Indian Says Tahoe is ‘Beautiful Jewel’

By Brian L. Covert
Tribune Staff Writer

Thousands of miles away from his native India, Dr. Ranjit Gill has found his own version of heaven at Lake Tahoe.

“Lake Tahoe, to me, is one beautiful jewel,” the South Shore resident said. “One beautiful, bright shining emerald. It’s rare and very precious.”

Gill’s current job as environmental specialist at the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board allows him closer access to the land and water of Lake Tahoe than most people. Gill is the man behind the scenes, testing and analyzing water and sediment samples taken from around the basin.

His job allows him to be close to the elements of nature, he says, a value he brought with him from his boyhood days in Punjab.

“As for the land ethic, I still consider myself to be a peasant, a person who loves the land and loves to see the land be productive…a person who loves to see the land retain its beauty.”

He came to the United States in 1972 seeking an education. He spoke little English, he recalls, and had only $7.50 in his pocket.

The culture shock in moving from Punjab to attend UC Berkeley took some getting used to, he remembers. America turned out to be quite different from the old “Lone Ranger” and beach party-type movies shown in the Third World.

“Technology was the one thing I was awed by,” he said. “The number of automobiles on the freeway and the speed at which they were traveling was totally alien. In India, the pedestrians and the cows were going on the same road as the automobiles. Then, I’d go look out on Highway 101 (on the Pacific coast) and be fascinated by cars going 65 to 70 mph, at all hours and either direction.”

He later received his master’s degree at Berkeley and went on to pursue a doctorate in forest science from Oregon State University. He specifically studied tree physiology, which he says provided a way to be closer to the land and environment.

He has put his expertise in physiology to the test at the Lahontan water quality control agency in South Lake Tahoe. With the aid of modern technology, Gill tests over 100 water samples per hour, including a complete analysis of the nutrients within each sample.

Gill has worked at Lahontan for two years, and to say he loves his work is putting it mildly.

“There’s nothing make-believe or phony about it — that’s my heart and my soul,” he says. “I feel very good about this work I’m doing. It’s not a real chore because I know, ultimately, that it’s for the benefit of this really incredible resource called Lake Tahoe. I feel very fortunate to be working here.”

To share the benefit of his experience with others, Gill teaches forestry at Lake Tahoe Community College. He believes his students should be more aware of the Lake Tahoe environment.

“Look how beautiful it is,” he says. “And isn’t that the most important thing — the kind of joy you get when you walk outside and see the most incredible sunset? And you see the birds and the incredible variety of vegetation.

“What makes it magnificent is the variety, the color, the living things. That’s what makes my life rich and beautiful.

“I just really get a kick out of it,” he said, looking out his laboratory window. “I really do, and my heart and soul is in it.”