A Warm Tribute to John Muir

by Patrick Muir on August 13, 2013

                                 The mountains are calling and I must go – John Muir

We don’t use last names much on the blogosphere but my given name is Patrick James Muir and I’d like to share more about John Muir (1838-1914). At age 11 in 1849, his family emigrated from Scotland to Wisconsin where his family started a farm which is now a National Historic Landmark. My grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Australia to avoid the effects of the Great Depression. The Muir clan name is derived from the moors of Scotland. With my keen love of nature since I was a toddler, I’d be a happy man if there was any relationship. But when I became aware of his remarkable life, I have chosen to pursue a role in life as if was an heir.

At age 18, he moved to California and soon took up living inYosemite for three years making a living as a saw mill worker. He was a  naturalist who studied nature by wandering hundreds of miles on foot during excursions through the United States and Canada.

He was a devotee of the writings of  Ralph Waldo Emerson and in his early years living in Yosemite was known to go deep into the valley on excursions “with nothing but a tin cup, a hand full of tea, a loaf of bread and a copy of Emerson.” They met in 1871 when Emerson toured Yosemite and although he had only completed two years of university in Wisconsin, he offered him a teaching position at Harvard which he respectfully declined. Muir later wrote “I never for a moment thought of giving up God’s big show for a mere professorship.”

Muir himself wrote twenty books and his initial reports of Yosemite  were carried by influential publication in the East such as The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Bazaar . Whenever there was a park to create or defend, Muir would return to his desk using his talents to further his objectives. He was the first to introduce to the public both Glacier Bay and Mount Rainier. His gift for prose and descriptive writing is showcased in the first two episodes of Ken Burn’s Our National Parks: America’s Best Idea which is available for live streaming on Netflix.

Muir wrote Our National Parks that got the attention of our 26th Commander-In-Chief, President Theodore Roosevelt. TR made arrangements to have Muir personally show him the real Yosemite in 1903. In Ken Burn’s Our National Parks: America’s Best Idea it was characterized as “the most important camping trip in conservation history.” The tour would last three days and they slept with heavy blankets in open air  of places like Glacier Point  where the awoke covered by a dusting of light snowfall. Roosevelt declared to the press eagerly waiting back at camp that day “was the greatest day of my life.” (Wonder how his wife felt about that?)

amnh.org

Muir convinced TR to return Yosemite to the federal government from the state for its long term protection. Muir had been an early promoter of the national park system. There were four or five national parks at the time and although guarded by the army for protection, there were no budgets or management provisions. Muir heavily lobbied for both and eventually they both came into being. For all his efforts, he was dubbed “the patron saint of the American wilderness.”

He married and settled in Martinez, CA and managed his in-laws 2,600 acre fruit ranch for ten years. (Can you imagine managing such a large endeavor  in the 1800′s?)  His wife insisted he take significant time away from the ranch to pursue his devotion to his causes. After ten years, the wealth he amassed from the fruit ranch gave him the means to travel to trips to Alaska, Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Japan.

In order to create additional national parks and act as a leading force in the environmental movement, Muir founded The Sierra Club in 1892. It currently has a membership base of an impressive 1.4 million.

California honored Muir by naming Muir Woods, Muir Beach and the 210 mile Muir Trial after him. I had the privilege of seeing both the Muir Woods with its famed redwoods and Muir Beach as a teenager. The State has declared April 21 as John Muir Day. Only Ronald Reagan and Harvey Milk have ever been afforded the same honor.

parkconservancy.org

So as you can see, there’s many reasons why I’d like to believe I might be related to Mr John Muir.

Patrick's Garden

{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Christina August 14, 2013 at 3:20 am

A good read, Patrick. I was attracted to read your tribute as for my very first day ever in the US my friends took me to Muir Woods as a way of relaxing into a different time zone. It was a lovely experience, thanks for reminding me.

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Patrick August 14, 2013 at 5:27 am

What an experience for your first day and what a glorious introduction to part of the fabric that makes America so grand.

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Layanee August 14, 2013 at 4:01 am

You are kindred spirits if not actually bonded by DNA. I have had the pleasure of walking in Muir woods and it has long been on my list to read more about JM. I do fear that viewing ‘God’s big show’ may not be available to our next generations. Well done, Patrick.

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Patrick August 14, 2013 at 5:24 am

Thank you for the big kudos.I’m very touched and glad to meet your need for more background on Mr. Muir.

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Shirley F. August 14, 2013 at 7:48 am

Excellent tribute to John Muir. He made an enormous contribution to our appreciation of the nature around us. You filled in some details I did not know and you are definitely related in spirit.

Muir Woods is a wonderful place. Years ago while visiting San Francisco we had only a short window to see the big trees and Muir Woods was the perfect choice.

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Patrick August 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Thank you oh so very much for the compliment, my dear friend. And it’s fun to teach on a subject you feel so deeply about. So glad you had the joy of seeing Muir Woods for yourself. It truly is a cathedral that rivals anything in Europe as the grand train operators positioned national parks to Americans who were spending large sums in the old countries. The message was quite well received then as it still applies today.

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Jason August 14, 2013 at 10:08 am

This post had some information about Muir that was new to me – didn’t know he had raised fruit on such a big scale. He certainly was a great visionary, and few have left a greater legacy in this country.

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Patrick August 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Always enjoy educating others especially on a subject so dear to me. I agree about his legacy but I wish more in the Midwest knew of this great man. I’m sure there’s some locations in the Midwest that are surely worthy of National Monument designation.

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New Hampshire Gardener August 15, 2013 at 3:34 am

Though I often use quotations from John Muir your post made me realize that what I knew about him was really just superficial, so thank you for this. One of my favorite short stories by John Muir is about his adventure on a glacier with a little dog named Stckeen one day. You can find it here: http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/stickeen/the_story_of_a_dog.aspx

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Patrick August 15, 2013 at 10:20 am

Glad to be of service in furthering your eduction of this icon of the American naturalist movement. Only Muir with his gifted prose in this near novella could make his travels with this little dog so entertaining. He started the journey with a scorned, miserable, useless creature who by the end of this lengthy story became the best dog he ever met. Thank you very much for sharing.

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New Hampshire Gardener August 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm

You’re welcome Patrick-I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Donna August 15, 2013 at 9:28 am

Your post today was like sitting down with a good book, entertaining and informative. I knew some on Muir’s life, but not some of what you posted. I am glad to learn more on this great man. I did not know he was offered a professorship that he turned down. That really says a lot about the man. He really is truly inspiring.

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Patrick August 15, 2013 at 9:51 am

Thanks for the high praise, my learned friend. So much of the information people are citing they haven’t seen before were gleamed from the Burn’s documentary. Can’t recommend enough paying $8 for a one month subscription fee to Netflix to see this groundbreaking mini-series for the naturalist in all of us.

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Donna August 18, 2013 at 6:12 am

I find it hard to get the TV time, but really will look into it. Is it through the cable company or is it an internet/computer feed?

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Patrick October 21, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Internet.

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Alistair August 16, 2013 at 9:50 am

I reckon Johns your great grandfather. Such interesting information. Ronald Reagan afforded a similar honour as John Muir, (nah)

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Patrick August 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

Hey my dear Scottish friend,

I believe he would be a great, great grandfather and why couldn’t a Scot be up there with the likes of Mr. Reagan?

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Alistair September 19, 2013 at 7:08 am

Well, to be quite honest I was wandering if Reagan should be up there with John Muir. (Well perhaps)

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Patrick October 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I loved them both.

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Mary Gilmartin August 17, 2013 at 5:46 am

What a great story and a last name to have. I’m glad he was able to fund his mission by managing a fruit ranch and became “the patron saint of the American wilderness.” …The mountains are my favorite place to be and the outdoors where I roam. Today, I live near one but it’s made of stone: http://marygilmartin.wordpress.com/abouttheauthor/

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Patrick August 17, 2013 at 7:55 am

Glad you enjoyed the story of this grand man. Mary, the mountains are calling you. Don’t disappoint them or yourself either.

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snowbird August 17, 2013 at 7:55 am

What an interesting blog you have….I’m going to have to settle down later, with a glass of wine and have a jolly good read. Thanks for visiting, I’m afraid you may be stuck with me!x

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Patrick August 17, 2013 at 8:05 am

Hey Snowbird,

Looks like I have a new friend. Have a glass of vino for me as well.

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Laurrie August 17, 2013 at 7:55 am

This is a great summary of the life of a remarkable (and unusual) man. I saw the PBS special on National Parks, and that was my first real exposure to Muir’s story — this is a nice addition to fill in some info. I am sure you are related!

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Patrick August 17, 2013 at 8:08 am

Hey Laurrie,

It’s been a while so glad to reconnect. Your lips to John’s ears in heaven that we are related.

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Nadia@Loveliveandgarden August 17, 2013 at 9:26 am

So much good information here. There were so many new things I learned about John Muir. I can identify with your sentiment. There are some people I feel an affinity with too. Thanks for sharing the info. Its always a pleasure to come to a website and learn something.

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Patrick August 17, 2013 at 10:04 am

I’m so pleased to further the education about someone I hold in such high esteem.

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Dorothy/Gardening with Nature August 17, 2013 at 9:59 am

Very interesting! I’m so delighted to have found your blog. You are a gardener after my own heart.

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Patrick August 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

Glad to meet you too. Come back often.

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Alain August 17, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I also enjoyed your post very much. John Muir visited my part of Ontario (the Bruce Peninsula) in 1864. This is where he discovered Calypso borealis. He seems to have had a special gift for finding places with unusual flora. There is a John Muir Lookout and, in the Bruce Peninsula National Park, on Dorcas Bay (a nature reserve where Calypso borealis grows), there is a large panel with his portrait and an explanation of who he was.

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Patrick August 18, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Glad you enjoyed the post so much. Thank you so much for the short story link which I must admit I savored. It epitomizes the magic found in the man and his writings. I enjoyed the addendum from the Canadian Society of John Muir citing that C. borealis can still be found in the wilderness but only its protectors know where they can be found.

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PlantPostings August 18, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for sharing this special connection with John Muir. I learned a lot from this post, too, Patrick. I’ve been reading and studying about John Muir this year, and posting about him once a month. Here in Wisconsin he’s a bit of a folk hero, along with Increase Lapham and Aldo Leopold. Muir, indeed, was a gifted writer–and very persuasive with his words. I’m not related to him (that I know of), but his writing definitely speaks to me. Great post!

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Patrick August 18, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Thanks for the kudos, PP. It’s been a great experience educating people on a man who has had such an impact on our Republic without the awareness or appreciation he so justly deserved. I need to learn more about Lapham and Leopold. Thanks for the lead.

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Joan Muir August 18, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I have really enjoyed your work Pat and what a treat for you to have so many people read and enjoy your writings. I am so happy for you that you have your health back right now.
Keep up the good work!
Love Mum

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Patrick August 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Hey Mum,

Glad you enjoyed the piece and checked out all the comments. Don’t you think Granddad would be so very proud?

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Smedette August 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

What a lovely post! I know what to look for the next time I’m at the library.

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Patrick August 20, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Hey Smedette,
Thanks for the kind compliment. Hope you become another apostle of this kind and gifted soul.

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KL August 21, 2013 at 7:57 am

If Muir comes from the Moors of Scotland, then there is a high chance you all are related :-). I also want to be related as I love nature, and consider myself a naturalist.

I also have the privilege to visit those places and Yosemite. Recently I came back from a 4000 + miles trip traveling through Nevada, Arizona, Califiornia, Utah and part of Colorado visiting many national parks, forests and other nature-areas. I wrote about it in my blog (I think 2 or 3 posts back from the current post) and going to write more about them and post pictures.

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Patrick August 21, 2013 at 9:05 am

Now that’s the most impressive naturalist trek I’ve ever been privileged to hear about. You must have one hell of a scrapbook/album. Happy trails to you, KL.

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