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  January/February 1998 Features:
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Last Words

Sierra Magazine
Field Guide: Willing & Able

By Editor-in-chief Joan Hamilton

When John Muir formed an organization to protect his beloved Sierra Nevada in 1892, he became the Sierra Club's first volunteer. Today some 20,000 others have followed his lead to move our ambitious agenda. Connected by computer, fax, phone, and an activist newsletter, The Planet, they rally to save national treasures—special places like Yosemite and crucial laws like the Endangered Species Act. They also fight the local battles that fill Sierra's "Home Front" section. Some write a letter or two; others organize multiyear conservation campaigns.

Some of these volunteers even help put out this magazine. Retired newspaper reporter Jon Owen pores over every syllable of Sierra. Each time we hand him our latest proofs, they're back on our managing editor's desk by the next morning, redolent of pipe smoke and flagged with yellow stickies. We'd rather not confess to the blunders Owen has helped us avoid. But—if you must know—last issue he questioned an author's mention of "150 million tonsē of beryllium. After checking, we found the amount to be 150 metric tons. In another article we said 32 experts had worked on a University of Maryland project; Owen said no, it was 13.

How could he possibly know? He has hundreds of books and two file cabinets full of clippings at home, neatly labeled and cross-referenced, and he found a source that trumped ours. When we acknowledge that his painstaking work has saved us from public humiliation, our extraordinary proofreader grins. "I enjoy this work," he says. "It appeals to the perfectionist in me."

Intern Tom Lombardo walked in the door with excellent editorial skills. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, he has worked as a middle school teacher and for Earth First! and Rainforest Action Network. After a three-month stint as our volunteer researcher, he plans to begin writing articles for magazines like this one.

I ask Lombardo which of his tasks he's found most rewarding. He's just gotten off the phone with Polly Dyer, a woman perhaps 40 years his senior and a self-described housewife. She's also a witty and politically astute Sierra Club activist, devoted to defending the wildlands of the Pacific Northwest. Among her many accomplishments was helping establish North Cascades National Park, the backdrop for an article that will appear later this year. "That conversation was the best," Lombardo says. "She's an inspiration."

To understand how things really work around the Sierra Club, think of Polly Dyer multiplied by 20,000. That's what makes us strong.

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