With the passing of Darwin Lambert, we have lost a leader in conservation and a dear friend of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.
Anyone who has stayed at PATC’s Tulip Tree cabin owes a debt of gratitude to Darwin. It was Darwin who donated the five acres to the club on which this cabin has been built. And anyone who helped build Tulip Tree will remember it as being one of a kind, because it was Darwin who instructed that it be build without the use of energy consuming tools.
But there’s quite a story behind that cabin. And the story is the writer/naturalist/historian Darwin Lambert.
Raised a Morman in Nevada, Darwin moved to Washington, D.C. in 1934 at the age of 18 to take a government job with the Civil Service Commission as a bicycle messenger.
He soon entered George Washington University to study botany. It was there that he was advised by his professor to go to the State-owned land in the Blue Ridge that was destined to become a National Park and make a plant collection before the park was officially established.
During an early visit to the future park, Darwin met the Newt Sisk family, one of nearly 500 mountain families who lived within the proposed park boundaries. Over the following year and a half, Darwin spent many weekends and virtually all of his annual leave at the Sisks’ house, botanizing throughout the Blue Ridge parkland and learning about the lifestyles of the mountain residents. Ultimately, Darwin amassed a collection of over 1,000 specimens and, more importantly, began his lifetime commitment to nature.
Eventually, the Park became reality on December 26, 1935, and began hiring at 8 am on March 1, 1936. Characteristically, Darwin had spent the night at the Sisks, who was one of the 461 families still living by permit in the new Park, and arrived at the Park office in Luray shortly before 8 to be sworn in as the first employee of the new Shenandoah National Park (SNP).
As clerk/stenographer for J.R. Lassiter, the first Superintendent of the SNP, Darwin’s central job was to set up NPS files and bookkeeping. No naturalist position was yet authorized, so he also pushed into nature research and interpretation. Within months, he organized the Shenandoah Nature Society and began publishing a quarterly nature journal for park visitors and interested people living near the park. Still only 20 years old, he was elected president of the organization and was soon editor of the nature journal.
Darwin’s stay with the Park was brief, as his love of nature and writing caused him to forego government work to establish the Lambert Publishing Company, where he wrote the first natural history books of the Park.
After the war, Darwin and his family moved back to his former hometown of Ely, Nevada, to assume role of the head of the White Pine Chamber of Commerce. Shortly afterward, he became editor of the two newspapers of Ely, and then State-elected assemblyman. As such, he introduced a bill creating the Nevada Department of Economic Development, and was immediately assigned the chairman of the statewide economic development board by the Governor. Largely through these positions of influence, Darwin created the fire that required his stoking for over thirty years, culminating in the creation of the Great Basin National Park, just outside Ely.
In 1964, Darwin quit the newspaper business, and moved back to his old home in Shaver Hollow with his wife, Eileen, supporting themselves by writing about natural history and conservation. There, they pursued happiness in a 1850’s log cabin heated by the efforts of their own wood harvesting, growing fruits and vegetables for their table, and seeking paths that would enable them to minimized their impacts on their land, their air and water, and their planet earth.
Through his life of writing, lecturing and conversing, Darwin’s philosophy evolved into a lifestyle of simplicity, striving to consume less rather than more, and finding happiness in loving and protecting nature. He riled at the American rate of consumption - mistakenly called the “standard of living” – and found happiness primarily through a continuing effort to win harmony with nature. He called this ‘earthmanship’.
Simply put, Darwin’s earthmanship is “the art and science of living on Earth for maximum health and happiness while enhancing the planet’s resources and functions as the home of life. It means living enjoyably and sustainably on Earth.”
Darwin and Eileen spent over 40 years renewing their land and their spirits. Quoting Darwin: “We’ve done a lot for this place; the soil is more fertile now; the life is more abundant and diverse. Yet the place has done more for us than we’ve done for it. This land is interwoven with us, with our spirits, bodies, minds, emotions. We’ve learned multiple incentives and multiple rewards. We share glorious days and nights with birds and frogs, deer and foxes and bears, as well as with other humans, and with trees and the winds that rustle the leaves or sway the branches, and the creek that gurgles in its channel among boulders and carries life in many forms. Here we talk with Earth, are partners with Earth, creating together. We try to learn Earth’s ways and willingnesses and harmonize ours with them - and discuss and create also with human friends and institutions to keep learning humanity’s ways and willingnesses - to help toward fuller harmony, continuing our social membership without losing our citizenship in Earth.”
Darwin Lambert called it “Earthmanship”. Aldo Leopold, the preeminent conservationist of the twentieth century called this same philosophy a “land ethic”. Leopold said, "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” Benton MacKaye called it geotechnics and Buckminster Fuller called it “Spaceship Earth”. Henry David Thoreau, integrated it in the Transcendentalist movement, eloquently stating that “humans are part of nature and that we function best, as individuals and societies, when we are conscious of that fact.” All these leading minds knew how our culture must acknowledge, trust, and love our relationship with nature. And, as Darwin stated, they knew that Man, rather than being the chosen one, must assume the role of the responsible one.
Darwin has reached notable achievements in his lifetime. His list of publications is prodigious. To us, who love the Shenandoah National Park, he dedicated “The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park”. His other books include “Herbert Hoover’s Hideaway”, “The Earth-Man Story,” and “Great Basin Drama”. He also wrote “Shenandoah National Park: Administrative History, 1924 – 1976.”
Darwin Lambert served a quarter-century on the governing board of National Parks Conservation Association. He was named as a member of the “Green Team” of leading conservationists by First Lady Barbara Bush, has dined with William O. Douglas, and found Charles Kurault’s “Sunday Morning” crew unexpectedly knocking on his door one morning!
Darwin had a dream. He dreamed of his cabin and land continuing beyond his life as a center for environmental education. He wanted his home to continue as a model for earthmanship. It was in that context that he wanted to give all of his land to the club.
It was in that context that he gave five acres of his land for the construction of the minimal resource-consuming cabin we now enjoy as Tulip Tree.
Darwin’s life has spanned an enormous change in society. Few people have seen or done as much as Darwin Lambert. His results and writings are his legacy. Thank you, Darwin, for your contributions toward reaching a healthy and happy living environment.