Published on Sunday, December 3, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Friends Recall Brower's Natural Gifts
Conservationist thanked for what he stood for -- and what he blocked
by Jane Kay
David Brower lived on in memory yesterday as friends recalled a
courageous conservationist who climbed Yosemite's sheer granite walls and
tussled with powerful dam builders all in the name of saving wilderness.
More than 1,200 people came to a memorial celebration at the Berkeley Community Theatre in his native city where he spent nearly a century. He died of bladder cancer on Nov. 5 at 88.
Mayor Shirley Dean and the Berkeley City Council declared his birthday, July 1, as David Brower Day, an annual celebration that will mark his work as "a visionary . . . who changed the world in a way that will earn the gratitude of generations to come."
The leaders are considering a proposal to change the name of Sea Wall Drive near the marina, where the Brower family watched pelicans. It may become David Brower Way.
Brower -- a Sierra Club member for 67 years, its first executive director in 1952 and founder of Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute -- is credited with shepherding the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and keeping dams out of the Grand Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument.
"Our Mother Earth has lost the best friend she ever had," said Martin Litton, Brower's friend of 48 years, eulogizing a fellow opponent of dam building and the logging of ancient forests.
"They say Dave Brower was the greatest conservationist since John Muir," Litton said. "Oh, no. He was the greatest of all. He not only cared, but he made things happen. Thank God, he stopped things from happening, too.
"He wasn't just an emotionalist, operating out of feelings. He supported his positions with homework. He burned the midnight oil. He learned more than the Earth's enemies ever knew. And what he knew, he could express so beautifully. People believed him. They knew he had no ulterior motive."
Often fighting with Litton at his side, Brower had a lead role in bringing nine areas into the national park system. He made 70 first ascents in Yosemite and the western United States, and was a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.
One by one, saxophonist Paul Winter, writers Stephanie Mills and Bill McKibben, and environmentalists Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins and Julia "Butterfly" Hill came to the stage to speak about the man who inspired them.
Winter, who got the crowd howling like wolves with his "Wolf Eyes" composition, spoke of meeting Brower nearly 20 years ago in the Grand Canyon. Winter invited Brower to Connecticut to play piano to his woodwind. In a startling tape, the audience heard Brower playing one of his own unnamed Gershwin-like compositions from the session.
Hill, dressed in black, wept while reading a poem drawn from the slashing vandalism last week in Humboldt County of the tree she named Luna. She lived in the tree for two years, trying to save it from logging.
"The person who attacked Luna has enough anger for us all," Hill told a transfixed crowd.
Of Brower, she said: "For me, the legacy left behind for young people is how to live in the world. He was living embodiment of youthful energy."
Brower's family spoke of their memories of him as a father and brother.
Growing up as one of four children in the Brower family, son Kenneth Brower said their religion was the wilderness, the High Sierra and Yosemite Valley, and the ideology borne in conversations at the dinner table.
"There was never a group too small," said Brower, who lives in Oakland. "In five minutes, he could turn any conversation into a conservation discussion. It was kind of annoying. But we got to like it."
He said his family learned to take off their socks but leave on their boots to ford an icy river, to set up low tarps instead of tents -- and to understand in the wilderness you leave nothing behind and take away only your memories.
His father's cairns to mark trails were unlike everyone else's. While others started with big rocks and piled up the smaller ones, his father began with the small and built up the big ones. That technique told much of his father's philosophy, he thought.
"How do you get a distance from your dad like a normal Berkeley kid?" asked Brower said with a laugh. "How do you get more radical than David Brower?"
Some at the memorial compared Brower to a towering redwood tree, inspired by his straight and tall 6-foot, 3-inch frame that moved in long-legged strides over trails. But his daughter, Barbara Brower Olsen, said he had a vision of nature that encompassed the lowly creatures.
It's true that his spirit could be likened to the giant redwood -- the ever- living Sequoia sempervirens -- that sprouts up from the base after the monarch tree dies, said Olsen, a geology professor who lives in Portland with her husband and two daughters.
"But he liked everything that lived," she said. "If he comes around again, he just might be the grasses."
Before the memorial began, people laughed at the Browerisms that peppered a photography exhibit in the theater's lobby:
"I hate all dams, large and small. If you are against a dam, you are for a river."
"Environmentalists make terrible neighbors but great ancestors."
"Bite the worms. They won't hurt nearly as much as the insecticide does."
Three of the men who came to the memorial were Grand Canyon boatmen, as was Brower.
Brad Dimock, of Flagstaff, Ariz., said: "David Brower was just a phenomenal man whose shoes no one's going to be able to fill, ever. He was bold, sure of himself, a brilliant orator. My God, could he pack a message into a phrase."
Ashley Schaeffer, 17, a graduate of Ukiah High School on her way to a major in environmental studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., said she first learned of Brower when her father showed her a movie about him.
More than 70 years difference in age didn't dim his ability to inspire her.
"We share passions for the environment," Schaeffer said. "What he did in his lifetime is amazing.
"If I could do just one one-hundredth, I'd feel as though I'd made a difference."
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle