John Muir

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 three-hundred articles.

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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