Biography (1858-1914)

  • In his childhood, developed a belief in the nature and work. He would wake early in the morning to have time to himself to read
  • At 30, he traveled to Yosemite — to see the “natural capitals of the world”
  • Muir spent 6 almost uninterrupted years in the Sierra Mountains. During this time, he guides many people from back East, including Emerson.
  • Emerson wants him to travel back East to teach, but Muir prefers to life in the natural life, to live the life that Emerson so passionately talked about living 
  • Muir’s most influential writing was his book My First Summer in the Sierras. 
  • Muir was responsible for the founding of the Sierra Club, arguably the nation’s most important environmental group.

Major Ideas

  • Muir battled with the head of the National Park Service, Gifford Pinchot, over the direction the environmental movement needed to take. Muir was a preservationist, who believed in keeping nature unchanged. Pinchot was an advocate for conservationism, which advocated balanced use of resources and much more human intervention. The debate between the two was public, bitter, and protracted—and helped define the 20thcentury debate about environmentalism in the United States.
    • Pinchot: multiple use (recreation, logging, grazing, mining, drilling)
    • Muir: preservation, untouched nature
  • Muir’s philosophworldviewd view rotated around his perceived dichotomy between civilization and nature. From this developed his core belief that “wild is superior”. His nature writings became a “synthesis of natural theology” with scripture that helped him understand the origins of the natural world. According to Williams, philosophers and theologians such as Thomas Dick suggested that the “best place to discover the true attributes of deity was in Nature.” He came to believe that God was always active in the creation of life and thereby kept the natural order of the world.
  • Muir would often use the term “home” as a metaphor for both nature and his general attitude toward the “natural world itself,” notes Holmes. He would often use domestic language to describe his scientific observations, as when he saw nature as providing a home for even the smallest plant life: “the little purple plant, tended by its Maker, closed its petals, crouched low in its crevice of a home, and enjoyed the storm in safety.” Muir also saw nature as his own home, as when he wrote friends and described the Sierra as “God’s mountain mansion.”
  • Almost a holy reverence for the natural world
  • Belief that we should learn from nature: nature is the world’s best cathedral
  • Emphasized the study of emotional response to wild nature
  • Belief that nature is best in untouched state– that we should not control or manage nature, but experience it without leaving our traces.

Important & Interesting Quotations

  • A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.
  • 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.
  • Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
  • The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.
  • Trees go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million
    miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!
  • Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
  • In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.
  • The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.