The Wildflowers of Ed Stuhl's Mt. Shasta
By Jon Lewis
Where the Wild Things AreApril 2016
Story by Jon Lewis
Ed Stuhl’s was a life lived so large that it’s only fitting his legacy will be forever associated with Mt. Shasta, one of the titans of the Cascade Range.
Stuhl was 30 when he got his first glimpse of the mountain in 1917, recording in his journal that the volcano was “of such height and dimensions, majesty and beauty, it makes faint any attempt to describe it.”
Nonetheless, describe it he did, and its abundant wildflowers in particular. He spent the better part of his next 50 years painting the 189 wildflowers known to exist on the mountain’s slopes. Four Mount Shasta-area residents recently made it their mission to celebrate and preserve Stuhl’s work in a book.
His paintings “were a gift that we didn’t want to let go,” says Jane Cohn, one of the four authors of “Mount Shasta Wildflowers.” “We all have a passion for the mountain,” explains co-author Michael Zanger, a veteran climbing guide who befriended Stuhl in 1968. “We loved working on this project. It’s nice we could share the passion that he had.”
Stuhl was a classically trained artist and a self-taught botanist who grew up in Austria and spent his early years hiking throughout the Bavarian countryside, repairing stained-glass windows that were damaged by storms. He developed a fascination with the American West from attending a performance of “Wild” Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley’s Wild West Show in Munich and reading frontier authors like James Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain.
Stuhl and his young wife, Rosie, made their way to Chicago in 1908, and then down to Mexico, where they managed a sprawling cattle ranch and were even befriended by Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution.
When peace was restored in Mexico and it was again safe to travel, the Stuhls decided to take in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco before returning to Austria. When World War I made a return to Europe impossible, the couple remained in the North State.
Stuhl’s attraction to Mt. Shasta only grew after accepting a job on publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst’s Wyntoon estate on the McCloud River, a position he held from 1923 to 1946. The Stuhls settled in a log cabin west of Mount Shasta and led very active lives well into their 90s.
Zanger was a young climber in 1968 and hitchhiking up the Everitt Memorial Highway when he first met Stuhl. “By the time we got to Bunny Flat, we had quite a connection,” Zanger recalls. “When we got there, he offered me a job at the Sierra Club camp.”
Zanger became the caretaker-in-residence at the Sierra Club’s Shasta Alpine Lodge, a climbers’ hut built in 1923 at Horse Camp. “It meant being up there all summer for four years, and then I took over after that as an overseer or custodian. Every week that I came down for mail and supplies, I had to stop by their house and visit with them. That was great. There were just endless stories.”
Stuhl was a highly regarded source of entertainment and lore for the hundreds of hikers and climbers he encountered on the mountain, regaling them with tales about Mt. Shasta and his other alpine adventures. According to Zanger, Stuhl climbed every major mountain in western North America from Mexico to Canada, including a solo winter climb of Mexico’s 17,887-foot Popocatepetl volcano at age 76.
Cohn’s familiarity with Stuhl’s work strengthened during her five years as a climbing guide when she would often field questions from her clients about the wildflowers they would encounter.
Zanger gave Cohn a copy of Stuhl’s coffee-table book of his wildflower paintings (now long out of print) and she would try and find the various flowers she spotted. “I said to Michael, ‘We ought to take these paintings and make them into a field guide,’ and he agreed, but we were both busy and didn’t do anything,” she says.
The field guide idea resurfaced in 2000 and this time it gained some traction. Cohn knew a botanist, Ken Goehring, who said he’d help if the team was able to acquire the rights to Stuhl’s paintings. Goehring’s wife and fellow College of the Siskiyous instructor, Linda Freeman, completed a book of her own and joined the team as well.
Fortunately, Stuhl was a meticulous record keeper. “Ed’s journals are very detailed and very exciting to read. He was one of those people that was highly organized. He wrote everything down and labeled everything. He kept track of how many times he went to Horse Camp and how long it took him. It’s a window into what life was like in an earlier time,” Cohn says.
For the book, Zanger and Cohn provided their knowledge of the mountain and its many trails, and obtained permission from George Thompson, head librarian of Special Collections at Chico State University’s Meriam Library, to secure the rights to reprint Stuhl’s paintings.
Freeman provided the keys, tables and plant descriptions and, with her husband, the identification and presentation of the plants. “We felt like we were building a box for a wonderful treasure. We went very slow. It was a labor of love for all four of us,” Goehring says.
The project was fun, too, Cohn says, especially when “your homework is to go up on the mountain and look for flowers.”
The authors will present a slideshow at 7 pm May 12 at the Sisson Museum. The program is presented by the Siskiyou Land Trust; suggested donation is $8. Visit www.siskiyoulandtrust.org
Guided wildflower hikes are tentatively scheduled for June and July; visit www.shastaguides.com for details