John Muir


John Muir’s Trail In History Essay, Research Paper

John Muir’s Trail in History

John Muir was a man of great importance in the history of the United

States and in the preservation of it’s beauty. His tireless efforts to protect

natural wonders such as Yosemite Valley demonstrated his undying love for the

outdoors. Muir took a stand against the destructive side of civilization in a

dauntless battle to save America’s forest lands. The trail of preservation that

Muir left behind has given countless numbers of people the opportunity to

experience nature’s magnificence.

John Muir was born on April 21, 1838 in the small rural town of Dunbar,

Scotland. As a boy, Muir was ?fond of everything that was wild?(My Boyhood and

Youth 30) and took great pleasure in the outdoors. In 1849, Muir and his family

emigrated to Wisconsin to homestead. The great forests of Northern United

States captivated him and fueled his desire to learn more. Muir later enrolled

in courses in chemistry, geology, and botany at the University of Wisconsin.

After his education, Muir began working in a factory inventing small machines

and contraptions. However, a serious working accident in the factory left Muir

temporarily blind. When he finally regained his vision, he vowed to live life

to the fullest and devote everything he had to nature.

At the age of 29, Muir made a thousand-mile walk from Indianapolis to

Florida for the sheer pleasure of being outdoors. This experience enlightened

Muir and compelled him to extend his travels. With his family’s blessings (his

wife and two daughters), he began to wander America’s forests, mountains,

valleys, and meadows extensively. Alone and on foot, he filled his notebooks

with sketches and descriptions of the plants, animals, and trees that he loved.

He later took trips around the world, including destinations such as Europe and

South America. There he explored the Amazon basin and noted many new plant

species. In Alaska, he became the first white man to see Glacier Bay. He

definitely made an impact in Alaska’s history: Mount Muir, Muir Glacier, Muir

Point, and Muir Inlet all carry his name.

However, it was California’s Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley that

truly claimed him. In 1868, he walked across the San Joaquin Valley through

waist-high wildflowers and into the high country for the first time. Later he

would write: “Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called not the Nevada,

or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light…the most divinely beautiful of all the

mountain chains I have ever seen”(Wolfe, 230).

By 1871, Muir had found living glaciers in the Sierra and had conceived

his controversial theory of the glaciation of Yosemite Valley. Muir’s

reputation for exploration, glaciation, and environmental studies began to be

well known throughout the country. Famous men of the time ? Joseph LeConte, Asa

Gray and Ralph Waldo Emerson ? made their way to the door of his pine cabin.

In later years he turned seriously to writing; publishing 300 articles

and 10 major books composed of his travel journals. They recounted his travels,

expounded his naturalist philosophy, and beckoned everyone to “climb the

mountains and get their good tidings”(Muir, Life and Letters, 34). Muir’s love

of the high country gave his writings a spiritual quality. His readers, whether

they be presidents, congressmen, or plain folks, were inspired and often moved

to action by the enthusiasm of Muir’s own unbounded love of nature.

Through a series of articles appearing in Century magazine, Muir drew

attention to the devastation of mountain meadows and forests by sheep and cattle.

With the help of Century’s associate editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, Muir

worked to remedy this destruction. In 1890, due in large part to the efforts of

Muir and Johnson, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was

also personally involved in the creation of Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified

Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks. Muir deservedly is often called the

Father of Our National Park System.”

Johnson and others suggested to Muir that an association be formed to

protect the newly created Yosemite National Park from the assaults of stockmen

and others who would diminish its boundaries. In 1892, Muir and a number of his

supporters founded the Sierra Club to, in Muir’s words, “do something for

wildness and make the mountains glad”(Muir, Summer, 47). It was established

specifically to rally citizens who believed in the preservation of the High

Sierra and who understood the need for eternal vigilance in its protection.

Muir served as the Club’s first president.

In 1901, Muir published Our National Parks. The book brought him

national attention, influencing President Theodore Roosevelt. In May of 1903,

Roosevelt and Muir traveled to Yosemite. Roosevelt was awestruck by the

captivating scenery and beauty of the valley. For the duration of the three-day

camping excursion, Muir preached the importance of preventing ?the destructive

work of the lumbermen and other spoilers of the for-est?(Wadsworth, 112). There,

together, beneath the trees, they laid the foundation of Roosevelt’s innovative

and notable conservation programs.

However, the trail of John Muir was not always a smooth one. He fought

syndicates, congress, and lobbyists. ?The battle we have fought, and are still

fighting… is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we

cannot expect to see the end of it?(Browning 53).

The growing city of San Francisco was in need of a constantly expanding

water supply. Hetch Hetchy Valley, north of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite

National Park, was a prime location for a dam that would create a lake where the

Tuolumne River was. Because it was completely within the National Park, there

would be no private property to buy the land from. Muir was strongly opposed

of the proposition right from the beginning. He argued that ?This valley… is

one of the sublime and beautiful and important features of the Park, and to dam

and submerge it would be contradictive [to what] they were intended for when the

Park was established?(Silverberg, 233).

To Muir’s dismay, he found the Sierra Club was divided: a strong

minority of members, living in San Francisco, were ready to sacrifice Hetch

Hetchy to the city’s needs. Muir and his Sierra Club associate William Colby

then set up a new organization, the Society for the Preservation of National

Parks. At first the new organization was a success and it seemed that Hetch

Hetchy would be safe. However, when Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, the new

Secretary of the Interior, a San Franciscan lobbyist of Hetch Hetchy, pushed a

bill through congress that allowed the construction of the dam. Muir set forth

a flood of appeals, letters, articles, and statements, but to no avail. Hetch

Hetchy was lost. Muir later said: ?Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-

tanks the people’s cathedral’s and churches, for no holier temple has ever been

consecrated by the heart of man?(Browning, 65-6).

During this unpleasant affair, Muir’s health had been failing

dramatically and the defeat was a devastating blow to his already weakened

condition. On December 24, 1914, Muir died at the age of 76 in Los Angeles.

In acknowledgment of his achievements, California has greatly recognized Muir as

an important man to honor in the state’s history. The Muir Woods National

Monument in Marin County, Calif., and The John Muir Trail extending from

Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney were established. Mount Muir, Muir

Gorge, Muir Grove, Muir Lake, Muir Mountain, Muir Pass, and Muir’s Peak were

also named after him. 1976 the California Historical Society voted John Muir

the greatest Californian in the state’s history. California’s governor

proclaimed every April 21 John Muir Day in honor of his birthday.

John Muir was perhaps this country’s most famous and influential

naturalist and conservationist. He taught the people of his time and ours the

importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage. His words have

heightened our perception of nature. His personal and determined involvement in

the great conservation questions of his time was and remains an inspiration and

stepping stone for today’s environmental activists.

Richard Hawley, an active environmentalist and executive director and

co-founder of Greenspace, a local environmentalist group in Cambria, commented

on the achievements of Muir. ?John Muir was a dedicated man that had a vision…

and a passion for natural beauty. He is a guiding light for a lot of people.

The legacy of John Muir lives on through The John Muir Trail and Yosemite

National Park.? Hawley went on further to say that ?conservation is critical…

and Muir set [the environmental movement] in motion.?

Many people today follow the path of John Muir’s conservation. His

teachings of nature and life live on through his writings. He possessed the

foresight to know that the forests needed to be protected. He knew that they

wouldn’t have lasted forever. The Sierra Club that he founded has helped save

millions of acres of forest lands, and other national monuments that otherwise

would have been destroyed. He truly took a stand for nature, and in doing so,

took a stand for mankind.

“The whole wilderness seems to be alive and familiar, full of humanity.

The very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly. No wonder when we

consider that we all have the same Father and Mother.”

-John Muir, April 1911

(Browning 13).

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