Barbara Meyn

Local poet and environmentalist Barbara Meyn discovered the wonders of nature the same way Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau did - camping.

But unlike Emerson at Follensby Pond and Thoreau at Walden Pond, Meyn's awakening likely began during her honeymoon, a spur-of-the-moment, three-week retreat in Yosemite National Park in 1947.

For the next few decades, the task of raising a family and maintaining a household would take center stage in her life. After her husband retired in the mid-1970s and her two sons had grown, Meyn became more fully involved in the local environmental movement.

Meyn, who died Jan. 11 at age 87, participated in the the defining environmental battle of the 1970s, construction of Warm Springs Dam north west of Healdsburg.

Although well-known environmentalist Iva Warner was among those who led the failed campaign against the dam, Meyn was "the poet and the steady hand who made sure things got done," said Peeter Vilms, longtime board member and ex-treasurer of the Sonoma County Conservation Council.

He said Meyn was one of several members of a former group called the Environmental Forum of Sonoma County, an education project that was the precursor to the Environmental Center of Sonoma County, a project of the Sonoma County Conservation Council.

Meyn was born Barbara DeMotte in Aug. 6, 1923 in Ukiah, where she spent her early childhood. During the Depression era, her family moved from town to town in Northern California and southern Oregon, finally settling in Eureka, where she finished high school.

Meyn attended Humboldt State College before transferring to UC Berkeley, where she received an English degree and a teaching credential. She taught at several Bay Area high schools.

It was around this time that she met her husband of 62 years, Harry Meyn. Their wedding fit her style, said Meyn's youngest son, Joel Meyn, of Santa Rosa.

"The ceremony was probably not the typical woman's dream," he said. "They pretty much packed the car with camping gear and got married along the way."

Throughout her marriage and while raising her children, Meyn would write fiction and poetry, scribbling lines in notebooks.

"I'm still kind of discovering little notebooks she kept over the years," her son said.

Her love of nature was a principal theme of her work.

"She would go out of her way to rescue a salamander before any of us knew they were endangered," said Joel's wife, Catherine Mehn. "She had an acute reverence for the natural environment, and she watched it just being nibbled away by so-called progress."

Joel said his mother published her first volume of poetry, Blue Heron on Humbug Creek, in 1981. She was helped by the late Don L. Emblen, a longtime Santa Rosa Junior College English instructor and Sonoma County's first poet laureate.

In 1988, Meyn released her second book of poetry, The Abalone Heart, published by Boise State University's Ahsahta Press. In the introduction, Emblen wrote that like Thoreau, Meyn's expressions "rise from the very local ground she walks."

The couple first moved to Santa Rosa after their marriage in 1947. They lived about a half mile from the junior college. In 1965, she and her husband moved to Gates Road, a house off Calistoga Road surrounded by redwoods with a small seasonal creek.

In 2003, Meyn and her husband moved to Rincon Valley.

"They could at least look out and see the same hills and mountains from a little bit of a different perspective," he son said.

Harry Meyn died in 2009 at age 96.

In addition to her son, Joel, Meyn is survived by her oldest son, Jeffrey Meyn of Santa Rosa. She also is survived by four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be scheduled in the near future. Those interested in attending can email or call (707)792-1790.

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