Happy Birthday, John

Back in 1838 on this day, John Muir was born. He remains the most quotable of all environmentalists,  and as the years go by, it's fascinating to see how his quotes take on new dimensions.

One of the most important of all his thoughts, sez me, is a simple question with no answer, about the Sierra and nature and death and immortality, from his journals in August of 1875:

We read our Bibles and remain fearful and uncomfortable amid Nature's loving destructions, her beautiful deaths. Talk of immortality! After a whole day in the woods, we are already immortal. When is the end of such a day!

As is so often the case with Muir, this is not a thoroughly worked-out essay, but a jotting in his notebook while in the mountains. Maybe it's not a coincidence that because he was inspired directly by the Sierra, the way a painter is inspired by a landscape, that his thoughts continues to set the imagination of other people afire, and inspire yet more trips to the Sierra, in search of the same inspiration.

Muir's belief in the "good practical immortality" of the Sierra, in other words, led to a good practical immortality for Muir himself. His selflessness helped make him part of the Sierra, forever…and he would, I have no doubt, rather I honor his inspiration than the man, even on his birthday.

In that spirit, he's a pic from one of the great Sierra photographers of today, Buck Forester, who shoots on film, and does not manipulate his image except with lens filters…and also selflessly encourages sharing. Thanks Buck! Here's the Pioneer Basin in the John Muir Wilderness…


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  1. joel hanes

    John Muir … remains the most quotable of all environmentalists

    I’d nominate Aldo Leopold. The language is not so poesy, but the insight is more keen.
    Examples :

    “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

    “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

    April 24, 2009
  2. Kit Stolz

    It’s an interesting question, quotability…

    If we think of the most fiery of enviros; well, that would probably be Edward Abbey.

    The most venerable, probably Thoreau (whom Muir himself considered the best writer, as well).

    The most airy might be Emerson; the most grounded perhaps Black Elk.

    I admire Leopold, and there’s no doubt about the depth of his wisdom, as your example shows, but I don’t think he’s as quotable as Muir (or as quoted, for that matter).

    Muir has an ecstatic quality that no other enviro has matched, in my estimation, and which speaks particularly to the young.

    April 25, 2009