'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
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."