January 12, 2013

All the pitiless weather

“…a tourist’s frightened rush and scramble through the woods yields far less than the hunter’s wildest stories, while in writing we can do but little more than to give a few names, as they come to mind—beaver, squirrel, coon, fox, marten, fisher, otter, ermine, wildcat—only this instead of full descriptions of the bright-eyed furry throng, their snug home nests, their fears and fights and loves, how they get their food, rear their young, escape their enemies, and keep themselves warm and well and exquisitely clean through all the pitiless weather.”

~John Muir, "The Story of My Boyhood and Youth"


summerfall

Long considered the "father of the U.S. National Park System," and the founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir's influence and footprint stretch to all corners of this continent and beyond. But his humble beginnings in the New World were on a farm about an hour from my home.

I learned about John Muir in grade school. But lately, I've realized I want to learn more. If everything goes as planned, this year I'll visit three geographical locations significant to Muir:

1. Fountain Lake Farm, just 57 miles north of Madison, Wis., and mere minutes from our summer cottage. Now designated John Muir Memorial Park, it's a state natural area and a national historic landmark. We drive by the park several times each summer, and have hiked there in the past.

2. The Gulf Coast of Florida. In 1867, John Muir spent seven weeks on a "thousand-mile walk" from Indianapolis to Cedar Key, Fla. In March, we plan to vacation near Cedar Key. Hopefully we'll find time for a roadtrip to Muir's historical marker.

3. San Francisco, Calif., home of the John Muir National Historic Site. After traveling to California in 1868, Muir resided in that state for most of the remainder of his life, until he died in 1914 at the age of 76. The Garden Bloggers' Fling is set for June 28-30, in San Francisco. If I can scrounge up the funds, I'll be there.

This confluence of opportunities, plus my own interest, are steering me toward a John Muir theme in the months ahead. It's not difficult to find information about this beloved U.S. naturalist. Muir, himself, wrote 12 books and numerous essays, magazine articles, and published letters. And hundreds (thousands?) of books have been written about Muir.

Living in the state where the young Muir, his siblings, and his parents first settled after emigrating from Scotland, I feel a little pride and connectedness to Muir, as do many Wisconsinites.The land where the Muir family first settled hasn't changed much. The wildlife is similar, with the exception of passenger pigeons, now extinct, and several other species--including wolves and cougars--which, although on the increase, aren't as prevalent as they were in Muir's day.

I hope to include at least one post per month about Muir during 2013. And during these cold months, Muir's words about his first winters in Wisconsin ring true:

“It seemed very wonderful to us that the wild animals could keep themselves warm and strong in winter when the temperature was far below zero.” And regarding the “paradise of birds”: “Comparatively few species remained all winter—the nuthatch, chickadee, owl, prairie chicken, quail, and a few stragglers from the main flocks of ducks, jays, hawks, and bluebirds. Only after the country was settled did either jays or bluebirds winter with us...The brave, frost-defying chickadees and nuthatches stayed all the year, wholly independent of farms and man’s food and affairs.”

winter

*Facts listed here courtesy the Sierra Club

32 comments:

  1. I've been to Muir Woods in SF and loved it! Redwoods and a rocky coast line are images of "my" California, since I grew up in mostly northern CA. I never knew he was from WI. Love your collages. I won't be at the Bloggers Fling but I did mention your Italy tour on my current post. :o)

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    1. Lucky you! I've only been there a couple of times, but loved it. Apparently, the Muir family had planned to settle in Canada, but on the ship over from Scotland several fellow passengers recommended Michigan or Wisconsin instead. Funny how that happens sometimes. Thanks for the mention about the Italy trip! More details to come soon!

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  2. I too never knew he was from your home state. I would love to visit the areas of which he wrote, especially Muir Woods. I am thinking the Fling and am waiting to get more info on it.

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    1. There's such a wealth of information available about Muir, and he was such a fascinating historical figure and a good writer, too. His enthusiasm for the natural world just sings off the page! I want to make it to the fling, but I don't know if I'll be able to afford it. Maybe I'll win the lottery.

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  3. Oh, I wanted to say how much I like your photos today, but the darn thing posted without my addition of this.

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    1. Thanks, Donna. I'm still working on my wildlife photos--yours are so amazing, so you're my role model! I'm learning to just take lots of shots and maybe some of them will turn out OK. ;-)

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  4. I do not know much about John Muir and where he lived. How exciting to visit the places he described...I will not be at the fling as it is during the busiest time when I am ending my job and handing it off...but I hope to make it next year and definitely when it is in Toronto. I look forward to your posts Beth.

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    1. The biggest question mark is the SF fling--it seems every year there's some impediment. In 2011, it was my daughter's moving day to college. Last year, it was my son's graduation. This year, it's the distance and the cost. So, we'll see. I really want to go!! Toronto will be close for you.

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  5. How interesting, looking forward to your posts, as I am not an American, I have never heard of John Muir before, but I do know of some of your national parks.

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    1. John Muir was a fascinating man. A Scotsman by birth, he traveled the world after settling in the U.S. Reading about his early life is like reading the classic story of 19th Century U.S. immigrants. But then he lived large and left an incredible legacy for all of us.

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  6. What a great idea for a set of blog posts, really look forward to learning more about this guy, sounds like a really interesting man.

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    1. Thanks, Janet. It came to me when I realized the connections of my planned destinations this year. And the treasure trove of information available about John Muir. I have about five blog posts written in my mind. ;-)

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  7. I remember, decades ago, visiting the Muir Woods in California and being awestruck by the gigantic size of the trees. It was such a beautiful place.

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    1. We were there a few years back, and I remember visiting it as a child, too. Yes, it's a magical place!

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  8. I visited the Muir Woods in San Francisco when I was out there on a work trip a few years ago. It was beautiful and peaceful. Hope you get to all 3 places this year!

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    1. Thanks, I hope so, too. I might have to hitchhike out to Calif., or win the lotto to pay for the trip. We'll see...

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  9. Thank you for such an informative post. I have a Muir peach graft, the variety was apparently discovered on his estate healthy and growing without any care. It is resistant to peach leaf curl, a bane of peaches in my area.

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    1. How interesting, and how wonderful to have fresh Peaches in your garden!

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  10. I've heard of John Muir before, but know very little about him. Thanks for the wonderful intro--I look forward to reading more of your posts about him. I've always thought Madison was a lovely town, though Illini fans don't seem to have much to be happy about in the Kohl center:) If I'm ever up that way again, I'll have to check out Fountain Lake.

    Thanks for your sweet words on my last post; I'm going to try to pop in for visits whenever I can. Hope you can make it to San Francisco; I know you'll have a great time. I doubt if I make it this year, but Charleston, S.C. is the site for 2014, and I'm planning on that one!

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    1. Hi Rose: If you're ever up this way, we must do lunch! To be honest, the former Muir homestead is pretty nondescript--probably similar to how it was when they first settled there. But plenty of land for viewing wildlife and native plants. It makes for a nice nature hike. ;-)

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  11. I love your collages! I look forward to your blog posts. It will be interesting to see the land that was significant to Muir. I would love to attend the Fling. My youngest son lives about an hour south of San Fran, and my mind is working...

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    1. Thanks, Deb. Yes, I was all excited about the three destinations when I wrote this post. And then I found out we have to commit about the Fling by Feb. 15--I'm not sure I can do that, so we'll see.

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  12. I enjoyed this post. I have become more interested in history lately, and have started a book I can't think of the name of now, but is about the Louisiana Purchase. So far, I am just reading it during my lunch breaks. I need to find some time where I can read more than a few pages at a time.

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    1. Thanks, Sue. The Louisiana purchase would be an interesting historical event to read about. I enjoy books that help me to understand significant points in our history.

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  13. John Muir has long been a favorite of mine... his words often touch my soul. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

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    1. Thanks, Carolyn. Yes, I enjoy his prose, too. He definitely found wonder and peace in the nature around him.

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  14. I had forgotten that John Muir was from Wisconsin. Thanks for reminding me. Sounds like you have a very busy year already planned with those three visits.

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    1. He started his American journey here, anyway. I can see why he was drawn to the West but still felt a connection to the Midwest. The Fling isn't looking so promising anymore, but we'll see...

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  15. Liz, I love you idea if writing about Muir, it has been for me a huge inspiration, and I love to hear more about him and your visits to the sites you mention. Lula

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    1. Thanks, Lula. I'm definitely finding some inspiration in his writing. He was a fascinating guy.

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  16. Interesting post and lovely group of photos. For anyone interested in Muir there are a number of KINDLE books on Amazon all FREE to download.

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    1. Thanks for that tip, Patricia. I noticed that many of his writings are also available at this link:
      www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/books.aspx.

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