Although today is the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere) we have already lost 2 minutes of daylight in the morning and in about two weeks the Earth will begin its tilting process that will lead to the autumnal equinox in September.
For 1000s of years, people have used the stars as guides for physical, mental and spiritual direction. In terms of oceanic and land travel, this guidance can be a matter of life and death. Proper attention to seasonal changes could also be a matter of survival. However some observations may be more playful as in the case of tonight’s Strawberry Moon. “Strawberry Moon” is the title some Native Americans have used for the full moon that occurs in June, which marks the beginning of strawberry season.
Although physical survival is of paramount importance, for thousands of years people have been aware of the importance of religious and or spiritual traditions for personal and community survival. Although the terms religion and spirituality may not be interchangeable, I find it intriguing that the origin of the word “religion” is biological. The word derives from the Latin, “re-ligare.” Literally, this means to re-apply ligaments to hold your spiritual life together. There are countless ways of doing this, however naturalists like Muir, Thoreau, Emerson, etal recommended “going for a walk” into Nature for “recreation” or perhaps a “religious,” or “born again” experience.
Although John Muir knew all of the Old Testament (and Psalms by heart) he kept a tattered pocket-version of the New Testament (with the Psalms) with him on all of his adventures.
In “The Wilderness World of John Muir,” Edwin Way Teale wrote:
“Repelled by the harsh fanaticism of his father’s religion, John Muir belonged to no church. He gave freely when solicited by Protestant and Catholic alike. But he affiliated himself with no formal creed. Yet he was intensely religious. The forests and the mountains formed his temple. His approach to all nature was worshipful. He saw everything evolving yet everything the direct handiwork of God. There was a spiritual and religious exaltation in his experiences with nature. And he came down from the mountains like some bearded prophet to preach the beauty and healing he had found in his natural temple where he worshiped. He spoke with the fire of the old Covenanters. This religious fervor and spiritual intensity in Muir’s response to nature contributed much to the power of his pleading for the cause of conservation. He never based his arguments on economic considerations alone. He always appealed to men on a high moral plane. I know of no other writer, with the exception of Henry Thoreau, who had so pure and lofty vision of man’s ultimate relationship to nature.”
The summer solstice just may be a perfect time to pause, look up at the stars (or the Strawberry Moon) and be grateful for our physical, mental and spiritual seasons.
The walls of the world’s hall of shame are covered with millions of portraits of mostly men who have committed heinous crimes against individuals and humanity, sometimes their own children. Most of these men had the misfortune of being raised by one or more abusive parents. John Muir had all the qualifications to end up on the wall. His father, Daniel Muir, was a harsh, religious zealot who whipped (mostly his sons) with a leather belt, almost on a daily basis. John was required to memorize nearly three quarters of The Holy Bible before the age of 11.
When Daniel moved his family to “Hickory Hill Farm” in Wisconsin, there was no water available. Because his 17-year-old son John was the strongest, he was assigned the task of digging a well. The well site was selected and the three-ft.-diameter bore was begun. After a few feet of soil and mixed stones were removed, John encountered mostly uninterrupted sandstone that had to be chipped into chunks using mason’s hammers and chisels. The work began at dawn each day and continued until dark. Daniel and John’s brother David would come to the well at noon and together they would raise the tailings to the surface, extract John and go to the house for “dinner.” Then it was back down into the well until nightfall. Muir later wrote that the project took several months to complete. One of Muir’s neighbors was quoted as saying, “Daniel Muir treats his animals better than his sons.”
Although the progress was painstakingly slow, he eventually chipped his way down to a depth of 80 feet. Then one morning, disaster struck. Daniel Muir had been warned about the danger of “choke-damp,” but elected to ignore the warnings. Often, when water trickles into caves or wells, carbonic acid gas accumulates. Sometimes the gas includes carbon monoxide, which can be instantly fatal to breath and sometimes the oxygen in a well can be purged out by heavier carbon dioxide gas, which then becomes indirectly toxic. One day, when Daniel and David lowered John down to the bottom of the well, he was overtaken by choke-damp and slumped over against the wall of the well. Nearly unconsciousness, he feebly murmured, “Take me out!” But when Daniel began to crank the windlass, he could tell immediately that his son was not in the bucket. In wild exasperation he shouted, “Get in! Get in the bucket and hold on.” Fortunately, Daniel and David were able to retrieve a badly gasping John.
At that time, choke-damp was purged from wells by placing a 5-lb stone in a gunny sack. The sack was then filled with straw and the open end gathered and tied with a 100-foot rope. When the sack was dropped into the well it would plummet to the bottom. By the process of “drafting,” fresh air was sucked down into the well and the toxic air was purged out. When the sack was rapidly retrieved, the process was reversed. Toxic air was “drafted” up and fresh air replaced it in the shaft. This process was repeated several times to make the well safe.
From that point on, Daniel and both sons took time to purge the well of toxic gas every morning and at noon before John reentered the well.
Several years later, and after countless Nature-induced epiphanies at Yosemite, John Muir described his near-death experience in the well as poignant metaphor for the dangers of the “galling harness of civilization.” I suspect that he regarded people being seduced by comfort, luxury and materialism as nothing less than Greek sailors foundering at sea due to the lethal attraction of the Sirens.
Yosemite cured Muir of many of the emotional scars that his father so cruelly inflicted. Perhaps ironically, he knew St. Matthew’s Beatitudes by heart and experienced first hand that; “man does not live by bread alone.” Little wonder he regarded himself as a modern John the Baptist who came down from Yosemite proclaiming: “No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty.”
Fortunately, over our 50-year marriage, my wife and I were rarely “down in the well” at the same time. When one of us was “down” the other could rally as a spiritual cheerleader and exclaim, “Get in the bucket and hold on.” It became one of the most important lessons of our life.
There are many historical references (other than The Holy Bible) that an extraordinary cosmic event happened in the year 02 in Bethlehem. Whether it was an unusual convergence of planets, or some other mysterious cosmic event, it became the greatest epiphany the Earth has ever known.
Based on archaeological relics, anthropologists suggest that man’s spiritual quest began about 100,000 years ago. These relics indicate that as man’s heavy dependence on instinct declined, it was replaced with a converse increase of consciousness, free will and the importance of human values. This 100,000-year journey has been enhanced by the millions of heroes and saints who have made huge sacrifices attempting to elevate humanity to a state of; “thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Although January 6 is the day that many Christians celebrate the arrival of the “Three Kings” at Bethlehem, it also encourages us to contemplate the wonder of how our lives have been guided by our unique epiphanies. They are related to serendipities and synchronicities, but seem to be perfectly matched to unveil our emerging personalities. The overarching question is; “where do they come from?” Are they merely self-induced revelations that bubble up into consciousness from deep within or are they messages or guidance from some mysterious outer force?
I recently received a note from an ex-student:
“I think epiphanies are too often associated with the “struck-by-lightning” moment. I have found that some of the most important ones are fueled by a slower-burning fuel. That long spiritual journey of learning and observation and experience that keeps revealing new epiphanies over time.”
John Muir’s life was shaped by so many amazing epiphanies that it seems like he must have experienced one every day. Perhaps he did. Several of them nearly cost him his life and led to his quip; “Sometimes God has to nearly kill us to get us going in the right direction.”
Perhaps his greatest one, which literally turned his life “tapsal-terrie” (Scottish for topsy-turvy) eventually had a revolutionary impact on the emerging concept of “spiritual ecology.” He was re-lacing a leather drive-belt in a lumber mill when the file he was using flipped up and punctured his right eye. As the vitreous humor dripped into his cupped hand, a fellow worker heard him wail, “My right eye is gone, closed forever on all God’s beauty!” Then, as his doctor predicted, his unharmed eye went blind “in sympathy” and he was ordered to spend a month in a darkened room. Understandably, he later described his internment as: “The darkest time in my life.”
Intriguingly, two natural events added to the drama of Muir’s encounter with fate:
In an eerie synchronicity, there was a total solar eclipse on the day his eye was punctured.
It rained on the day before he was freed from his dark prison and he decided to go for a short walk in the woods. The sights, sounds and smells of the fresh forest, compared to his previous nightmarish month, engendered an epiphany that was so glorious that Muir described it as painful. He later described the event:
“I bade adieu to all my mechanical inventions, determined to devote the rest of my life to the study of the inventions of God.”
Saying good-bye to making lots of money by additional mechanical inventions, he began a “1,000-mile walk,” hoping to study the botany of South America. However, due to several additional epiphanies, he ended up in Yosemite Valley, where his discoveries and writing have literally changed modern humanity.
Remarkably, Muir’s message of encouraging people to “go to the mountains and seek being reborn,” bears witness to his faith that epiphanies aplenty are waiting for the spiritually curious.
“NO WONDERLAND WOULD be complete without pygmies and giants, and Mendocino did not disappoint. It may be the only place on our planet that features pygmies and giants in both plant and animal kingdoms. There is still at least one remaining sequoia sempervirens that towers over 350 feet tall, has a diameter of over 24 feet, and is over 2,000 years old. The record number of board feet harvested from a single redwood tree was nearly 500,000, or enough to build over 20 modest homes. Although the present [second-growth] trees bordering the pygmy are only 150 feet tall, they stand in sharp contrast to the nearby pygmy cypresses that can be adult at six inches tall, less than an inch in diameter, and are rarely more than 150 years old. “
Although this Mario Vaden photo was taken in Humboldt County, there is one remaining Giant Sequoia Sempervirens left in Mendocino County. It was a seedling before Christ was born and has survived over 2,000 years of Earth’s history.
This photo shows the difficulty this girl is having trying to wrap her arms, mind and spirit around this powerful, majestic tree. Interestingly, her arm-span looks to be about 5 feet, which would make the diameter of this tree over 20 feet.One of the greatest American socio-educational failures is that, in a nation with such a rich abundance of natural wonders, very few inner-city kids will ever experience the rapture and wonder of wrapping their arms around trees like this. Little wonder they often turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their senses to the ravages of poverty and deprivation. There has been a cataclysmic breakdown of the traditional nuclear family and parents and children are dying from broken spirits, thus broken hearts.
After writing this, I was reminded of a paragraph of John Muir’s writing.
“After I had lived many years in the mountains, I spent my first winter in San Francisco, writing up my notes. I used to run out on short excursions to Mt. Tamalpais, or hills across the bay, for rest and exercise, and I always brought back as many flowers as I could carry. It was most touching to see the quick and natural enthusiasm in the hearts of the ragged, neglected, defrauded, dirty little wretches of the Tar Flat water-front of the city I used to pass through on my way home. As soon as they caught sight of my wild bouquet, they quit their pitiful attempts at amusement in the miserable city streets and ran after me begging for a flower.“Please, Mister give me a flower—give me a flower, Mister,” in a humble begging tone as if expecting to be refused. And when I stopped and distributed the treasures, giving each a lily or daisy or calachortus, anemone, gilia, flowering Dogwood, a spray of Ceanothus, Manzanita or a branch of Redwood, their dirty faces glowed with enthusiasm while they gazed at them and fondled them reverently as if looking into the faces of angels of heaven It was a hopeful sign, and made me say: ‘No matter into what depths of degradation humanity may sink, I will never despair while the lowest love the pure and beautiful and know it when they see it.’”
Muir was considered a “fool” for predicting that all of the Giant Redwoods could be cut down. Even though he founded the Sierra Club, and other conservation groups, like Save The Redwoods, followed his lead, 95% of the virgin Redwood Forest was logged. Currently, approximately 5% remains, 3% is protected in National and State Parks and 2% is privately owned.
When John Muir wrote: “The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains…” he was too humble to imagine that he would become a great poet, philosopher and prophet whose thoughts and deeds moved the world. He was, however, keenly aware of the spiritual trails that Moses and Jesus blazed and he was ready, willing and able to blaze his own trails. However, he had no way of knowing that on March 28, 1868, at age 29, his walk from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley would drastically alter his life and influence the course of Western Civilization.Two of his great “deeds” were founding The Sierra Club and being considered the “Father” of the US National Park System. Currently there are over 400 US Parks, monuments, reserves and wilderness areas that host over 71 million annual visitors.Perhaps, however, his greatest achievement has been to encourage his millions of followers to use the wilderness as a means of exploring the physical, mental and spiritual dynamics of their personhood. Muir experienced a “born again” moment on his first visit to Yosemite and thereafter his mantra was; “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”
Peter and Donna Thomas were inspired to embark on an extraordinary, 4-part journey, retracing the footsteps of Muir on his legendary walk from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley.
1) They began with exhaustive research about Muir, his walk and related circumstances.
2) After careful preparation, they actually began their walk at the intersection of Davis St. and Broadway in San Francisco and ended at Yosemite Valley. Along the way they took copious notes about the flora, fauna and historical landmarks as well as noting the current human factors that require necessary detours and trail modifications.
3) Then they thoughtfully and meticulously co-authored, Muir Ramble Route, featuring Peter’s carefully written text along with Donna’s creative drawings and maps. The book is a wonderfully insightful blend of Muir’s walk, nature study and a trail guide for any who may want to follow Muir’ original walk.
4) And finally, they have proposed establishing a designated MRR trail, which would encourage others to make the 300-mile trek. This will require the cooperation of cities, counties, state and private property owners to allow access and minimal camping (or lodging) facilities approximately every 10 miles.
Muir Ramble Route is superbly written and belongs on the bookshelf of John Muir lovers and lovers of the great outdoors.
Note: This review has been greatly influenced by the fact that, for 24 years, I taught a high school advanced biology class that featured John Muir and the wilderness ethic. Each year, The Class had the privilege of spending one week in the Yosemite backcountry, one week at Grand Canyon and one week studying the biology of California’s north coast.
It is intriguing to note that, even though Teddy Roosevelt traveled the world seeking adventure, one of his greatest experiences occurred in 1903 when he camped with John Muir near Yosemite’s Glacier Point. He was inspired and encouraged by Muir to initiate the American Antiquities Act which led to creating 18 National Monuments preserving over 230,000,000 acres. Together, they formed the foundation of what became the US National Park Service. It is also interesting to note that, regardless of visiting Grand Canyon several times, he overlooked what could have been a life-changing experience of hiking to the bottom of Grand Canyon.
On several occasions, Biodesign students suggested that if conflicting world leaders would only spend one night on top of Yosemite’s Half Dome, world peace would be achievable. Perhaps the same can be said about the same leaders peacefully walking to the bottom of Grand Canyon. About half way down the South Kaibab Trail there is a band of gray sandstone, which is less than ½ an inch thick. The geological guidebook suggests that the band took 10,000 years to form. Walking along the Colorado River, amidst Vishnu Schist (1.8 billion years old), makes the entire human history seem like a fleeting and not too important page of the history of our planet. Somehow, it is comforting to know, that after humans have ceased to live on this precious planet, the Grand Canyon will continue to keep time in million-year seconds. Who knows, maybe in another billion years other visitors will take the same trail down to the Colorado. Meanwhile, I had the awesome privilege of making that trek with 15 high school biology classes. It was a sacred trust to see Grand Canyon through their eyes.
Warning: Henry Van Dyke’s epic poem, “THE GRAND CANYON,” is “soul food” and beyond the “fast-food” attention span. However, it just might be the most important poem you will ever read.Van Dyke plumbs the depth of Grand Canyon and the depth of the human soul. He challenges believers and non-believers to set aside their baggage of religious and scientific bias, pettiness, myths and shallow thinking and become one with Grand Canyon. Van Dyke concedes that, like the words infinity and eternity, Grand Canyon cannot be defined yet, as a poet, he cannot contain himself. There are one-liners galore that will convict, cajole, console, compel, comfort and inspire. Nothing will compare with hiking Grand Canyon, however, Van Dyke’s poem offers a hint of the mystery of transcending the human body and briefly becoming “at one” with the universe.
What makes the lingering Night so cling to thee?
Thou vast, profound, primeval hiding-place
Of ancient secrets,–gray and ghostly gulf
Cleft in the green of this high forest land,
And crowded in the dark with giant forms!
Art thou a grave, a prison, or a shrine?
A stillness deeper than the dearth of sound
Broods over thee: a living silence breathes
Perpetual incense from thy dim abyss.
The morning-stars that sang above the bower
Of Eden, passing over thee, are dumb
With trembling bright amazement; and the Dawn
Steals through the glimmering pines with naked feet,
Her hand upon her lips, to look on thee!
She peers into thy depths with silent prayer
For light, more light, to part thy purple veil.
O Earth, swift-rolling Earth, reveal, reveal,–
Turn to the East, and show upon thy breast
The mightiest marvel in the realm of Time!
‘Tis done,–the morning miracle of light,–
The resurrection of the world of hues
That die with dark, and daily rise again
With every rising of the splendid Sun!
Be still, my heart! Now Nature holds her breath
To see the solar flood of radiance leap
Across the chasm, and crown the western rim
Of alabaster with a far-away
Rampart of pearl, and flowing down by walls
Of changeful opal, deepen into gold
Of topaz, rosy gold of tourmaline,
Crimson of garnet, green and gray of jade,
Purple of amethyst, and ruby red,
Beryl, and sard, and royal porphyry;
Until the cataract of colour breaks
Upon the blackness of the granite floor.
How far below! And all between is cleft
And carved into a hundred curving miles
Of unimagined architecture! Tombs,
Temples, and colonnades are neighboured there
By fortresses that Titans might defend,
And amphitheatres where Gods might strive.
Cathedrals, buttressed with unnumbered tiers
Of ruddy rock, lift to the sapphire sky
A single spire of marble pure as snow;
And huge aerial palaces arise
Like mountains built of unconsuming flame.
Along the weathered walls, or standing deep
In riven valleys where no foot may tread,
Are lonely pillars, and tall monuments
Of perished aeons and forgotten things.
My sight is baffled by the wide array
Of countless forms: my vision reels and swims
Above them, like a bird in whirling winds.
Yet no confusion fills the awful chasm;
But spacious order and a sense of peace
Brood over all. For every shape that looms
Majestic in the throng, is set apart
From all the others by its far-flung shade,
Blue, blue, as if a mountain-lake were there.
How still it is! Dear God, I hardly dare
To breathe, for fear the fathomless abyss
Will draw me down into eternal sleep.
What force has formed this masterpiece of awe?
What hands have wrought these wonders in the waste?
O river, gleaming in the narrow rift
Of gloom that cleaves the valley’s nether deep,–
Fierce Colorado, prisoned by thy toil,
And blindly toiling still to reach the sea,–
Thy waters, gathered from the snows and springs
Amid the Utah hills, have carved this road
Of glory to the Californian Gulf.
But now, O sunken stream, thy splendour lost,
‘Twixt iron walls thou rollest turbid waves,
Too far away to make their fury heard!
At sight of thee, thou sullen labouring slave
Of gravitation,–yellow torrent poured
From distant mountains by no will of thine,
Through thrice a hundred centuries of slow
Fallings and liftings of the crust of Earth,–
At sight of thee my spirit sinks and fails.
Art thou alone the Maker? Is the blind
Unconscious power that drew thee dumbly down
To cut this gash across the layered globe,
The sole creative cause of all I see?
Are force and matter all? The rest a dream?
Then is thy gorge a canyon of despair,
A prison for the soul of man, a grave
Of all his dearest daring hopes! The world
Wherein we live and move is meaningless,
No spirit here to answer to our own!
The stars without a guide: The chance-born Earth
Adrift in space, no Captain on the ship:
Nothing in all the universe to prove
Eternal wisdom and eternal love!
And man, the latest accident of Time,–
Who thinks he loves, and longs to understand,
Who vainly suffers, and in vain is brave,
Who dupes his heart with immortality,–
Man is a living lie,–a bitter jest
Upon himself,–a conscious grain of sand
Lost in a desert of unconsciousness,
Thirsting for God and mocked by his own thirst.
Spirit of Beauty, mother of delight,
Thou fairest offspring of Omnipotence
Inhabiting this lofty lone abode,
Speak to my heart again and set me free
From all these doubts that darken earth and heaven!
Who sent thee forth into the wilderness
To bless and comfort all who see thy face?
Who clad thee in this more than royal robe
Of rainbows? Who designed these jewelled thrones
For thee, and wrought these glittering palaces?
Who gave thee power upon the soul of man
To lift him up through wonder into joy?
God! let the radiant cliffs bear witness, God!
Let all the shining pillars signal, God!
He only, on the mystic loom of light.
Hath woven webs of loveliness to clothe
His most majestic works: and He alone
Hath delicately wrought the cactus-flower
To star the desert floor with rosy bloom.
O Beauty, handiwork of the Most High,
Where’er thou art He tells his Love to man,
And lo, the day breaks, and the shadows flee!
Now, far beyond all language and all art
In thy wild splendour, Canyon marvellous,
The secret of thy stillness lies unveiled
In wordless worship! This is holy ground;
Thou art no grave, no prison, but a shrine.
Garden of Temples filled with Silent Praise,
If God were blind thy Beauty could not be!
I wonder what the person was thinking when he/she ordered this sign. Is the photographer standing outside and looking into “the wilderness”? Does the trail, with a beginning and destination, not disqualify the area as true wilderness? Does the sign not reflect man’s insatiable need to tame, name, define and label everything like an alpha-wolf “marking” his territory with a squirt of urine?
“The wild is more than a named place, an area to demarcate. It is a quality that beguiles us, a tendency we both flee and seek. It is the unruly, what won’t be kept down, that crazy love, that path that no one advises us to take-it’s against the rules, it’s too far, too fast, beyond order, irreconcilable with what we are told is right.” – David Rothenberg
“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.” – John Muir
Just because John Muir rarely complained about being uncomfortably hot or cold, wet or tired, stressed, thirsty, hungry, in pain or besieged by mosquitoes, it does not mean that he did not experience these discomforts. It does, however, mean that he regarded any non-lethal event as the price of admission for getting as close to the pure essence of God’s creation as he possibly could.
Here are some JM thoughts after finding a dead bear in Yosemite. (Teale)
“Toiling in the treadmills of life we hide from the lessons of Nature. We gaze morbidly through civilized fog upon our beautiful world clad with seamless beauty, and see ferocious beasts and wastes and deserts. But savage deserts and beasts and storms are expressions of God’s power inseparably companioned by love. Civilized man chokes his soul as the Chinese [bind] their feet.”
Muir’s love of the wilderness was only eclipsed by his love for his wife and two daughters. He didn’t marry until he was 40 and his wife was well aware of the importance of his love of Nature. In fact, after working for 10 years on their farm in Martinez, Ca., she described the farm as killing his spirit and that he must sell or lease it and return to the wilderness.
In a similar, but different way, in addition to my devotion to my wife and four children, my greatest joys were experienced seeing the wilderness through teenage minds.
However, in both cases, Muir and I became acutely aware that there were no words that could describe our most rapturous moments. How could anyone possibly describe sleeping on top of Half Dome under a canopy of 100 billion stars? Polaris marked the North Pole and the handle of the Big Dipper marked the hours of a cosmic clock. Frequently, either heaven came to Earth or creative, curious minds reached up to create a “mandorla,” an overlap of heaven and Earth.When asked to describe events like these, students would typically radiate warm smiles and say the experience was indescribable.
Likewise, standing on the rim or bottom of Grand Canyon, students would join John Wesley Powell:
“The wonders of the Grand Canyon can not be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.”
And finally, at the end of each year, students often stood on the Mendocino headlands, looking out over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and sensed wisdom that echoed from the beginning of time; off the granite peaks of Yosemite; into the depths of Grand Canyon, and thundered on the waves of Mendocino beaches—ancient echoes of time and the rhythm of the universe.
From a purely biological perspective, what has evolved into what is currently called the United States, is simply a matter of ecology. Darwin would describe it as “survival-of-the fittest,” but it involves plants and animals seeking a place on the planet to live. From a spiritual perspective, however, according to Kurt Vonnegut (Cat’s Cradle) God went away and left it to us figure out the meaning.
Our daughter Maureen recently informed me that the earliest immigrants to North America crossed the Bearing Land-bridge circa 70,000 years ago. They were either escaping brutal tyrants, following food sources or seeking a better place to live. I had previously thought that they immigrated 40,000 years ago and mentioned in, Biodesign Out For A Walk that I felt it was disingenuous to credit Christopher Columbus with discovering America in 1492. Also, while it is true that the Pilgrims may have been the first white settlers to successfully immigrate to the New World, many other groups have since immigrated and made huge contributions to the unique human tapestry of people called Americans.
This brought me back to the one “immigrant” who profoundly changed my life. He was the most responsible for the Biodesign Class and therefore this facebook page and website. As a lad, in his native Scotland, John Muir experienced the horror and pain caused by diseases, poverty and semi-starvation that were common. Eight out of ten of his aunts and uncles died from the “white plague” (tuberculosis). Life in both of the northern lands of Ireland and Scotland was often harsh. The temperatures were often cold; the soil too poor for crops and the growing season was short. Little wonder for the phrase, “Scotland’s greatest export was her people.”
Daniel Muir and three of his children immigrated to the US in 1849. After crossing the Atlantic, they made the arduous 1,000-mile-trip, up New York’s Hudson River, 380 miles along the Erie Canal and eventually, by horse-drawn wagon, to Portage Wisconsin.
John Muir eventually walked to Florida, in hopes of sailing to Brazil to retrace the footsteps of naturalist Baron Von Humboldt. Unfortunately (?) he contracted Malaria and his doctor recommended that he go to California. He sailed to Cuba and later to Panama, where he crossed the Isthmus and sailed up the West Coast, landing in San Francisco in March 1868. In his only reference to the sea voyage he wrote, “Never had I seen such a barbarous mob, especially at meals.” After landing in San Francisco, he walked south to Pacheco Pass, across the San Joaquin Valley to Yosemite Valley.
Although he could not have known it at the time his walk would be what Thoreau called a “saunter” to the holy land (ala sainte terre). He walked into what he later described as a “cathedral”, eight miles long, one mile wide, one mile high, with stained glass windows, incense cedar, Half Dome altar and the sky for a ceiling. He came down from the mountains like an Old Testament prophet preaching: Repent! Repent! The kingdom of Nature is at hand!
In an amazing irony he wrote:
“The mountains are fountains of men as well of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains—mountain-dwellers who have grown strong there with the forest trees in Nature’s work-shops.”
So Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the “Ten Commandments” and Muir came down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains with a spiritual message that has “moved the world.” Although the US National Park Service was not created until 1.5 years after his death, his life and work have become a beacon of light shining around the globe. No other Nature writer has stirred the souls of so many people.
Although Ellis Island wasn’t opened until 1882, I am certain that Muir would have reverberated with what his fellow Scotsmen and Irish immigrants had to endure.
“These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water tanks people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.” John Muir
In the 1970s, one of the Biodesign Classes was involved in helping draft a revised use proposal for Yosemite Valley. Data that we reviewed showed that the typical visitor spent2.5 hours in The Valley. They drove into Yosemite (or Curry) Village, bought a hot dog, coke and T-shirt and left. The students recommended reducing the “junk food and doo-dad” image, removing the tennis courts and 9-hole golf course (located at the Ahwahnee Hotel) and barring MCA from paving 400 miles of trails immediately surrounding Yosemite Valley.
I am not an elitist and agree with Woody Guthrie’s line, “this land is your land, this land is my land,” however, as Pogo (and Barbara Moritsch) opined, “we have identified the enemy and he is us!”
We are loving Yosemite to death and it is being done with the full support and approval of the USNPS. Yosemite NP is a huge cash cow and supports nearly 2,000 park rangers, maintenance personnel and clerical workers. Reducing the human impact would result in reducing NPS jobs. As well as I know the spirit of John Muir, I am not certain of what he would think about this. I do know that he regarded both Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy Valleys as cathedrals and I think it quite likely that he would be disgusted by 20,000 people a day, slurping beer and soda pop and eating greasy pizza while walking through one of the world’s greatest cathedrals.
Is this not similar to the event that happened 2014 years ago when Jesus drove the money changers out of a Jewish temple?
In 1903, President Roosevelt and naturalist John Burroughs joined John Muir at Yosemite. Muir took every advantage to encourage Roosevelt to take action on many nature projects. When Muir “went off” on one of his exaltations of nature, Burroughs chided him by saying, “Good God man, why don’t you get a pulpit for all of your preachin about the virtues of Mother Nature?” Muir’s “preachin” must have impressed Roosevelt.
During his presidency, he was responsible for adding five national parks, 18 national monuments and 150 national forests. Muir’s naturalist evangelism must have rubbed off on Burroughs who later met with Roosevelt at Yellowstone National Park. Both men had a huge influence on Roosevelt who added 150 million square acres to our National Parks.
In his 1913 autobiography, Roosevelt cited the importance of meeting Burroughs and Muir. In the chapter ‘Outdoors and Indoors’; he mentions correspondence with Burroughs, various meetings and a trip that both men made to Yellowstone Park. He also mentions the first trip that he made to Yosemite accompanied by John Muir. He commented “I shall always be glad that I was in Yosemite with John Muir and in the Yellowstone with John Burroughs”.