Living the Good Life, Part Four
Failure In Carmel
(Continued from the blog post, “Living The Good Life 3.”)
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~ Jack Canfield
About This Blog Post Series: “Living The Good Life”
Riffle Through Woods, Plumas County, Northern Sierra, California (Vertical Version) copyright 1983 by Philip Hyde. This view of Indian Creek is from the roof of the Hyde home they named Rough Rock. It is essentially the same view the Hydes watched wildlife through from the dining room table and living room beginning when the house was completed in 1959.
In early January 2002, two months before my mother passed on, I asked her if she would be my interview subject, as I intended to write magazine articles about her locally popular gardening, preserving and cooking techniques. I also wanted reminders and more detail on my parents’ philosophy of living and making a sustainable low-impact lifestyle long before sustainability became a buzzword.
In response to my inquiries, my mother handed me her personal copy of Living the Good Life how to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing, leaders of the 1950s Back to the Land Movement. Mom said simply, “This was our Bible.”
Through this series of blog posts, my parents, self-taught naturalist Ardis Hyde and pioneer conservation photographer Philip Hyde, while not on the road or on the trail for a photography project, in their quiet way adapted and invented their version of “The Good Life.” In the blog post, “Living The Good Life 2,” we reviewed Ardis’ upbringing and Philip’s and how each of them having fathers who loved nature, instilled in them the values that brought them eventually to the country and to their own land. In the third episode, “Living the Good Life 3” I reflect on the changing seasons and passing years as our dream home and my parents’ way of life continue here, after my mother has been gone 12 years and my father six. People dwelling in a simpler way, while gadgets and “conveniences” multiply, must remain constant to the vision of low impact living and stay vigilant to keep the freedom to live life this way. Technology itself can even sometimes help in this, but it can also be a distraction that interferes with the values of quiet, peace and the ability to listen to natural sounds, community and local conversations. The series began with the blog post, “Living the Good Life 1,” in which my friend Nancy Presser compared each key aspect of the Hydes’ sustainable life to points in the book, Living the Good Life. This comparative format will be common in blog posts to come in the series.
Part Four: Failure In Carmel Leads To Philip Hyde’s Greatest Success
Early Rental Homes
Before Ardis and Philip acquired their property and began to build their “dream home” on a natural bench above Indian Creek, they lived in half a dozen small rental houses and apartments, some mentioned in other blog posts, starting right after their marriage in Berkeley in 1947; in San Francisco and Daily City while Dad attended photography school at the California School of Fine Art, now the San Francisco Art Institute until 1950; in the primitive Macaulay Cabin in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park for a summer in 1949; at the Fox Farm at Lake Almanor in the Northern Sierra and in nearby Greenville, where they moved into the Granary at Fredrickson’s Ranch while Mom taught kindergarten for 12 years. Her teaching at Greenville Elementary was interrupted for a few years and those interruptions made all the difference for the Hydes in the long run. This blog post is the story of the interruptions and how these showed the young couple they were doing what they were meant to do when they lived closest to nature in Indian Valley between the mountains of Plumas County.
The Granary at Fredrickson’s Ranch had been converted into an apartment before the Hydes lived there. Dad did his own conversion of one of the closets, about three by four feet, into a darkroom where he “souped” or processed his own film and made silver gelatin prints that he began to send out for publication. It was his first darkroom after he finished photography school. He did not have a darkroom while they lived at Benton’s Fox Farm on Lake Almanor, their first home near Greenville in Plumas County in the Northern Sierra Nevada.
First Publishing Credits
In 1949 while the Hydes lived at the Fox Farm, David Brower became the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club, a full-time paid staff position approved by the traditionally volunteer Board of Directors to better run the expanding hiking, climbing and conservation club that few people outside the mountains of California and the Bay Area knew about yet. David Brower had already led the Sierra Club’s High Sierra Pack Trips for a handful of years.
In 1950, Brower asked Dad to come along as official photographer for the Summer High Sierra Pack Trip. The other official photographer, Cedric Wright, mentored Dad on High Sierra tarp pitching, mountain film changing and timing meals and photography on the trip. Dad’s first publishing credit from the May 1951 Sierra Club Bulletin consisted of his photographs from the summer 1950 Sierra Club High Trip.
Mom and Dad moved from the Fox Farm at Lake Almanor to the Granary at Fredrickson’s Ranch, just below the California Highway 70 grade about two miles from Greenville in September 1951.
Dinosaur National Monument: The First Photography Assignment for an Environmental Cause
Meanwhile three states away, in the remote northeast corner of Utah near the Colorado border and not far from Wyoming, the town of Vernal, like many other small towns around the West, celebrated the possibility that it would soon become a boomtown. Vernal was the closest town of any size to two dams proposed on the Green River within the boundary of Dinosaur National Monument, one at Split Mountain and one at Echo Park.
Richard Leonard, Board Member of both the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, attended the Wilderness Society’s annual meeting in 1950 near Ft. Collins in northern Colorado. After the meeting, the founders of the Wilderness Society, Olaus and Margaret Murie, Richard Leonard and others drove through Dinosaur National Monument to see what it offered in scenic resources.
Highly impressed with the wilderness of Dinosaur, Richard Leonard back in San Francisco urged David Brower to expand the Sierra Club’s reach beyond the mountains of California to protect the spectacular Yampa and Green River canyons of Dinosaur. Brower needed to see more of Dinosaur. He needed better photographs. Other photographers’ images had been used in conservation campaigns before, but this was the first time a photographer would ever be sent on assignment for an environmental cause. Brower chose Philip Hyde, Brower said later because Hyde made reliable surveys of wild places and captured their unique natural features. However, when Hyde returned from Dinosaur, few of the conservation groups wanted to use his photographs or even exhibit his prints. Groups like the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, National Audubon and others that were starting to become more than regional, took very little action or even interest in Dinosaur from 1951 until 1954. Three years may seem like a short time now, but it is a long time to have little income for a young photographer. Dad had to wait three years before many publishers or non-profits would even look at, let alone buy or sell his photographs from Dinosaur.
Marketing, The Marketplace and Making a Living
“I think that you are making a great mistake to isolate yourself; you really should be right in the middle of humanity – bringing them the messages of nature which are of real value,” Ansel Adams wrote in a two-page letter to Dad dated May 4, 1952. Ansel urged Dad to find some means of support other than photography, which would work with photography. As Dad continued to struggle in Greenville, both Ansel Adams and David Brower suggested at different times that Dad try living closer to the marketplace for photography in San Francisco.
“Weeks of wondering and doubt,” said Dad’s personal log entry for May 16, 1952. “Ansel has been advising me to work toward some solution of economic problem. The two years in Greenville and the mountains seem to be drawing to a close. I have a feeling change is near. Ned Graves in Carmel suggests I work part-time in a photo shop and has provided the impetus. I will look into the possibility the second week of June when we go down below again.” Mom applied for the job of kindergarten teacher in nearby Del Ray Woods. Shortly after she landed the job, the Hydes moved to Carmel. For more on their life and struggles in Carmel, see the blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 6.”
Loss and New Travels To Morocco
“Everything seemed to go wrong in Carmel,” Dad said. Even though they succeeded in buying a small property to build on, no bank would lend the young couple money to build a home. In those days banks did not count a newly married woman’s income because of the risk she might become pregnant and unable to work. Dad contracted a terrible case of Poison Oak trying to clear it from their lot. Dad lost his brother David Lee Hyde, my namesake, in the Korean War in mid 1952 and by the end of the year my grandfather Leland Hyde also passed on.
It was a lonely Christmas in Carmel. Jesse Hyde, Dad’s mom, came down from San Francisco for the weekend, but Dad’s new gas station job required him to work on Christmas Day, even after his boss learned of his recent loss of his father. About that time Mom’s dad, Clinton Samuel King Jr., an engineer, overseas in Africa building American Cold War Bases, told Dad he could come to Morocco and make a very good wage as a draftsman. Mom could work in the office and they could get caught up financially with the low cost of living on the large American base near Casablanca. After the drafting work wound down, Dad transferred to a department where they asked him to oversee a photographer documenting new American bases all over Morocco. Dad and the photographer became friends and traveled the country photographing everything because they had been instructed to stay busy even when there was frequently nothing to do.
It was through these travels in Morocco that Dad rekindled his enthusiasm for photographing nature in particular, even though he made more photographs of the local people and their culture and events than ever before. Also, by the middle of 1954 when the Hydes had been a year in Morocco, the battle over Dinosaur National Monument heated up when the Sierra Club decided to join the defense of the integrity of the national park system by keeping the two proposed dams out of Dinosaur.
Coming Home, Finding Home
Ardis and Philip, now with significant savings, longed to return to the mountains where the Fredrickson’s again had the Granary available for rent. After a few weeks in San Francisco with Grandma Jesse, the Hydes were again back home in Plumas County, this time actively looking for property to stay permanently.
In 1955, David Brower convinced the Sierra Club to publish This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers with photographs by Martin Litton and Philip Hyde. Brower had already asked Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Wallace Stegner to write the forward and one chapter of what would become the world’s first “battle book,” as Stegner called it. This Is Dinosaur was the first book ever published for an environmental cause. Hyde’s career took off with the buzz over the Dinosaur campaign. Parallel with Sierra Club’s efforts, Hyde sent an exhibition of his prints of the national monument to show in some of the most patronized libraries in the nation. The show started at the Chicago Public Library and traveled on to other major cities such as Washington D.C., New York, Cincinnati and others.
In December of 1955, when most land was still in big ranches in Plumas County, Mom and Dad bought 18 acres from David and Mary Ann Newcomb, who had a large ranch in Mormon Canyon between Grizzly Peak and Mt. Jura that included part of Genesee Valley. The Newcombs suggested the Hydes could pick out a piece of land anywhere on their big ranch. Mary Ann taught First Grade in Greenville and the couple had become good friends. So it was that in 1956 that Mom and Dad began cleaning up logging debris on the site that would become our home and gardens. And so it was that a series of failures led to what Dad called his biggest success, designing, drawing the plans for and nearly single-handedly over two years building the home that became known as Rough Rock.
(The passive solar, energy efficient, ahead-of-it’s-time construction of Rough Rock will be featured in “Living The Good Life 6.”)
Have you ever lived in or near wilderness?