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Photograph by Ron Pidot of the Riverside Municipal Museum, taken in Dr. Jaeger's front yard on 6th Street in Riverside, California in 1968 when Jaeger was 81 years of age.
(Courtesy of Jack Harris)
WHO WAS

DR.  EDMUND  C.  JAEGER ?


In 1972, Dr. Jaeger wrote the Forward to Great American Deserts, by Rowe Findley, in which he looked back on the experiences that attracted him to the desert:

For 65 years now I have loved the desert. I first saw it from the windows of a train, traveling from Nebraska to California with my parents. My father needed a change of climate for his health. It was 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake, and the ground was still trembling there when we reached California. Of the desert we crossed I remember wide expanses of creosote bush, great sandy washes, and Indians standing on the platform at Yuma.

A few years later, when I was still a young man, I climbed more than 10,000 feet to the peak of Mount San Jacinto and saw the desert spread below me. I felt its vastness and solitude - and beauty - tugging at me, and I vowed then and there that one day I would know it. For 30 years I was a Professor of Zoology at City College in Riverside, California, and I spent nearly every weekend and holiday camping in the desert with my students.

I remember campsites rimmed with beds of sand verbenas and evening primroses, smoke tree washes and sagebrush valleys. I remember riding a burro into Palm Springs, at the edge of the desert, where I began teaching. There were 40 registered voters there, mostly Indians. Now, of course, it’s a plush resort. And I remember waking at dawn and seeing a coyote playing with a piece of canvas from our camping equipment, tossing it and tugging it, frolicking like a puppy. He ran right across the chest of my sleeping companion and began cavorting with some crumpled wastepaper we were saving for our morning fire. He was not in the least bothered by our presence. I have great admiration for the coyote, for in spite of all the persecutions of man, and all the hardships he must endure, still he thrives.

Water is the life of the desert. There are desert animals that never need a drink of water. There are desert seeds that can wait 15 to 20 years for rainfall. That to me is one of the wonders of life. A seed no larger than a period on this page can hold all of a plant’s possibilities, waiting. No thinking man can fail to be awed by the mystery of it.

There is only one way really to see the desert, and that is on foot, away from the highways. The desert of people is not my desert. I want open space. I want to see the animals and flowers of the desert, to hear the sounds of the dry, whistling winds, and the insects and the birds. The desert is largely a land of silence, but if you listen you can hear it.

I’m glad that I’ve lived during the period that I have, for I saw California when it was young, and I saw the deserts in their pristine state. All my life I have enjoyed the boundless solitude and space. In just the past 30 years, huge areas of desert lands, watered by man-made reservoirs and opened by roads, have become home to millions. Many have exploited the deserts as a source of quick riches from minerals, land speculation, overbuilding, careless recreation. While it seems inevitable that desert areas will be put to man’s physical use more and more in the next decades, I hope some significant portion will be preserved in its natural state for the soul of man. Just as deserts have long been a source of great joy to me, I know they can be for thousands of others. We need only approach them on their own terms - and with great reverence.


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The Reminiscences page has articles about Dr. Jaeger - some by those who knew him and travelled with him.

The Palavers page has articles about Dr. Jaeger and the Palavers.