John Muir: The Scotsman who saved America's wild
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JOHN MUIR was a truly extraordinary person, mountain man, and
wilderness sage. Emigrating with his family from Dunbar in
Scotland, to become settlers in Wisconsin, at the age of 11 in
1849, he became famous throughout the United States for championing
the great wilderness places of the continent.
He was one of the most vocal of the founding fathers of the
movement to establish National Parks across the country. Rather in
the manner of an Old Testament prophet, he spoke with passion for
the world of nature; he gave it a voice.
Mary Colwell has performed a great service in bringing this
engaging character to our attention. Her very readable account of
his colourful life, and the contradictions within it, is liberally
leavened with quotations from his extensive writings, many of which
would serve well as texts for sermons or for private meditation. He
wrote in the mode of the New England Transcendentalists, and we
discover that Ralph Waldo Emerson made a pilgrimage to California
to visit Muir in his beloved Yosemite Valley.
John was raised by a tyrannical Evangelical father, who made him
learn the whole of the New Testament (and much of the Old) off by
heart. Hard work and simple fare dominated his youth. But then, as
he grew up, he began to find another book that spoke to him of God
- the book of nature. Flowers and animals, through his eyes, became
fellow mortals. He was appalled at the commerce-driven but
sometimes wanton destruction of the living world; the felling of
giant redwoods or the shooting of polar bears. He would spend weeks
on his own in the wilderness among mountains, forests, and
glaciers, lonely but entranced by God's creation.
He even strapped himself to the trunk of a Douglas fir, 100 feet
above ground, to experience the life of a momentous storm. "In
every walk with nature", he wrote, "one receives far more than one
The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul's Girls'