This tribute was written by David S. Stewart.
Ruth Dunbar, our neighbor in Berkeley, was a social worker who brought music and art into the worlds of the suffering children with whom she worked. It is not surprising that her “ear” extended to the harmonies of Nature. Ruth and her husband, John, were our guests in Sitka, first in 1996. After John died, Ruth came up nearly every year, to hear again those harmonies which she found distinctive in Sitka.
St. Lazaria Island was one of her favorite destinations. St. Lazaria is an island in the shadow of Mt.Edgecumbe, which “bubbled up” long ago as part of Mt.Edgecumbe’s volcanic heritage. Its cliffs and shores reveal huge volcanic bubbles, delicately layered uplifts and caves filled with nests of the pelagic birds that come to land only to bear their young.
Beginning some miles off her shore, the waters of St. Lazaria, in season, are covered with birds: murres, cormorants, puffin, auklets, pigeon guillemots, and even the rare oyster catcher. And over the island soar eagles and a pair of peregrine falcons. Ruth gazed intently as the boat slapped over the waves; then glued her eyes to binoculars when the boat reached calm waters in the lee of the island. She loved the patterns the birds made as they soared above and dove into the sea. And she loved the ruckus made by the birds—a symphony of sorts, but only to the “ears that can hear.”
We miss Ruth and the joy she brought the whole of her experience of Nature. She showed us what it is to live in the midst of the gifts that nature brings. When she left the city, she located herself “within” the sights and sounds, the rhythms and harmonies of the wilderness that surrounds us.