Sunday, May 8, 2011

John Muir, Environmentalist

"The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains - mountain dwellers who have grown strong there with the forest trees in Nature's workshops." - John Muir

John Muir was born in Scotland to a harsh, orthodox father who forbid his children from reading anything but religious or practical books. Hard work, Muir's father believed, trumped childish curiosity. Nonetheless the irrepressible young Muir expanded his horizons with long rambles along the lakeside and books borrowed from friends. According to Mark R. Stoll , "Muir's intellectual horizons suddenly opened up at age fifteen when two neighbor boys with whom he was working recited to him their favorite poets--Byron, Poe, Wordsworth, Milton." Muir identified with the Romantic conceptualization of nature as a sublime reflection of humankind's moods and imagination. Years later at the University of Wisconsin, Muir discovered the American Transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson. He followed Thoreau's advice to keep a journal and described traveling into the wilderness with "only a tin cup, a handful of tea, a loaf of bread, and a copy of Emerson."

Deep in the heart of the mountains that became Yosemite National Park Muir fused naturalism and theology.  He wrote, "In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware." Muir saw the wilderness as a temple and believed it should be preserved for the people, not exploited for short-term profit.

Muir became a champion for wilderness preservation, writing countless articles and co-founding the Sierra Club in 1892. In 1903 Muir and Theodore Roosevelt escaped the president's entourage and spent two nights camping in the Yosemite Valley. Muir hoped to "to do some forest good in talking freely around the campfire," with the president. As a result Roosevelt signed the Yosemite Recession Bill to bring Yosemite Park under national protection along with the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Muir continued his work as an environmental advocate until his death in 1914. Today Muir is celebrated as the grandfather of the conservation movement. His work and writings are a reminder to "keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

"The Ballad of John Muir" by The Black Irish Band 

"Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter." 
-  John Muir 1924.

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