Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Legacy of John Muir

I've intended for quite awhile now to do a feature on John Muir. I'm actually amazed at myself for not having showcased him sooner.

I guess I had to work my up to it...so here he is, in his unshaven glory!

For those of you who don't know, John Muir (1838-1914) is universally considered to be the Godfather of the modern environmental movement in the United States, and his legacy has transcended international boundaries.

An avid conservationist his whole life, it was Muir's vision that was instrumental in shaping protection for pristine areas up to this day. Having attempted to approach several government officials and Presidents on the matter of conservation in the late 19th Century --- with a focus on the Yosemite Valley --- he finally got the attention of a young and gregarious president, Teddy Rooseve
lt, who had been an avid outdoorsman his entire life. The events that followed gave birth to the expansion of the National Park system as we know it today.

Muir also founded the Sierra Club, which has grown into perhaps the most politically influential environmnetal advocacy group in the country.

Muir led a fascinating life. He once walked 1,000 miles from Indiana to Florida. He would have walked all the way to South America from the United States, had he not contracted malaria. The illness required him to recover in San Francisco in 1868...an interesting turn of fate, as historical events reveal.

When he was in California, he sought out a site in the mountains he had heard about known as "Yosemite." Upon his visit to the place, he commented: "No temple made with hands can compare to Yosemite."

His study and fascination with the Yosemite Valley (more like an OBsession, but in a good way) continued over the next few years, and as a
practicing geologist he was the first to conclude that glacial action shaped the valley, which flew in the face of prior theories that it had been formed by a cataclysmic earthquake. The scientific community rallied around his theories, which were validated over time. Muir also studied the Sequoias near Yosemite and put their majesty in the national spotlight.

In the late 1880s, Muir's push for Yosemite as a National Park began in earnest. Following the example of Yellowstone National Park (the first national park in history) Muir believed that federal control of the site was necessary to ensure its preservation and elimination of exploitation. While Congress responded to Muir's pleas for preservation, 1890 legislation saw it fall under State control, which was encouraging but only a partial victory.

Muir's efforts to establish Yosemite as a National Park culminated in 1903, when he visited the site with an outdoorsy, independent-minded President, Theodore Roosevelt. Muir joined Roosevelt in Oakland to travel by train and stagecoach to the site. 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. While circling around a fire, the duo talked late into the night, slept in the brisk open air of Glacier Point and were dusted by a fresh snowfall in the morning. The experience made a lasting impression on the president, to say the least.

Years of long and exhausting efforts on the part of Muir paid off in 1905...through pressure from the Sierra Club and with enthusiastic support from President Roosevelt (who also had a high approval rating at the time, and thus the voice of the people), Congress transferred Yosemite into a National Park in that year to safeguard it forever.

I've only just begun to touch on the enourmous shockwave Muir has laid on the land of this country, and the generations he's inspired. After all, where would we be today without his vision and persistence?

Here's links to his published materials through Google books...they might also be available at Amazon:
More about John Muir online:
There's lots to be learned about, and from, this fascinating and influential figure in American history...he's more than likely solely responsible for this blog existing in the first place.


kimmus122 said...

Great post! Reading about his story literally gave me chills. It's so amazing how something like a horrible sickness can alter the course of your life and effect so many others. It makes me think that nothing happens in vain.

He is a great inspiration....I'll definitely have to read more about him!

kimmus122 said...

And..so..you went to U of A...so now we are rivals? j/k... I probably don't blame you b/c the planning department in our school got kicked out a long time ago when they had budget cuts...luckily, we just managed to real them back in...something everyone is happy about. It's too bad I will be graduating shortly b/c I would like to take come planning classes.

So you lived in Tempe for a while. Do you know a J.D. that is also a planner. He lived there for a while and I think is moving or has moved to Tucson. It's a small world, you never know.

And, yes, the Panarchy theory is a bit complex and I can imagine would be made even better with some help from a particular weed. For my landscape class I had to rely solely on my own limited brain when discussing it. I wonder how my professor discovered it???hmmmm....

Interested to see how it serves as inspiration for a post....

Sweva said...

Thanks for your kind comments...Muir is one of those guys that tends to fly under the radar when we should be erecting statues of him at all the park entrances. We owe him so much.

Maybe move to add another national holiday to the calendar in his honor during Earth Week? Or make it on Earth Day?

I can't imagine what kind of world we would live in today without the guy and his efforts.

Definitely read up on him some more...I need to as well. He's one of those household names that get brought up repeatedly around the kitchen table when the conversation shifts to subjects on the ecology.