'Earth man' promotes harmony with nature

Philosophy: "You have to consume and restore and borrow and move around a little bit but never permanently remove any resources or destroy any species," Darwin Lambert believes.

October 06, 2002|By Jessica Clarke | Jessica Clarke,DAILY NEWS-RECORD

LURAY, Va. - The mile-long lane that leads to Darwin Lambert's heart passes through his lifeblood.

The narrow, pitted dirt road, running under the green, velvety sheen of the Blue Ridge Mountains, meanders by fields with orange and lavender wildflowers, the rocky Dry Run and a dense forest edged with ferns.

A fitting introduction to the home of a longtime naturalist, whose unpublished autobiography is titled Earth, Sweet Earth.

A clearing in the woods reveals the cabin in Shaver Hollow where Lambert and his wife, Eileen, have lived since 1964. The 19th-century house is 228 steps for Lambert from Shenandoah National Park and two miles from the Appalachian Trail.

The right place for a self-described "earth man" who calls conservation "earthmanship."

"This is the home of humanity," he says. "Nevertheless, you've got to live on it so you have to consume and restore and borrow and move around a little bit but never permanently remove any resources or destroy any species."

Controlling the human population, reducing use of electricity and gasoline and stabilizing soil to prevent erosion are parts of Lambert's conservation vision.

"The main theme of my life's story is pursuit of happiness through harmony with nature," says Lambert, 86, who in 1936 was Shenandoah National Park's first employee.

The harmony here includes frogs, hummingbirds, snakes, bears, butterflies, roses, daylilies and assorted garden vegetables. Lambert has listened to that harmony since he fell in love as a boy with a tall beauty.

His abiding love interest was Wheeler Peak, about 13,000 feet high, in eastern Nevada, where he grew up. The mountain, with ancient bristlecone pines, so moved Lambert that for decades he advocated the area's designation as a national park. In what Lambert calls his most gratifying environmental goal, Congress created Great Basin National Park on about 77,000 acres around Wheeler Peak in 1986.

Long before Great Basin park was established, Lambert was involved with another national park. On March 1, 1936, he came to Shenandoah National Park headquarters here to start bookkeeping. As an unofficial historian and naturalist for the park, Lambert wrote its first guide, published in 1937, and produced a quarterly nature journal about the area in the '30s and '40s.

He wrote other publications about the park, including several books still sold there.

Lambert left Luray to be director of the Chamber of Commerce in Ely, Nev., charged, he recalls, with promoting "non-divorce, non-gambling tourism" in a state associated with both.

In the '50s, Lambert used his position with the chamber and as a newspaper editor in Ely and state legislator to lobby for economic benefits of conservation and creation of the Great Basin area as a national park. National parks provide jobs and generate money from tourists, Lambert says.

He left Nevada to be editor of a paper in Juneau, Alaska, in the early '60s.

In 1964, he and his wife returned to the Shenandoah Valley and have been free-lance writers there ever since.

The Lamberts' lives reflect their environmental interests. They participate in annual counts of birds and butterflies sponsored by conservation groups. They feed birds, keep a butterfly garden and frog pond, and harvest their firewood.

"You just look at Lambert, and you can smell wood smoke. He's a person who looks like he belongs outdoors," says Robert Jacobsen, former superintendent of Shenandoah National Park.

As a skilled taxonomist, "You cannot engage him in any conversation, but he talks about the butterflies, the bats, the bushes," Jacobsen says.

The Lamberts plan to leave their home and property to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, to which they belong, to establish an "earthmanship center." The center would teach about managing forests and using forest products.

The club, based in Vienna, is building a cabin for members on land the Lamberts have donated.

"I'm trying to harmonize humans and Earth," Lambert says. "You've got to produce food. You've got to have metals. You've got to have water. I don't want to exclude anything. I want to weave them together."

The Daily News Record is published in Harrisonburg, Va.

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