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A Classic Book from Muir Gets a 21st Century Makeover

John MuirWould John Muir tweet?

The question comes to mind on John Muir Day, an annual tribute that honors Muir's legacy as a conservationist and as a soul-stirring writer. His expressive odes to the natural world helped usher the notion of wilderness preservation into mainstream American thinking in the early 20th century and led Muir (1838-1914) to be esteemed as the father of the National Park Service, established 2 years after his death.

Pragmatically speaking, many of Muir's most widely circulated quotations fall neatly within Twitter's 140-character parameter:

• The mountains are calling and I must go. (40 characters)

• The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. (66)

• When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. (98)

• I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. (119)

• Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. (130)

John MuirPlus, he could have dumped the pencils and the sketchbook and switched to Twitpics. Imagine Muir's Flickr account. His ballooning number of Facebook friends. His GoPro sponsorship.

Happily, Muir mastered the media of his day—the long-form narrative essay, heavy on hi-def insights that connect wirelessly with readers' hearts and minds. I dig Twitter, no doubt, but sometimes I allow tweets to whoosh into my head, ping off the back of my skull and ricochet out an ear without fully gleaning the whole-wheat goodness of a well-conceived thought. Obviously Muir's evocative reflections, even in short-form renditions, merit a longer-than-average pause for rumination.

That's where a traditional, battery-free book comes in handy. Anyone interested in diving deeper into the Muir's mind can check out My First Summer in the Sierra, a hardcover beauty artfully repackaged by its original publisher (Houghton Mifflin) in honor of its 100th anniversary. The medium-format book (10 ½" x 9 ¼"), originally published in 1911, contains many lovely photos, a forward by the America's Best Idea crew (filmmakers Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns) and a promise from photographer Scot Duncan to make a donation to the nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy for each copy sold.

The book is essentially a diary of Muir's summer of '69 (1869, that is), June 3 through Sept. 22. Many passages involve straightforward scientific inquiry and weather observations, though no one can describe weather like Muir. From June 10: "How fine the weather is! Nothing more celestial can I conceive. How gently the winds blow! Scarce can these tranquil air-currents be called winds. They seem the very breath of Nature, whispering peace to every living thing."

Then there is this gem, a Muir bedtime story, from later in the summer: "Sundown, and I must to camp. Good-night, friends three—brown bear, rugged boulder of energy in groves and gardens fair as Eden; restless, fussy fly with gauzy wings stirring the air all around the world; and grasshopper, crisp, electric spark of joy enlivening the massy sublimity of the mountains like the laugh of a child. Thank you, thank you all three for your quickening company. Heaven guide every wing and leg. Good-night friends three, goodnight."

Happy John Muir Day, everyone, which falls on the Scotman's birthday. Feel free to weigh in with favorite Muirisms of your own.

Posted on at 2:20 PM

Tagged: John Muir, John Muir Day, Yosemite and national parks

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Ryan Ernst

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity..."

Upon hearing this quote I was refreshed because Muir had put to mouth many scrambled thoughts of this idea. Enjoy the wilderness on this day of celebration.

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Posted this on Facebook (ironically) but again here -

Would John Muir tweet? That's kind of sickening if you think about it. John Muir was an individual whose voice should never have been marginalized by such an egocentric and short-sighted technology. What saddens me most is how many John Muirs must be out there right now being ignored because people don't have longer than 3 seconds of attention span to listen to them.

When fighting for the Yosemite National Park expansion, and later for Hetch Hetchy, John Muir traveled for days to reach Washington D.C.—and because of that, his words and his voice *meant* something. Today, our president talks to us over Facebook, but no one except you cares what you say back. Ubiquitous technology has its consequences... and we may never fully understand what we've lost or gained until after the fact.


But as for quotes - this is my favorite: "Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever."


very nice quote.


"I gaze and sketch and bask, oftentimes settling down into dumb admiration without definite hope of ever learning much"

John Muirs gifts to man and woman are infinite.


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