John Muir

john-muir

John Muir (April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914) was a Scottish-American nature mystic, author, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, have been read by millions. His activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is a prominent American conservation organization. The 211-mile (340 km) John Muir Trail, a hiking trail in the Sierra Nevada, was named in his honor. Other such places include Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach, John Muir College, Mount Muir, Camp Muir and Muir Glacier.

In his later life, Muir devoted most of his time to the preservation of the Western forests. He petitioned the U.S. Congress for the National Park bill that was passed in 1890, establishing Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. The spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature expressed in his writings inspired readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas. He is today referred to as the “Father of the National Parks” and the National Park Service has produced a short documentary about his life.

Muir’s biographer, Steven J. Holmes, believes that Muir has become “one of the patron saints of twentieth-century American environmental activity,” both political and recreational. As a result, his writings are commonly discussed in books and journals, and he is often quoted by nature photographers such as Ansel Adams. “Muir has profoundly shaped the very categories through which Americans understand and envision their relationships with the natural world,” writes Holmes. Muir was noted for being an ecological thinker, political spokesman, and religious prophet, whose writings became a personal guide into nature for countless individuals, making his name “almost ubiquitous” in the modern environmental consciousness. According to author William Anderson, Muir exemplified “the archetype of our oneness with the earth”, while biographer Donald Worster says he believed his mission was “. . . saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism.”

Muir understood that to discover truth, he must turn to what he believed were the most accurate sources. In his book, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), he writes that during his childhood, his father made him read the Bible every day. Muir eventually memorized three quarters of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. Muir’s father read Josephus’s War of the Jews to understand the culture of first-century Palestine, as it was written by an eyewitness, and illuminated the culture during the period of the New Testament. But as Muir became attached to the American natural landscapes he explored, Williams notes that he began to see another “primary source for understanding God: the Book of Nature.” According to Williams, in nature, especially in the wilderness, Muir was able to study the plants and animals in an environment that he believed “came straight from the hand of God, uncorrupted by civilization and domestication.” As Tallmadge notes, Muir’s belief in this “Book of Nature” compelled him to tell the story of “this creation in words any reader could understand.” As a result, his writings were to become “prophecy, for [they] sought to change our angle of vision.”

His nature writings became a “synthesis of natural theology” with scripture that helped him understand the origins of the natural world. According to Williams, philosophers and theologians such as Thomas Dick suggested that the “best place to discover the true attributes of deity was in Nature.” He came to believe that God was always active in the creation of life and thereby kept the natural order of the world. As a result, Muir “styled himself as a John the Baptist,” adds Williams, “whose duty was to immerse in ‘mountain baptism’ everyone he could.” Williams concludes that Muir saw nature as a great teacher, “revealing the mind of God,” and this belief became the central theme of his later journeys and the “subtext” of his nature writing.

During his career as writer and while living in the mountains, Muir continued to experience the “presence of the divine in nature,” writes Holmes. His personal letters also conveyed these feelings of ecstasy. Historian Catherine Albanese stated that in one of his letters, “Muir’s eucharist made Thoreau’s feast on wood-chuck and huckleberry seem almost anemic.” Muir was extremely fond of Thoreau and was probably influenced more by him than even Emerson. Muir often referred to himself as a “disciple” of Thoreau.

During his first summer in the Sierra as a shepherd, Muir wrote field notes that emphasized the role that the senses play in human perceptions of the environment. According to Williams, he speculated that the world was an unchanging entity that was interpreted by the brain through the senses, and, writes Muir, “If the creator were to bestow a new set of senses upon us . . . we would never doubt that we were in another world. . . ” While doing his studies of nature, he would try to remember everything he observed as if his senses were recording the impressions, until he could write them in his journal. As a result of his intense desire to remember facts, he filled his field journals with notes on precipitation, temperature, and even cloud formations.

However, Muir took his journal entries further than recording factual observations. Williams notes that the observations he recorded amounted to a description of “the sublimity of Nature,” and what amounted to “an aesthetic and spiritual notebook.” Muir felt that his task was more than just recording “phenomena,” but also to “illuminate the spiritual implications of those phenomena,” writes Williams. For Muir, mountain skies, for example, seemed painted with light, and came to “symbolize divinity.” He often described his observations in terms of light.

Muir biographer Steven Holmes notes that Muir used words like “glory” and “glorious” to suggest that light was taking on a religious dimension: “It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the notion of glory in Muir’s published writings, where no other single image carries more emotional or religious weight,” adding that his words “exactly parallels its Hebraic origins,” in which biblical writings often indicate a divine presence with light, as in the burning bush or pillar of fire, and described as “the glory of God”.

Muir often used the term “home” as a metaphor for both nature and his general attitude toward the “natural world itself,” notes Holmes. He often used domestic language to describe his scientific observations, as when he saw nature as providing a home for even the smallest plant life: “the little purple plant, tended by its Maker, closed its petals, crouched low in its crevice of a home, and enjoyed the storm in safety.” Muir also saw nature as his own home, as when he wrote friends and described the Sierra as “God’s mountain mansion.” He considered not only the mountains as home, however, as he also felt a closeness even to the smallest objects: “The very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly. No wonder when we consider that we all have the same Father and Mother.”

In his later years, he used the metaphor of nature as home in his writings to promote wilderness preservation. Not surprisingly, Muir’s deep-seated feeling about nature as being his true home led to tension with his family at his home in Martinez, California. He once told a visitor to his ranch there, “This is a good place to be housed in during stormy weather, . . . to write in, and to raise children in, but it is not my home. Up there,” pointing towards the Sierra Nevada, “is my home.”

In 1878, when he was nearing the age of 40, Muir’s friends “pressured him to return to society.” Soon after he returned to the Oakland area, he was introduced by Jeanne Carr to Louisa Strentzel, daughter of a prominent physician and horticulturist with a 2,600-acre fruit orchard in Martinez, California, northeast of Oakland. In 1880, after he returned from a trip to Alaska, Muir and Strentzel married. John Muir went into partnership with his father-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel, and for ten years directed most of his energy into managing this large fruit ranch. Although Muir was a loyal, dedicated husband, and father of two daughters,”his heart remained wild,” writes Marquis. His wife understood his needs, and after seeing his restlessness at the ranch would sometimes “shoo him back up” to the mountains. He sometimes took his daughters with him.

During his lifetime John Muir published over 300 articles and 12 books. He co-founded the Sierra Club, which helped establish a number of national parks after he died and today has over 2.4 million members. Muir has been called the “patron saint of the American wilderness” and its “archetypal free spirit.” As a dreamer and activist, his eloquent words changed the way Americans saw their mountains, forests, seashores, and deserts, said nature writer Gretel Ehrlich. He not only led the efforts to protect forest areas and have some designated as national parks, but his writings presented “human culture and wild nature as one of humility and respect for all life.”

Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, which published many of Muir’s articles, states that he influenced people’s appreciation of nature and national parks, which became a lasting legacy:

“The world will look back to the time we live in and remember the voice of one crying in the wilderness and bless the name of John Muir. . . . He sung the glory of nature like another Psalmist, and, as a true artist, was unashamed of his emotions. His countrymen owe him gratitude as the pioneer of our system of national parks. . . . Muir’s writings and enthusiasm were the chief forces that inspired the movement. All the other torches were lighted from his.”

Muir exalted wild nature over human culture and civilization, believing that all life was sacred. Turner describes him as “a man who in his singular way rediscovered America. . . . an American pioneer, an American hero.”The primary aim of Muir’s nature philosophy, writes Wilkins, was to challenge mankind’s “enormous conceit,” and in so doing, he moved beyond the Transcendentalism of Emerson to a “biocentric perspective on the world.” He did so by describing the natural world as “a conductor of divinity,” and his writings often made nature synonymous with God. His friend, Henry Fairfield Osborn, observed that as a result of his religious upbringing, Muir retained “this belief, which is so strongly expressed in the Old Testament, that all the works of nature are directly the work of God.” In the opinion of Enos Mills, a contemporary who established Rocky Mountain National Park, Muir’s writings would “likely to be the most influential force in this century.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Muir

Excerpts from his writings:

“We all flow from One fountain Soul. All are expressions of One Love. God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.”

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

“A few snow crystals were shaken down from a black cloud towards midnight, but most of the day was one of deep peace, in which God’s love was manifest as in a countenance.”

“Little men, with only a book knowledge of science, have seized upon evolution as an escape from the idea of a God. ‘Evolution!’ a wonderful, mouth-filling word, isn’t it? It covers a world of ignorance. Just say ‘evolution’ and you have explained every phenomenon of Nature and explained away God. It sounds big and wise. Evolution, they say, brought the earth through its glacial periods, caused the snow blanket to recede, and the flower carpet to follow it, raised the forests of the world, developed animal life from the jelly-fish to the thinking man.

But what caused evolution? There they stick. To my mind, it is inconceivable that a plan that has worked out, through unthinkable millions of years, without one hitch or one mistake, the development of beauty that has made every microscopic particle of matter perform its function in harmony with every other in the universe, that such a plan is the blind product of an unthinking abstraction. No; somewhere, before evolution was, was an Intelligence that laid out the plan, and evolution is the process, not the origin, of the harmony. You may call that Intelligence what you please: I cannot see why so many people object to call it God.”

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

“Go now and then for fresh life. Go whether or not you have faith. Go up and away for life; be fleet! I know some will heed the warning. Most will not, so full of pagan slavery is the boasted freedom of the town, and those who need rest and clean snow and sky the most will be the last to move.”

“God’s love is manifest in the landscape as in a face.”

“A few snow crystals were shaken down from a black cloud towards midnight, but most of the day was one of deep peace, in which God’s love was manifest as in a countenance.”

“One touch of nature makes all the world kin, and here were many touches among the wild Chukchis.”

“People talk about creation as a remote fact of history, as if it were something that was attended to a long time ago, and finished at the time. But creation was not an act; it is a process; and it is going on to-day as much as it ever was. But Nature is not in a hurry. With God ‘a thousand years is as a day.’ Suppose you could have been a spirit in one of the past periods of the creation of the world, and that the Archangel Gabriel had taken you to a place’ where you could see the earth as it was then covered miles deep with snow and ice, the air still full of swirling snowflakes that seemed to be burying the world forever. Suppose he showed you this silent, frozen, characterless waste (as it would seem to you), and told you that God was creating here a world of beauty, of seas and mountains, of flowers and forests, of song-birds and men. Suppose you flew away and were gone for a thousand years, and then looked again. You could not see that the scene had altered a particle. Another thousand years. Still no change that you could see.

‘Creation?’ you cry out, ‘ I see nothing being done here.’

‘Patience,’ is the angel’s answer. ‘Down beneath these miles of snow the ice is shifting, grinding, slicing, leveling, building, making a sierra here, a broad valley there, scooping out a Yosemite, leveling off a plain, polishing boulders, marking rock ledges with the handwriting of God, making ready warm glades for grass and flowers, mountain slopes for majestic forests, homes for birds ? breaking ground for beauty.

At the end of a few million years your visits are rewarded. The ice-cap has receded from parts of the earth. Seas are exposed, land has come into view, flowers have followed the retreating ice, trees nestle in the canons and climb the mountain shoulders, birds are caroling, fish dart along the singing streams, man is abroad to enjoy the beauties of the earth.

This is creation. All this is going on today, only men are blind to see it. They think only of food. They are not content to provide three meals a day; they must have enough for a thousand meals. And so they build ships to carry the food that they call commerce, and they build houses to store food in, and other houses to buy and sell it in, and houses to eat it in, and load themselves down with the care of it so that they cannot get away. They can not pause long enough to go out into the wilderness where God has provided every sparrow enough to eat and to spare, and contemplate for even an hour the wonderful world that they live in. You say that what I write may bring this beauty to the hearts of those that do not get out to see it. They have no right to it The good Lord put those things here as a free gift that he who chooses may take with joy. and he who will not walk out of the smoke of the cities to see them has no right to them.’

‘There are no accidents in Nature,’ he said. ‘Every motion of the constantly shifting bodies in the world is timed to the occasion for some definite, foreordered end. The flowers blossom in obedience to the same law that marks the course of constellations, and the song of a bird is the echo of a universal symphony. Nature is one, and to me the greatest delight of observation and study is to discover new unities in this all-embracing and eternal harmony.’”

“Surely all God’s people, however serious or savage, great or small, like to play. Whales and elephants, dancing, humming gnats, and invisibly small mischievous microbes – all are warm with divine radium and must have lots of fun in them.”

“Lizards of every temper, style, and color dwell here, seemingly as happy and companionable as the birds and squirrels. Lowly, gentle fellow mortals, enjoying God’s sunshine, and doing the best they can in getting a living, I like to watch them at their work and play. They bear acquaintance well, and one likes them the better the longer one looks into their beautiful, innocent eyes.”

“The place seemed holy, where one might hope to see God. After dark, when the camp was at rest, I groped my way back to the altar boulder and passed the night on it, above the water, beneath the leaves and stars, everything still more impressive than by day, the fall seen dimly white, singing Nature’s old love song with solemn enthusiasm, while the stars peering through the leaf-roof seemed to join in the white water’s song. Precious night, precious day to abide in me forever. Thanks be to God for this immortal gift.”

“The air is distinctly fragrant with balsam and resin and mint, every breath of it a gift we may well thank God for. Who could ever guess that so rough a wilderness should yet be so fine, so full of good things. One seems to be in a majestic domed pavilion in which a grand play is being acted with scenery and music and incense, all the furniture and action so interesting we are in no danger of being called on to endure one dull moment. God himself seems to be always doing his best here, working like a man in a glow of enthusiasm.”

“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.”

“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.”

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”

“There is not a “fragment” in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself.”

“No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!”

“So extraordinary is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees….”

“Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks… While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood…in Nature’s warm heart.”

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

“Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.”

“I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in “creation’s dawn.” The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.”

“How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make – leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone – we all dwell in a house of one room – the world with the firmament for its roof – and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track.”

“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.”

“If my soul could get away from this so-called prison, be granted all the list of attributes generally bestowed on spirits, my first ramble on spirit-wings would not be among the volcanoes of the moon. Nor should I follow the sunbeams to their sources in the sun. I should hover about the beauty of our own good star. I should not go moping among the tombs, not around the artificial desolation of men. I should study Nature’s laws in all their crossings and unions; I should follow magnetic streams to their source and follow the shores of our magnetic oceans. I should go among the rays of the aurora, and follow them to their beginnings, and study their dealings and communions with other powers and expressions of matter. And I should go to the very center of our globe and read the whole splendid page from the beginning. But my first journeys would be into the inner substance of flowers, and among the folds and mazes of Yosemite’s falls. How grand to move about in the very tissue of falling columns, and in the very birthplace of their heavenly harmonies, looking outward as from windows of ever-varying transparency and staining!”

“One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.”

“On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death…Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.”

“The rugged old Norsemen spoke of death as Heimgang-“home-going.” So the snow-flowers go home when they melt and flow to the sea, and the rock-ferns, after unrolling their fronds to the light and beautifying the rocks, roll them up close again in the autumn and blend with the soil. Myriads of rejoicing living creatures, daily, hourly, perhaps every moment sink into death’s arms, dust to dust, spirit to spirit-waited on, watched over, noticed only by their Maker, each arriving at its own Heaven-dealt destiny. All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried. Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast-all alike pass on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share Heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity. “Our lives are rounded with a sleep.”

“How little note is taken of the deeds of Nature! What paper publishes her reports? …. Who publishes the sheet-music of the winds, or the written music of water written in river-lines? Who reports and works and ways of the clouds, those wondrous creations coming into being every day like freshly upheaved mountains? And what record is kept of Nature’s colors – – the clothes she wears – of her birds, her beasts – her live-stock?”

“Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit – the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo sapiens. From the same material he has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals…. This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them. After human beings have also played their part in Creation’s plan, they too may disappear without any general burning or extraordinary commotion whatever.”

“How infinitely superior to our physical senses are those of the mind! The spiritual eye sees not only rivers of water but of air. It sees the crystals of the rock in rapid sympathetic motion, giving enthusiastic obedience to the sun’s rays, then sinking back to rest in the night. The whole world is in motion to the center. So also sounds. We hear only woodpeckers and squirrels and the rush of turbulent streams. But imagination gives us the sweet music of tiniest insect wings, enables us to hear, all round the world, the vibration of every needle, the waving of every bole and branch, the sound of stars in circulation like particles in the blood. The Sierra canyons are full of avalanche debris — we hear them boom again, for we read past sounds from present conditions. Again we hear the earthquake rock-falls. Imagination is usually regarded as a synonym for the unreal. Yet is true imagination healthful and real, no more likely to mislead than the coarser senses. Indeed, the power of imagination makes us infinite.”

“With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake, feeling yourself contained on one of Nature’s most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner influences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty. And notwithstanding the scene is so impressively spiritual, and you seem dissolved in it yet everything about you is beating with warm, terrestrial human love, delightfully substantial and familiar.”

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About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have several other sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: http://www.pbase.com/1heart Essays on the Conscious Process: http://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/ Poetry and Prosetry: http://feelingtoinfinity.wordpress.com/ Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: https://westernmystics.wordpress.com/ https://freetransliterations.wordpress.com/ Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: https://spiritguidesparrow.wordpress.com/ Thank You!
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One Response to John Muir

  1. Bob OHearn says:

    “The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.”

    ― John Muir

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