’s Trail In History Essay, Research Paper
John Muir’s Trail in History
John Muir was a man of great importance in the history of the United
States and in the preservation of it’s beauty. His tireless efforts to protect
natural wonders such as Yosemite Valley demonstrated his undying love for the
outdoors. Muir took a stand against the destructive side of civilization in a
dauntless battle to save America’s forest lands. The trail of preservation that
Muir left behind has given countless numbers of people the opportunity to
experience nature’s magnificence.
John Muir was born on April 21, 1838 in the small rural town of Dunbar,
Scotland. As a boy, Muir was ?fond of everything that was wild?(My Boyhood and
Youth 30) and took great pleasure in the outdoors. In 1849, Muir and his family
emigrated to Wisconsin to homestead. The great forests of Northern United
States captivated him and fueled his desire to learn more. Muir later enrolled
in courses in chemistry, geology, and botany at the University of Wisconsin.
After his education, Muir began working in a factory inventing small machines
and contraptions. However, a serious working accident in the factory left Muir
temporarily blind. When he finally regained his vision, he vowed to live life
to the fullest and devote everything he had to nature.
At the age of 29, Muir made a thousand-mile walk from Indianapolis to
Florida for the sheer pleasure of being outdoors. This experience enlightened
Muir and compelled him to extend his travels. With his family’s blessings (his
wife and two daughters), he began to wander America’s forests, mountains,
valleys, and meadows extensively. Alone and on foot, he filled his notebooks
with sketches and descriptions of the plants, animals, and trees that he loved.
He later took trips around the world, including destinations such as Europe and
South America. There he explored the Amazon basin and noted many new plant
species. In Alaska, he became the first white man to see Glacier Bay. He
definitely made an impact in Alaska’s history: Mount Muir, Muir Glacier, Muir
Point, and Muir Inlet all carry his name.
However, it was California’s Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley that
truly claimed him. In 1868, he walked across the San Joaquin Valley through
waist-high wildflowers and into the high country for the first time. Later he
would write: “Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called not the Nevada,
or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light…the most divinely beautiful of all the
mountain chains I have ever seen”(Wolfe, 230).
By 1871, Muir had found living glaciers in the Sierra and had conceived
his controversial theory of the glaciation of Yosemite Valley. Muir’s
reputation for exploration, glaciation, and environmental studies began to be
well known throughout the country. Famous men of the time ? Joseph LeConte, Asa
Gray and Ralph Waldo Emerson ? made their way to the door of his pine cabin.
In later years he turned seriously to writing; publishing 300 articles
and 10 major books composed of his travel journals. They recounted his travels,
expounded his naturalist philosophy, and beckoned everyone to “climb the
mountains and get their good tidings”(Muir, Life and Letters, 34). Muir’s love
of the high country gave his writings a spiritual quality. His readers, whether
they be presidents, congressmen, or plain folks, were inspired and often moved
to action by the enthusiasm of Muir’s own unbounded love of nature.
Through a series of articles appearing in Century magazine, Muir drew
attention to the devastation of mountain meadows and forests by sheep and cattle.
With the help of Century’s associate editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, Muir
worked to remedy this destruction. In 1890, due in large part to the efforts of
Muir and Johnson, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was
also personally involved in the creation of Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified
Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks. Muir deservedly is often called the
“Father of Our National Park System.”
Johnson and others suggested to Muir that an association be formed to
protect the newly created Yosemite National Park from the assaults of stockmen
and others who would diminish its boundaries. In 1892, Muir and a number of his
supporters founded the Sierra Club to, in Muir’s words, “do something for
wildness and make the mountains glad”(Muir, Summer, 47). It was established
specifically to rally citizens who believed in the preservation of the High
Sierra and who understood the need for eternal vigilance in its protection.
Muir served as the Club’s first president.
In 1901, Muir published Our National Parks. The book brought him
national attention, influencing President Theodore Roosevelt. In May of 1903,
Roosevelt and Muir traveled to Yosemite. Roosevelt was awestruck by the
captivating scenery and beauty of the valley. For the duration of the three-day
camping excursion, Muir preached the importance of preventing ?the destructive
work of the lumbermen and other spoilers of the for-est?(Wadsworth, 112). There,
together, beneath the trees, they laid the foundation of Roosevelt’s innovative
and notable conservation programs.
However, the trail of John Muir was not always a smooth one. He fought
syndicates, congress, and lobbyists. ?The battle we have fought, and are still
fighting… is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we
cannot expect to see the end of it?(Browning 53).
The growing city of San Francisco was in need of a constantly expanding
water supply. Hetch Hetchy Valley, north of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite
National Park, was a prime location for a dam that would create a lake where the
Tuolumne River was. Because it was completely within the National Park, there
would be no private property to buy the land from. Muir was strongly opposed
of the proposition right from the beginning. He argued that ?This valley… is
one of the sublime and beautiful and important features of the Park, and to dam
and submerge it would be contradictive [to what] they were intended for when the
Park was established?(Silverberg, 233).
To Muir’s dismay, he found the Sierra Club was divided: a strong
minority of members, living in San Francisco, were ready to sacrifice Hetch
Hetchy to the city’s needs. Muir and his Sierra Club associate William Colby
then set up a new organization, the Society for the Preservation of National
Parks. At first the new organization was a success and it seemed that Hetch
Hetchy would be safe. However, when Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, the new
Secretary of the Interior, a San Franciscan lobbyist of Hetch Hetchy, pushed a
bill through congress that allowed the construction of the dam. Muir set forth
a flood of appeals, letters, articles, and statements, but to no avail. Hetch
Hetchy was lost. Muir later said: ?Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-
tanks the people’s cathedral’s and churches, for no holier temple has ever been
consecrated by the heart of man?(Browning, 65-6).
During this unpleasant affair, Muir’s health had been failing
dramatically and the defeat was a devastating blow to his already weakened
condition. On December 24, 1914, Muir died at the age of 76 in Los Angeles.
In acknowledgment of his achievements, California has greatly recognized Muir as
an important man to honor in the state’s history. The Muir Woods National
Monument in Marin County, Calif., and The John Muir Trail extending from
Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney were established. Mount Muir, Muir
Gorge, Muir Grove, Muir Lake, Muir Mountain, Muir Pass, and Muir’s Peak were
also named after him. 1976 the California Historical Society voted John Muir
the greatest Californian in the state’s history. California’s governor
proclaimed every April 21 John Muir Day in honor of his birthday.
John Muir was perhaps this country’s most famous and influential
naturalist and conservationist. He taught the people of his time and ours the
importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage. His words have
heightened our perception of nature. His personal and determined involvement in
the great conservation questions of his time was and remains an inspiration and
stepping stone for today’s environmental activists.
Richard Hawley, an active environmentalist and executive director and
co-founder of Greenspace, a local environmentalist group in Cambria, commented
on the achievements of Muir. ?John Muir was a dedicated man that had a vision…
and a passion for natural beauty. He is a guiding light for a lot of people.
The legacy of John Muir lives on through The John Muir Trail and Yosemite
National Park.? Hawley went on further to say that ?conservation is critical…
and Muir set [the environmental movement] in motion.?
Many people today follow the path of John Muir’s conservation. His
teachings of nature and life live on through his writings. He possessed the
foresight to know that the forests needed to be protected. He knew that they
wouldn’t have lasted forever. The Sierra Club that he founded has helped save
millions of acres of forest lands, and other national monuments that otherwise
would have been destroyed. He truly took a stand for nature, and in doing so,
took a stand for mankind.
“The whole wilderness seems to be alive and familiar, full of humanity.
The very stones seem talkative, sympathetic, brotherly. No wonder when we
consider that we all have the same Father and Mother.”
-John Muir, April 1911