John Muir is one of those rare visionaries who have been successful both in their real-world and literary struggles. In the USA, his name has come to signify a man passionately working for the cause he holds dear, for the dream that can change the lives of millions of Americans. For Muir writing became a means to achieve his elevated aims. Though he never considered himself to be a born writer and most of the time had to work hard to accomplish his writing goals for the day, Muir's stories have managed to kindle the flame of genuine love for the American nature in the hearts of many readers. Muir is one of those authors for whom their craft is an indispensable and fully natural continuation of their passion for the subject they are writing about and, more widely, of their whole biography. For Muir, his life, writings, and nature are inseparably connected and probably this is what makes us perceive him as such an ultimately integral and charismatic personality.
Muir became a traveler and a nature lover at a very young age. On April 21, 1838, he was born in Scotland, a home to one of the most majestic and beautiful sceneries in the world. "When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild," writes Muir in his autobiography "The Story of My Boyhood and Youth" (Muir). Scotland was certainly the place to inspire Muir with a lifelong love of nature. With much tenderness and youthful fascination with the promise of life, Muir recounts the days of his childhood: "How our young, wondering eyes reveled in the sunny, breezy glory of the hills and the sky, every particle of us thrilling and tingling with the bees and glad birds and glad streams" (Muir). This positive energy and immense joie de vivre that Muir drew from his early encounters with nature will be present in all of his later works. In 1849, the Muirs bought a farm near Portage, Wisconsin and moved there. Muir's father was a religious man, strict and demanding ("John Muir Biography"). Growing in the atmosphere of hard work and discipline, the writer had to learn to be inventive and resourceful, pro-active and decisive, organized and strong-willed. For example, he designed a mechanism, an "early-rising machine," that bumped him out of bed as early as one o'clock in the morning so that he could read and educate himself ("John Muir Biography"). Muir never gave up on his passion to invent things. He even left his family farm to work in a factory. But an accident that had nearly blinded him made Muir rethink his whole future and urged him to learn as much as possible about "a world unaltered by man or machine" ("John Muir"). In 1861, he entered the University of Wisconsin to study science and medicine. But the "University of Wilderness" drew him with an irresistible force. So, in 1867, he set out on the walk which ended as far as Cuba and was later described in A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916). In 1868 Muir moved to California, to work on a sheep ranch and later at a sawmill ("John Muir"), so that he could explore the breathtaking grandeur of Yosemite Valley he instantly fell in love with. In 1880, when Muir returned from his expedition to Alaska, he married Louie Strentzel, the 32-year-old daughter of a notable Polish horticulturist and fruit ranch owner in Martinez ("John Muir"). They settled on a fruit ranch near Martinez, California, and had two daughters. Muir spent ten years building a fortune for his family. Once he had earned enough money, he fully devoted his life to the exploration and preservation of nature ("John Muir Biography").
Muir started writing as a logical continuation of his quest to save the beauty of American nature. He realized he needed to make people fall in love with the splendor of the mountains. One of the ways to do this was through writing. It is said that he penned his persuasive ecological articles with "a quill made from a golden eagle feather found on Yosemite's Mount Hoffmann" ("John Muir"). This detail could also be interpreted metaphorically, as mountains were, indeed, the very place Muir drew his inspiration from. In September 1871, Muir wrote his first article on the subject of glaciers, which was later published in the New York Tribune ("John Muir"). Muir with his genuine love of nature easily made friends among the prominent people of his time whom he involved in his campaigning. Muir's writings were well-received and their popularity grew steadily ("John Muir"). It can be said that his works were among those effective means that helped Muir achieve his most ambitious aims: having the Yosemite Valley declared a National Park and founding the environmental lobby group, the Sierra Club. Though the photographs of the nature preserves taken in the lifetime of Muir might seem outdated and stylishly vintage today, his writings never get old. Their secret is in the way Muir prioritized content over form, truthfulness over artifice, passion over calculation.
Today, in the times of serious ecological challenges, Muir's writings resonate with the reader more than ever. "Discover John Muir" web project initiated by the John Muir Trust tells many stories of how people of all ages incorporate Muir's teaching into their daily activities and creative practices ("Muir Activities"). Muir keeps exercising an influence on the modern world not only through his own works but also through the impact he has had on other writers. He is considered to be among the founding fathers of "a flourishing tract of contemporary American literature," naturalist autobiography, "the literature of wilderness," the influence of which has been tremendous (Elder 375). What is more, he is said to have inspired "the modern passion for nature," which "can still draw people together across lines of race, class, and gender" (Worster 8), and to have become our "guide to education in environmental aesthetics" (Wattles 56).
Muir's works play the role which is all the more vital today when the mass culture and the modern media bring up in the audience "an appetite for violence". Muir's sincere fascination with nature and respect for its every manifestation from a tiny ant to a huge mountain work as a powerful antidote to the poison of the media-induced indifference. This is what makes his writings such a powerful and mesmerizing read.
Elder, John C. "John Muir and the Literature of Wilderness." The Massachusetts Review, vol. 22, no. 2, 1981, pp. 375-386. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25089154.
"John Muir." National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/yose/learn/historyculture/muir.htm.
"John Muir Biography." Encyclopedia of World Biography, www.notablebiographies.com/Mo-Ni/Muir-John.html.
"Muir Activities." Discoverjohnmuir.com, John Muir Trust, 4 Apr. 2018, discoverjohnmuir.com/muir-activities/.
Muir, John. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth. The Floating Press, 2012, https://books.google.bg/books?id=-Fcn5qsi2uAC&lpg=PP1&hl=ru&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Wattles, Jeffrey. "John Muir as a Guide to Education in Environmental Aesthetics." The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 47, no. 3, 2013, pp. 56-71. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jaesteduc.47.3.0056.
Worster, Donald. "John Muir and the Modern Passion for Nature." Environmental History, vol. 10, no. 1, 2005, pp. 8-19. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3985830.
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