John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland on April 21, 1838. As a young boy, Muir and his brother loved spending time with their friends roaming the countryside. When he was eleven years old, his family immigrated to the United States and settled at Fountain Lake, then moved to Hickory Hill Farm near Portage, Wisconsin.
After moving to America, Muir began to create his own inventions. One of his most unique inventions was called the early-rising machine, a device that tipped him out of bed at a certain time every morning.
In 1860, Muir decided to take his inventions to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Fair. The early-rising machine was very popular, and John received prizes and admiration for his inventions. Later that year, he began attending the University of Wisconsin and pursued chemistry and geology.
While in college, Muir met two important men who greatly influenced the direction of his life: a botanist named Judge Griswold whose work gave him a fascination and desire to study plants himself. The other man he met was Increase Lapham. Lapham was the first person Muir had ever heard speak of the importance of preserving the wilderness for future generations to come.
In 1867, Muir suffered a blinding eye injury while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis. This drastic injury would change the course of his life. After Muir regained his sight, he vowed that he would spend the rest of his life traveling the world and enjoy all of its beauty. He set out on an amazing, unforgettable journey. First, he walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, he sketched his observations of the plants he saw in a journal which he labeled John Muir Earth-Planet Universe.
He then sailed to California via the Isthmus of Panama, landing in San Francisco in March of 1868. He became captivated by California's Sierra Nevada and Yosemite and decided to make California his home. While standing on top of a mountain outside of the San Joaquin Valley, he noticed many boulders were lying in abnormal places. He used his knowledge of geology to theorize that the valley had actually been carved out by glaciers. In 1871, Muir actually found living glaciers in the Sierra.
After coming up with his new theory, he wrote an article, titled "Yosemite Glaciers," and submitted it to a magazine. Not only was was this his first published article, but they asked him to write more articles, which are entitled "Studies in the Sierra." This launched a successful career as a writer, and he became well-known across the nation.
On April 14, 1880, he married Louie Wanda Strentzel. They moved to Martinez, California, where they raised their two daughters, Wanda and Helen.
Muir published a series of articles about the devastation of mountain meadows and forests by sheep and cattle. This led to the establishment of Yosemite National Park, which was created in 1890. Muir was also personally involved in the creation of Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, Sequoia, and Grand Canyon national parks.
In 1892, Muir, along with many of his supporters created the Sierra Club, which is a group of people completely devoted to protecting the Sierra Nevadas. In the words of John Muir, the Sierra Club was founded to "do something for wildness and make the mountains glad." Muir served as the president of the Sierra Club until he passed away in 1914 at the age of 76 from pneumonia.
Without John Muir and his writings, we likely wouldn’t have the beautiful Yosemite National Park as we know it today. Can you imagine? We also may not have the many other national parks he helped create. We have a lot to thank John Muir for.
His founding of the Sierra Club, which still exists today, brought more awareness for the need to preserve our wilderness for generations to come. Today, the Sierra Club is the nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with 1.3 million members and supporters.
Furthermore, Muir was one of the driving forces behind the idea of anti-urbanization. He rightly believed that if too much of the country was urbanized, our wilderness would devastatingly wither away.
If it weren’t for John Muir, who knows what the wilderness would look like today, or if there would even be one.
John Muir enjoyed writing about his love for adventure, the mountains, nature, and the wilderness. Through his writings, he was able to make people aware of the beauty of the American wilderness and why it needed to be preserved. He wrote and published over 300 magazine articles and 12 books, including Our National Parks. When he passed away, he was working on a book about his trip to Alaska.
Learn more about John Muir's life and contributions on his website, known as the "John Muir Exhibit."
"The mountains are calling and I must go."
“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
“None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”
“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn, and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”
“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”
“The snow is melting into music.”
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
“All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God's eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be, always seems the best.”
“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 off like autumn leaves.”
“Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer! Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.”
“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.”
“Going to the mountains is going home.”
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
“Between every two pine trees, there is a door leading to a new way of life.”
“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.”
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