Changing My Perspective: Save Mount Diablo and the Study of Oral History

Andrew Deakin is a sophomore at UC Berkeley majoring in political science. He enjoys backpacking, reading, and tending to his vegetable garden. He was an Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program intern with the Oral History Center in spring 2022, during which time he worked on a podcast for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Andrew
Andrew Deakin, OHC URAP intern

Last fall, combing through undergraduate research positions, a post caught my eye. The Oral History Center was looking for undergraduates to work on a podcast documenting the history of the conservation organization Save Mount Diablo. Finally! I was astounded that a research opportunity could indulge so many of my interests: journalism, history, podcasts, public policy, and, of course, my love for the outdoors. After reading the project description, I knew I would apply. Funnily enough, it wasn’t until I had my interview for the position that I learned exactly what oral history is. Since working on this project, I’ve developed an appreciation for a discipline that, frankly, I didn’t even know existed until recently. I found oral history to be an exciting, unadulterated way to engage with the past. Instead of reading from a dry, unappealing textbook, I learned to experience history through the recorded lives of individual people. Although one person’s perspective doesn’t always offer a complete historical picture, it’s invigorating to witness lived history through the personal experience, and sometimes life story, of another person.

         One interview in the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project that I made a deep personal connection with was with long-time supporter of Save Mount Diablo, John Kiefer. Like most of the interviews I reviewed, John’s began with his childhood. John was born in 1934 in Menlo Park. He was raised in a rural environment. For John, Menlo Park was “Pure, pure country. Try to grasp a vision of not very many homes, and most of the homes that were there were built in the late 1800s. There were some newer ones that had been built in the thirties and forties and fifties—that was new.” Maybe I have a romantic view of a rural childhood, but I couldn’t help but envy this aspect of John’s upbringing. I grew up in suburban Orange County, California. Try to grasp a vision of many identical homes, most built in the last 30 years, that are spread evenly like butter over what once must have been pristine Southern California chaparral.

Later in John’s interview, he put my experience into words. John said, “The average person, unique and marvelous, [isn’t] connected to nature.” John calls this modern experience of feeling disconnected with nature “Nature Deficit Disorder,” which he thinks “is a serious problem among our youth.” I’m thankful that as I grew up, I was a member of my local Boy Scout troop where I garnered my love for the outdoors. We often went camping in Caspers Regional Park, and I had the chance to spend time camping and backpacking in the Anza-Borrego Desert, Zion National Park in Utah, and Catalina Island. These experiences were especially transformative for me, and I fostered some of my strongest friendships while in the outdoors. John’s interview gave me a historical perspective to realize that the way I and many people of my generation are raised is novel, and perhaps not healthy either. John does amazing work combatting this issue, and I found his tenacity to get youth involved in the outdoors inspiring.

After a stint in the military, John decided he wanted to travel. For John, his decision was simple. He remarks, “I had a yearning to travel, and so I had gone to school with a few good friends from Central and South America, and I said, ‘Well, that’s the place for me.’” John’s retelling of his early adulthood was informative of my own experience. I, too, yearned to travel and, much like John, set my eyes on a foreign country somewhat arbitrarily and decided I would spend this summer there. I’ve been taking French courses and enrolled in the French Department’s summer abroad program in Paris. It was heartwarming to hear John recollect so aptly what the archetype of young adulthood is. John reminisces, “So what was that period of my life about? Well, it was, in fact, like the fable…where one leaves home with a bag of clothes…in search of the holy grail, which simply means…to start to experience who you are beyond your family.” John’s retelling of his young adulthood relieved some doubts I had about treating this period of my life so whimsically. John’s interview taught me it’s okay to take risks and to find myself while I’m still young. John’s existentialist philosophy really stuck with me, and I thank him and the process of oral history for leaving me with that. In the end, John applied his love of nature to his work with Save Mount Diablo. I hope that, given John’s experience, I will be able to apply my own love of the outdoors in my future work.

I’m honored to have partaken in the production of the Save Mount Diablo podcast for its fiftieth anniversary. It’s a historical practice I never considered, and I’m left with new tools to better understand history going forward. It was refreshing to do work on a tangible product, something that has real value and will be consumed by a wider audience. Learning about the lives of all the wonderful people who work for Save Mount Diablo gave me both a historical framework to understand the land conservation in the East Bay and the personal wisdom from these peoples’ life stories. This project informed me about the process of podcast production and storytelling, something I thought I might enjoy, but never had the chance to pursue. Although John’s interview impacted me the most, we did not use much of his material for the podcast. Deciding which quotes neatly weaved into the narrative we were telling taught me how to tell a compelling story and when to cut content when necessary. Now, as the semester is ending, I understand the processes, some difficult and some exhilarating, but all satisfying, to produce this kind of media. It has given me the experience to determine where I might go from here and if I have a future working in the media. I thank the Oral History Center and my URAP mentors, Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes, for this fulfilling and incredible opportunity, and I hope this research opportunity continues for future undergraduates to discover the joys of oral history.

Find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


Growth and (Re)connection: My Experience with the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project

Anjali George is a junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Sociology. She enjoys reading, dancing and being in nature. She was an Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program intern with the Oral History Center in spring 2022, during which time she worked on a podcast for the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project.

Anjali
Anjali George, OHC URAP intern

When I joined the Save Mount Diablo Oral History Project offered through The Oral History Center’s Berkeley Remix podcast, I really did not have any idea what I was doing—I had no experience in oral history, very little knowledge of Save Mount Diablo and no understanding of podcasts beyond the fact that I enjoy listening to them. Yet, I knew immediately that this was something I deeply wanted to do. Despite my lack of experience, I have always been fascinated by the practice of oral history and the importance of documenting and sharing history in a way that is accessible to the public. From what little I knew of Save Mount Diablo at the time (a land trust and conservation organization in the East Bay), I felt drawn to its mission and values, and I knew I wanted to be part of this effort to celebrate and preserve its history through the podcast.

 As I worked through the Save Mount Diablo interviews that had been compiled for this oral history project, I learned so much more about the organization and environmental conservation in general, as well as about myself and my own relationship with the environment. I think what I initially found compelling about the organization was its focus on fostering education and community in order to sustain its more physical goals, like fundraising and land conservation. Ted Clement, who has been Save Mount Diablo’s executive director since 2015, had so many insightful thoughts and experiences that he shared in his interview. Hearing him speak about how the climate crisis, at its core, is “a materialization of our very poor relationship with nature,” very clearly put the organization’s education branch into perspective. Ted explained that the widespread disconnect between people and nature calls for an entire cultural realignment, which is where education comes into play. After stepping into his role in the organization, Ted immediately prioritized education as a primary goal, so that the broader community can start to transform its cultural values and develop a healthier, more meaningful relationship with nature. He spoke of earth-centered cultures, in which nature is considered sacred, placed “at the center of the value system.” Listening to Ted’s interview, it became clear that Save Mount Diablo is more than just a land trust and conservation organization—its efforts to spread awareness and educate the public, coupled with its desire to connect people to nature and to one another, make its work so much more impactful in creating sustainable change.

 Even with my lack of oral history experience prior to this project, I have always found it so crucial to understand history in general, not only to learn from the past, but also to preserve it. And in that sense, I have a deep admiration for the practice of oral history and the way it preserves and passes along different histories, especially regarding topics and perspectives that often get overshadowed or overlooked. Working with Ted’s interview—as well as all of the other interviews that had been conducted—really reinforced the importance of oral history for me, in the sense that hearing the history from those who actually experienced it adds so much more depth and understanding to the story. On the more technical side, I hadn’t previously understood the complexities of creating a podcast—or more broadly, even taking primary sources and turning them into a developed, cohesive story. By listening to the interviews and reading through the transcripts, I quickly began to recognize what pieces of information were important to get across to the audience. From there, I learned how to develop a narrative that conveys the relevant information while also speaking to the audience and making them care about the story. Even the thought process that goes into crafting a compelling story—drawing on charismatic speakers, finding quotes that are both significant to the story and also entertaining to hear, summarizing information that might be too dense or nuanced for an audience to bother sitting through—there are so many small details to take into consideration to be able to turn those initial interviews into a finished product. 

I learned so much more than I could have expected from working on this project—about working with primary sources and creating a story, about environmental conservation, about myself and how I want to move through this world—and I’ll continue to carry this experience with me and apply it in other aspects of my life and my learning. I’ve learned how to look at any given information and pull out the important themes, how to string different stories together to paint a broader picture, how to think about what appeals to an audience and how to make them care. Even outside of a storytelling framework, these skills easily transfer over to different parts of my life, from critically analyzing academic content to carrying conversations in my daily life. Moreso, hearing Save Mount Diablo’s history and accomplishments, even hearing how its relationship with nature and conservation efforts has changed over the years, has genuinely inspired me to rethink my own relationship with nature and what I can do in my own life to reconnect with the natural world around me. In this tumultuous time, with the pandemic and the increasing severity of the climate crisis, I think it is very easy for people to feel hopeless or to feel like the damage done is irreversible. However, I believe documenting Save Mount Diablo’s history and its accomplishments is an important reminder that there are people on the ground putting in the effort, doing the work that needs to be done, creating change and making a real impact on the climate crisis. I think this podcast can be not only a celebration of Save Mount Diablo’s work, but also a source of hope and motivation for the listening audience to persevere and to keep doing our part—no matter how big or small—and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in this project.

Find the interview mentioned here and all our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. You can search by name, key word, and several other criteria.


Preserving Spaces and Stories with Save Mount Diablo

by Samantha Ready

Samantha Ready is an Undergraduate Research Apprentice at the Oral History Center. She worked with Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes during the Spring ’21 semester to help them prepare for their upcoming oral history project celebrating Save Mount Diablo’s 50th anniversary.

From Samantha: My name is Samantha Ready (she/her) and I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas. I am currently a third-year at Cal double majoring in Ethnic Studies and Geography with a minor in Race and the Law. Some of my favorite pastimes are hiking, traveling, and listening to Johnny Cash.

Ready Photo

This semester, I had the privilege of joining the Oral History Center’s Save Mount Diablo Project as a background researcher under the mentorship of Shanna Farrell and Amanda Tewes. Despite growing up in the ‘Natural State’ of Arkansas, I didn’t learn much about environmental preservation. Coming into this research project, my personal definition of preservation was limited to the scope of society and culture. I’ve focused my studies on supporting and amplifying the perspective of marginalized communities, because they are often overshadowed by dominating narratives. Working on this project taught me about two important things that were missing from my definition of cultural preservation: land conservation and oral histories. Because I learned about the deeply rooted connections between environmental preservation and personal narratives, I now see clearly how important these facets are to the preservation of cultures and histories from all voices. 

Save Mount Diablo (SMD) is a nationally accredited land trust organization and has been working to conserve the land around Mount Diablo in the East Bay since 1971. The preservation of natural land is a main goal of SMD, and has thus far been achieved through consistent advocacy, dedicated stewardship, thoughtful land-use planning, and educational programs. Mount Diablo’s biodiversity, historical and agricultural significance, and natural beauty are important to both the area’s general quality of life and natural resources. SMD works to provide ways for people to interact with the environment at Mount Diablo through recreational opportunities that consistently protect the region’s natural resources and open spaces, such as their Discover Diablo public hiking program, educational classes with local schools, and the annual Four Days Diablo backpacking trip through the mountain. Below are two maps of 2020 The Mount Diablo Regional Trail Map, which both feature the Diablo Trail that spans across the entire regional area. Of the 338,000 total acres shown between both maps, more than 120,000 acres have been preserved and protected thanks to Save Mount Diablo. Seth Adams, SMD’s Land Conservation Director, says that “No other map shows all of the Diablo area parks in a unified design and in regional context. The map illustrates what has been accomplished and what private lands still need to be protected.” (SMD website) The first map features Mount Diablo State Park and surrounding parks, and the second features Los Vaqueros and surrounding parks. 

Mount Diablo & Surrounding Parks:

Mt. Diablo

Los Vaqueros & Surrounding Parks:

Surrounding Parks

Image Credits: maps produced by Save Mount Diablo

In my research about Save Mount Diablo, it became apparent that working alongside surrounding community members -including SMD membershipSMD membership, various outside organizations, and political leaders/institutions- has been vital to maintaining their mission of preserving the environment. My first point of interest here was learning more about which communities and organizations SMD has worked with, how, and why. I immediately thought of Indigenous communities connected with Mount Diablo. Bev Ortiz, a Native American historian and SMD newsletter contributing author, wrote an article entitled Mount Diablo as Myth and Reality: An Indian History Convoluted, in which she describes the mountain’s cultural and religious significance to Native Nations. Mount Diablo is meaningful for the Nations of the Miwok, Maidu (Nisenan), Ohlone (Chochenyo), Pomo, and Wintun Nations. Ortiz connected with members from these Native Nations in her work of preserving their cultural connections with Mount Diablo, from whom she learned about these connections, which included creation stories of several Nations. Creation stories are the original forms of oral history, and have helped preserve Indigenous cultures for thousands of years. Below is a map by Mount Diablo State Park of languages spoken by Native Americans from the region of Mount Diablo. 

map

Image Credit: Mount Diablo State Park

Save Mount Diablo has often recognized Native cultural connections with Mount Diablo throughout its efforts to protect the mountain, such as in SMD Director of Land Programs Seth Adams’ timeline of the History of Mount Diablo, SMD’s stance to protect Tesla Park, and SMD Executive Director Ted Clement’s event to discuss SMD’s work with Indigenous communities to preserve cultural resources. Native American culture strongly connects with the environment, as they were the Earth’s first caretakers and the first to sustainably manage the world’s natural resources. Indigenous Nations around the world have maintained that stewardship of their ancestral homelands would be the first step to restoring their relationship with the land after colonization. In this sense, the inclusion of Native communities in environmental preservation would also aid in the preservation of their culture(s). To me, Save Mount Diablo’s work with Native communities thus far indicates their sincere recognition of how important the preservation of Native connections with Mount Diablo are to preserving the region’s land. Though there is definitely recognition, I remain curious as to the extent Indigenous communities are directly involved in SMD’s stewardship and conservation of Mount Diablo lands. 

Another part of the community Save Mount Diablo works within is the political sphere. SMD has been heavily involved in, or at least taken stances on, several ballot measures throughout its50 years of fighting for environmental preservation. SMD also spends a lot of time tracking proposals by potential developers to ensure they follow the environmental rules and protections set by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) of 1970. The main purpose of CEQA is to prevent and decrease environmental damage by developments and to allow a public decision-making process, which enables community members to discuss their concerns regarding development projects’s environmental effects. This work has led to SMD’s working with local political leaders and alliances with conservation networks in order to defend Urban Limit Lines (ULLs) against developers of preserved space in the Mount Diablo region. These ULLs preserve and protect open spaces, and are often threatened by developers, corporations, and some politicians. In their encouragement of public engagement with these issues, SMD provides email templates to send to local and state political leaders about issues at hand. Save Mount Diablo has been successful in these political methods of environmental preservation largely due to their active involvement and communication with outside persons, organizations, and institutions. Through its years of interactions with political representatives, public organizations, and parks districts, I wonder how, if at all, SMD’s standing as a private organization has affected the outcomes of these interactions. Additionally, I’m curious about how situational outside influences affected these interactions. 

env politics

Image Credit: EnvironmentalScience.org 

When learning about stories of the past, even those of organizations like Save Mount Diablo, it’s important to think about the perspective from which the story is being told. Learning about oral history played a big role in helping me realize that because of its practice to amplify and preserve individual voices so as to learn about their personal and lived experiences of historical occurrences. UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center (OHC) continues this mission across a variety of projects, including in this Save Mount Diablo Project. An ultimate goal of the SMD oral histories is to understand how the organization promotes a thoughtful relationship between people and the environment to inspire positive growth for the natural land and society as a whole. The background research I was able to contribute this semester barely scratched the surface of this story, and the rest lies in the stories soon to be told in the oral histories of Save Mount Diablo. 

Learning about notable contributions of Save Mount Diablo to land conservation and environmental preservation taught me about how intersectional preservation is with most, if not all, facets of life. Not only do they work to conserve land that is sacred both biologically and culturally, SMD consistently provides recreational and educational resources for teaching and learning about the environment and the importance of preserving it. Now, it’s time for the preservation of Save Mount Diablo’s stories.