The dedication of "The Tell" alongside Laguna Canyon Road on Saturday evening drew an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 who frequently cheered and applauded during a low-key, hour-long program of singing, speeches and readings from work by the late naturalist writer Edward Abbey.
In a gesture that, unfortunately, didn't come across with the dramatic effect that organizer Mark Chamberlain had intended, a group of horseback riders galloped through the field to drop off an old-fashioned mail pouch filled with messages. The first one (read by Laguna Canyon Conservancy member Linda Eckmann) was a letter about the sale of Indian land to the U.S. government, written in 1852 by Chief Seattle to President Millard Fillmore.
"How can you buy or sell the sky, the land?" the Indian leader wrote. "The idea is strange to us. . . . If we sell you the land, you must love it as we have loved it, care for it as we have cared for it."
Other participants included Father Joseph, a Franciscan monk; Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield, co-creators of "The Tell"; singer-songwriter Mark Turnbull; Robert Gentry, mayor of Laguna Beach; Larry Agran, mayor of Irvine; Cameron Cosgrove, an Irvine City Council member and founding member of the Conservancy, and Lida Lenney, founder of the conservancy and Mayor Pro Tem of Laguna Beach.
When Gentry asked his listeners to look at the San Joaquin Hills and to remember that "this is the 'before' if the planners have their way," a lone voice shouted, "Forever!"--striking a note of fervency that seemed to elude the mild-mannered speakers.
Gentry called the San Joaquin Transportation Corridor proposed for the area a "temporary" solution to relieving traffic congestion in parts of southern Orange County. Lenney called the freeway "the billion-dollar boondoggle" and said that the conservancy seeks to find a way to buy the land from the Irvine Co. to create "an urban wilderness park."
The horseback riders returned near the end of the program to pick up the mail pouch. Those in the audience who turned to watch them trot out of sight could see the setting sun dropping behind the hills, irradiating the spot where a group of stakes rising against the sky mark out the path of the corridor.