JOHN MUIR (/mjʊər/ ; April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914) also
known as "John of the Mountains", was a Scottish-American
naturalist , author, environmental philosopher , glaciologist and
early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United
States. His letters, essays, and books describing his adventures in
nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada , have been read by millions.
His activism has helped to preserve the
Yosemite Valley , Sequoia
National Park and many 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
John Muir College ,
Mount Muir , Camp
Muir Grove , and
Muir Glacier . In
Scotland , the
John Muir Way
, a 130-mile-long route, was named in honor of him.
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
National Park . The spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature
expressed in his writings has inspired readers, including presidents
and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas.
Today Muir is referred to as the "Father of the National Parks" and
National Park Service
National Park Service has produced a short documentary about his
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. 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." :403 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.
* 1 Early life
* 1.1 Boyhood in
* 1.2 Immigration to America
* 2 Explorer of nature
* 2.1.1 Experiencing Yosemite
* 2.1.2 Friendships
* 2.1.3 Geological studies and theories
* 2.1.4 Botanical studies
* 2.2 Pacific Northwest
* 3 Activism and controversies
* 3.1 Preservation efforts
* 3.2 Co-founding the
* 3.3 Preservation vs conservation
* 3.4 Native Americans
Hetch Hetchy dam controversy
* 4 Nature writer
* 4.1 Jeanne Carr: friend and mentor
* 4.2 Writing becomes his work
* 5 Philosophical beliefs
* 5.1 Of Nature and Theology
* 5.2 Of sensory perceptions and light
* 5.3 Seeing nature as home
* 6 Personal life
* 7 Death
* 8 Legacy
* 9 Tributes and honors
* 10 Bibliography
* 10.1 Books
* 10.2 Essays online
* 11 See also
* 12 Notes
* 13 Further reading
* 14 External links
BOYHOOD IN SCOTLAND
Muir was born in the small house at left. His father bought the
adjacent building in 1842, and made it the family home.
John Muir\'s Birthplace is a four-story stone house in
Dunbar , East
Lothian, Scotland. His parents were Daniel Muir and Ann Gilrye. He was
the third of eight children: Margaret, Sarah, David, Daniel, Ann and
Mary (twins), and the American-born Joanna. His earliest recollections
were of taking short walks with his grandfather when he was three. In
his autobiography, he described his boyhood pursuits, 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 (ostensibly to one-up his fellows as they compared
notes on who knew where the most were located). :25,37 Author Amy
Marquis notes that he began his "love affair" with nature while young,
and implies that it may have been in reaction to his strict religious
upbringing. "His father believed that anything that distracted from
Bible studies was frivolous and punishable." But the young Muir was a
"restless spirit" and especially "prone to lashings." As a young boy,
Muir became fascinated with the
East Lothian landscape, and was known
to spend a lot of time wandering the local coastline and countryside.
It was during this time that 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 and was
frequently heard talking about his childhood spent amid the East
Lothian countryside. 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
Scotland on a trip in 1893, where he met one of his Dunbar
schoolmates and visited the places of his youth that were etched in
his memory. He also never lost his strong Scottish accent despite
having lived in America for many years.
IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA
In 1849, Muir's family immigrated to the United States, starting a
Portage, Wisconsin , called
Fountain Lake Farm
Fountain Lake Farm . It has been
National Historic Landmark
National Historic Landmark . Stephen Fox recounts that
Muir's father found the Church of
Scotland insufficiently strict in
faith and practice, leading to their emigration and joining a
congregation of the Campbellite
Restoration Movement , called the
Disciples of Christ . :7 By the age of 11, the young Muir had learned
to recite "by heart and by sore flesh" all of the
New Testament and
most of the
Old Testament . :30 In maturity, while remaining a deeply
spiritual man, Muir may have changed his orthodox beliefs. He wrote,
"I never tried to abandon creeds or code of civilization; they went
away of their own accord... without leaving any consciousness of
loss." Elsewhere in his writings, he described the conventional image
of a Creator , "as purely a manufactured article as any puppet of a
half-penny theater." :95, 115 Entrance to
Fountain Lake Farm
Fountain Lake Farm near
When he was 22 years old, Muir enrolled at the University of
Wisconsin–Madison , paying his own way for several years. There,
under a towering black locust tree beside North Hall , Muir took his
first botany lesson. A fellow student plucked a flower from the tree
and used it to explain how the grand locust is a member of the pea
family, related to the straggling pea plant. Fifty years later, the
naturalist Muir described the day in his autobiography. "This fine
lesson charmed me and sent me flying to the woods and meadows in wild
enthusiasm." :225 As a freshman, Muir studied chemistry with Professor
Ezra Carr and his wife Jeanne; they became lifelong friends and Muir
developed a lasting interest in chemistry and the sciences. :76 Muir
took an eclectic approach to his studies, attending classes for two
years but never being listed higher than a first-year student due to
his unusual selection of courses. Records showed his class status as
"irregular gent" and, even though he never graduated, he learned
enough geology and botany to inform his later wanderings. :36
In 1863, his brother Daniel left Wisconsin and moved to Southern
Ontario (then known as Canada West in the United Canadas ), to avoid
the draft during the U.S. Civil War . Muir left school and travelled
to the same region in 1864, and spent the spring, summer, and fall
exploring the woods and swamps, and collecting plants around the
southern reaches of
Lake Huron 's
Georgian Bay . :85,92 Muir hiked
Niagara Escarpment , including much of today's
Bruce Trail .
With his money running low and winter coming, he reunited with his
brother Daniel near
Meaford, Ontario , who persuaded him to work with
him at the sawmill and rake factory of William Trout and Charles Jay.
Muir lived with the Trout family in an area called Trout Hollow, south
of Meaford, on the
Bighead River . While there, he continued
"botanizing", exploring the escarpment and bogs, collecting and
cataloging plants. One source appears to indicate he worked at the
mill/factory until the summer of 1865, :37 while another says he
stayed on at Trout Hollow until after a fire burned it down in
In March 1866, Muir returned to the United States, settling in
Indianapolis to work in a wagon wheel factory. He proved valuable to
his employers because of his inventiveness in improving the machines
and processes; he was promoted to supervisor, being paid $25 per week.
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 about 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 "
and follow his dream of exploration and study of plants. :97
Photo of Muir by
Carleton Watkins , circa 1875
In September 1867, Muir undertook a walk of about 1,000 miles (1,600
Florida , which he recounted in his book A
Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. He had no specific route chosen,
except to go by the "wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could
find." When Muir arrived at Cedar Keys , he began working for Richard
Hodgson at Hodgson's sawmill. However, three days after accepting the
job at Hodgson's, Muir almost died of a malarial sickness.
One evening in early January 1868, Muir climbed onto the Hodgson
house roof to watch the sunset. Muir saw a ship, the Island Belle, and
learned it would soon be sailing for
Cuba . :150, 154 Muir boarded the
ship, and while in
Havana , he spent his hours studying shells and
flowers and visiting the botanical garden in the city. :56 Afterwards,
he sailed to
New York City
New York City and booked passage to
California . :40–41
Muir served as an officer in the
United States Coast Survey
United States Coast Survey , a
uniformed government service agency.
EXPLORER OF NATURE
Finally settling in
San Francisco , Muir immediately left for a
week-long visit to Yosemite, a place he had only read about. Seeing it
for the first time, Muir notes that "He was overwhelmed by the
landscape, scrambling down steep cliff faces to get a closer look at
the waterfalls, whooping and howling at the vistas, jumping tirelessly
from flower to flower." He later returned to Yosemite and worked as a
shepherd for a season. He climbed a number of mountains, including
Cathedral Peak and
Mount Dana , and hiked an old trail down Bloody
Mono Lake .
Muir built a small cabin along
Yosemite Creek , :207 designing it so
that a section of the stream flowed through a corner of the room so he
could enjoy the sound of running water. He lived in the cabin for two
years :143 and wrote about this period in his book First Summer in the
Sierra (1911). Muir's biographer, Frederick Turner, notes Muir's
journal entry upon first visiting the valley and writes that his
description "blazes from the page with the authentic force of a
conversion experience." :172
During these years in Yosemite, Muir was unmarried, often unemployed,
with no prospects for a career, and had "periods of anguish," writes
John Tallmadge . He was sustained by the natural
environment and by reading the essays of naturalist author Ralph Waldo
Emerson , who wrote about the very life that Muir was then living. On
excursions into the back country of Yosemite, he traveled alone,
carrying "only a tin cup, a handful of tea, a loaf of bread, and a
copy of Emerson." :52–53 He usually spent his evenings sitting by a
campfire in his overcoat, reading Emerson under the stars. As the
years passed, he became a "fixture in the valley," respected for his
knowledge of natural history, his skill as a guide, and his vivid
storytelling. :53 Visitors to the valley often included scientists,
artists, and celebrities, many of whom made a point of meeting with
In 1871, after Muir had lived in Yosemite for three years, Emerson,
with a number of academic friends from
Boston , arrived in Yosemite
during a tour of the
Western United States . The two men met, and
according to Tallmadge, "Emerson was delighted to find at the end of
his career the prophet-naturalist he had called for so long ago. . .
And for Muir, Emerson's visit came like a laying on of hands." :53
Emerson spent one day with Muir, and he offered him a teaching
position at Harvard, which Muir declined. Muir later wrote, "I never
for a moment thought of giving up God's big show for a mere profship!"
Muir also spent time with photographer
Carleton Watkins and studied
his photographs of Yosemite.
Geological Studies And Theories
John Muir in 1907
Pursuit of his love of science, especially geology, often occupied
his free time. Muir soon became convinced that glaciers had sculpted
many of the features of the
Yosemite Valley and surrounding area. This
notion was in stark contradiction to the accepted contemporary theory,
Josiah Whitney (head of the
Survey ), which attributed the formation of the valley to a
catastrophic earthquake . As Muir's ideas spread, Whitney tried to
discredit Muir by branding him as an amateur. But
Louis Agassiz , the
premier geologist of the day, saw merit in Muir's ideas and lauded him
as "the first man I have ever found who has any adequate conception of
glacial action." In 1871, Muir discovered an active alpine glacier
Merced Peak , which helped his theories gain acceptance.
A large earthquake centered near Lone Pine in
Owens Valley strongly
shook occupants of
Yosemite Valley in March 1872. The quake woke Muir
in the early morning, and he ran out of his cabin "both glad and
frightened," exclaiming, "A noble earthquake!" Other valley settlers,
who believed Whitney's ideas, feared that the quake was a prelude to a
cataclysmic deepening of the valley. Muir had no such fear and
promptly made a moonlit survey of new talus piles created by
earthquake-triggered rockslides. This event led more people to
believe in Muir's ideas about the formation of the valley.
In addition to his geologic studies, Muir also investigated the plant
life of the Yosemite area. In 1873 and 1874, he made field studies
along the western flank of the Sierra on the distribution and ecology
of isolated groves of
Giant Sequoia . In 1876, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science published Muir's paper on
Muir made four trips to
Alaska , as far as Unalaska and Barrow .
Muir, Mr Young (Fort Wrangell missionary) and a group of Native
American Guides first traveled to
Alaska in 1879 and were the first
Euro-Americans to explore
Glacier Bay .
Muir Glacier was later named
after him. He traveled into
British Columbia a third of the way up the
Stikine River , likening its Grand Canyon to "a Yosemite that was a
hundred miles long". Muir recorded over 300 glaciers along the
He returned for further explorations in southeast
Alaska in 1880 and
in 1881 was with the party that landed on
Wrangel Island on the USS
Corwin and claimed that island for the United States. He documented
this experience in journal entries and newspaper articles—later
compiled and edited into his book The Cruise of the Corwin. In 1888
after seven years of managing the Strentzel fruit ranch in Alhambra
California , his health began to suffer. He returned to the
hills to recover, climbing
Mount Rainier in Washington and writing
Ascent of Mount Rainier.
ACTIVISM AND CONTROVERSIES
Yosemite Valley and the
Merced River Establishing Yosemite
Muir threw himself into the preservationist role with great vigor. He
envisioned the Yosemite area and the Sierra as pristine lands. He
thought the greatest threat to the Yosemite area and the Sierra was
domesticated livestock—especially domestic sheep, which he referred
to as "hoofed locusts". In June 1889, the influential associate editor
of Century magazine,
Robert Underwood Johnson , camped with Muir in
Tuolumne Meadows and saw firsthand the damage a large flock of sheep
had done to the grassland. Johnson agreed to publish any article Muir
wrote on the subject of excluding livestock from the Sierra high
country. He also agreed to use his influence to introduce a bill to
Congress to make the Yosemite area into a national park, modeled after
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park .
On September 30, 1890, the
U.S. Congress passed a bill that
essentially followed recommendations that Muir had suggested in two
Century articles, The Treasure of the Yosemite and Features of the
Proposed National Park, both published in 1890. But to Muir's dismay,
the bill left
Yosemite Valley under state control, as it had been
since the 1860s.
CO-FOUNDING THE SIERRA CLUB
In early 1892, Professor Henry Senger, a philologist at the
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley , contacted Muir with the idea of
forming a local 'alpine club' for mountain lovers. Senger and San
Francisco attorney Warren Olney sent out invitations "for the purpose
of forming a 'Sierra Club.' Mr.
John Muir will preside." On May 28,
1892, the first meeting of the
Sierra Club was held to write articles
of incorporation. One week later Muir was elected president, Warren
Olney was elected vice-president, and a board of directors was chosen
David Starr Jordan
David Starr Jordan , president of the new Stanford
University . Muir remained president until his death 22 years later.
Sierra Club immediately opposed efforts to reduce Yosemite
National Park by half, and began holding educational and scientific
meetings. At one meeting in the fall of 1895 that included Muir,
Joseph LeConte , and William R. Dudley, the
Sierra Club discussed the
idea of establishing 'national forest reservations', which were later
called National Forests . The
Sierra Club was active in the successful
campaign to transfer
Yosemite National Park from state to federal
control in 1906. The fight to preserve
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Hetch Hetchy Valley was also
taken up by the Sierra Club, with some prominent
San Francisco members
opposing the fight. Eventually a vote was held that overwhelmingly put
Sierra Club behind the opposition to
Hetch Hetchy Dam.
PRESERVATION VS CONSERVATION
In July 1896, Muir became associated with
Gifford Pinchot , a
national leader in the conservation movement. Pinchot was the first
head of the
United States Forest Service and a leading spokesman for
the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of the
people. His views eventually clashed with Muir's and highlighted two
diverging views of the use of the country's natural resources. Pinchot
saw conservation as a means of managing the nation's natural resources
for long-term sustainable commercial use. As a professional forester,
his view was that "forestry is tree farming," without destroying the
long-term viability of the forests. Muir valued nature for its
spiritual and transcendental qualities. In one essay about the
National Parks, he referred to them as "places for rest, inspiration,
and prayers." He often encouraged city dwellers to experience nature
for its spiritual nourishment. Both men opposed reckless exploitation
of natural resources, including clear-cutting of forests. Even Muir
acknowledged the need for timber and the forests to provide it, but
Pinchot's view of wilderness management was more resource-oriented.
Their friendship ended late in the summer of 1897 when Pinchot
released a statement to a
Seattle newspaper supporting sheep grazing
in forest reserves. Muir confronted Pinchot and demanded an
explanation. When Pinchot reiterated his position, Muir told him: "I
don't want any thing more to do with you." This philosophical divide
soon expanded and split the conservation movement into two camps: the
preservationists, led by Muir; and Pinchot's camp, who co-opted the
term "conservation." The two men debated their positions in popular
magazines, such as Outlook, Harper's Weekly, Atlantic Monthly, World's
Work, and Century. Their contrasting views were highlighted again when
the United States was deciding whether to dam
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Hetch Hetchy Valley .
Pinchot favored damming the valley as "the highest possible use which
could be made of it." In contrast, Muir proclaimed, "Dam Hetch Hetchy!
As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for
no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the hearts of man."
Theodore Roosevelt and Muir, 1906
In 1899, Muir accompanied railroad executive
E. H. Harriman
E. H. Harriman and
esteemed scientists on the famous exploratory voyage along the Alaska
coast aboard the luxuriously refitted 250-foot (76 m) steamer, the
George W. Elder. He later relied on his friendship with Harriman to
pressure Congress to pass conservation legislation.
In 1903, President
Theodore Roosevelt accompanied Muir on a visit to
Yosemite. Muir joined Roosevelt in Oakland,
California , for the train
trip to Raymond . The presidential entourage then traveled by
stagecoach into the park. While traveling to the park, Muir told the
president about state mismanagement of the valley and rampant
exploitation of the valley's resources. Even before they entered the
park, he was able to convince Roosevelt that the best way to protect
the valley was through federal control and management.
After entering the park and seeing the magnificent splendor of the
valley, the president asked Muir to show him the real Yosemite. Muir
and Roosevelt set off largely by themselves and camped in the back
country. The duo talked late into the night, slept in the brisk open
Glacier Point, and were dusted by a fresh snowfall in the
morning. It was a night Roosevelt never forgot.
Muir then increased efforts by the
Sierra Club to consolidate park
management. In 1906 Congress transferred the
Mariposa Grove and
Yosemite Valley to the park.
Muir's attitude toward Native Americans evolved over his life. His
earliest encounters were with the
Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin, who
begged for food and stole his favorite horse. In spite of that, he had
a great deal of sympathy for their "being robbed of their lands and
pushed ruthlessly back into narrower and narrower limits by alien
races who were cutting off their means of livelihood." His early
encounters with the
California left him feeling ambivalent
after seeing their lifestyle, which he described as "lazy" and
"superstitious". Ecofeminist philosopher
Carolyn Merchant has
criticized Muir, believing that he wrote disparagingly of the Native
Americans he encountered in his early explorations. Later, after
living with Indians, he praised and grew more respectful of their low
impact on the wilderness, compared to the heavy impact by
Muir was given the
Stickeen (Muir's spelling, coastal tribe) name
"Ancoutahan" meaning "adopted chief".
HETCH HETCHY DAM CONTROVERSY
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Hetch Hetchy Valley
With population growth continuing in San Francisco, political
pressure increased to dam the
Tuolumne River for use as a water
reservoir . Muir passionately opposed the damming of Hetch Hetchy
Valley because he found
Hetch Hetchy as stunning as Yosemite Valley.
:249–62 Muir, the
Sierra Club and
Robert Underwood Johnson fought
against inundating the valley. Muir wrote to President Roosevelt
pleading for him to scuttle the project. Roosevelt's successor,
William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft , suspended the
Interior Department 's approval
Hetch Hetchy right-of-way. After years of national debate,
Woodrow Wilson signed the bill authorizing the dam
into law on December 19, 1913. Muir felt a great loss from the
destruction of the valley, his last major battle. He wrote to his
Vernon Kellogg , "As to the loss of the Sierra Park Valley
it's hard to bear. The destruction of the charming groves and gardens,
the finest in all California, goes to my heart."
Lake Tenaya , Yosemite
In his life, Muir published six volumes of writings, all describing
explorations of natural settings. Four additional books were published
posthumously. Several books were subsequently published that collected
essays and articles from various sources. Miller writes that what was
most important about his writings was not their quantity, but their
"quality". He notes that they have had a "lasting effect on American
culture in helping to create the desire and will to protect and
preserve wild and natural environments." :173
His first appearance in print was by accident, writes Miller; a
person he did not know submitted, without his permission or awareness,
a personal letter to his friend Jeanne Carr, describing Calypso
borealis , a rare flower he had encountered. The piece was published
anonymously, identified as having been written by an "inspired
pilgrim". :174 Throughout his many years as a nature writer, Muir
frequently rewrote and expanded on earlier writings from his journals,
as well as articles published in magazines. He often compiled and
organized such earlier writings as collections of essays or included
them as part of narrative books. :173
JEANNE CARR: FRIEND AND MENTOR
Muir's friendship with Jeanne Carr had a lifelong influence on his
career as a naturalist and writer. They first met in the fall of 1860,
when, at age 22, he entered a number of his homemade inventions in the
Wisconsin State Agricultural Society Fair. Carr, a fair assistant, was
asked by fair officials to review Muir's exhibits to see if they had
merit. She thought they did and "saw in his entries evidence of genius
worthy of special recognition," notes Miller. :33 As a result, Muir
received a diploma and a monetary award for his handmade clocks and
thermometer . :1 During the next three years while a student at the
University of Wisconsin, he was befriended by Carr and her husband,
Ezra , a professor at the same university. According to Muir
biographer Bonnie Johanna Gisel, the Carrs recognized his "pure mind,
unsophisticated nature, inherent curiosity, scholarly acumen, and
independent thought." Jeanne Carr, 35 years of age, especially
appreciated his youthful individuality, along with his acceptance of
"religious truths" that were much like her own. :2 The Muirs\'
home in Martinez,
California , is a National Historic Site.
Muir was often invited to the Carrs' home; he shared Jeanne's love of
plants. In 1864, he left Wisconsin to begin exploring the Canadian
wilderness and, while there, began corresponding with her about his
activities. Carr wrote Muir in return and encouraged him in his
explorations and writings, eventually having an important influence
over his personal goals. At one point she asked Muir to read a book
she felt would influence his thinking,
Lamartine 's The Stonemason of
Saint Point. It was the story of a man whose life she hoped would
"metabolize in Muir," writes Gisel, and "was a projection of the life
she envisioned for him." According to Gisel, the story was about a
"poor man with a pure heart," who found in nature "divine lessons and
saw all of God's creatures interconnected." :3
After Muir returned to the United States, he spent the next four
years exploring Yosemite, while at the same time writing articles for
publication. During those years, Muir and Carr continued
corresponding. She sent many of her friends to Yosemite to meet Muir
and "to hear him preach the gospel of the mountains," writes Gisel.
The most notable was naturalist and author
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson . The
importance of Carr, who continually gave Muir reassurance and
inspiration, "cannot be overestimated," adds Gisel. It was "through
his letters to her that he developed a voice and purpose." She also
tried to promote Muir's writings by submitting his letters to a
monthly magazine for publication. Muir came to trust Carr as his
"spiritual mother," and they remained friends for 30 years. :6 In one
letter she wrote to Muir while he was living in Yosemite, she tried to
keep him from despairing as to his purpose in life. :43
The value of their friendship was first disclosed by a friend of
Carr's, clergyman and writer G. Wharton James. After obtaining copies
of their private letters from Carr, and despite pleadings from Muir to
return them, he instead published articles about their friendship,
using those letters as a primary source. In one such article, his
focus was Muir's debt to Carr, stating that she was his "guiding star"
who "led him into the noble paths of life, and then kept him there."
WRITING BECOMES HIS WORK
Muir's friend, zoologist
Henry Fairfield Osborn , writes that Muir's
style of writing did not come to him easily, but only with intense
effort. "Daily he rose at 4:30 o'clock, and after a simple cup of
coffee labored incessantly . . . . he groans over his labors, he
writes and rewrites and interpolates." Osborn notes that he preferred
using the simplest English language, and therefore admired above all
the writings of Carlyle , Emerson and
Thoreau . "He is a very firm
Thoreau and starts by reading deeply of this author." :29
His secretary, Marion Randall Parsons, also noted that "composition
was always slow and laborious for him. . . . Each sentence, each
phrase, each word, underwent his critical scrutiny, not once but
twenty times before he was satisfied to let it stand." Muir often told
her, "This business of writing books is a long, tiresome, endless
Miller speculates that Muir recycled his earlier writings partly due
to his "dislike of the writing process." He adds that Muir "did not
enjoy the work, finding it difficult and tedious." He was generally
unsatisfied with the finished result, finding prose "a weak instrument
for the reality he wished to convey." :173 However, he was prodded by
friends and his wife to keep writing and as a result of their
influence he kept at it, although never satisfied. Muir wrote in 1872,
"No amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to 'know' these
mountains. One day's exposure to mountains is better than a cartload
of books." :xviii In one of his essays, he gave an example of the
deficiencies of writing versus experiencing nature. :321
OF NATURE AND THEOLOGY
Muir believed that to discover truth, he must turn to what he
believed were the most accurate sources. Muir had a strict, Scottish
Presbyterian upbringing. 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
Old Testament and all of the
New Testament . :20 Muir's father
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. :43
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."
:43 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 sought to change our angle of vision." :53
Williams notes that Muir's philosophy and world view rotated around
his perceived dichotomy between civilization and nature. From this
developed his core belief that "wild is superior". :41 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. :41 As a
result, Muir "styled himself as a
John the Baptist
John the Baptist ," adds Williams,
"whose duty was to immerse in 'mountain baptism' everyone he could."
:46 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. :50
During his career as writer and while living in the mountains, Muir
continued to experience the "presence of the divine in nature," writes
Holmes :5 :317 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. :100
OF SENSORY PERCEPTIONS AND LIGHT
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. . . " :43 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. :45
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." :45 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," :178 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."
:179 :115 :24
SEEING NATURE AS HOME
Posthumous portrait by Orlando Rouland (1917)
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." :57 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." :319
In his later years, he used the metaphor of nature as home in his
writings to promote wilderness preservation. :1
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." :74
Muir and family circa 1888.
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 (11 km2)
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.
The house and part of the ranch are now the
John Muir National
Historic Site .
John Muir died at
California Hospital (now
Medical Center ) in Los Angeles on December 24, 1914, of pneumonia
at age 76, after a brief visit to Daggett,
California , to see his
daughter Helen Muir Funk.
John Muir was survived by two daughters and
ten grandchildren. His grandson Ross Hanna lived until 2014, when he
died at age 91.
A portrait of Muir, circa 1910.
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
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
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. :265 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
Rocky Mountain National Park , Muir's writings would "likely to be the
most influential force in this century."
TRIBUTES AND HONORS
Mount Muir located one mile south of
Mount Whitney in the High
Sierra of California.
John Muir on a 1964 U.S. commemorative
John Muir Day on April 21 each year. Muir was
the first person honored with a
California commemorative day when
legislation signed in 1988 created
John Muir Day, effective from 1989
onward. Muir is one of three people so honored in California, along
Harvey Milk Day and
Ronald Reagan Day
Ronald Reagan Day .
East Lothian in
Scotland also celebrates
John Muir day, the play Thank God for John
Andrew Dallmeyer is based on his life.
The following places are named after Muir:
Mount Muir (elevation 4688') in
Angeles National Forest north of
* Muir\'s Peak next to Mount Shasta,
California (also known as Black
Muir Glacier , Alaska
John Muir Trails in
California , Tennessee , Connecticut, and
Wilderness (southern and central Sierra Nevada )
Muir Pass Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the divide at
11,955' above sea level, between Evolution Creek and Middle Fork of
Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument just north of San Francisco,
* Muir Beach,
John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez,
Camp Muir in
Mount Rainier National Park
John Muir College
John Muir College , one of the six undergraduate colleges of
University of California, San Diego
University of California, San Diego
John Muir Highway - a section of
California State Route 132
between Coulterville and Smith Station at
California State Route 120 .
This road roughly follows part of the route Muir took on his first
walk to Yosemite.
* The main-belt asteroid
John Muir featured on the
California state quarter.
John Muir was featured on two U.S. commemorative postage stamps. A
5-cent stamp issued on April 29, 1964, was designed by Rudolph
Wendelin , and showed Muir's face superimposed on a grove of redwood
trees, and the inscription, "
John Muir Conservationist". A 32-cent
stamp issued on February 3, 1998, was part of the "Celebrate the
Century " series, and showed Muir in Yosemite Valley, with the
inscription "John Muir, Preservationist". An image of Muir, with the
California condor and
Half Dome , appears on the
quarter released in 2005. A quotation of his appears on the reverse
side of the
Indianapolis Prize Lilly Medal for conservation. On
December 6, 2006,
Arnold Schwarzenegger and First
Maria Shriver inducted
John Muir into the
California Hall of Fame
located at The
California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts .
Hudson Stuck are honored with a feast day on the liturgical
of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on April 22.
Muirite (a mineral),
Erigeron muirii ,
Carlquistia muirii (two
species of aster),
Ivesia muirii (a member of the rose family),
Troglodytes troglodytes muiri (a wren),
Ochotona princeps muiri (a
pika), Thecla muirii (a butterfly), and Amplaria muiri (a millipede)
were all named after John Muir.
* Studies in the Sierra (1950 reprint of serials from 1874)
* The Mountains of California. New York: Century, 1894.
* Stickeen: An Adventure with a Dog and a
* Our National Parks. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1901.
* My First Summer in the Sierra. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911.
* Edward Henry Harriman. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1911.
* The Yosemite. New York: Century, 1912.
* The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913.
* Travels in Alaska. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915.
* Letters to a Friend. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915.
* A Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.
* The Cruise of the Corwin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917.
* Steep Trails. Boston: Houghton, 1918.
* Nature Writings: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth; My First
Summer in the Sierra; The Mountains of California; Stickeen; Selected
Essays. New York: Library of America, 1997.
* Gifford, Terry. John Muir: His Life and Letters and Other
Writings. London: Seattle: Mountaineers, 1996.
* ed. Tim Flinders. John Muir: Spiritual Writings Maryknoll, NY:
Orbis Books, 2013
* "Alaska. The Discovery of
* "The American Forests"
* "Among the Animals of the Yosemite"
* "Among the Birds of the Yosemite"
* "The Coniferous Forests of the Sierra Nevada"
* "Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park"
* "The Forests of Yosemite Park"
* "Fountains and Streams of the Yosemite"
* "In the Heart of the
* "Living Glaciers of California"
* "The New Sequoia Forests of California"
* "A Rival of the Yosemite, King\'s River Canyon"
* "Snow-Storm on Mount Shasta"
* "Studies in the Sierra: The
Glacier Meadows of the Sierra"
* "Studies in the Sierra: The Mountain Lakes of California"
* "Studies in the Sierra: The Passes of the Sierra"
* "The Treasures of the Yosemite"
* "The Wild Gardens of the Yosemite Park"
* "The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West"
* "The Wild Sheep of the Sierra"
* "The Yellowstone National Park"
* "The Yosemite National Park"
The standard author abbreviation J.MUIR is used to indicate this
person as the author when citing a botanical name .
* John Muir\'s Birthplace
John Muir Trust
John Muir Way
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John Muir (1838-1914) was a Scottish-born
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John Muir and
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John Muir (1913) -
John Muir Exhibit (John
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978-0-89886-463-2 . Letter to Robert Underwood Johnson; Martinez, 3
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John Muir Memorial".
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John Muir National Historic
Site". Sierra Club. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
John Muir National Historic Site "The park's museum collection
includes historic documents and artifacts that relate to the writing,
travels, political activities and daily life of
John Muir and his
family in Martinez... The collections are displayed in the home,
carriage house and through exhibitions in the Visitor Center."
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California establishes annual
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Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern
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John Muir and the Modern Passion
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