"I dropped out of Cal in 1931 as a sophomore," Brower says. "It was a hard time anyway, and I didn't find the work challenging. In 1933, when I was 21, I joined the club. In 1936, Ansel Adams proposed me as executive director, three years after he sponsored me for membership and 26 years before the position was created."
Brower served in the Tenth Mountain Division in World War II, writing a basic manual and instructing troops in Colorado, France and Italy. "The Alps confirmed my belief in wildness," he says. "All those mountains in Switzerland punched so full of holes that they have to be held together with cables. They strengthened my desire to protect the places in the Sierra Nevada where 'the hand of man has not set foot,' as Mrs. Malaprop might have said.
"My exposure to the natural environment began humbly enough, car camping with my family each summer. When I was 8, my mother lost her vision. I think that did a lot for my ability to observe. I would take her for walks in the hills. That looking for someone else may have sharpened my appreciation of the beauty in natural things."
Whether he pulled his Excalibur out of the rocks of the Alps or the Sierra Nevada, his hand fits the hilt. When Brower returned home from the war, he plunged into a series of preservation battles, culminating in the fight to save Dinosaur National Monument. During this successful battle he became executive director. Since then, the onslaught has been unconditional and unremitting.
When the visionary, witty naturalist John Muir and his friends founded the Sierra Club in 1892, they succeeded in preserving Yosemite as a national park shortly thereafter and then helped add Mt. Rainier and Glacier National Parks. But from 1914 (the year of Muir's death) till Brower's advent, the club won no major battles. Since then, the roll of victories in large part attributable to the Sierrans has read like Caesar's Gallic wars. Besides working to save the aforementioned Grand Canyon, redwoods and endangered Dinosaur, the club and its allies have rescued the central Great Smokies, the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, the Allagash wilderness in Maine, the Everglades in Florida and Storm King in New York; established North Cascades National Park in Washington and Canyonlands in Utah; obtained National Seashores on Cape Cod and Point Reyes; successfully agitated for a Wild Rivers Bill safeguarding at least six forever free-flowing rivers, and initiated a Wilderness Bill under which 167 wilderness areas in 13 states have already been declared off limits to motor vehicles.
The club's massive publishing program has produced 50 books and proposes 100 more. For prices up to $25, buyers get the best photography being done anywhere, some very high-powered propaganda and a chance to subsidize their own conversion. The 19 big books have sold 255,000 copies and grossed $3,850,000; the paperback offshoots have been No. 1 on quality bestseller lists, selling some half a million copies. Ten films have been made, and the club will soon produce television spots and specials.
Now, at Brower's urging, the Sierra Club has shucked its last association with tennis shoes, butterfly nets and binoculars by taking on the ultimate project, a project of heroic, some say foolhardy, proportions. The Sierrans hope to preserve, for preservation's sake, one species in its essential natural habitat and ecology. It has chosen the wildest of Earth's wildlife, the predator Man.
"The Sierra Club," Brower says, "is not so much defending nature. In due course, nature can take care of itself. Our motives are more selfish: the preservation of our own lives and well-being.
"We are fighting the good fight, the war against man's own ignorance and cleverness. Against his ignorance, because he's got to stop piling people up deeper. Against his cleverness because he's got to control rampant technology. This society does not exist to serve its economy; the economy exists to serve society."
Brower is deeply troubled by the sometimes bitter opposition to his "shoe-banging" tactics, more so than he will confide to a stranger. ("Brower is human," a friendly board member says. "I've seen Dave choked up, virtually in tears. He's done things that have hurt Brower; he's never done anything that hurt the club.")