© copyright 2003 Michael P.
30 years in the shadow of Harry
Harry Claiborne James
December 19, 1996:
Celebrations have no doubt been a fact of life since
the dawn of consciousness. Perhaps it started with some Neolithic
clan feasting after a successful mammoth hunt, or their collective
sigh of relief when the sun returned following a solar eclipse. Over
the course of December, a significant fraction of the human race will
celebrate the winter season festivals of Christmas, Chanukah, winter
solstice and a new calendar year. Personally, I enjoy all of these.
I'm also ending a year of quietly recognizing the wisdom of Harry
and Grace James, because thirty years ago they saw to it that their
precious land and home would become a permanent place for environmental
education and scientific research.
Harry Claybourne James was a young man when he traveled
from his birthplace in Ottawa, Canada to Los Angeles in 1919. He was
particularly fascinated by the people who were starting the fledgling
movie industry. Harry never made it to college, but was a prolific
reader and writer, and was soon working as an assistant Director for
Bob Leonard and Mae Murray's silent movie studio, while spending much
of his spare time hiking through the Hollywood Hills.
Harry was gregarious, and on one of his walks met a young
Cahuenga Indian lad his own age, and together started an informal hiking
club. Local interest grew and eventually Harry formally called his club
the "The Western Rangers," meeting weekly in the basement
of a local library, and growing into several separate "Councils."
Harry sought the advice of a well-known western author and outdoorsman,
Ernest Thompson Seton, and in the process became lifelong friends. Harry
also wrote a handbook of outdoor crafts and camping techniques, and
refined his Western Rangers into a well-known organization in much the
same way as Baden Powell had developed the Boy Scout movement in England.
In 1924, Harry met a school teacher named Grace Clifford, and were married
in 1927, but not after the two of them decided to start their own private
school called "The Trailfinders School for Boys." That their
school was successful could be attested by the nearly 40,000 boys that
attended their full-time and part-time programs over the span of 40
years. Their formula for success was simple, incorporate the outdoors
into all aspects of the curriculum, learn self reliance and teamwork,
and exercise the mind, body and spirit. The Trailfinder School took
these junior high school-aged boys on outdoor expeditions that included
retracing the travels of Lewis and Clark, and climbing summits in the
Sierra Nevada, the Grand Tetons, and the Rocky Mountains. They spent
summers on Hopi Reservations in Arizona learning Native American culture,
as well as time in Europe to study the classics of music.
Lolomi Lodge at the James Reserve, ~1960
When the James's reached retirement age around 1946, a
long-time friend gave to them a wonderful piece of property that Harry
had occasionally camped on with his boys located high in the San Jacinto
Mountains. They built a spectacular summer home from locally cut logs,
and called it Lolomi Lodge, from the Hopi word for "peace."
It wasn't long before Harry and Grace decided to move in full-time,
and make Lolomi Lodge their permanent home. Many of his boys went on
to become successful lawyers, scientists and business people, but would
regularly find their way to visit Lolomi Lodge at least once a year.
Harry even wrote a column for the Town Crier!
Harry spent most of his later years writing books and
articles in-between battles with the Forest Service to protect the San
Gorgonio wilderness. He founded the Desert Protective Council, an organization
that continues to work today to expand Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
One of the few battles that Harry lost was opposing the Palm Springs
Aerial Tramway. Harry made it one of his life-long goals to personally
know the "movers and shakers of his time" as he called them.
Two former Presidents of the United States are included in the Lolomi
Lodge guest book, and based upon his personal letters, whenever the
local district ranger would propose some obnoxious project in Harry's
backyard, Harry would simply call the Chief of the Forest Service in
Washington to get things straightened out.
In 1965, a close friend and Professor of Botany from UCLA
suggested that Harry and Grace consider selling their land to the University
of California to become part of the newly established Natural Reserve
System. Professor Mathias explained to them that they would be granted
a life estate in exchange for allowing university students and professors
to use their property for purposes of teaching and research. The idea
struck a chord with the James's, and so they agreed, and in 1966 the
Regents of the University of California established the James San Jacinto
Mountains Reserve, the first of what is now a statewide system of 33
ecological reserves encompassing nearly 180,000 acres.
So I'm celebrating the first thirty years of the vision
of a man who left a legacy for science and outdoor education, in conservation
and preservation of wilderness, and in support of the rights of Native
previous journal entries