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Selected impressions and remembrances of Carl Sharsmith

Dedication by Georgia Stigall, Director, Native Habitats

...to the memory of Carl W. Sharsmith (1903-1994).  Carl was a dear friend, brilliant botanist & naturalist, dedicated professor, lover of Nature and appreciator of Life.  

He was also the oldest and longest serving ranger in the history of the National Park Service, and served 62 summers as a Ranger-Naturalist in the Tuolumne Meadows of Yosemite National Park.  Thousands of people benefited from Carl's enthusiasm and passion about Yosemite while joining him on hikes or for campfire programs.  He contributed not only to visitors' and employees' experiences while in Yosemite, but inspired many people to appreciate and care for Nature in and well beyond Yosemite.  
--Native Habitats, 17287 Skyline Blvd #102, Woodside, CA 94062-3780, U.S.A.
Email:   info@nativehabitats.org
   

About Carl Sharsmith by Ardeth Huntington

The Yosemite Natural History Association sponsors a variety of field seminars throughout the year. When it is announced that the leader of one will be Dr. Sharsmith, word spreads and his trip-lists are filled quickly, for Sharsmith has a devoted following. To understand why, you must understand that he has become a legend in Yosemite during his 50 seasons as a Park ranger-naturalist. He is as renowned for his gift of teaching as he is for his scientific expertise. To share an hour around a campfire with him is to guarantee that you will want to repeat the experience. But it may not be easy to explain to yourself, or to others, what constitutes the Sharsmith "magic".

A description of Carl Sharsmith must...mention Sharsmith's gift for rhetoric--a style that combines poetry, science, and wit with a humble reverence for the natural world. He is appreciated as a raconteur and performer, as he occasionally will pull out an antique concertina of spin stores of his boyhood lumbercamp days with equal ease. He'll interrupt his discussion of avalanches and ice crystals, mosses and meadowmice, to recite a poem by Robert W. Service or Bobby Burns, to the enhancement of his lecture and the delight of his listeners. At age 77, he remains spry of step, tireless on the trail, and patient with every question put to him.

The essence of Dr. Sharsmith is as elusive as the snow banners whose wings trail off Clouds Rest. I have tried here to convey the good feeling he imparts to those around him, as he encourages the sense of wonder and expands the awareness of nature's subtleties and surprises. Thus, a simple walk through the [Yosemite] Valley in winter becomes an event that you'll probably remember the rest of your life.--Huntington, Ardeth, A Winter Day in Yosemite: an account of a walk in a Yosemite forest with Dr. Carl Sharsmith, published 1981 by the Yosemite Natural History Association, Yosemite National Park, California.

 

Following remembrances are from John Sharsmith and Allan Shields, Climb Every Mountain: A Portrait of Carl Sharsmith, used with permission received from Allan Shields on 4/20/06. Their book is filled with many more remembrances of Carl.

"My First Summer with Dr. Sharsmith" by Martha Miller, Yosemite resident and long-time manager of Tuolumne Meadows High Sierra Camp and a manger of The Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley

.My first encounter with Dr. Sharsmith, as I always called him, was when I was a youngster...I spent a week hiking every day with Dr. Sharsmith. Clearly, I remember hiking to the top of Mt. Dana, to Elizabeth Lake, up on Lembert Dome and Fairview Dome. Trails and river hamlets he described to us as though he had discovered them for the first time. His face and those memories are yet vivid to me. I was enthralled and touched for life by the wonders of the Range of Light, the High Sierra that Dr. Sharsmith introduced me to.

I had the good fortune to go on his "Fifty Years Reminiscences" walk in Tuolumne Meadows...Still, at the age of ninety, he could look upon a lupine as though he were seeing it for the first time.

He introduced me to Tuolumne as I behold it today: with reverence and warmth. My childhood was enriched meeting Dr. Sharsmith, and my life enriched. I remember so clearly the whiff of wind on my face when climbing my first peak with him--and I am so grateful.

 There are so many who have had similar enrichment from Carl!

Carl as an ecologist: Excerpt from a letter to John Sharsmith from Robert D. Hakala, Juneau, Alaska, Former Chief of Interpretive Services, USDA Forest Service, Alaska Region

Although forty-eight years have elapsed since I and my wife, Jean, 'climbed a mountain' with your dad, and although memory of details fails, a much larger, indelible impression has been our reward...

Of several lessons with Carl, one stands out, a simple yet profound experience. During the course of a wildflower nature walk, during which we learned not only the names of the plants but also their relationship to the land, and the many creatures that shared the same space, Carl demonstrated the importance of every plant, no matter how small in the ecological system, a word (ecology) that had not yet entered the language of the common man. Although Carl was a big man, he walked gently through the meadow. Every now and then, he would get close to the ground to cup in protective hands the plant that for the moment had a special role. I remember the plant or even the meadow so much as I remember the man, humble before one wildflower.

Carl's character, even more than his knowledge of plants, left me with an impression that would influence my work during the subsequent  twenty-seven years that I was involved with interpretation. I have known many other naturalists who have elicited those qualities, but Carl Sharsmith stands out as my role model, as most assuredly he influenced many others in the same way.

Carl's tenderness by Shirley Sargent, Yosemite author of many titles at Flying Spur Press, deceased.

To me, one of Carl's most endearing characteristics was his tenderness. Like John Muir, he wore his heart on his sleeve--or tongue...Carl was a legend in his lifetime, and I believe his tenderness was one of the main reasons. As one of his acolytes, I will always cherish memories of his gentle heart and his reverence, and his love of nature.

Remembrance of Carl Sharsmith by Alice Q. Howard

I spent only two summer vacations of three weeks each [in 1950-51] in Tuolumne hiking with Carl, but they remain high points of my life...

On a hike up Tuolumne Peak August 15, 1951: we had a rather fractious and uninterested group of hikers this day. In a private moment, I asked Carl whether he was enjoying the trip, commenting that I'd never seen such a bunch of people for not wanting to be led and not wanting to learn anything. Carl's response was that it was all in a day's work, but that people like that needed his efforts the most, that "even a drop of water will eventually wear through a rock."

Remembrance of Carl Sharsmith by Robert Redford, Sundance, Utah

Every now and again, there emerge individuals who through their life and work, come to symbolize on a deep level matters of the soul. They rise up well above the traffic of our lives and guide us to some greater understanding. When this is done with dedication, humility, and a kindness of spirit, it becomes even more splendid.

Carl Sharsmith was such a man, and we are all the better for it.

Remembrance of Carl Sharsmith by Glen Dawson, co-owner of Dawson's Bookshop in Los Angeles for many years, noted for its mountain interests

I am just one of the "...thousands of people whose lives have been enriched by walking in the mountains with Carl."

Memories of Carl Sharsmith by Fran Hubbard, author of Yosemite and Animal Friends books, co-owner Awani Press, Fredericksburg, Texas

The memory of stepping off on the trail behind Carl can still fill me with feelings of excitement and anticipation--after more than forty years. The short stop at Soda Springs for a bubbly drink (was it really the 'nectar of the gods'?)--the rich perfume of the pine dust as we slogged through the trees, the magical introduction to the gentian nestling among the meadow grasses. Such rare and tender recollections make my heart soar.

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