The Conservation Legacy of USA’s John Muir

by Stephen Fox  1981 

Perhaps the most legendary woodsman in American history, John Muir (1838 – 1914) was a Scottish-born naturalist, an eccentric nature lover who would set out for the wilderness for days on end with only tea, oatmeal, and bread in his pack, and sing entranced from the tops of waterfalls. A spellbinding conversationalist whose acquaintances included Emerson and Theodore Roosevelt, he won the hearts of the eastern establishment intellectuals with his writings from the Sierra. More than anyone else, John Muir was responsible for the USA’s national park system and the American conservation movement is very much his legacy.

John Muir wrote over a dozen books often filled with sensitive, heart felt descriptions of being in the wilderness. Some quotes display the quality of his writings

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” 

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news” 

“There is a love of wild nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love showing itself whether recognised or no, and however covered by cares and duties” 

“God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.

“Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed — chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. … It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries … God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools.”

“Pollution, defilement, squalor are words that never would have been created had man lived conformably to Nature.” 

US president Theodore Roosevelt (left) with John Muir

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2 Responses to The Conservation Legacy of USA’s John Muir

  1. Zane Mirfin says:

    Reading the books of John Muir inspired my own love of the High Sierras. Fishing for California Golden Trout amongst the high alpine peaks of the Sierra Nevada Ranges was nirvana indeed.

  2. Tony Orman says:

    Wonderful quotes from John Muir. The photo was interesting of John Muir with Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve read Roosevelt’s biography – he fronted up to powerful corporates and under Muir’s influence created many national parks and significantly he was a keen outdoor sportsman, fishing and particularly hunting. We could do with some MPs in the Theodore Roosevelt mould.

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