Oral History Video: Jono Miller on the Evolution of Environmental Studies at New College

If you’re an environmental activist you haveto be an optimist, I feel. I imply, I don’t see how you can function, sleep at night, or do anything else if you thought, geez, we’re all fated and everything’s awful andwe’re going to blaze in a handbasket. I don’t think there’d be any motivation to tryand save estate, or modification guides, or to be elected, or do much of anything.I see activists, fundamentally, are parties that believe things can get better and repute things canget better as a result of concerted activity either by persons or radicals. Even though environmentalistsget characterized as being against everything, or being negative, in reality I think theyby definition they have to be some of the most optimistic people. Well, my name’s Jono Miller and I’ve beenworking here at New College on and off, I guess my first job now was in 1971. My immediatefamily was very sprung in New Jersey. I grew up about 20 miles from Manhattan, and I wentto the same grammar school my father attended.He met my mother when they were in baby strollersso we all grew up roughly about 20 miles from New York City. Well my father was a big explorerof the state. He had grown up, you are well aware, he would carry a shotgun on the way to schooland hide it in a hollow tree and hunting on the way home. He was very interested in the naturalworld. He knew about fossils and flowers and chicks and arrowheads and from about 6 to 13 every weekend my father and I would drive somewhere in the country and look for thingsor explore. I would hunt with my father, I was a hunter until probably senility 18. I hada 20 -gauge shotgun before I had a two-wheel bicycle. We’d get up very early in the morning, like 3 or 4, and drive down to south Jersey. We’d walk out before sunlight and find a muskrathouse out in the marsh to sit on. And my father’s hearing was settlement because of the crusade, but he had excellent vision. And so he would sit on one side and tell me he could see ducksor geese coming and I would sit on the other side and say I could hear them coming.Andit was fascinating because sunrise would separate and the ducks would take off. My father toldme that I needed to remember it because I would never see it again in “peoples lives”. And theducks would blot out the sky, you are well aware, you couldn’t really verify the sky because the numberof ducks flying around was so dense. And it was true, I’ve never seen that again. So, I came to New College in 1970. Yeah, itwas a pretty big change to leave suburban New Jersey where I could, you know, take thetrain into New York City and to come to a arrange like Sarasota. Yeah, big change. It made me quite a while to really bond withthis area. I had come from the temperate woodlands of the northeastern, of the centre Atlantic states, and I had a beech tree outside my room that was enormous. We had beings carbohydrate maples onour belonging, and so we were used to very substantial trees. And when I went down hereand the pine trees were short and kind of stunted ogling and palm trees didn’t seemvery significant, and there were a lot of sandspurs, and so it was not an instantaneousprocess of connecting with the landscape.But because of getting out and canoeing, exploringthe regime, it didn’t take very long to develop a sense of place. I congregated Julie the first day I got to New College.We were in the same direction radical. And I must have missed some–didn’t get some memoor something, and I intention up with a mattress and no sheets and no cloak and didn’t knowwhat I’d done wrong. And I get to the orientation group and I learned that Julie had come tocampus with a sleeping bag. So I borrowed this sleeping bag from Julie and that startedthe beginning of our relationship. We were both in this class, this environmental biologyclass, together, and we both had same interests in the environment. So we terminated up studyingtogether and we would go out and do sea sampling or look at seagrass or whatever.Julie did her thesis on Upper Myakka Lake, and that’s when I was first introduced tothe Myakka River. And when we are graduated we were very involved in water.Our first jobwas working on an annotated bibliography of the Charlotte Harbor Area. We were also hiredto canoe the Myakka to see if it would be suitable for designation as part of the statecanoe trail system. And it was it very difficult–at that time, there was no herbicide sprayingof liquid hyacinth or spray lettuce so there were these big hyacinth jam-packs. So we left MyakkaRiver State Park and started canoeing downstream and got about a mile downstream and it wasjust solid floating aquatic weeds. And so we got out of … it was like the African Queenor something. One of us would be in front pushing the hyacinths aside and the otheris in the back pushing the canoe forward. As a arise, even if they are the Myakka is a stateWild and Scenic River, that was designated by the Legislature, it’s not part of the statecanoe trail system because at the time it was surveyed it wasn’t really canoe-able.And even today, it often doesn’t have enough water to paddle and beings will callup and say “Can we canoe on the river? ” and the answer is “How fast can you drag yourcanoe? “( Laughs) Julie and I, we worked on some of the earliestcomprehensive plans for the district, and we really established what the habitats wouldbe called.We got to name the habitats in Sarasota before the State of Florida triedto develop a comprehensive method that called all the habitats. It’s been very helpful towork with someone who not only understands what it is I’m trying to do but it supportiveand lending and a partner and moving … you know, the majority of members of these safaruss couldn’thave happened without Julie’s carry. So that’s been crucial. We graduated in the spring or early summerof’ 74, and in the fall of’ 74 we extended a 47 -day canoe trip from Fort Meade on the Peace Riverdown to Chokoloskee Island in the Everglades. And so that was an incredible opportunityto further bond and connect with the Florida landscape.To do this 47 -day trip we had goneahead and ranked supplyings, like, two weeks apart in different communities along the way.But for a two-week period at a time we wouldn’t really have any contact with any of the outsideworld. We “wouldve been” our own little self-contained group moving either through flows or baysas we stopped paddling southward. It would be interesting to go back and remake that tripbecause a lot of the places that we camped are now developed and you couldn’t stay there.So it would be interesting to liken. I was interviewed on TV one time, some sortof independent producer, and he was asking jolly predictable questions, interview-typequestions, and then he said something like, “Well, what’s your perception of sky? “And I extended, “Whoa! ” And I said, “Heaven is canoe-camping on a river and every day youwake up and canoe down a unfold of the river and that’s different than the day before.And then you tent, and then you wake up the next morning and you continue canoeing and it’sdifferent than the day before.”.

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