John Muir, c. 1902
|Born||April 21, 1838|
Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland
|Died||December 24, 1914 (aged 76)|
Los Angeles, California
|Cause of death||Pneumonia|
|Occupation||Engineer, naturalist, philosopher, writer, botanist, geologist|
|Known for||Founder of Sierra Club|
|Spouse(s)||Louisa Wanda Strentzel (1847–1905) (m. 1880–1905)|
|Children||Wanda Muir Hanna (March 25, 1881 – July 29, 1942) and Helen Muir Funk ( January 23, 1886 – June 7, 1964)|
|Parent(s)||Daniel Muir and Ann Gilrye|
John Muir (//; April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914) also known as "John of the Mountains", was an 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, Mount Muir, Camp Muir 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 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. 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." 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.
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). 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 returned to 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 after many years living in America.
Immigration to America
In 1849, Muir's family immigrated to the United States, starting a farm near Portage, Wisconsin, called Fountain Lake Farm. It has been designated a 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. By age 11, young Muir had learned to recite "by heart and by sore flesh" all of the New Testament and most of the Old Testament. 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."
When he was 22 years old, John 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." 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. 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.
In 1863, his brother Daniel left Wisconsin and headed east 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. Muir hiked along the 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, while another says he stayed on at Trout Hollow until after a fire burned it down in February 1866.
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 rose to supervisor at $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 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 (1,600 km) from Kentucky to 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 to work for Hodgson, 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 finally 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 City and booked passage to California. Muir served as an officer in the United States Coast Survey, a uniformed government service agency.