Trzyna.info : : Personal website of Thaddeus C. (Ted) Trzyna
Trzyna.info : : Personal website of Thaddeus C. (Ted) Trzyna
By Ted Trzyna
Copyright © 2021 T. C. Trzyna. Citation: Trzyna, Ted. "Why we got a street named after Frank Stoney." Ted Trzyna. trzyna.info. Posted January 2021
When an assistant scoutmaster of my old Boy Scout troop in South Pasadena, California sent an email asking me to put down a few words about Frank Stoney and how Larry McHargue and I managed to get a street named after him in 1958, I was happy to do so and got in touch with Larry and another friend from those scouting days, Félix Gutiérrez. Both friends are now semi-retired emeritus professors, Larry in biology, Félix in journalism, and both live in South Pasadena (I live in Claremont, a college town 25 miles to the East). The Boy Scout leader is Chris English, a graphic designer, and it turned out that Félix had inspired him to look into what we did 63 years ago and what could be done now so it won't slip from memory. I was writing a memoir anyway, so I decided to tell the story as part of the memoir project, and the "few words" became thousands. Keep in mind that what is posted here is from a memoir titled "The Uncovering," so it is meant to be personal and candid.
South Pasadena is a small city of 3.42 square miles sandwiched between the cities of Los Angeles and Pasadena. Proud of its separate identity, it was one of Los Angeles' first suburbs, incorporated in 1888, and has its own school district.
I went to South Pasadena High School, but most of what I learned in those high school years, 1954 to 1957, took place around two other local institutions: the public library and the Boy Scouts.
I've never done very well in classroom settings, sitting in a chair and trying to keep up with a lecture or a class discussion. My mind wanders.
But there was another reason why I learned more outside of school. The culture of the place was conformist. I’ve since learned this was typical of highly ranked high schools in this country and even in Europe. Almost all the students at SPHS went on to college, so they focused on getting good grades to get admitted to the best ones. Too often this meant memorizing, rather than thinking, or even learning how to think. Curiosity wasn't always appreciated.
The school had good teachers, at least by conventional standards, and some of them were exceptional. I felt comfortable at SPHS and certainly wasn't a nerd or a loner. I could relate to all my 500 or so fellow students in some way and made an effort to do so. I went to home football games and can still sing every word of our alma mater.
However, I learn by reading at my own pace, solving problems, observing what is going on around me and in the world, and talking with people in small groups or one-on-one.
For those purposes, at that crucial stage of life, the library and the Scouts were good fits.
I write about the library in another selection from my memoir, The "life-giving" public library and John Muir.
My family moved to South Pasadena from Chicago in 1952. Once we were settled in, the item at the top of my parents’ to-do list was getting me into a troop of Boy Scouts. They feared I was becoming soft: bookish, totally uninterested in sports, too much time by myself. The Scouts would make a man of me, or so they thought.
Dad asked around about Scout troops and learned that most of them were sponsored by churches, places he liked to avoid, but one strong troop was run by the boys’ fathers. This was Troop 342, which had been around since the 1920s and had its own Scout house on school district property on the then semi-wild eastern edge of Raymond Hill.
Dad decided to check out 342, and the first opportunity to do so was on a Saturday when a group of fathers and sons gathered to paint the exterior of the wooden Scout house. Dad and I pitched in, were welcomed warmly, and when the group parted, we knew we had found a home.
Along with Troop 342, there was Explorer Post 342 for older boys. For a time, when one of the families had a yacht docked at Newport Beach, there was Sea Scout Ship 342.
The annual calendar was full. Scout Day was in May, with a parade of Boy and Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls down Fair Oaks and Mission, ending up at Garfield Park where there were speeches; knot tying, campfire building, and other competitions; and a barbecue meal.
The barbecuing was 342’s responsibility and was done in early California pit barbecue style. Our team drove to a slaughterhouse in Vernon for sides of beef, dug out the pit in Arroyo Park that had long been used for the purpose, burned a big pile of wood scraps in the pit until it became a bed of coals, lowered cloth-wrapped hunks of meat onto the dying embers, and covered it with earth. The meat cooked all night. A few of us volunteered to keep watch and dig out the final product the next morning.
In December we sold Christmas trees from the parking lot of what is now the Wells Fargo Bank on Fair Oaks Avenue. One year I managed the tree lot, which meant sleeping in a tent on the premises, or rather trying to sleep between visits by overzealous police checking up on my well-being.
Franz Bischoff, Arroyo Seco Bridge, 1912. See below about the painting and the artist.
The invisible rattlesnake
Larry and Stoney Drive
Insert: About the Arroyo Seco
Thinking back at why we did it
What about the street named after
John Charles Frémont?
A botanical false start
Insert: Photos of the Boole Tree,
the stumps & the deepest canyon
About the painting and the artist
The painting above shows how the unchannelized Arroyo Seco looked in 1912. The view is upstream toward the York Avenue bridge with the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance and an edge of South Pasadena at the right.
This is pretty much what Frank Stoney would have seen when he joined Boy Scout Troop 342 in 1920. The street named after him, Stoney Drive, runs through the Arroyo starting about a half mile beyond the bridge.
Franz Bischoff (1864-1929) was born in what is now Czechia and came to the United States as a teenager. In 1908 he built a large house and studio near the edge of the Arroyo Seco in South Pasadena and lived and worked there for the rest of his life. He was well known for his paintings of flowers and landscapes, and his favorite subject was the Arroyo.
Bischoff was part of an artistic and literary colony stretching along the Arroyo and into adjacent areas that thrived from the 1890s into the 1920s. It became known as the Arroyo Seco Culture.
The boys in 342 came from socioeconomic backgrounds ranging from very wealthy to needy, with almost all of us in between. In my time the sons of Roy P. and Josephine Crocker were members. Roy Crocker was CEO of the original Lincoln Savings & Loan. Their names are attached to buildings and endowed chairs at USC, Stanford, Claremont McKenna, and other colleges and universities to which they donated millions. Then there were a few boys from families that were just coping. It was part of 342’s DNA to include them, waive fees, and provide them with uniforms and camping equipment. The scout house had closets full of the stuff. I suspect these boys were quietly referred to 342 through an informal network based in schools and churches. I was asked to mentor one of them.
Monthly weekend camping trips tended to go to the same spots year after year: Thousand Palms Oasis, with a swim on the way back in pools fed by hot springs; Carpinteria Beach, where newbies soon learned to keep their feet away from patches of tar oozing out of the sand; Calico ghost town before it became a tourist attraction; snow camp in the San Bernardino Mountains; and various campgrounds in the San Gabriel and San Jacinto mountains.
Three-day weekends allowed for more distant destinations: backpacking through the open Jeffrey pine forest on the Kern Plateau in the southern Sierra; a site on the Colorado River downstream from Parker Dam where we set out our sleeping bags amid dense thickets of tall arrowweed; and an ocean beach 40 miles south of the border near a village called La Misión — that trip included an afternoon excursion to Ensenada.
Learning about guns was another tradition: instruction about gun safety, target practice with .22 caliber rifles at the Pasadena armory and an outdoor firing range in the mountains, and more instruction about gun safety. This was valuable experience.
The highlight of the year was a week-long summer camp at Aspen Hollow near Hume Lake in Sequoia National Forest (see the map at the bottom of the page). There were no buildings or other facilities at the site, only piped water. We took everything we needed with us in a stake truck and a convoy of cars that left at dawn on a Saturday in June. We stopped for lunch under a stand of valley oaks preserved in Mooney Grove Park in Visalia.
During the week, the older boys went on a five-day backpacking trip in the High Sierra and the others went swimming in the lake, took local hikes, and visited groves of giant sequoias and Boyden’s Cavern in the canyon of the Kings River, which in June was usually raging at high water.
Although other dads went on 342 camping trips now and then, there were several stalwarts. Don O’Grady, who worked on the technical side of manufacturing, was a trip planner and organizer, but not a hiker. He loved to sit and talk with us and had a wonderful sense of humor. In the evening he might keep a little glass of bourbon at his side, hidden under a jacket or a towel. In December he supervised the Christmas tree lot. Another stalwart, C.H. “Pete” Lawrence, a tall, slim Christian Scientist, helped lead our backpacking trips and knew a lot about photography and the landscapes we visited. He worked downtown in the financial services industry.
One of the dads, Frank Stoney (SPHS ’26), stood out because he was a natural leader and a consummate outdoorsman. He had himself joined 342 in 1920 when he was 14 and had remained active in Scouting as an adult leader. Then his own sons, Ed (SPHS ’55) and Gary (’60) joined 342. Frank had held various positions in the South Pasadena city government and by that time possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the town.
He also had an impressive fund of knowledge about California native plants and animals. On Scout trips I started taking along two standard guides, the 1,238-page Jepson Manual of the Flowering Plants of California (1951 edition) and George B. Sudworth’s slimmer Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope (1908). Sometimes Frank would ask to consult one or the other and it was obvious he had spent a lot of time with them.
The invisible rattlesnake
Among many Frank Stoney anecdotes is the one about the invisible rattlesnake. On our week-long summer backpacking trips, our usual route into the high country of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was the Bubbs Creek Trail. The trail started at the end of Kings Canyon Road at 5,100 feet elevation. On the first day we would hike ten miles to Junction Meadow at 8,100 feet and make camp. This time there were about 15 of us, with Pete Lawrence leading and Frank taking up the rear.
We were about halfway up the trail when Frank sent a message up the line to stop and walk back to where he was standing. With a forked stick, he was holding down a great big rattlesnake. Frank rarely lectured us — he taught by example — but this time we got a talking-to about being observant. The snake had been partially hidden under a rock step in the trail, but most of its thick body was visible, and all of us had walked right over it.
It was a Northern Pacific rattlesnake, not aggressive but dangerously venomous. Frank called for a shovel, cut off its head, and warned us not to touch it; the head could still bite and release its venom. At camp we roasted the body and shared the sweet meat.
Images (L-R): (1) A Northern Pacific rattlesnake, but not ours. (2) Switchbacks along the Bubbs Creek trail [NPS]. (3) William Keith, Kings River Canyon, 1878 [Oakland Museum of California]. Like most of Keith's work this painting, which measures 6 by 10 feet, expresses emotion rather than topographical facts. Keith (1838-1911) was a fellow Scot and a close friend of Muir. Mount Keith, a 13,982-foot peak on the Sierra Nevada crest, is named for him; snow-melt from its West-facing slopes flows into Bubbs Creek and then into the Kings. (4) A satellite image of Junction Meadow in mid-summer, its grass-like plants turning brown, Bubbs Creek running through it.
Thousand Palms Oasis in the Little San Bernardino Mountains was an annual 342 camping trip
Frank was strict but fair. I think I saw him get angry only once. This was on the same Bubbs Creek trail at the start of a more ambitious backpacking trip for which we had hired a couple of pack mules with a wrangler on horseback. The wrangler and his animals made much better time than we hikers did and because of a late start it was almost dark as we approached our usual camping spot in Junction Meadow.
We saw flames and sparks flying high in the air. A forest fire? Lightning often caused wildfires in the Sierra, but there hadn’t been any lightning or thunder that day. We got to the edge of the big meadow and saw what was going on. A snag, a standing dead tree, was on fire. The wrangler was pretty drunk. He told us he set the fire to warm himself and it got out of control, but it was more likely he just wanted some entertainment. Frank told us to stand back while he talked to the man alone.
A chastised Mr. Wrangler carried his bedroll to a far corner of the meadow where he had tied his animals. The flames were subsiding, but Frank appointed a couple boys to find our canvas pails and splash water on the snag, and a couple others to look for places in the forest where firebrands may have caused spot fires. No more was said about the incident, but Frank would inform the next park ranger he saw as well as the manager of the pack station. Fire was taken very seriously in the mountains.
Frank Stoney was a leader in the local Baptist church and was guided by his Christian faith. My respect for him was reinforced by something that happened when I must have been 15 years old. Sunday mornings on our camping trips always included a simple church service that took around half an hour. This consisted of sitting in a circle, singing a Christian hymn or two, reciting a Christian prayer, and listening to verses of the New Testament. All the boys were expected to attend, and they were fetched if they failed to show up.
These services made me uncomfortable. My younger brother Tom and I weren’t raised in any church, although our parents both came from nominally Christian traditions. They encouraged us to study religion, talk with them about it, and make up our own minds. I believed in God but was not a Christian.
I explained this to Frank and told him I would attend the services but sit quietly outside the circle. He gave me a nod, and later I saw him exchanging a few words with boys who questioned the arrangement. (I could have told him, but didn’t, that a young John Muir, who was steeped in the Bible, was asked to teach Sunday school but instead offered lessons in botany as a means of understanding creation.)
It may seem odd that I give this as an example of Frank’s fairness, but in the 1950s there was less tolerance for being different.
Snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea), a spectacular "fungus-root" parasite of conifers found here.
Larry and Stoney Drive
Larry McHargue and I got to know each other in 342. He was a year ahead of me in high school. We shared an interest in nature and while other guys our age were talking about baseball or cars we had serious discussions about such things as California native plants, fruit trees, and the weather. The weather interest included listening on cold clear winter nights to the Weather Bureau’s Fruit Frost Warning Service, broadcast at 8 pm on KFI Radio. How cold will it be in Lemon Cove? Is that a record? How about Fallbrook?
Our friends and their parents saw this as quirky while they admired kids who memorized batting averages or decades of World Series statistics. Conforming to the usual was expected.
One time Larry and I decided we wanted to talk with pioneers of horticulture in Southern California and arranged to meet with William Hertrich (1878-1966), who created the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino starting in 1905 and still lived in a house on the property; and Theodore Payne (1872-1963), who introduced hundreds of California native plants to horticulture from his nursery on Los Feliz Boulevard in Los Angeles. Like so many of those who have helped define California culture, both of them immigrated to the United States while they were young, Hertrich from Germany, Payne from England. Other examples are John Muir from Scotland and the Czech-born artist Franz Bischoff, whose painting of the Arroyo Seco is at the top of the page. I suppose I relate to this because my own father came to this country from Poland as a child, in 1912.
At our 342 summer camp site in Aspen Hollow we built a nature trail for which I carved names of plants on wooden signs and Larry produced a booklet.
We were the first in our 342 circle to visit one of the most dramatic sights in the Sierra Nevada, although as the crow flies it was just three miles or so from Aspen Hollow. This was the Boole Tree, one of the ten largest of the giant sequoias, the most massive trees on Earth. The Boole Tree was the only mature sequoia left standing in a large grove that was logged between 1892 and 1918. What remains are hundreds of stumps. (See the photos and map in the insert at the bottom of the page.)
Why did the Boole Tree survive? The usual story is that the logging superintendent, Frank Boole, spared it because he had a crisis of conscience. The truth is that the Sierra Club did some lobbying and deal-making.
Ironically the timber from old growth sequoias is brittle and unsuitable for structural purposes, so the wood ended up as fence-posts, shingles, grape stakes, and pencils. When Larry and I were there in the 1950s there was no trail to the Boole, so we had to walk along a skid road through the forest, a cleared path made for dragging sequoia logs that over time had become more of a gully. The images from that afternoon have stayed with me as a reference point ever since.
Larry and I talked about religion and a bit about politics, but our views on those subjects were quite different. Without saying as much we agreed to disagree; we had a lot of other things in common. Another important lesson learned.
In 1958, when he was at Occidental College and I was at USC, Larry and I decided we wanted to honor Frank Stoney’s long record of service to South Pasadena in some tangible way. We came up with the idea of naming a street after him. In a town where even the alleys already had names, we found a nameless street that was by far the most appropriate one. It was the road that descended into the Arroyo Seco near the west end of Mission Street and traversed Arroyo Park to a T-junction with San Pascual Avenue, across from the stables. It was appropriate because the Arroyo had always been a prime location for Boy Scout activities.
[Continued after insert]
Stoney Drive, the street named after Frank Stoney, runs through South Pasadena's section of the Arroyo Seco, a canyon and seasonal river that extends 25 miles from its headwaters at 5,200 feet elevation in the San Gabriel Mountains to its confluence with the Los Angeles River near Downtown L.A. (see the maps below). From there the river flows to the ocean through a wide concrete flood control channel.
In 1922, when South Pasadena had fewer than 8,000 residents, its voters approved a $100,000 bond measure to acquire 100 acres of the Arroyo for a city park. More acreage was added over the next few years. The Arroyo was still semi-natural with a free-flowing stream and vestiges of riparian forest. In 1926 the city allowed the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls to build their own cabins on Arroyo land formerly occupied by a dairy farm. The Boy Scouts' site was called Camp Sigler (photo below).
Arroyo Seco means dry stream in Spanish, but every few years winter storms cause torrential flooding. For flood control, starting in the 1930s, the Arroyo stream was channelized, then its bottom was paved. The Arroyo Seco Parkway was built in 1938, and eventually almost all the flat land in South Pasadena's small section of the Arroyo was taken up by a golf course and sports fields, with a three-acre nature park at its southwestern tip.
Nature can be brought back in such places in ways that accommodate a range of needs, including flood control, water conservation, wildlife habitat, and active recreation. Studies have been done and plans have been made for restoring the natural environment all along the Arroyo Seco, including in South Pasadena, but with few exceptions not much has happened on the ground.
Images (L-R), first row: (1) Northern part of Arroyo Park with Stoney Drive marked in yellow. The South Pasadena/Los Angeles city boundary is the red dotted line. (2) Satellite view of Arroyo Park. From top to bottom: Stables, baseball diamonds, golf course, nature park. The S.P./L.A./Pasadena boundaries are white dotted lines. (3) Sections of the Arroyo Seco watershed with South Pasadena's small part in orange.
Second row: (4) Camp Sigler in 1928 [South Pasadena Public Library]. (5) A sagging railroad bridge downstream from the York Boulevard Bridge, its supporting structure washed out by the great flood of 1938 (since fixed and now used by the Metro Gold Line). (6) A 1915 map of the region; the red symbol indicates South Pasadena's location. The land to the East was mainly in agriculture, including extensive citrus groves. The mountains were protected in national forests but included substantial private in-holdings.
Franz Bischoff, View of the Arroyo Seco from the Artist's Studio, no date (before 1929).
[Main text continued]
Larry and I drew up a petition asking the city council to name the street Stoney Drive. We started by visiting members of the city council and a few other local luminaries and except for one grumpy fellow had no trouble securing their support. After that it was easy for us to get more signatures. The petition was supposed to be secret, but of course there was a leak and Frank took a lot of kidding from city staff about it. City council approval happened without a hitch. There was a formal dedication at the next Scout Day in Garfield Park. Larry presented Frank with a plaque.
I had a porcelain enamel sign made to municipal standards with the wording on the image to the right. The city put it up along with the usual street signs. Unfortunately, it was used for target practice and got full of bullet holes. We decided not to replace it because the same thing could happen again. In any case Stoney Drive was already printed on street maps. Nowadays if you enter “Stoney Drive” in Google Earth just by itself, it lands right on the mark.
Larry had a special connection with Frank Stoney. Larry has artificial legs. When he was in the Cub Scouts, the cubmaster told his parents he couldn’t succeed in the Boy Scouts. Frank urged them to let Larry join Boy Scout Troop 342, they did, and his first 342 camping experience was summer camp at Aspen Hollow. Frank taught Larry how to swim and eventually he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Frank and Margaret Stoney became close friends of Larry’s parents. When Frank died in 2002 at the age of 95, Larry spoke at his funeral.
Larry earned a Ph.D. in botany from UC Irvine and taught for 40 years at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. He has continued living in South Pasadena. In semi-retirement now, Professor Lawrence T. McHargue serves on the board and teaches part-time at Providence Christian College in Pasadena.
Thinking back at why we did it
So why did we want to get a street named after Frank Stoney? In 1958 I think it was a simple matter: Larry and I, along with many others, just wanted to thank and honor Frank, as the sign reads, for "his devotion to South Pasadena and its youth."
Our friend Félix Gutiérrez recently expanded on that. Félix, SPHS '61, 342 alumnus, and USC emeritus professor of journalism, wrote about Helen L. Burr and Frank Stoney in parallel. Helen Burr (SPHS 1929) taught Spanish at the high school for decades; she was respected for being tough but effective.
Félix writes, "Both grew up in South Pasadena and dedicated their lives to serving the city and people who are part of it, especially youths. Helen teaching Spanish at SPHS and advising the Bengals [an honorary service club], of which she had been a member. And Frank working in a number of capacities for the city and as a leader of Troop 342, of which he had been a member. Both have been honored and remembered in South Pasadena, Helen by a scholarship in her name at the high school that she funded and Frank by Stoney Drive going down into the Arroyo. Both were inspirational mentors to generations of South Pasadena youths, always expecting us to do our best while showing us how to do it and also having higher ambitions for us and our potential than we might have had in ourselves."
What about the street named for John Charles Frémont?
In 2020 it didn’t take long for the movement to take down statues and names linked to racism and colonialism to reach California. I plan to address that in another essay, but one such name stands out for attention as I write about naming a street in South Pasadena.
Sometimes places named after people who have committed atrocities can be right in front of our noses.
South Pasadena High School is situated on Fremont Avenue. California is full of things named Fremont, including a city, a mountain, schools, numerous streets, a tree species (Fremont cottonwood), and a shrub with spectacular flowers (Fremontodendron californicum or flannel bush).
John Charles Frémont had a distinguished career as a military officer and explorer, served as a United States Senator, and ran for President of the United States as the candidate of a major political party. He was a fervent opponent of slavery.
On April 5, 1846 then U.S. Army Captain John Charles Frémont ordered soldiers under his direct command to kill all the men, women, and children in a gathering of Indians on the banks of the Sacramento River about 150 miles north of what became Sacramento. This became known as the Sacramento River Massacre.
The Indians had probably gathered there to catch, process, and celebrate spring run salmon. They were mainly women and children. Most of the men were unarmed; some had bows and arrows. The soldiers used guns and sabers to kill hundreds of them, perhaps as many as a thousand. Eyewitness accounts were published, including one by Frémont’s scout Kit Carson, who called it “a perfect butchery.” Frémont’s men had no casualties. No one was ever charged or punished for what happened.
In his book An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe (2016), UCLA history professor Benjamin Madley writes that this may have been one of the largest but least known massacres in U.S. history. In any case it was the prelude to hundreds of murders of California Indians in the years that followed.
Why were they killed, even the infants? California’s first elected governor, Peter Burnett, summed it up in 1851 in his annual message to the Legislature: “That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected.”
So, what about Fremont Avenue? Does it matter that the Sacramento River Massacre happened a long time ago? That it was accepted behavior at the time? That John Charles Frémont accomplished great things in later chapters of his life?
And does it matter to the students, teachers, administrators, and alumni of South Pasadena High School that their school, our school, is located on a street named after this man? I think it's worth discussing.
An ironic footnote: A precursor to the public library was the South Pasadena Lyceum, which had a free reading room and a circulating book collection. To mark its opening on February 14, 1889, the mayor presented the Lyceum
with its first volume, John Charles Frémont's Memoirs of My Life, published in 1886. No doubt the gift symbolized the high regard Frémont was held in those years. But no surprise: In a detailed day-by-day account of his 1846 travels he leaves out any mention of what happened on the Sacramento River on April 5, except that the weather was fine, salmon were abundant, and his party camped among sycamores, cottonwoods, and willows.
I went off to USC in the fall of 1957. My mother and father had given me the fundamentals: a strong moral compass, a love of learning, an appreciation of higher culture, and freedom to find my own way.
Looking back, I realize that Boy Scout Troop 342 did make a man out of me, as my parents wanted, and much more.
A learned a lot about leadership. I watched adult leaders of 342 deal with different kinds of people and situations and realized that those who were best at leadership had styles based on their own personalities, not from a textbook. And I found out that a shy guy like me could lead and others would follow. At first, I was amazed, then it became routine.
The Stoney Drive project helped me understand how politics works, how an idea could become reality. It was at the grassroots level, but the principles are pretty much the same as you go higher up the ladder.
I got to know a sampling of natural places in Southern California, often returning to them several times. My favorite places were in the Sierra Nevada and the California Desert. Reading about nature and experiencing it reinforced each other.
My parents made lasting friendships through 342. Dad and Pete Lawrence were close friends for decades. My mother was friends with Frank Stoney’s wife, Margaret, and Larry McHargue’s mother, Ila. Mom taught math at the junior high for many years and would pass on to my brother Tom and me and our Dad what she heard about 342 from her students.
Tom, seven years younger than I, joined 342. He made Eagle Scout, which I never did.
Going to 342 summer camp at Aspen Hollow year after year led to my family becoming strongly attached to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the country around it.
Dad bought ten acres along Kings Canyon Road 15 miles from the entrance kiosk to the national parks. It was grassy oak and buckeye woodland at about 2,200 feet elevation. We called it the Trapezoid T based on its shape. We held it for 50 years but rarely stayed there because it was too hot in summer and too cold in winter, and after a few years its only structure, a flimsy cabin, collapsed in a windstorm. Spring wildflowers can be spectacular in open country at that elevation, and our land was one of the few accessible patches where cattle didn’t graze on them. For many years Larry McHargue took his botany students there.
A botanical false start
At USC, I started as a botany major and soon found I didn’t fit in. It didn’t help that I corrected an instructor when he took our class to a park across the street to learn skills of plant identification. This involved “keying out” a specimen using a printed list of characteristics. He had us form a circle around a tree and went down the list. Finally, he announced the key indicated the tree was a yew. I made the mistake of correcting him. It was not a yew, I said out loud, but a coast redwood, and rattled off the scientific name, Sequoia sempervirens. I was right, of course, and he didn’t appreciate it.
The real problem, though, was that I was a lot less interested in the parts of plants than in the bigger picture, the interconnectedness John Muir wrote about. This included people and politics.
I graduated with a major in international relations and a minor in English. My website, www.trzyna.info, covers some of what came later. I would eventually return to nature conservation and combine it with what I learned and experienced in international affairs.
For a while, into the late 1950s, a few of us in the same cohort of 342 alumni hung out together. Once we hiked to the top of Mount Whitney. Another time we drove around Baja California. And when three of us went back to hike the Bubbs Creek Trail, as we had done several times as Scouts, something happened that was an odd coincidence, or maybe not.
We stopped to make camp about halfway to Junction Meadow because it was getting dark. In the morning we took our time making a small fire and boiling water for coffee. I saw two figures descending the trail and as they got closer, I realized they were Frank Stoney and his son Ed. I asked Frank what the chances were of that happening, and he just laughed. He wasn’t a sentimental guy, or at least he didn’t like to show it.
The mayor's gift of Frémont's Memoirs: Jane Apostol. The South Pasadena Public Library: Its first hundred years 1895-1995. SPPL, 1995, 19.
I much appreciate comments on earlier versions of this essay from Larry McHargue, Félix Gutiérrez, and Tom Trzyna, but the usual caveat applies: I am solely responsible for the content.