Wednesday, January 18, 2017

“John of the Mountains”, My Hero by Sarah J. McNeal



 John Muir

Many of you may already be acquainted with John Muir, or “John of the Mountains” as he later became known, the Scottish-American naturalist. As well as being an author of many books about nature and conservation, he also dedicated his life to the preservation of wilderness in the United States, particularly the vast western wildlife. He founded the conservation organization, the Sierra Club, a community of members who fight to preserve our wild lands and the creatures who live there.

John Muir was born in Dunbar, United Kingdom on April 21, 1838. His birthplace is a four-story stone house in Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland. He was the third of eight children by Daniel Muir and Ann Gilrye. His earliest recollections were of taking short walks with his grandfather when he was three. John described his boyhood pursuits in his autobiography, which included fighting, either by re-enacting romantic battles from the Wars of Scottish Independence or just scrapping on the playground, and hunting for birds' nests. He became interested in natural history and the works of Scottish naturalist Alexander Wilson.
Although he spent the majority of his life in America, Muir never forgot his roots in Scotland. He held a strong connection with his birthplace and Scottish identity throughout his life. He greatly admired the works of Thomas Carlyle and poetry of Robert Burns; he was known to carry a collection of poems by Burns during his travels through the American wilderness. He also never lost his strong Scottish accent after many years living in America.

In 1866 Muir settled in Indianapolis to work in a wagon wheel factory. In early March 1867, an accident changed the course of his life: a tool he was using slipped and struck him in the eye. He was confined to a darkened room for six weeks, worried whether he would ever regain his sight. When he did, "he saw the world—and his purpose—in a new light". Muir later wrote, "This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons." From that point on, he determined to "be true to himself" and follow his dream of exploration and study of plants.

In September 1867, Muir undertook a walk of about 1,000 miles from Kentucky to Florida, which he recounted in his book A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. When Muir arrived at Cedar Keys, he began working for Richard Hodgson at Hodgson's sawmill. However, three days after accepting to work for Hodgson, Muir almost died of a malarial sickness. (It seems every time he went to work for someone, something bad would happen to him. Just sayin’…) One evening in January 1868, Muir climbed onto the Hodgson house roof to watch the sunset. From the roof he saw a ship, the Island Belle, and learned it would soon be sailing for Cuba. Muir boarded the ship, and while in Havana, he spent his hours studying shells and flowers and visiting the botanical garden in the city. Afterwards, he sailed to New York and booked passage to California. Muir served as an officer in the United States Coast Survey, a uniformed government service agency.


John Muir at home with his wife and two daughters

Beginning in 1874, John wrote a series of articles entitled "Studies in the Sierra" that launched his successful career as a writer. He left the mountains and lived for a while in Oakland, California. From there he took many trips, including his first to Alaska in 1879, where he discovered Glacier Bay. In 1880, he married Louie Wanda Strentzel. They moved to Martinez, California where they raised their two daughters, Wanda and Helen. Settling down to some measure into domestic life, Muir went into partnership with his father-in-law and managed the family fruit ranch with great success.

Because of his activism, he managed to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is a prominent American conservation organization to this present day. Because of his activism, John has been admired and honored by many who have given his name to many natural places and establishments: The 211-mile (340 km) John Muir Trail, a hiking trail in the Sierra Nevada, Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach, John Muir College, Mount Muir, Camp Muir and Muir Glacier. In Scotland, the John Muir Way, a 130-mile-long route, was named in honor of him.

John Muir in his later years

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, which established Yosemite National Park. 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.
John Muir has been considered "an inspiration to both Scots and Americans". 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. His writings are frequently discussed in books and journals, and he is often quoted by nature photographers such as Ansel Adams. Holmes said, "Muir has profoundly shaped the very categories through which Americans understand and envision their relationships with the natural world."



California's Commemorative Quarter

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 synonymous with the modern environmental community. 



Commemorative Postage Stamp 

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." On April 21, 2013, the first ever John Muir Day was celebrated in Scotland, which marked the 175th anniversary of his birth, paying homage to the conservationist.



I think you can well imagine why I consider John Muir or “John of the Mountains” as a hero. He helped us understand we must take care of our planet and the creatures on it or we lose touch with our spirit.

A few of John Muir's inspirational books:

  




Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


14 comments:

  1. Thank you, Sarah, for a fascinating article on John Muir. He is truly a National Hero!

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    1. Thank you for coming over to read about John Muir, Cheri. I appreciate it. There was so much more to say about him, but I didn't want to make a blog so long it took all day to read. LOL

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    2. So true, Sarah! When it comes to researching our interesting and captivating Western American history, it's hard to know when to stop!LOL

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  2. I know, Cheri, it's like being dragged away from the fun to have to quit research.

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  3. Wonderful post, Sarah. I live within easy driving distance to both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. I have read the tributes to him in the tourist spots, but your biography told me more about him than I previously knew. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. You are lucky to live so close to the national parks, Robyn. Thank you for reading my post and commenting.

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  4. Awesome post, Sarah! Muir was far ahead of his time. If he were alive now I think he would be appalled by what humans have done to this planet. We need more people like him to remind us that we are part of nature, and if we ruin our environment we will inevitably pay the price.

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    1. Oh Lyn, I thoroughly agree. We each need to do our part, but it's good that Muir's organization carries on to this day to help us fight for a better environment and for the welfare of all wild things. I may never see a bear in the wilds or walk through the great sequoias, but it enriches my life to know they are there.
      Thank you so much for coming and commenting.

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  5. What a great man he was. Every citizen of the US probably knows his name and at least vaguely what he did. His kind of soul is unique, and I believe God-Given..he couldn't have done all this alone...not even have imagined what "was out there." He must have been unatually strong and virile to do so much walking! (I'm always impressed with long walkers. I have days when I can barely walk to the mailbox.)
    Yes, this was a long post, but I read every word.
    Thank you for thinking of telling us about this great human being.

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    1. I know what you mean, Celia, some days it's difficult to imagine someone being able to walk so far when I cannot do it myself. Isn't it a blessing that, every once in a while, a visionary comes along and moves all of us to do better--be better? These few exceptional people are an inspiration to us all and I imagine that's exactly what God intends for us.
      I'm so glad you liked my post. I always look forward to whatever you have to say. Thank you.

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  6. I know of Muir is a very vague way. Thank you for all this wonderful information about this phenomenal man! I'm impressed with what he accomplished and what he still is doing so many years later. I get so upset when people litter or do things that hurt nature. When they talk about leaving footprints, I can't think of a better one that what he has done. That is a positive footprint!

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    1. E. Ayers, John Muir certainly did leave a legacy of change for us. While I may not be able to change other people's anti-Earth actions, I can follow John's plan for a better planet and do whatever I can in my own household to lessen my impact on Earth, donate to organizations who are educating the public and fighting for laws to change how we go about our business, and by signing petitions I agree with to stop abuse to the environment. These are the things I learned from the Sierra Club. All we have to do is our part in protecting life on Earth for ourselves and generations to come. I am so heartened to see how much you care. Thank you for that!

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  7. I had heard of John Muir, but didn't realize the impact he had in America in preserving our natural resources. I bet he was a cute little boy following his grandfather around. Great post, Sarah.

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    1. Linda, I believe so much of what we become and what we believe in comes from being with our elders who take an interest in the things around us. Pop used to take my sister and me on nature walks. He didn't want us to talk loud because he wanted us to respect the silence of the forest and "feel" nature. He respected all living things and was a conservationist. Because of his influence in my early years, I, too, care about Earth and the living things it supports and do what I can to conserve and preserve it. He learned it from his parents. I can see how John Muir was influenced by his grandfather to care deeply for Earth and its wild things. Were your parents a great influence on you in this regard?
      Thank you so very much for coming by and commenting, Linda.

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