John Muir, who came to America from Scotland as a boy changed the world in his own special ways. He wrote,
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
Muir was born on April 21, 1838, so his birthday is the day before Earth Day, April 22. As a young man, he attended University of Wisconsin and worked in a bicycle shop in Indianapolis. He was a skilled inventor and craftsman with wood and metal, but one day an awl pierced his eye and he was temporarily blinded. The experience led him to abandon technology for nature. After recovering from the accident, he took a 1000 mile trek to Cedar Key in Florida.
Later Muir moved to California and lived three years in Yosemite Valley, often traveling only with a tin cup, a loaf of bread and a book by his favorite author. Muir admired Ralph Waldo Emerson and carried his writings with him in Yosemite Valley for inspiration in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can imagine him sitting on a rock or log, reading Emerson’s words, Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.
Muir is best known for being the founder of the Sierra Club and most regard him as the Father of our American parks. He inspired Theodore Roosevelt to create the first national monuments by Presidential decree and to protect Yosemite National Park by Congressional action.
Just as Emerson inspired Muir, Muir inspired others in his time. Enos Mills was a young man of 21 when he met John Muir on a California beach in 1889. Muir took Mills to Yosemite and encouraged him to inspire others through books, lectures and journeys into the wilderness. Mills would become a key figure in founding Rocky Mountain National Park and his books are still valued by naturalists and interpreters. He led 300 groups up Long’s Peak and operated what may have been the first nature guide school.
Lisa Brochu and I were sitting with Enda Mills Kiley, daughter of Enos Mills, in Estes Park, Colorado, a few years ago and she mentioned that her father’s birthday is Earth Day, April 22nd. She also spoke of his life-long bond with Muir and his inspirational words of encouragement. Enda has since passed away, but her daughter and granddaughter continue to keep the cabin he built at age 15 operating as a museum and historic site. When he wrote Adventures of a Nature Guide, he identified many of the ideas that have endured as important approaches to heritage interpretation today.
Enos Mills was a lover of trees and his Story of a Thousand Year Pine remains one of my favorite books. He tells of a ponderosa pine cut by sawyers only to be abandoned for being shattered when it fell and therefore unsuitable for lumber. Saddened that the tree had been felled, he studied the pine and carefully told the story of this millennial giant giving evidence of the past measured by fires, hackings by a Spanish knife and arrowheads embedded in its annual rings. His reverence for trees and belief in their symbolic importance shines through the quote you will find in one of his finest essays;
The forests are the flags of nature. They appeal to all and awaken inspiring universal feelings. Enter the forest and the boundaries of nations are forgotten. It may be that some time an immortal pine will be the flag of a united peaceful world.
Earth Day is a great time to pause and remember great nature writers like Emerson, Muir and Mills – and every day is really Earth Day for many of us. We carry the inspirational words of these good people in our hearts and let them guide us in finding ways to live more peacefully on and with the planet.
– Tim Merriman