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 believe. I want, I don’t see how you can function, sleep at night, or do anything else if you thought, geez, we’re all doomed and everything’s awful andwe’re going to blaze in a handbasket. I don’t think there’d be any motivation to tryand save shore, or mutate rules, or get elected, or do much of anything. I judge organizers, profoundly, are beings that believe things can get better and conclude things canget better as a result of concerted activity either by individuals 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 chore here was in 1971. My immediatefamily was very rooted in New Jersey. I grew up about 20 miles from Manhattan, and I wentto the same grammar school my father attended. He matched 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 cavern tree and hunting on the way home. He was very interested in the naturalworld. He knew about fossils and embeds and birds and arrowheads and from about 6 to 13 every weekend my father and I would drive somewhere in the government and look for thingsor explore.I would hunt with my father, I was a hunter until probably age 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 daytime and find a muskrathouse out in the marsh to sit on. And my father’s hearing was endangered because of the conflict, 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 sunup would break-dance 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 identify 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, make thetrain into New York City and are in place to a residence like Sarasota. Yeah, big change. It took me quite a while to really bond withthis area. I had come from the temperate groves of the northeast, of the midriff Atlantic states, and I had a beech tree outside my chamber that was enormous.We had giant sugar maples onour asset, and so we were used to very substantial trees. And when I got down hereand the pine trees were short and kind of stunted gazing 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 country, it didn’t take very long to develop a sense of place. I congregated Julie the first day I got to New College.We are available on the same orientation group. And I must have missed some–didn’t get some memoor something, and I purposed up with a mattress and no membranes 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 similar interests in the environment.So we culminated 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 firstly jobwas working on an annotated bibliography of the Charlotte Harbor Area. We are also among 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 sea lettuce so there were these big hyacinth jams. So we left MyakkaRiver State Park and started canoeing downstream and got about a mile downstream and it wasjust solid floating aquatic grass. 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 propagandizing the canoe forward.As a outcome, even though 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 parties 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 county, and we actually determined what the habitats wouldbe called. We got to name the habitats in Sarasota before the State of Florida triedto develop a exhaustive organization that identified 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 contributing and business partners and moving…You know, the majority of members of these expeditions couldn’thave happened without Julie’s buoy. So that’s been crucial. We graduated in the spring or early summerof’ 74, and in the fall of’ 74 we produced 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 situated supplies, 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 creeks or baysas we restrained paddling southward.It would be interesting to go back and redo 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 heaven? “And I get, “Whoa! ” And I said, “Heaven is canoe-camping on a river and every day youwake up and canoe down a pull 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 hinder canoeing and it’sdifferent than the day before.”.


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