley professor and author of the 1949 novel Earth Abides, about a viral pandemic that wipes out most of humanity. In Stewart’s novel, animals emerge from the woods and the woodwork as if man had never existed. Likewise, wild plants overrun the cultivars and ornamentals, the wisteria bow to the weeds. At the funeral of Homo sapiens, Stewart writes archly, the three species of human lice will be the only “wholly sincere mourners.”

In February, before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, I dug out my copy of Earth Abides and put it on the nightstand. Inspired by events, I was already re-reading Albert Camus’s 1947 epidemic novel, The Plague (La Peste), ostensibly about a plague-stricken town under quarantine in French Algeria, but really an allegory of the struggle against Fascism. 

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise,” Camus wrote. The Gitanes-smoking existentialist is speaking truth from the grave. When COVID-19 arrived on our shores, there were not even enough masks and gowns for doctors and nurses to protect themselves from infected patients, let alone ventilators to keep critically ill patients breathing. Our president, meanwhile, cast blame and aspersions while dodging responsibility and issuing dangerous medical advice from the White House lectern. Once again, we had been caught off guard. 

After finishing The Plague, I opened Earth Abides and read the opening lines: 

… and the government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency. Federal officers, including those of the Armed Forces, will put themselves under the orders of the governors of the various states or of any other functioning local authority. By order of the Acting President. God save the people of the United States …

The story is largely set in Berkeley, where George Stewart (1895–1980) earned his master’s degree and taught English for nearly four decades. The protagonist of his novel is a Berkeley graduate student in geography named Isherwood Williams.

Call him Ish.

As the story opens, Ish is conducting field research in the Sierra Nevada. Scampering down some rocks one day, he is struck by a rattler. Snake-bit and woozy, he stumbles to his cabin and passes out. After a feverish convalescence, he returns to civilization, only to find that civilization is gone. A single-page edition of the San Francisco Chronicle outlines the tragedy: “The United States from coast to coast was overwhelmed by the attack. … No one was sure in what part of the world it had originated; aided by airplane travel, it had sprung up almost simultaneously in every center of civilization, outrunning all attempts at quarantine.”

Like the Bible’s Job, Ish alone is left to tell the tale. Or nearly so; other survivors will eventually join him to form a close-knit tribe in the Berkeley Hills and commence to repopulate the Earth, the subject of the second half of the novel.

Constitutionally, Ish is a loner, and thus a natural Last Man. He esteems man’s works (bridges, in particular, thrill him as testaments to “the power and the glory that had been civilization”), but sheds no tears for humanity, nor even for his dead parents. And after a fleeting bout of despair, he takes heart in his new role as observer. “Even though the curtain had been rung down on man, here was the opening of the greatest of all dramas for such a student as he. …What would happen to the world and its creatures without man? That he was left to see!”

This is a very Biblical book. No self-respecting English major could miss the obvious symbolism of the serpent in the wilderness. (Other equally obvious interpretations prove wrong, however. The name Ish does not derive from Ishmael of the Old Testament, nor from the narrator of Moby Dick, nor even, as others have speculated, from Ishi, the Yahi man who walked out of the California wilderness in 1911, last of his tribe. According to Stewart’s oral history at the Bancroft Library, Ish is Hebrew for “man.”) If the book is a retelling of Genesis, however, it runs in reverse. 

In the beginning, Ish is like Noah after the flood, fated to rebuild civilization from the surviving remnants. He takes pains, for example, to seal the University Library against the elements and make it a sacrosanct repository of “all the knowledge.” Slowly, he becomes a kind of Adam, resigned to watch the world grow wild and his offspring revert to illiteracy and primitivism. “From the cave we came, and to the cave we return.” 

George R. Stewart is now largely forgotten, but he was a bestseller in his day. Two of his novels were turned into Disney films. And though shunned by the Academy, he enjoyed literary admirers of the first order, including Carl Sandburg, Larry McMurtry, and Wallace Stegner. The latter wrote that his books “teach us who we are, and how we got to be who we are.” Like Ish, Stewart observed the world from an analytical remove. As Stegner remarked: 

George Stewart was about as far as he could get from the rebellious and dissatisfied stance that in the twentieth century we have come to associate with writers. Changes in society did not fill him with despair or indignation—he expected them, his view of history incorporated them. … He took the long view, with a vengeance. …  

As eclectic as he was prolific, Stewart produced an idiosyncratic body of work. His books—more than 30 in all, including seven novels—ranged in subject from California history (Ordeal by Hunger, his first bestseller, told the story of the Donner Party) to roads (he wrote a sort of interpretative guide to U.S. 40) and place-names; Stewart considered his 1945 study of American toponymy, Names on the Land, to be his finest work. 

None of his books has been as enduring or exerted as much influence across the years, however, as Earth Abides. Translated into more than 20 languages, it has never gone out of print. The novel reportedly inspired Jimi Hendrix to write “Third Stone from the Sun,” and Stephen King to pen his end-times epic, The Stand. As King tells it, he was stalled out on a planned novel about Patty Hearst and the SLA when he recalled Stewart’s “fine book.” Inspired though he was, the King of Horror found the second half of Earth Abides insipid—“too much ecology, not enough story.” His own recipe spiced things up considerably. In The Stand, the survivors are loosely modeled on the SLA. The virus is no naturally occurring pathogen, but an escapee from a bioweapons lab. King’s plot builds to a battle royal between good and evil.

Stewart painted with a finer brush and a palette less black and white than gray. Ecology was indeed important to him, and he produced a series of novels in which nature itself is the chief protagonist. These include Fire, about a California wildfire, and Storm, about a blizzard in the Sierra called Maria. (We have Stewart to thank for the modern practice of naming hurricanes.) Even the Donner Party book takes a kind of ecological approach to its subject, beginning as it does with a view of the American West from low-Earth orbit, decades before the first astronauts went to space. 

In keeping with Fire and Storm, Earth Abides might have been called Virus, but Stewart found a better title in Ecclesiastes: “Men go and come, but earth abides.” He took the epigraph for Book 1 of his novel from a less inspired source: the December 22, 1947, edition of Chemical & Engineering News: 

If a killing type of virus strain should suddenly arise by mutation … it could, because of the rapid transportation in which we indulge nowadays, be carried to the far corners of the earth and cause the death of millions of people.

The person quoted is Wendell Stanley, the Nobel Prize winner who founded UC Berkeley’s Virus Lab. 

SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, is a virus of the “killing type.” As these words go to press, there are more than 4.7 million confirmed cases around the globe and more than 300,000 dead. Sadly, we will see worse, as did Stewart in his lifetime. Far worse, in fact. In 1918, while a uniformed soldier in the Ambulance Corps, he contracted the Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people worldwide. In the United States, the average lifespan was shortened by 12 years. Young Stewart survived but suffered dearly, ultimately losing a lung to the disease. 

The wars killed even more. Given that he was writing in the wake of the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden and the obliteration of Hiroshima, it may seem surprising that Stewart focused on disease, not nuclear Armageddon for his vision of the end. It was intentional. “Mankind had been trembling about destruction through war, and had been having bad dreams of cities blown to pieces,” Stewart writes early in Earth Abides. And later: “What you were preparing against—that never happened! All the best-laid plans could not prevent the disaster against which no plans had been laid.” 

There is more to the story Ish tells than just the resurgence of nature. There is also the slow devolution of human infrastructure as his beloved bridges rust, water mains burst, and reservoirs run dry. Cars become useless not for lack of gas so much as lack of tire pressure and roadways made impassable by fallen trees. Toilet paper barely gets a mention in Earth Abides, but the lack of running water signals an unwelcome return to the outdoor privy. And while food is plentiful, refrigeration and ice are things of the past. The electricity blinks out slowly. Time is marked by the sun, the record of years chiseled into stone. 

While most of the damage is slow (what Ish calls “the fire of rust” and “the fire of decay”), some is sudden and catastrophic, caused by earthquakes and periodic wildfires (“the fire of the flames”) that ravage the landscape unchecked, choking the air with acrid smoke. This will be familiar to contemporary Californians, as it was to Stewart. In 1923, the year he started teaching at Cal, a fire swept out of Wildcat Canyon and burned down nearly all of North Berkeley. Campus was spared when the winds changed, but in Earth Abides, fire rages across the University grounds as well. 

Ish looked around, and saw by the gutted ruins of a great building that they had camped on what had long ago been the campus of the University. Though he was still tired, he stood up curiously, and made out the shape of the Library a hundred yards or so distant. The trees around it had burned, but the building itself was still intact. Nearly all of its volumes, the whole record of mankind, would probably be still available. Available for whom? 

All of these ingredients—the resurgent wilderness, the crumbling of man’s handiwork, the rampant fires, even the Berkeley setting—are also features of a much earlier post-apocalyptic novel called The Scarlet Plague, by Jack London, Cal’s most famous dropout. In London’s short novel, first serialized in 1912, a pandemic in the year 2013 decimates the world population, which the author, remarkably, pegged at a nearly accurate 8 billion. London’s protagonist and narrator, James Howard Smith, is a former Berkeley English professor, who mourns the end of the University as much as he does the end of civilization. 

Everything had stopped. It was like the end of the world to me—my world. … For a century and a half had this university, like a splendid machine, been running steadily on. And now, in an instant, it had stopped. It was like seeing the sacred flame die down on some thrice-sacred altar. I was shocked, unutterably shocked. 

The novel opens 60 years after the pandemic, when Smith is an old man dressed in skins and known to his feral grandchildren as Granser. “Lord! Lord!—think of it! Sixty years ago and I am the only person alive today that lived in those times.” Like Ish in Earth Abides, he struggles in vain to educate his benighted descendants in the ways of the “time before.”

Stewart told his biographer Donald Scott that while he had read a considerable amount of London in his youth, The Scarlet Plague did not have any conscious influence on him. It’s hard to believe, considering the parallels. But even if it did, London himself had borrowed heavily from Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (1842), and Poe, in turn, had been inspired by Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826). As Ecclesiastes said, “Nothing is new under the Sun.” In fact, the chain of begetting goes back to the Bible and beyond, for apocalyptic writing is as old as writing itself. The Epic of Gilgamesh—the earliest literature known to man—contains an account of the Great Flood that is so close to the Genesis version that the latter smacks of plagiarism. If hope springs eternal in the human breast, so too, it seems, do premonitions of doom. 

All of which raises the question: Why? Why are we drawn to apocalyptic literature in the first place? Is it a cautionary story that we seek or just a good scare? 

Katherine Snyder is a Berkeley professor of English who has taught survey courses in apocalyptic literature in the past and is planning another in 2020, when, as she puts it, “the world of pandemic is too much with us.” Her course will pull from classics of the genre, starting with Boccaccio’s The Decameron (about the Black Death in Florence) and DeFoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (about the Great Plague of London), before moving on to more contemporary works such as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (about HIV/AIDS) and Station Eleven, the 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel (about a fictional virus called Georgia Flu).

Vicarious thrill is certainly a part of the apocalypse narrative’s appeal, Snyder says. She adds that the thrill has at least two components. “One is the feeling of terror or horror: that ‘Oh my god, that could happen to our world, that could happen to me’ feeling. And this is part of the ‘cautionary tale’ function—we have to act before it’s too late, at least if the looming danger is something we can act upon, like climate change. But the other component is, paradoxically, reassurance: ‘Well, that hasn’t happened here, to our world or to me,’ or even ‘that couldn’t happen here, what a relief.’ I think readers often ricochet back and forth between these antithetical responses.” 

In truth, the scenario described in Earth Abides and The Scarlet Plague, in which something like 95 percent of humanity perishes, probably couldn’t happen. A pathogen that killed so quickly would tend to burn itself out before it could infect such a broad swath of humanity. Even the 1918 flu had “only” a 2.5 percent mortality rate. The Black Death of the Middle Ages—the deadliest pandemic in human history—wiped out a third of humanity, but the die-off occurred across a decade, not weeks, as in Earth Abides. While it’s true that high-speed global travel hastens the spread of disease, the speed of information and the efficacy of modern medicines including vaccines and antibiotics should, in theory, forestall the very worst. 

But in the end, it is not the novelist’s job to strictly heed the plausible. With the suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part comes the freedom, on the author’s, to think the unthinkable. The exercise is not pointless. Apocalypse comes from the Greek, apokalypsis: to reveal. The spinner of apocalypse tales is like the hacker paid to expose flaws in a system, and hopefully, suggest fixes to the code. This is another attraction of pandemic narratives, says Snyder: “the fascination of seeing how writers imagine the rebuilding of society. In what ways does it merely recapitulate the woes and joys of our present world, and to what extent does it reinvent human families and governments, for better and/or for worse?” 

Here, readers of Earth Abides and The Scarlet Plague may be disappointed, as rebuilding is not in the cards in either. Both Ish and Granser struggle to preserve the light of civilization but their efforts are in vain. The main symbol in Earth Abides—an object of totemic power for the tribe—is Ish’s hammer, which he keeps with him at all times. Tellingly, it’s a miner’s hammer not a carpenter’s—better for demolition than building. “Let there be no light,” Ish says ruefully as the electricity goes out for the last time. “And there was no light.” 

Finally, as he lies dying, Ish muses at the sight of his descendants squatting around him with their bows and arrows: 

They were very young in age, at least by comparison with him, and in the cycle of mankind they were many thousands of years younger than he. He was the last of the old; they were the first of the new. But whether the new would follow the course which the old had followed, that he did not know, and now at last he was almost certain that he did not even desire that the cycle should be repeated. He suddenly thought of all that had gone to build civilization—of slavery and conquest and war and oppression. 

And here is Granser’s lament at the end of London’s tale: 

The gunpowder will come. Nothing can stop it—the same old story over and over. Man will increase, and men will fight. The gunpowder will enable men to kill millions of men, and in this way only, by fire and blood, will a new civilization, in some remote day, be evolved. And of what profit will it be? Just as the old civilization passed, so will the new. It may take fifty thousand years to build, but it will pass. All things pass. Only remain cosmic force and matter, ever in flux, ever acting and reacting and realizing the eternal types—the priest, the soldier, and the king. 

Humans come and humans go, in other words. Earth abides. The long view, with a vengeance.  

Pat Joseph is editor in chief of California.

From the Summer 2020 issue of California.
Filed under: Arts + Letters
Image source: Marcus Manschen
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Lovely piece. Stewart was not a historian, but he was certainly a student of the Annales School…
I read “Earth Abides” shortly after it was published, when I was 15 or 16 years old and in high school. It had a big impact on my thinking - the realization that civilization might not pick up the pieces and continue after a disaster like that, but would have to start over from basic resources, among other things. It also had a lot to do with my desire to attend Berkeley, which I did after 2 years at a junior college, from 1953 to 1958. Marilyn G. (Westall) Smith, ’58.
Beautiful article! So well conceived and researched. I am mesmerized by the details of George Stewart’s life. What a prolific survivor. When my husband and I read Ordeal By Hunger in 1990, soon after buying a vacation cabin in Truckee, we were completely taken by his narrative of this extraordinary human trauma. There is now a new portion of the Donner Lake Museum that does justice to this piece of history. We will now read Earth Abides, thanks to Pat Joseph. Well done.
I enjoyed very much reading your article concerning Earth Abides, as this book took me on a pilgrimage from England to San Francisco in 1985. I had been invited by Mrs Stewart when I tried to write to Stewart, telling him how much I enjoyed his book. He died almost days before my letter arrived. I met many of Stewart’s colleagues and friends, and interviewed Mrs Stewart, and those tapes now reside in the Bancroft ROHO. Don Scott and Bob Lyon were there for me, and I am indebted to them. At Don’s good suggestion, I gifted all of my correspondence from Mrs Stewart to UNR, for their GRS Collection. Regarding my visit, I wrote a short account detailing the people and places encountered and Don, I believe, has a copy of this.
This is certainly the Year of Earth Abides, Year 71 to carve on Indian Rock, and Pat Joseph’s fine article is a remarkable contribution to the time’s data and lore. His research turned up a few things I wish I’d found in my George R. Stewart scholarship. But better late than never, and his discoveries have enriched my understanding of the great work. Joseph’s framing of the article in the context of UC Berkeley means this will be of special interest to those who know the University. For those who don’t, this article, like Stewart’s novel, may well act as a draw when our pandemic ends. At least one Stewart scholar, Steve Williams, was so drawn by his reading of Earth Abides; his trip from England to the Bay Area resulted in a lengthy article and substantial contributions to the Bancroft Stewart Papers – gifts for future scholars. Pat Joseph’s comments about The Scarlet Plague are provocative. The parallels are strong. The major differences I note – and they are significant – is that there’s more science and deeper philosophy in Stewart’s book. And there’s no Em, one of Stewart’s greatest characters, in London’s novel. Pat Joseph’s article joins poet/novelist James Sallis’s fine piece in the Boston Globe, “Earth Abides: Stewart’s dark eulogy for humankind,” as a pair of reflections on Earth Abides. (http://www.grasslimb.com/sallis/GlobeColumns/globe.06.earth.html). Those two articles will soon have company. On October 13 of this year, a new Mariner Press Edition of Earth Abides will be released. It includes an “Introduction” by another writer of distinction, Kim Stanley Robinson. You may want to pre-order Stewart’s fine novel from your local bookstore or Amazon and re-read it; then review the trilogy of “Earth Abides Considerations.” Compare Robinson’s “Introduction” to Pat Joseph’s article and Sallis’s essay. The three complement each other, so when you finish you’ll have a much deeper understanding of the novel, its relationship to the University of California, Berkeley, and Stewart’s life and work. Don Scott, George R. Stewart’s authorized biographer
Mr. Scott, thank you for all insights. I found this in May 2021, 15 years after my father died at 83, while searching for the source of a family turn of phrase. My parents were introduced to each other as freshmen at UC Berkeley by George & Ted Stewart, who were mutual friends of their parents. My father was the son of Harold Lawton Bruce, a colleague of GRS in the Dept of English, and Dorothy Hart Bruce, who also became a professor of English (half-sister to my great uncle Walter—Walter Morris Hart). The Stewarts took my father for several summers to the Mother Lode country after Harold died when my dad was 11. In the last months of his life, my father said to me one day, “I once knew a man who said ‘shying donies’ for skipping stones across water.” He couldn’t say who the man was, and I’ve wondered since whether it was George Stewart, if not Harold Bruce, who no doubt skipped stones with my young father. I have yet to search in George Stewart’s books to see if ‘shying [or shaying] donies’ is to be found, and wonder whether off the bat you recall the words. I recently found it in a letter by my father to his mother in Berkeley, describing a visit to bat caves in the Philippines in 1956, where there was a place on the river where we shyed donies. My father loved the Stewarts, I enjoyed visiting them, and I recall a fine anecdote told about a meteor shower and the Big Dipper told at GRS’s memorial service. Thank you, Deborah Bruce
Thanks for a fine letter, Deborah Bruce. Wish I’d had this information while writing the book. But as said in an earlier comment, better late than never. With your permission I’d like to send this to a couple of Stewart family members, to place in their family archives. So your parents met in GRS’s English class! It was clearly more than an academic experience for many. I quoted a couple of letters sent from students years later in the GRS Biography; and I must say they are very moving and a great testament to the power of the man. And your Dad went to the Dutch Flat Cabin with the Stewarts. GRS finally sold the place to one of his students - for $50 as I recall - and the family still owns it. I assume that Dorothy Hart Bruce is related to James D. Hart? If so, and you will know this, Jim Hart and GRS were neighbors and close friends - Jack Stewart said the two men were particular friends. The Hart family gets a mention in Earth Abides; and GRS mentions a “Hart Creek” in Fire. There’s also several references to Walter Morris Hart, who was the English Department Head when GRS joined the faculty. So there’s a small bit of your family history in the GRS bio. As to the phrase - never heard GRS use it, and haven’t seen any references to it in the Bancroft manuscript material. But someone in the GRS family may know so I’ll check with them. This has been a wonderful letter, and hopefully our paths will cross again. The GRS “Project” seems to keep growing, thanks to others who are passionate about his work. If any of the proposed works develop, I’ll let you know. Cheers, Don Scott
Thank you, Don Scott. You have my permission to send my recollections to the Stewart family, most definitely. But to clarify, my parents were introduced to each other when they were new at Berkeley (1940s) because the Stewarts knew my mother’s parents in Carmel, as well as knowing Harold and Dorothy Bruce from being friends and colleagues in the English dept. My Dad clearly loved going to Dutch Flat, and I think that’s where he learned to sing a version of ‘Springfield Mountain,’ which he had us singing on camping trips in the 1950s. If you have any photos of the Dutch Flat cabin, I would love to see. In 1934 George Stewart was among the honorary pallbearers at my grandfather’s funeral: here is some of the text of an obituary that mentions fellow faculty incuding GRS: “Dean Bruce of U.C. Summer School Dies” ‘After an illness of five months, Dean Harold L. Bruce, one of the most brilliant and greatly beloved members of the University of California faculty, died yesterday afternoon at his home at 1443 Scenic Avenue. Dean Bruce was born in 1887 in Massachusetts. After a year at Williams College in that state, he entered the University of California, and graduated with the class of 1908. He continued his studies here and at Yale University, where he was awarded the degree of Ph.D. and taught for one year. Since 1916, Dr. Bruce had been a professor in the department of English at the University of California and since 1923, dean of the summer sessions, first in Los Angeles, and after 1925, in Berkeley. In 1918, he was married to Miss Dorothy Hart, who, with their two children, Alan and Jean Alison, survives him. He was the son of Mrs. L. M. Bruce and brother of Mrs. Frank M. Bumstead. An admirable teacher, Dean Bruce was beloved by the students who had the good fortune to be enrolled in his classes. He was a general favorite with his colleagues on the University faculty. He won distinction as an administrator. Under his direction, the Summer Sessions enjoyed an international reputation, attracting students from all states of the Union and numbering in their faculties, noted scholars from this country and Europe. … … Funeral services will be held Monday afternoon at 3:30 o’clock at the Chapel of the Chimes on Piedmont Avenue, Oakland. A distinguished group of faculty members at the University, headed by Dean Bruce’s associates in the English department, will act as honorary pall bearers. They are Dr. Walter Morris Hart, brother of Mrs. Bruce, J. S. P. Tatlock, Guy Montgomery, B. H. Bronson, W. E. Farnham, Merritt Y. Hughes, G. R. Stewart, Jr., … … James R. Caldwell, … Benjamin H. Lehman, and J. F. Ross, all of the English department. Those from other departments who will also act as honorary pall bearers are Dean Thomas M. Puttman of the undergraduate division, Rudolph Scheville, chairman of the Spanish department; P. B. Fay, chairman of the French department; C. H. Bell, and E. V. Brewer, German department; I. M. Linforth, chairman, and G. M. Calhoun, Greek department; Warren Perry, chairman of the architecture department; and William Popper, chairman of the department of Semitic languages.’ —I discovered the clipping inside one of his books—it expanded my sense of the grandfather I never knew, as did the remarkable B. H. Lehman oral history (which also mentions George Stewart). As far as I know we are not related to James D. Hart. But my wonderful great-aunt Amy Bruce Bumstead was the widow of Frank M. Bumstead, of the University Library. I am ever grateful to the Stewarts as family friends and for their kindness to my father after he lost his father too young. I see in my old OED that shying = throwing something with a jerking motion, such as a stone, and ‘dhoney’ is a small boat, so may be related, but still, sources of the combined term elude, for skipping stones. I’ll order your GRS biography, though not in stock at Powell’s Books! –Deborah Bruce
Mr. Scott, thank you for all insights. I found this in May 2021, 15 years after my father died at 83, while searching for the source of a family turn of phrase. My parents were introduced to each other as freshmen at UC Berkeley by George & Ted Stewart, who were mutual friends of their parents. My father was the son of Harold Lawton Bruce, a colleague of GRS in the Dept of English, and Dorothy Hart Bruce, who also became a professor of English (half-sister to my great uncle Walter—Walter Morris Hart). The Stewarts took my father for several summers to the Mother Lode country after Harold died when my dad was 11. In the last months of his life, my father said to me one day, “I once knew a man who said ‘shying donies’ for skipping stones across water.” He couldn’t say who the man was, and I’ve wondered since whether it was George Stewart, if not Harold Bruce, who no doubt skipped stones with my young father. I have yet to search in George Stewart’s books to see if ‘shying [or shaying] donies’ is to be found, and wonder whether off the bat you recall the words. I recently found it in a letter by my father to his mother in Berkeley, describing a visit to bat caves in the Philippines in 1956, where there was a place on the river where we shyed donies. My father loved the Stewarts, I enjoyed visiting them, and I recall a fine anecdote told about a meteor shower and the Big Dipper told at GRS’s memorial service. Thank you, Deborah Bruce
What a wonderful revelation, and an important addition to our collective knowledge of George R Stewart and his family connections. Thank you, and very best wishes from England!
Pat, we must dedicate all necessary UC resources today to make certain that “humans go” does not happen on our watch. We must focus on Mother Jones exhortation: “Fight Like Hell For the Living” one more time to protect our civilization from destruction by the current pandemic and global warming, along with out of control social, political and economic chaos. No civilization before ours has had the resources and opportunities to protect the human race from itself, and UC can make the right things happen because of that today if we “Fight Like Hell For the Living” one more time like we did during WWII.
P.S. Pat, this issue of CALMAG is the best, and most important I can remember. Laura Smith asked some excellent focus questions at the beginning of the Pandemic Roundtable that must be accomplished with the greatest sense of urgency including: lessons to be learned (We Must Fight Like Hell for the Living), outdated values to jettison (Us/Them dichotomies, Hofstadter’s Law of academic purity), what new ones should we cultivate (we must join together socially, politically and economically to fight like hell for the living), what institutions will become ascendant or obsolete (UC academics must inform, educate and motivate the public, and have two-way conversations to overcome the failures produced by Hofstadter’s Law of Academic Purity that enables inequality, racism and materialism), what matters most (Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness including an acceptable environment for all future generations, basic health with controls to prevent/cure disease, free education services, living wages, social opportunity and equality for all with protection from materialism), and what should we focus on (all of the above with the greatest sense of urgency to prevent the end of our civilization in this century).
Thanks, Deborah Bruce. I’ll send your comments to the Stewarts for their records. More good information here, which will go into my GRS files. Things seem to be moving once again, and so a new folder has been opened and your comments are the first entries! I have at least one photo of the Dutch Flat cabin. It will take some hunting to find it, but I’ll work on the search asap. At some point we can exchange addresses and then I’ll send the photo by email. This is an old photo, probably from the 30s and not too clear, but shows the cabin well enough. Also, I may have some more recent photos that I took on a visit to the cabin. Again, it’ll take some digging, but I’ll hope those also turn up. The next few days are busy here, but sometime next week I can work on this. Cheers, Don S.
Deborah Bruce: The Dutch Flat Cabin photo has been found, and the Keeper of the GRS photo collection has given permission to send it to you. Now we need to figure out how to exchange email addresses! Cheers, Don Scott
Hi Donald Scott, how lovely. I have just sent a message to California/Cal Alumni (via ‘contact us’) providing my email with permission to give it to you—if you could see that they have a way to contact you so they can give you my email perhaps that will work. I can also try a phone call to them.
Thanks, Deborah, I’ve been figuring out a work around which won’t need email. Should know tomorrow. Don