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Crowds celebrate Earth Day at John Muir’s historic house in Martinez

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 4/20/2019 By Steve Rubenstein

It wasn’t really Earth Day and it wasn’t John Muir’s birthday, but that didn’t stop hundreds of nature lovers, beekeepers, rock hounds, recyclers and do-gooders of every stripe from descending on the great man’s house on Saturday in Martinez.

“The Earth is in trouble,” said Jasmin Hurley, 17. “We all have to come together and do something.”

What Jasmin was doing was painting small blue flowers on a rock. It was one of a dozen art projects young people were doing at the annual Earth Day shindig at John Muir National Historic Site, in the shade of the great conservationist’s old Victorian house across the street from the historic 7-Eleven.

Earth fans mingled with Muir fans alongside bird rescuers, solar power vendors, organic gardeners and a gaggle of Boy Scouts and therapy dogs. There were bagpipers, Irish singers, a Muir impersonator and a giant birthday cake, all for free.

Beekeeper Sheila Weston was showing passersby her hive full of hundreds of bees.

Muir, she said, grew apples and pears in a 2,600-acre Martinez orchard near the house when he wasn’t tramping and traipsing around in Yosemite.

“If you have a lot of fruit trees, you need a lot of bees,” Weston said. “John Muir knew that.”

Another thing Muir knew, or would have if he’d owned a car, was to recycle his motor oil.

Matt Bolender was passing out plastic funnels on behalf of the Contra Costa Clean Water Project so that Muir fans could do just that. He said he has passed out 200,000 funnels in his 23-year career, which is a lot of funnels.

Each funnel comes with an elastic string so a kid can wear the funnel on his head, Tin Woodman style. Each kid also got a Mr. Funnelhead coloring book featuring the evil Dastardly Dan, who, the book says, was a “greasy guy who likes to ruin our environment by dumping his used motor oil into our waters.”

Something else that ruins the environment, on Earth Day or any other day, is an invasive nonnative ornamental plant called Mexican feather grass.

Vickie Dawes, a volunteer with the California Native Plant Society, said Muir would never have planted that. Although he did plant a redwood tree near his Martinez house.

“He brought it from Yosemite and planted it here, because he didn’t know any better,” Dawes said in a low voice, even though there was little danger that Muir, who died in 1914, would overhear.

Muir, who helped save Yosemite and who co-founded the Sierra Club when he wasn’t growing apples in Martinez, was a complex guy, said Tom Leatherman, superintendent of the site.

“He was a family man and a businessman,” Leatherman said. “He loved Martinez. He wasn’t just someone who was always going off to Yosemite.”

For the record, he said, Muir’s birthday is Sunday, and Earth Day is Monday.

Everyone was in a celebratory mood, even the Shell refinery just down the road. The refinery was hosting a booth, even though Muir is not often regarded as a likely fan of Big Oil.

“The trains that carried his fruit to market used fossil fuel,” said refinery representative Mariah Mandt. “That’s part of his story.”

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: srubenstein@sfchronicle.com Twiter: @SteveRubeSF

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