I believe that humans have habitats. I define habitat as the natural environment where a plant or animal “lives and thrives.” Plants and animals can survive outside their natural habitats – coyotes in Los Angeles or Arizona cacti transplanted into someone’s Texas yard are good examples. Technology allows humans to survive, even live comfortably, almost anywhere. But many of us have natural environments where our spirits thrive. I have a good friend who lives on the California coast, in a beautiful area. Yet her natural habitat is the prairie. At least once a year she makes a pilgrimage to North Dakota where she has never lived but feels most at home.
Muir Woods National Monument is definitely not my natural habitat. I grew up in the trees of western Oregon, but I was never comfortable there. I thrive on the Dakota plains or in the Texas desert – anyplace with few trees and lots of wide open spaces. I would not want to live in Muir Woods. Yet, I would visit this amazing sanctuary in Marin County, California, anytime. The tall old growth redwoods, dense green leafy plants, intense moisture, fog, and light playing through the trees make a breathtaking natural cathedral.
I once visited Muir Woods with good friends on Christmas Day, when I was stranded in California due to a North Dakota blizzard that grounded flights. More recently, I was there to find documents for the Theodore Roosevelt Center. The archives are in safekeeping in Golden Gate National Recreation Area at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. I located 11 precious documents related to Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation of Muir Woods as a national monument in January 1908, the first national monument to be established from a donation of private property.
TR was happy to help the owner of the land, William Kent, protect the giant redwoods from condemnation by the North Coast Water Company and subsequent destruction for a reservoir. Kent worked furiously during the latter part of 1907 to do everything needed to donate his land to the federal government to ensure its protection. He had an ally in Theodore Roosevelt. While TR suggested that the monument be named Kent Woods, it was Kent who wanted to associate the monument with TR’s friend - conservationist John Muir.
While I was nosing around in the archives at Golden Gate, Archivist Amanda Williford pointed me to other relevant collections – four rare photos of President Roosevelt visiting San Francisco in 1903. My goal with the national parks project is to find relevant documents from the 23 national parks and monuments that TR established during his presidency. But this time, we scored a bonus!