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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | chapter wide
Watershed Dippers
August 2011

by Peter Scott

Fire Demonstration
Photo: Peter Scott

Back in 1993, in late October, while Celia and I were leaning against a comfortable granite rock in the Wawona campground not far from the banks of the South Fork of the Merced River, I wrote in our journal:

Among our most prized possessions are a pair of drinking cups. We take them with us when we go backpacking in the mountains. From afar, they look like Sierra Club cups.

They have that handy shape, invented many decades ago by some ingenious Sierra Clubber who wanted a durable cup that not only could be readily available for dipping cool fresh water from a mountain stream, but also large enough to eat a meal from, with a handle that would remain cool even when the cup was filled with the hottest stew or soup.

Our cups are not "Sierra Club" cups, however. Instead of having the words "Sierra Club" stamped on the bottom (the oldest ones say "Sierra Club of California"), there is a wonderful outline of a Water Ouzel, or Dipper, a small gray bird that was celebrated by John Muir. Encircling the image of the bird are the words "Watershed Dipper–Alaska to Mexico." They were created over four decades ago by the visionary John Olmsted to help with the promotion of his "California Institute of Man in Nature."

We speak fondly of these cups. They have been dipped into many a mountain stream to carry that sweet Sierra wine to our thirsty lips, and at supper times, served us countless delicious hot meals.

While sitting here by the banks of the stream, thinking of those memorable times, suddenly a miracle: We heard the unmistakable call of the Water Ouzel. And there he was, the little gray bird, flying characteristically down the middle of the burbling stream. Just as suddenly, he stopped to stand on a rock to do his exercises— little deep knee bends.

We identified with that bird. This was his home, with property lines remarkably well-defined by the edges of the stream. Never did he venture more than a foot or so beyond the stream edge. This was his property, not because he purchased the deed and title with a loan from the Bank of America, but because he was born there. This was his niche. Later we watched with vicarious pleasure as he and his mate flew together upstream, twirling in delicate maneuvers about each other, and later still we watched as he submerged himself completely in a burbling eddy, perhaps hunting for morsels on the stream bottom, then re-emerging a few feet farther down the stream, and finally hopping up on a rock— more quick knee-bends, as if to curtsy for our appreciation of his performance.

If I were the Ouzel, I thought, I would want to preserve my property rights, and want my stream kept flowing with fresh pure water.

Thereafter, whenever we used our Watershed Dippers we were reminded of our experience of sitting by the stream and watching those birds.

However, two years later, there was tragedy: One night, a burglar broke into the room above our garage and took a backpack, some blankets, our tent and numerous other items, including, alas, our prized pair of Watershed Dippers. It was a sad day. I called John Olmsted in Nevada City to see if we might replace them, but it was too late. He had no more, and no longer had the die from which they had been made.

Then this spring, over sixteen years after the loss of our dear cups, an article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle about the closing of 70 of our State Parks— part of the plan to balance our state budget. An effort by one man had been launched to prevent the closing of the parks. That man was Alden Olmsted, the son of John Olmsted. John had recently passed away, and Alden's idea, as a fitting memorial to his father, was to collect one-dollar contributions from park visitors, so we mailed a contribution to Alden.

Shortly thereafter, a miracle: A small package arrived in our mailbox, with a return address of a person we did not know, in Occidental in Sonoma County. Curious as to what it might be, I opened the package to find, much to my surprise and delight, a Watershed Dipper! There was no note, just the cup, but that cup spoke all.

We are planning some trips to the Sierras later this summer, and for sure, our new cup will keep us alive, both with food and drink and nostalgic memories.



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In This Section

Current
Humpback whale visit poses eco-ethics questions
December 2011

California leads in fighting oil addiction
October 2011

Plastic bag ban gaining momentum
October 2011

WTO rules dolphin-safe tuna a trade violation
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WTO may cut US meat labeling
October 2011

Club's Beyond Coal Campaign awarded $50 million
August 2011

Whales store carbon
August 2011

Watershed Dippers
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Richardson Grove redwoods get reprieve
August 2011

Richardson Grove redwoods threatened by highway widening
June 2011

Resilient Habitats Campaign will address effects of sea level rise
April 2011

Enviros defeat Bohemian Grove logging plan
April 2011

Sierra Club works to phase out coal
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Protect CEQA and Environmental Laws in the State Budget Process
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FDA ponders genetically engineered salmon
December 2010

State of the air
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Antibacterial soap affects fish reproductive behavior
December 2010

State bill would ban single-use plastic bags
August 2010

Atrazine affects fish reproduction
August 2010

New law will protect Americans from formaldehyde
August 2010

Opt out of unwanted phone books
August 2010

You might not be planning for climate change, but the State is
June 2010

Club report explores ending oil dependence
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American pika
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Will Commercial Whaling Resume?
May 2010

Our national parks: a vision for the second century
February 2010

Former Yosemite Supervisors call for restoring Hetch Hetchy
December 2009

Assembly resolution puts pressure on Feds to enforce Marine Mammal Act
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Report proposes sustainable water solutions for California
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Free online course on Clean Water Act
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Only 11 states have bottle laws
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UCSC makes list of “Coolest” Schools
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Farr seeks upgrade of Pinnacles to National Park
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Fishing rods donated to youth programs
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State releases climate change adaptation plan
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State still considering new logging rules
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Old Growth Redwoods
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Protected land database now available
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How much would you save by ditching your gas guzzler?
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NOAA website provides resources for coastal cities dealing with climate change
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New report shows birds in decline
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700,000 acres of new wilderness designated in California
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Researchers map West Coast ocean threats
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Say NO to bottled water
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Local residents propose environmental laws
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County Supervisors support net metering
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Labor and enviros join forces
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Restore Hetch Hetchy moves HQ to San Francisco
April 2009

Carl Pope to step down
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Border wall harming wildlife
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Learning bird behavior turns kids into scientists
January 2009

Air Board warns consumers about air purifiers
January 2009

Green Streets improve water quality
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State body proposes plastic bag fees
January 2009

Clean coal is a myth
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Cutting their carbon footprints
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Carl Pope to step down as Executive Director of Sierra Club
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Legislation needed to increase amount of renewable energy
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Recycling alone is not the answer
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PG&E invests in gas, nuclear and hot air
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Air Board develops draft plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
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Eating for a Healthy Planet
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Global Warming rekindles nuclear power debate
May 2008


Volunteers needed for LeConte Lodge
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Action Alert!
Tell the Governor to support Zero Emission Vehicles
March 2008


A gift for the Corrizo Plain pronghorn
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SB 375 would link land use planning and transportation
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Governor proposes closing state parks & cutting lifeguards
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Track green-ness of your electricity
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UC named 4th in Sierra's list of cool schools
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International trade
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Green wedding
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New roles for our National Parks
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How we reduced our carbon footprint
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Joyce Stevens turns 80!
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Sierra Club launches weekly radio show
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Co-op America's 12-Step Plan for Climate Action
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A visit with the great California condors
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Bush administration abandons long-standing protections for critical wildlife habitat on Alaska’s North Slope

Chapter opposes water management scheme for Seaside Aquifer

Chapter and Group events to highlight marine sanctuary

End of an era: Ventana Chapter Bookstore closes

California has opportunities to reduce mercury poisoning

A biting issue

Sanctuary Draft Management Plan due out this summer

Nature Conservancy acquires gateway to Pinnacles National Monument

Elkhorn Slough threatened by subdivisions

Open space preserved on San Mateo County Coast

Greased lightning - Peregrine falcons in California

It’s time to restore Hetch Hetchy

Appeal to deny subdivision near Elkhorn Slough successful

Chapter revises Los Padres National Forest map

Forest geneticists visit Point Lobos

Methyl bromide poisoning devastates farm workers’ health

Resurrect those old Sierra Club cups?

Transit - highway rules unfair

California's oak woodlands need your help!