December 07, 2013

The power of a single flower

'The impression of his personality was so strong on those who knew him that all words seem cheap beside it. Those who never knew him can never, through any word of ours, be brought to realize what they have missed. He had a quaint, crisp way of talking, his literary style in fact, and none of the nature lovers--the men who know how to feel in the presence of great things and beautiful--have expressed their craft better than he.'

~David Starr Jordan, educator, naturalist, philosopher, and university administrator, on his friend and contemporary, John Muir


U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and naturalist, John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. In the background: Upper and lower Yosemite Falls.
By Underwood & Underwood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some people are larger than life. They face overwhelming odds, yet somehow manage to accomplish so much in their short lifetimes that it's almost hard to think of them as human beings. They inspire us to accomplish more.

Probably not surprising to my readers, John Muir is one of those people for me. How could a man--born to Scottish immigrants of modest means, and nearly broken by farm labor and very stern upbringing--go on to accomplish so much? He was a farmer, inventor, sheepherder, explorer, writer, and conservationist. To this day, many consider him America's most famous and prominent naturalist.

I decided at the beginning of this year to write at least one post a month reflecting on Muir's contributions. Now that the year is almost over, I feel like I've only scratched the surface in learning about Muir. He published more than 300 articles and ten major books. He wrote lovingly of his beginnings in Dunbar, Scotland and Central Wisconsin ... and of course, the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Fortunately, the complete text of all his books is available for free through the Sierra Club. People continually find inspiration in his words. And his influence on this country, and the world, will live on as long as people care about nature.

What would Muir think of our world today? I think he'd be both sad and impressed with the state of affairs today. Mostly sad, probably, that so many species are extinct or endangered. But perhaps with a touch of acknowledgement that many of us are aware of the problems and continuing the quest to save natural places. Proud of every single national park, of course--even though many face challenges in blending the needs of nature with the importance of allowing visitors.

I also think he'd encourage landowners and gardeners, in particular--in the cities, the suburbs, and the countryside--to preserve natural habitats, and to plant flowering plants and a healthy mix of native plants.

Yes, John Muir would probably be sad for reasons too numerous to list here. But he'd ask those of us who are custodians of natural places to preserve them and encourage biodiversity. He'd encourage us to garden to feed our fellow man and at the same time to encourage pollinators and wildlife. He'd probably applaud people like Ron Finley, who said, "Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get Strawberries."

There's so much work to do, but we have the tools--heirloom seeds, pesticide-free plants, tiny and large plots of land--to make a difference. Sometimes that means responsible horticulture, and sometimes it means letting nature be, untouched by human hands.

And as Muir, himself, said, "There is that in the glance of a flower, which may at times control the greatest of creation's braggart lords."

40 comments:

  1. Good thoughts in your post, Beth. I think he would mostly be disappointed. Even those places we call "nature", many are commercialized to some point. Money is needed for the parks, but just what has happened to the State Park at Niagara would not make any naturalist very pleased. It wound not make Olmstead a happy camper either. At least parks out west have the land mass to still have animals roam free.

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    1. Yes, I would agree. I think it depends on the location. Some of the state parks here in Wisconsin are still pretty impressive in their "naturalness" (is that a word?). But it seems like most parks have sections where crowds tend to congregate, which is fine, but some people aren't as careful as others. When people disregard nature's beauty and take it for granted, we seem to have problems.

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  2. I really enjoyed your post about John Muir. I have to admit my ignorance, despite being an avid reader I hadn't heard of him. You have fired up my interest and I have just ordered his book: Journeys in the Wilderness'.
    Chloris

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    1. Thank you. He was a fascinating person. The more I learn about him, the more I appreciate his writing, his work, and what he accomplished. Enjoy the book!

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  3. We need to defend our nature reserves from idiots who see MINING or contaminate the rivers.

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    1. So much work to do around the world. It's such a balancing act to take care of man's needs and to avoid harming the environment at the same time. The answers aren't easy, but avoiding river contamination as much as possible with proper filtration systems seems like a no-brainer to me.

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  4. I think people like, John Muir, have inspired many to achieve some great things in nature. There are more and more following his passion but it takes an enormous amount of work and education. I see it just in my small community, how many people are ignorant about the environment and disregard its importance. I believe that the more gardeners and naturalists there are the more strides we will make in preserving our environment. It all starts in our own backyards!

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    1. Yes, yes--I agree. We need to encourage more people to become naturalists and learn about organic gardening! It's so rewarding and fun! Education is critical!

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  5. Beth, I forgot to mention that I have published my Lessons Learned post.

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  6. I have enjoyed this series as I learn more about this man. And yes I would suspect he would be sad, maybe even mad to see how we have wasted so much and continue to be selfish with nature..almost carelessly throwing it away.

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    1. Thank you, Donna. It has been fun to post about one influential person this year. I think I might skip a year and then do the same thing in 2015--God willing, and if I'm still blogging at that point!

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  7. What a wonderful post Beth, and very well written too. I don't know him, but at least with your post i wont forget him anymore. I guess he will be more disappointed, and if only reincarnation is true, maybe we can detect his newer incarnations. This reminds me of our small country, with intense biodiversity. It's been said that a lot of our lost bioresources are now in the nurseries or conservatories of advance countries, and we cannot anymore get samples because we cannot afford the price anymore. It is so sad!

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    1. Thank you! Yes, overall I think he would be mad and sad. But I think he'd be proud of the gardeners and naturalists around the world who are trying to make a difference. Also, perhaps he would be encouraged by how powerful our worldwide network can be! It is very sad, though, what you describe about your lost plants--wow! Very unfortunate!

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  8. Excellent post, Beth! This series has been so interesting; I've learned a lot about a man I knew little about before. I wonder, too, what he would think of our world today. My immediate thought is that he would be so sad, but I think you're right that he would also be encouraged by the number of people who share his vision and are working to preserve some of our natural beauty. I just hope it's not too late.

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    1. Thanks, Rose. I would have to agree with everything you said here. I think of Muir as someone who helped us see what an incredible gift we have every time we walk in nature. It's a gift to treasure, enjoy, and protect.

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  9. Hi Beth, thanks for this well written post about John Muir! Honestly I don't know too much about him, but you have inspired me to read up about his person a little bit. Honestly I felt a little bit guilty when I read your post. Yes, I strictly garden organically and don't spray any pesticides, insecticides and the like, but even in a small garden I could do way more. I could choose more plants for pollinators, plant more for diversity and use more native plants. For me it is always the struggle between my sense of garden design and what would be really good for nature. I feel owning even the tiniest plot of land we all do have a responsibility toward the earth and its inhabitants. I will think a bit more what I can change to make my garden more of a natural habitat. See, John Muir inspires instantly even today! Have a great week!
    Christina

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    1. I know, Christina. I'm still trying to do a better job, too, and I have a long way to go. I realized my garden needs more nectar plants for pollinators in the fall, so I'm working to change that. Your words about small plots of land and our responsibility ring true with me. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  10. Now, this is weird! I'm seeing an ad for something I've been shopping online for. I'm sort of used to that on Facebook, but not on blogs.

    I enjoyed this post. I'm wondering if maybe Muir would not only be sad, but also a bit mad because we haven't taken steps to keep so many kinds of life from going extinct or becoming endangered.

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    1. Ha! I've been meaning to remove those ads for a long time. It's just Google Ad Sense that I installed way back, and I need to figure out if I have any $$ to retrieve before I drop it. Thanks for your comment, Sue. Yes, I do believe he would be mad, too.

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  11. Thanks for another great post about John Muir, Beth, thoroughly enjoyed it. I wonder what John Muir would have thought if he had come back to his parents’ Britain today? Over here we have the same dilemmas of keeping national parks and not building on green land, despite there being a desperate shortage of housing, with 1.7 million people currently on waiting list for social housing. Most of those people are living in very crowded, unsanitary and unhealthy conditions, often in bedsits and hostels and on the floor in kind family and friends’ living rooms. I greatly appreciate the open fields and green belts we have over here, but I sometimes wonder at what cost we keep them. It is a dilemma often debated with no easy answer. I certainly don’t have one.

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    1. Yes, I certainly don't have all the answers, either. I do know that your garden is an example of doing something right. If everyone who had even a small plot of land added such beautiful plants, what a world it would be--and beneficial to humans, plants, and animals, alike.

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  12. I think his principles and influence are timeless and worth incorporating into the garden, when I moved on from limiting myself to edible plants, I branched out into lots of flowering plants because I wanted biodiversity for pollinators and predators, and it has been very rewarding, but I still like to keep the edible plants as a main emphasis because they are very important in these areas too. Bees really love the yellow early spring flowers of all the cabbage family plants going to seed.

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    1. Very wise, Hannah. I'm trying to do similar things in my garden. For many years now, I've planted flowers and veggies together, and the little potager garden seems like such a happy place. If I had more sun, I'd have more fruits and veggies, for sure. But always flowers and native plants. Still so much to learn and do!

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  13. I too think Muir would be saddened by the dying species, the turn of our attention to silicon over carbon-based pleasures, and the future demise of our earth. That is why I have lately been more focused on celebrating with NATURAL items in my home, slowly ridding my storage of artificial decorations, and appreciating more of nature during the holiday season. For pleasure purposes and also for the fact that we may not have these magnificent specimens for too long, I am reveling in the beauty of the local flora and fauna. Thank you my dear, for coming to visit me! Anita

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    1. Hi Anita: I know. I'm trying to simplify in so many ways. I have to put the live plants and "natural" decorations on high shelves or behind glass because my cats eat them, but I find myself wanting more organic elements in my interior design.

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  14. A very interesting post about John Muir. I know about Muir but only vaguely and this has given me inspiration to find out more about him.

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    1. He's a fascinating character, and the time period (late 19th to early 20th centuries) when he was on this earth along with some of the other characters (Teddy Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Mark Twain, and others from around the world), is endlessly fascinating, too.

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  15. Muir's birth place is a lovely little town - steeped in history (not forgetting to mention the golfing history too!) There have been many Scots, like Muir, who have left their mark on this world and it's quite daunting to think what they would make of the world these days!
    I must make time to follow your link and read lots more. Thanks for posting this series. I have enjoyed.

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    1. Dear Angie: That is on my "bucket list." My daughter was in Scotland recently, and I have to say that her pictures from hiking there look like heaven on earth! She has one shot of a rainbow over a glorious green expanse that amazed me. I'm glad you've enjoyed the Muir series. There's so much more to learn and do.

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  16. It's inspiring to consider such people who had such strength and vision. They keep the rest of us from falling too deep into discouragement.

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    1. Yes, I agree Jason. As Jordan said in the quote at the beginning of this post, "All words seem cheap...." Still, I had to try to capture some of Muir's wisdom here, because it's part of what's guiding my simple path forward.

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  17. I had never heard of him until I started reading gardening blogs...thanks for opening up our eyes, and sharing a world of this amazing person.

    Jen

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    1. I am so moved by his writing, Jen. And of course his beliefs and actions. If you read more about him, I think you will be moved, too.

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  18. Great post! I think John Muir would be horrified at today's world. So many people today are disconnected from nature and have little respect for it or for those who love it. I think if Muir were alive today he would still be a great writer and advocate, and he would still leave an impact upon us. But I think it would be harder for him to do so.

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    1. Thanks, Deb. Yes, I think you're probably right. Perhaps he would be a strident, progressive blogger. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it just seems like preaching. That is the difficult balancing act. Muir had a way with words and actions that was so persuasive in a gentle way. Definitely something to strive for.

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  19. Thanks for reminding me of all of John Muir's amazing accomplishments. I have especially enjoyed all the quotes.

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    1. Thanks, Carolyn. I've enjoyed working on the series. It seems so little and as Jordan says in his quote "cheap," but it's a glimpse of the wisdom of the man.

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  20. He was clearly an extraordinary man Beth, thank you for introducing him to me. National Parks, in fact all green spaces, seem to suffer the most in harsher economic times. I hope we will have the wisdom to hang on to and nurture the wild spaces we have left, and to invest in the smaller green spaces in our towns and cities. I suspect that if people aren't reminded how wonderful plants and nature are by being exposed to them in urban environments they won't support public expenditure on nurturing and maintaining them, not to mention the job skills required for doing so.

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    1. Yes, and you're welcome. I couldn't agree with you more. The efforts of people like Ron Finley are encouraging. It's messy business, this balancing act of hanging on to natural places and feeding/nurturing people, but we should be able to do both if we're creative enough.

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