“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” – John Muir
It is highly likely that only the most ardent followers of John Muir are aware of the connection to the stunning Alaskan scenery and his marriage to his beloved Louie-Wanda. He married Louie at the age of 42 and quickly assumed the responsibility of operating her family ranch in Martinez California. When that was brought to order, he purchased a neighboring ranch. One of his neighbors said that he had “green fingers” because everything he planted yielded bountiful crops. His annual production of fruits, nuts and grapes were of the highest quality and yielded the highest prices. He did this for nearly 10 years and, in addition to providing for his family, saved a nest egg of $50,000. Which, according to one source, he never had to touch.
All of this, combined with his shrewd business skills, meant that he was prospering as a farmer. However, there was a huge price to be paid. The long hours, concerns about weather, prevailing prices and competition all took a great toll. The process that he called “money grubbing” was sapping his spirit and weakening his body.
Louie was not unaware of this and exhorted her husband to go to Yosemite for spiritual renewal. When he refused, she decided that she needed a break from housework and demanded that he take her there and be her guide. It was a wonderful outing and they both returned to the farm spiritually refreshed.
Observing the restorative transformation, she pressured him to go to Alaska for the 4th time and continue his studies and writing.
Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains would always be Muir’s first love, however, Alaska stretched his mind beyond all imagination. Most of the 588,000 sq. miles (Calif. has 158,000) remain as wilderness. The vast mountains, canyons and glaciers might well exceed the area of 10,000 Yosemite Valleys.
Even though he complained about his inability to translate what he was seeing into words, the message must have been received because Louie wrote back that as soon as he returned home they must sell or lease the two ranches. The letter must have been acknowledged as one of the greatest love-letters written.
Louie-Wanda was fully aware that her urgings would mean more periods of separation between John, her and their two daughters, however, his spiritual well-being was foremost in her mind. It is staggering to wonder what might have been lost if she had been more selfish. Ironically, she remains one of the most under-appreciated heroines in the history of wilderness conservation. By providing loving support, as well as a home base, she enabled Muir to become the legend that he has become. Reflecting the common marginalization of Louisa Muir, the 15 page bio. posted in Wikipedia includes this pathetic remark:
“Although Muir was a loyal, dedicated husband, and father of two daughters,"his heart remained wild," writes Marquis. His wife understood his needs, and after seeing his restlessness at the ranch would sometimes "shoo him back up" to the mountains. He sometimes took his daughters with him.
As for Muir, growing up dirt-poor in Scotland, it would have been reasonable for him to spend the next 20 years accumulating more wealth. It is doubtful, however, that he ever forgot nearly blinding one eye with a sharp file and vowing to spend his life, not in pursuit of riches, but studying the works of God. Responding to his wife’s prodding and his inner search for spiritual freedom, he spent the time traveling, writing, lecturing and fighting political battles trying to preserve wilderness areas. It is intriguing to wonder what would have happened if he had elected to work out his years as a farmer. Some form of park system surely would have been created, however, it was his genius that enabled it to evolve into what it is today. Some of America’s best and brightest regard his vision of a National Park Service, along with “The Declaration of Independence” as two of the greatest ideas in The United States.