I was sorry to hear tonight that 91-year-old Ross Hanna, the only surviving grandson of John Muir, died at his home in Dixon on Tuesday.
I can’t claim to have known Ross well. I interviewed him just twice, on the phone. Our last talk was only three months ago, when he told me the story of how the University of the Pacific managed to acquire the John Muir papers. (Ross and a number of other family members are Pacific alumni.)
Ross had been sleeping when I called, but he brushed off my apology and refused my offer to call back later. He’d had a stroke, I was told, but it would be good for him to talk about old times.
In so doing, Ross reminded me of an interesting bit of Muir family trivia:
In the southern Sierra Nevada, the famous trail that bears his grandfather’s name crests on a divide named — wait for it — Muir Pass.
Two lakes lie on each side of this pass. On the south side is Helen Lake and on the north side is Wanda Lake. These were named for Muir’s two daughters. Wanda, in fact, was Ross Hanna’s mother.
What a point of pride that must have been for Ross — a stunning High Sierra lake named for his own mother.
Maybe the reason tonight’s news saddens me personally, even though I hardly knew Ross, is that his death places us one generation farther away from Muir himself. His grandchildren are all gone now. This was inevitable, of course, but it’s hard to see those who were closest in relation to Muir slipping away.
Then again, that’s why Pacific has the Muir papers in the first place — so that we never lose that connection, even as generations pass on.
Ross told me he was pleased with Pacific’s efforts over the years to maintain his grandfather’s many papers and journals. Let’s he rests easily knowing his grandfather’s memory is being preserved with such care.