I had heroes as a child… they changed often and had more to do with my interests at the moment than any lifetime guidance. For example, during the few years I played soccer in middle school I really looked up to Brazilian football player Pelé. But, it was in my twenties when I truly discovered Amelia Earhart, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Abbey, Frida Kahlo… people whose lives I could really sink my teeth into! And from whom I could glean some strength, guidance, inspiration.
Many of my heroes have been women who were pioneers and leaders during times when they were encouraged by society to sink into the background, discouraged from following their dreams. I have never really sat down to create a list of those who motivate, guide, strengthen me – until now. However, this is an incomplete list of some highlights in my walk of fame! I could go on in many more blog posts about so many others. The abiding truths to me are – do they inspire me? Do their actions and words stretch my thinking, fill my heart, awaken gratitude, creativity, or even conscience? Fame is not a requirement, I find daily inspiration from my friends and family, from unknown and unnamed humans striving to live a meaningful life.
Louisa May Alcott was a writer and single woman her entire life. She shrugged off the expectations of society and made a living for herself and her family at a time when women were not even allowed to vote. Alcott wrote Little Women to help support her family, and, upon hearing of the death of her brother-in-law, immediately sat down to begin writing Little Men. She knew her sister and family would require extra support, and Alcott turned to the best way she knew to provide such succor. Another aspect of her character that I find especially intriguing and motivating is that she was a runner… yes, in those voluminous 1860s skirts!
A visit to Hearst Castle in California netted me a new hero in Architect Julia Morgan. Julia Morgan was an extraordinary person – one of the first women to graduate from UC Berkeley, and the first to be admitted and earn a degree from the Ecole Nationale et Speciale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She opened her architecture firm in 1904 in San Francisco. Hearst hired Morgan to begin work on his estate in San Simeon in 1919. Morgan was the right person for the job. To me, the detail of workmanship, the sturdy quality of the structures (built on the earthquake prone hills of the California coast), and the aesthetic layout speak for themselves. Hearst Castle is extreme in it’s opulence, but is still very pleasing to the eye, incorporates lovely natural beauty, and an ergonomic design – before the word was even invented.
Lavinia Ellen Ream Hoxie (1847-1914) was born in Wisconsin and moved with her family to Washington, DC in 1861. There she eventually worked as a clerk in the dead letter office – one of the first women to work for the federal government. By her late teens she had created numerous portrait sculptures and even had President Lincoln model for her by the time she was seventeen. In an 1866 vote in Congress she was commissioned to create a full sized marble sculpture of Lincoln, now in the US Capitol rotunda. She also designed the first free-standing sculpture of a Native American. The likeness of Sequoyah is in the Statuary Hall at the Capitol.
And now I come to Edward Abbey. As soon as I read Desert Solitaire I was hooked on his wonderful love of the west and of wilderness. His poetry of place moves me still and I am continually heartened by his embrace of wilderness and of our wild nature. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes from Abbey,
“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”
Hello! If you’re interested in Edward Abbey, ecoactivism, American literature, civil disobedience, among other themes, you might enjoy checking this out (words by Douglas Brinkley):