Kimes Family Letter to Friends


On September 7, 2002, Mayme Burris Kimes came to "the end of the trail" at a time that seemed to be of her own choosing. She was 93 years old. She often spoke in the metaphor of a mountaineer, a title she earned by climbing many High Sierra peaks including climbing Mt. Whitney three times. Her most determined accent, however, was to the top of Mt. Fujiama which she scaled during a month long sojourn to Japan in 1963.

Mayme was not only a mountaineer; she was a devoted wife, Mother, and Grandmother, a researcher and author, and an inspiring friend to many. We found in her handwriting a statement that expresses her love & devotion to us that has been "as warming as the sun and as constant as the stars." Her enthusiasm for life has been a compelling wave that carried along those caught in her sparkle.

But back to the beginning.

She related to her family that "one cold crisp morning the last day of February 1909, I was born in a little farm cottage to Charlotte and Ed Burris" in Hanford, California. She has told many stories about her youth, like riding a pony and cart to school and living in San Francisco and paying a nickel for a trolley car ride. There were also visits to her grandparents in Sonoma, first taking the ferry across the Bay and then being met by a farm hand with horse and buggy for the remainder of the trip.

Somewhere in her childhood Mayme got the determination to go the college, the first in her family to do so. She worked for board and room at the College of Pacific, first for a mortician's family, then graduating to work for a professor's family as a cook and house cleaner. Mayme was nearly expelled from college in her junior year for marrying William F. "Bill" Kimes, a practice frowned upon in 1930. Upon graduation a year later, Mayme and Bill became the Superintendent, -Principal-Teacher team in Avenal during the height of the Kettleman Oil Field boom. Mayme continued to teach elementary school for over twenty years.

Along the way she became an avid "birder" traveling with the Audubon Society on trips from Florida to Africa. She continued to be an intrepid traveler thrilled with Business Class in 747's. (We found her passport, renewed last year through 2007) Her far ranging interests meant she had a book to offer from her library on almost any topic one expressed interest in exploring. She treasured her independence moving just four months ago to a home overlooking a golf course in a life affirming decision to preserve that independence.

Many of you know that Mayme and her late husband Bill spent the last fifty years following the "trail of John Muir." They began by hiking over 1000 miles in the High Sierra. They retraced the footsteps of John Muir to Alaska and then to South America. They became avid collectors of books, letters, and other memorabilia and in the process assembled the largest collection on John Muir in private hands. They spent the first ten years of their retirement writing a John Muir 'Reading Bibliography' which has become the "touchstone for all Muir scholars." After the passing of her husband in 1998, Mayme continued on this path.

For more than a year, she worked on a weekly basis with an appraiser of the collection who became a trusted friend. She negotiated with the John Muir Memorial Association to purchase the Muir collection that she and Bill had assembled over a lifetime to make it available to educators and researchers. Her hope was captured by author Graham White, who wrote, " the Collection would inspire new generations of students, scholars and environmentalists, to accept Muir's great challenge of protecting and conserving America's natural resources in the new Millennium."

Parts of the Collection have been showcased at St. Mary's College in exhibitions on "Two Scotsmen: John Muir and William Keith." Less than three weeks before her death, Mayme attended a luncheon honoring contributors to the fourth and final exhibit featuring paintings that hung in the Muir home at the time of his death, including a Keith from the Kimes Collection. This exhibit remains open into January 2003.

Mayme celebrated her 91st birthday with a circle of family and Muir devotees at "Twenty Hill Hollow," a recently rediscovered "delightful hollow" wrote Muir who spent the greater part of the summer of 1868 and the spring of 1869 there herding sheep. It is said that his reflections during that time formed the basis for his deep commitment to nature.

In May of that same year (2001), Mayme presented with colleague and close friend Jill Harcke at the fifth University of Pacific sponsored conference on John Muir based on research they had undertaken the previous Fall at Castlerock. Mayme wanted to see for herself the small cabin called Woodsome Lodge, which served as a writing retreat for John Muir, thanks to his friend Henry Fairfield Osborn, owner of the Castlerock estate on the Hudson River. During the conference, Mayme was presented with the John Muir Award from her Alma Mater for "significant contributions to the study and interpretation of the life and work of John Muir."

In 1998, the John Muir Tribute CD was dedicated to Mayme and William Kimes for their contributions to Muir scholars and enthusiasts all over the world. Over the last 30 years most major Muir authors have written a note of thanks to Bill and Mayme for the help the John Muir 'Reading Bibliography' gave them in researching their own books.

Graham White, a close Muir friend and author from Scotland, aptly stated:

"Occasionally, but only rarely, we sense a symmetry in events that seems to hint at a higher causality, beyond our ken. Muir's ideas radiated out from Martinez, inspiring people around the world, from Alaska to Japan, to protect wild places. And much of what survives, whether in the Rocky Mountains or the Isle of Skye, is the direct result of that 'conservation imperative' which issued from Muir's fertile mind. How fitting it is that this magnificent collection of materials, garnered through a lifetime's effort by Bill and Mayme Kimes, is coming back to the place where it was born. The circle is finally closing; as John Muir said: "Evening brings all home."

We know that we do not lose Mayme, our Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, friend and kindred spirit. Instead, we share her with the universe and wish for her a joyous journey out into the light.

- Family of Mayme Burris Kimes.



Related Links

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"Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever." - John Muir

E-mail: mayme.kimes@comcast.net

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