Mr. Muir was born In Dunbar, Scotland, in 1838, the third of eight children, a
product of strict religious upbringing. In 1849 the family immigrated to
Portage, Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin where he became
interested in the sciences and chemistry, learning enough geology and botany to
serve his future adventures but never graduating. He followed a brother to
Canada, botanizing and working in a mill that would burn down. He returned to
Indianapolis and obtained a job at a wagon-wheel factory where an accident
nearly blinded him.
When his vision returned, he decided to follow his dream of exploration and the
study of plants. After a one-thousand-mile walk from Kentucky to Florida, he
eventually found his way to San Francisco and Yosemite. He became a productive
writer, investigating plant and geological studies, a preservationist,
pressuring Congress to designate Yosemite a national park, Sequoia National
Park, and many other wilderness areas and often called “Father of the National
Parks”. His writings framed the human relationship with the natural worlds.
After co-founding the Sierra Club, he was elected its president, a position that
he held until his death twenty-two year. He published twelve books and over
Muir too would face adversity in an archrival (feud), Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot
was the first head of the Forest Service and a conservationist which included
his interpretation of the sustainable use of natural resources to benefit the
public often commercially. Muir and Pinchot were initially friendly but viewed
nature differently: Pinchot’s view of a forest was tree farming while
maintaining long-term viability; Muir viewed them for their undesecrated,
spiritual and transcendental qualities. The divergence fractured when Pinchot
supported sheep grazing in forest reserves.
Two camps emerged: Muir’s preservationists versus Pinchot’s conservationists.
Positions were espoused nationally especially in popular magazines. Their feud
culminated in a fight to dam the Tuolumne River as a water reservoir in the
Hetch Hetchy Valley supplying water for San Francisco. After years of national
debate and various Presidential administrations, the dam was built. It was
Muir’s last major battle, never to recover. Muir was not cut down but Hetch
Hetchy was and his loss was also ours. In spite of the all the good that Muir
accomplished, most likely the loss of Hetch Hetchy haunted him the rest of his
life like the loss of a loved one.
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