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: