The passing of Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon B. Johnson, has garnered much press in the past week. A passionate conservationist and beautifier of America’s highways, Mrs. Johnson is better known locally for the grove that was dedicated in her name in August 1969 in Redwood National Park, a spot which Amy Stewart recently described on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered as “a reminder that she [Mrs. Johnson] had something grander in mind than just pretty flowers.”
When the grove was dedicated, Mrs. Johnson and her husband were joined by then-President Richard Nixon. Cameramen grumbled, constantly having to adjust their light meters, as the light shone inconsistently through the thick overcover. In town, at Safeway, T-bone steaks were on sale for $1.49 per pound. The Times-Standard ’s front page ran two headlines that stuck out: “Historic day in redwoods,” and “Caution: No utopia after peace in Vietnam.” While press crews and locals gathered in the grove, Sierra Clubbers were complaining about clearcutting going on in nearby Skunk Cabbage Creek territory. Protesters from the Humboldt Peace Center were also there: They described the dedication as “disgusting in the face of the death of thousands of American soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.” It happened to be President Johnson’s birthday. Nixon wished that he may “live as long as these trees.” But Johnson would die only a few years later, and it was Mrs. Johnson, living to be 94 years old, who ended up resembling the park’s Sequoia sempervirens .
Not all that much has changed since the dedication, except of course for the price of beef. “A lot of what happened then was big publicity around saving small places,” said Scott Greacen of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Meanwhile we lost the rest of our redwoods. We’ve seen the same thing happen with Headwaters.” And now, on the front page, there is a different war grinding on with no end in sight.
Still, the work of Lady Bird Johnson was important, not because she was a revolutionary, but because “she legitimized a lot of what was in the air,” said Greacen.
Lucille Vinyard, an octogenarian and charter member of the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club, describes Mrs. Johnson’s legacy slightly differently: Hers was a “legacy of letting people think that saying something is beautiful is OK.”
Lady Bird Johnson was buried next to her husband at a small cemetery at the LBJ ranch, about 50 miles from Austin, Texas. But in Humboldt County, the grove named in her honor is a perfect spot to remember her by. On visiting the redwood forest for the grove’s 1969 dedication, Bill Stall of the Associated Press wrote that “there is a feeling of eternity” there.
“It’s just a shame that we’ve lost Lady Bird Johnson,” said Mrs. Vinyard. “She did care about this country ... I have certainly walked that trail so many times.”
In honor of Mrs. Johnson, Redwood Adventures will hold five free guided hikes to Lady Bird Johnson Grove on Saturday, July 21, and Sunday, July 22. Start times for the free, one-mile guided hikes will be at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 21, and at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 22. The 8 p.m. hike on Saturday is designated as a candlelight hike and candles will be provided by Redwood Adventures. For more information call (866) 733-9637.
— Japhet Weeks