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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Tribute to Hazel Wolf

Air Date: Week of

Hazel Wolf, a longtime champion of environmental protection, died last week at the age of a hundred and one. Ms. Wolf was featured in our recent piece on centenarians. Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum has our remembrance.


CURWOOD: Recently news came from Seattle that Hazel Wolf had died. You might remember Ms. Wolf from our feature we broadcast at the beginning of January on centenarians. She was the one who summed up an entire century's worth of changes with this astute observation.

WOLF: The biggest change I've seen is in swimsuits. You better believe it.

CURWOOD: Along with her great wit, Hazel Wolf was well-known in the Pacific Northwest as an avid environmentalist. For 34 years she ran Washington State's Audubon Society, and she was editing a publication called "Outdoors West" when she died on January nineteenth at the age of 101. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, who brought us the feature on centenarians, has this remembrance of Hazel Wolf.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The day I met Hazel Wolf she was intent on the TV. Coming to her hospital room from just a few blocks away in downtown Seattle was coverage of the World Trade Organization demonstrations. She said hello, and started filling me in on the street scene. She called out and waved when she saw friends in the crowd of protesters. Her enthusiasm didn't falter when we turned off the set. Hazel was willing to talk about anything: her work organizing labor unions, her first and failed marriage, her thoughts on globalization, her atheism, even her frustrations with her fax machine.
She asked about my life, too. I pointed out that my birthday was two days after hers.

WOLF: Oh, really?


WOLF: Oh, then you're younger than I am. (Both laugh) You're two days younger than I am.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Both Pisces, right?

WOLF: That's fish.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Yeah. I think it's a good sign.

WOLF: Yeah, if we don't lose the salmon. That's not a simple issue. The dams are one of the greatest obstacles to the salmon. It leads to the salinization of the soil. The rivers become polluted, and the land becomes barren.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That's what Hazel was like. She wasn't afraid to get personal, but she always had her eye on the bigger picture. She was unapologetic, even aggressive about her politics. But at the same time she was gentle. The other day I read about a timber industry official who wrote Hazel a letter after hearing her speak at an industry conference. "You say the most offensive things," he wrote, " in the most inoffensive way." I spent only a few hours with Hazel, but they were magical. Here was a person with a broad vision and a huge soul. I got the sense that she had managed to live with little judgment, and a rare kind of wonder. She wasn't naive in the slightest, I don't mean that, but she was wide open, willing to try or listen or see anything.
She had reached out to people who were different from her, like the young people she spoke to in the schools, encouraging them to vote and protect the environment.

WOLF: They're only written about if they do some dangerous things, such as shooting each other. That makes the press headlines. But the reality is that they're planting trees, they're picking up litter, recycling. Doing all these things. I know about that. That's not in the press. That's not reflected in the press.

STARBUCK: She erased a great gulf in age.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That's Susan Starbuck, Hazel's biographer.

STARBUCK: The impact on young people was to make life seem whole and age not scary, but something that is fun. And they'd ask her questions like, "Do you still have your own teeth?" and, "Do you have a boyfriend?" And she'd always treat their questions seriously and answer them and say she was looking for someone who could cook, to take care of her, but she hadn't found any man who could cook for her yet.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Hazel spent much of her life forging bonds between disparate groups, seeing links that needed mending, recognizing people who were being treated unfairly. One minute she talked to me about places like India and Nicaragua and Vietnam, the next about Seattle and the trees outside her apartment. She talked about watersheds and crime in the same breath, about politicians she despised, entertainers she loved.

WOLF: Everything is connected. You just put your hand down there someplace and it's different.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: As we talked, I started to understand: Where most people see divisions, Hazel saw gaps waiting to be closed. When I asked her what it was like to be a woman now compared to 100 years ago, she answered by jumping straight into a book she'd been reading.

WOLF: It starts way back, 300 years ago, with a woman in India. She gave her life to protect trees. There was a sacred grove, belonged to a big landowner. And he's a little short of cash, going to cut down these sacred trees. And the women came out, put their arms together like this around the trees, and the axe man came and cut them, killed them. And he stopped it. He stopped it. That was 300 years ago. And so, right up through the ages, women played a very important part in protecting the environment and the lives of their children.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The amazing thing was that even as Hazel talked her way through politics and history and the latest scientific research, she stayed grounded. At one point I asked her a sort of dumb question about how she liked to spend her time. She looked at me with a little glint in her eye. "I just had a hip replaced," she said. "I'm trying to get out of this hospital so I can get to work on the magazine." It was as simple as that: some perfect balance she seemed to have, a perch from which she could look down on this planet and see how funny and serious and big and small and light and dark we are.

WOLF: Eve is my role model. Had it not been for Eve and her initiative and creativeness, we'd still be in that stupid garden pulling up weeds. (Laughs) So we owe everything to Eve. She wanted to know what that apple tastes like. I don't blame her. When you have a fruit sitting around on trees and somebody says I can't eat it.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Environmental activist Hazel Wolf, who died on January nineteenth in Port Angeles, Washington, at the age of 101. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

(Music up and under)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: When Hazel tells her life story, she usually begins with this story called the Boogey Man: "I was born fighting the establishment. I was told I tried to bite the doctor when he smacked my behind to start my breathing. Hazel Anna Cummings Anderson. I never did like being named after a nut. My mother, like all parents at that time, tried to discipline me with the Boogey Man. I remember this stormy night. I was real small, maybe four or five, and I don't know what I did. Probably wouldn't go to bed or something awful like that. She said the Boogey Man was out on the front porch with a big sack and was going to take me away if I didn't do this and this and this. And I'd had it. That night I'd had it with this Boogey Man. I opened the door to check it out. And there's nothing out there, nothing. And that taught me something that I needed to know: the Boogey Man is never there. So I open all the doors.



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