So tomorrow (April 21) is John Muir Day – the birthday of ecologist, naturalist and writer John Muir who was born in 1838.
And it got me thinking. His influence is everywhere – the John Muir Way runs near my house, the John Muir Trust helps protect some of my favourite Scottish landscapes and both myself and my children have completed John Muir Awards, given for work with nature.
We’ve got a lot to be grateful to him for so I thought I’d write this wee piece about him to mark the day but also make it the first in a series looking at Scotland’s outdoor pioneers, those folk we owe a debt of gratitude to for paving the way for us today.
Scotland has had John Muir Day since 2013 but all this recognition has been relatively recent – for years Muir was somewhat forgotten here as his pioneering work was done in the US.
Born in Dunbar in East Lothian, the third of eight children, Muir grew up loving the countryside around his home, hunting for birds’ nests and going on walks with his grandfather. He moved with his family to the US when he was 11 but Scotland was always with him, not least in the form of a book of Robert Burns’ poetry which he carried with him on his mountain travels.
This extraordinary man studied, explored, wrote about and fought for the wilderness that he loved. His influential writings helped create the first national park in the US, Yosemite. He took the US president Theodore Roosevelt camping in the Yosemite wilderness in 1903 and convinced him that the country’s wild places needed more protection from man’s intrusion. He was an inventor, botanist, geologist, glaciologist and activist whose influence is almost impossible to quantify. And that influence bounced back to Scotland in the form of an increased interest in protecting our wild places, even if it was nearly 100 years before we got our first National Park.
Muir lived before the days of sound bites but because he understood the beauty and power of language every bit as much as that of nature, I find his quotes far from meaningless platitudes. Instead they have a deep resonance and often come to me as I’m out on the hills. His most famous quotes are probably: “The mountains are calling and I must go,” and “Wildness is a
necessity”, which you can fit on a T-shirt but which seem to have layers of meaning. My favourite is: “All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best.” A quote I try to keep with me to remember wherever I am, so long as I’m in nature, I’m in the best place in the world!