John Muir’s America – Part 2
Last time I wrote to you, I shared my love for wonderful Johnnie Muir. If Muir could have seen it, he would have been so thrilled by the Sawai Madhopur Kids for Tigers kids who honored the earth on World Environment Day (June 5, 2011) by coming together to clean up trash in a forested area around Amarshwar Mahadev.
Dear Cub kids,
The children were watched over by Sitaram Saini and Amar Singh, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve forest guards. I know that Muir was there in spirit too, smiling… side-by-side with Fateh Singh Rathore, beloved Field Director and Tiger Man of Ranthambhore who died on March 1.
The hard work of the Sawai Madhopur KFT kids means all the lovely langurs and other animals at risk of swallowing plastic trash are safer… and that adults will think twice about being so careless toward the forest their children love so well. John Muir, Fateh Singh and so many lovers of the earth stand at every child’s shoulder when he and she cares for the earth.
By the way, John Muir, who began his life in Scotland, but spent so much of it roaming and fighting for the wilderness of the American West, made a couple of journeys around the world, and even spent a few days in the beautiful Indian village of Simla, in the Himalayas!
At the end of my last letter to you, Muir had reached San Francisco by boat, and had hiked off into California’s Central Valley. Though now the valley is dominated by agribusiness… one mega-farm after another stretching from horizon to horizon, in Muir’s day, it was a 400-mile expanse of wildflowers. At its eastern edge, Muir began his first ascent of the Sierra Nevada, into mountains he would call the “Range of Light.”
John Muir (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).
There is too much to share with you. I open my copy of The Wilderness World of John Muir, edited by Edwin Way Teale, and want to read to you every single paragraph that leaps off the page with Muir’s characteristic JOY! As Muir ascends into the first mountains of his life, he finds time to bring his gaze from the glories of the peaks before him, to the equally sublime wonders at his feet:
June 19, 1869. Pure sunshine all day. How beautiful a rock is made by leaf shadows! Those of the Live-oak are particularly clear and distinct, and beyond all art in grace now dancing, waltzing in swift, merry swirls, or jumping on and off sunny rocks in quick dashes like wave embroidery on seashore cliffs. How true and substantial is this shadow beauty, and with what sublime extravagance is beauty thus multiplied! The big orange lilies are now arrayed in all their glory of leaf and flower. Noble plants, in perfect health, Nature’s darlings.
Muir was thunderstruck by the grandeur of Yosemite Valley. He was eventually persuaded by friends to write about it and the many other places he traveled throughout the Sierra Nevada and Alaska. His writing enthralled so many city-dwellers that thousands were caught up in Muir’s enthusiasm. Long before the term “eco-tourism” was coined, Muir’s passion for nature and for the places he wrote about led countless numbers to visit wilderness areas for no other purpose than to luxuriate in Nature’s wonders.
Muir wrote and worked at a historically significant moment in the sweep of his adopted country’s history. During the decades he spent in the American West, the “frontier” closed and industrialization swept the continent. Just as some Americans hunted the buffalo almost to extinction, “civilized” the country under railroad tracks, and despoiled the mountains in search of gold, Muir rang an increasingly insistent alarm bell about all that humankind stood to lose if Nature was trammeled beyond repair.
Muir’s name became known far and wide, and he made friends in high places. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Roosevelt sought him out in his mountain hideaway. He led battle after battle to prevent logging and damming of the wilderness. The eventual failure of his long struggle to prevent the construction of a dam in the magnificent Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite probably hastened his death in 1914.
That valley is still underwater today, but environmentalists and nature-lovers and organizations like the Sierra Club (formed by Muir and friends at the beginning of the twentieth century), all dedicated to the cause of Muir’s life, are fighting for the restoration of Hetch Hetchy to its former glory. This WILL happen. And as you grow up in your beautiful and complex country, you will fight and win battles to restore India’s natural legacy as well.
In the meantime, see if you can find a copy of Muir’s journals to slip into your pocket. Then head out to the woods, and make friends with what you find there. Maybe you’ll be inspired, as Muir was, to write in your journal at day’s end, of encounters like ones he had with bears and flies and grasshoppers…
Sundown, and I must to camp. Good-night, friends three -- brown bear, rugged boulder of energy in groves and gardens fair as Eden; restless fussy fly with gauzy wings stirring the air around all the world; and grasshopper, crisp electric spark of joy enlivening the massy sublimity of the mountains like the laugh of a child. Thank you, thank you all three for your quickening company. Heaven guide every wing and leg. Good night, friends three, good night.
Jennifer Scarlott is based in New York City, and is Director, International Conservation Initiatives, Sanctuary Asia. You can contact her at
Author: Jennifer Scarlott, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, July, 2011.