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[ ] I hold to Croce’s and Kipling’s canons: To do your best to draw things as they are; and to make the scene come alive truly.—Carl Sauer to Henry Moe, 1937 7 “The Great God West of the Sierras” Sauer’s prestige but also aloofness had become legendary. In 1937 his old Chicago friend and mentor Wellington Jones urged him to attend the upcoming Association of American Geographers’ annual meeting in Ann Arbor “and show yourself to a whole generation of younger geographers who think you are a semi-mythical personage on the Pacific Coast. I cannot indefinitely convince them that you actually exist.”1 At that meeting, with Sauer as ever absent, Richard Hartshorne, the distinguished geographer then at the University of Minnesota, referred to the influence of “this great god” Sauer.2 Sauer’s reputation and continued absence from AAG meetings also reflected his multifaceted commitments during the 1930s and 1940s besides his many academic chores. Service on soil erosion for the Science Advisory Board of the National Resource Council involved a lengthy expedition in the southern Piedmont during 1936. He was a prominent consultant for the Social Science Research Council, the Advisory Council of Fairfield Osborn ’s Conservation Foundation, the National Resources Planning Board, the Rockefeller Foundation, and later the Office of Naval Research. In 1935 he was appointed to the five-member Guggenheim Fellowship selection board, on which he continued to serve for thirty years. He was 102 to pass on a good earth inordinately proud of this position and took great pleasure in it. It was also immensely time-consuming. In 1938 an offer of the presidency of a major eastern university “was buzzing in the air.” All the while he continued his Mexican research on Indian economies and population numbers, and embarked on a new inquiry into plant domestication and diffusion in the Americas, while lobbying individuals and foundations to fund an institute of Latin American studies at Berkeley.3 In 1948 he joined the Board of Visitors of the newly founded Air Force Academy, pleased that for any meeting of the board a plane would be sent for him. Inclusion in the inner circle of American strategic policy mitigated his long-harbored resentment at nonacceptance as a German American.4 The Ruined Land The physical degradation of American farms particularly needed Sauer’s expert attention. In January 1934 Isaiah Bowman, chairman of the National Research Council, asked Sauer to help the new Science Advisory Board formulate an American land-use policy. Within three months Sauer completed a 195-page document, a tour de force of clarity and readability advocating wise use for present and future needs.5 “Your ears must have burnt yesterday ,” wrote Bowman after a conference of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture adopted Sauer’s proposals, “in view of the number of complimentary things that were said about your report.”6 Sauer’s specific proposal to study the mechanics of soil erosion in critically affected locales was enthusiastically supported by Soil Erosion Service chief Hugh Bennett and assistant chief Walter Lowdermilk. His own immediate task, in late June and July, was a survey of affected Navajo lands. He aimed to gauge the severity of erosion in different landforms under varying intensities of rainfall. The presence or absence of these landforms could then be used as predictors of how erosion might be arrested. The chosen area was the Polacca Wash, a thirty-mile-long channel or arroyo in the Navajo-Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona, an area he later termed “a place of evil omen.” Personal and professional rivalries turned early promise into an unpleasant experience.7 Sauer’s team was dismayed at the start by the antagonism of the regional “The Great God West of the Sierras” 103 conservator in the Soil Erosion Service, Hugh Calkins, who resented their intrusion. The team also suffered internal dissensions. Sauer put Dick Norman , a geographer with administrative experience, in charge, assisted by the geologists Perry Reiche and Francis Johnson. Johnson was resentful that Norman, who did not have a doctorate, had been made his superior, a resentment exacerbated by late and irregular payments of his salary. A former classmate of Lowdermilk’s, Johnson sent him private reports critical of the work and its conceptual plan, which Lowdermilk ignored but retained in administrative files.8 Unaware of Johnson’s gripe, Sauer reported good progress during the first year. Studies showed that “engineering structures for stemming erosion,” revegetating wash beds, and erecting fences...


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