“So extraordinary is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees….”
After our son and daughter-in-law moved to work in the USA, they kept telling us how great the US national parks were, and eventually got to lead us on a few road trips taking in some of the most spectacular: Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arches, Monument Valley, Canyonlands, Big Bend, Zion,… We were blown away by the magical scenery and the wildness of it all.
It was only then that I became aware of the name John Muir, a Scotsman who was apparently prime mover in the establishment of the US National Parks. It was to people like him that we were indebted for the continued unsullied nature of these landscapes in an over-exploited world. You can read all about him in the Wikipedia entry.
During this time we also came across the John Muir Way – a long-distance trail along by the south side of the Firth of Forth in Scotland, near where he was born in Dunbar. He was also mentioned in books I was reading. The magic of synchronicity had struck and I was impelled to add him to my reading list.
I recently began with ‘My First Summer in the Sierra’, first published in 1911 and now available as a free ‘public domain’ ebook. Once I had stopped trying to speed read and slowed to a pace consonant with the material, I found myself drawn into his wonderful descriptions of the summer he spent notionally herding sheep up to the high pastures around Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. He was truly at one with the magic of the landscape, yet at the same time had the scientific knowledge and understanding to correctly describe the various plant and animal species he encountered at the varying heights they traversed. Readers with a greater knowledge of botany than I would probably gain even more from reading this.
This is nature writing of the highest order, able to get over the wonder of being at one with such an enticing environment. I will read more of his work.
Muir was obviously an inspiring individual, in that he was instrumental in establishment of the early national parks, including Yosemite and was founder of the influential Sierra Club
John Muir has been described as “one of the patron saints of twentieth-century American environmental activity” – truly one of the towering figures of his age. And a great writer.
Photos of Yosemite and John Muir courtesy ofand Wikimedia Commons