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Dedication Speech by Erik Brynildson for Fountain Lake Farm National Historic Landmark


The following speech was delivered by Erik Brynildson on April 5,1991, at the dedication ceremony for Fountain Lake Farm National Historic Landmark, Muir Memorial Park, Marquette County, Wisconsin.

Mr. Brynidldson is an ecologist and landscape architect. His house stands on the site of the original Muir home.


As a boy in Dunbar, Scotland, John Muir read of a wonder-filled country with boundless forests full of mysterious good things: trees flowing with sweet sugar, growing in gold-filled soils where hawks, ospreys, eagles and passenger pigeons darkened the sky like storm clouds, and millions of birds' nests were scattered about the entire wild, happy land. Still in his tenth year, John, with his father Daniel, sister Sarah and brother David, "sailed away from Glasgow, carefree as thistle seeds on the wings of the winds, toward the glorious paradise over the sea."

Near the end of his life, Muir remembered his first impression of Fountain Lake Farm: "This sudden splash into pure wildness -- baptism in Nature's warm heart -- how utterly happy it made us! Nature streaming into us, wooingly teacher her wonderful glowing lessons, so unlike the dismal grammar ashes and cinders so long thrashed into us. Here, without knowing it, we were still at school; every wild lesson a love lesson, not whipped but charmed into us. Oh, that glorious Wisconsin wilderness!"

I believe that childhood is the foundation of adulthood. If indeed this premise is true, then the Muirs' pioneer homestead, named Fountain Lake Farm by Daniel Muir, was the cornerstone in the exceptional life of John Muir. The native beauty of the home landscape provided an already curious Scotch lad with amazement, awe and wonder. Muir experienced, as we all do, an evolution in his perceptions of spatial magnitude, time and living scale. We may recall how high a neighborhood hill or even "dirt-pile" appeared to us as children and how summer vacations felt as though they would go on forever, or how far away the 100 miles to grandma's place seemed and how large we thought our house was. Then, in time, we inherit the label "adult." In adulthood, we return to find our memories in miniature; the childhood "mountain" has somehow eroded into a mere hill and the home-place has likewise shrunk to the point that we are astounded that a bustling family even survived in such a humble structure. Summers have become only a few short months and 100 miles is now just 100 miles.

For John Muir, that passage was realized here. As a boy, Muir was fond of climbing his neighborhood rampart known as Observatory Hill. While atop the promontory and perched in a red juniper, young John enjoyed watching a thunderhead roll across the valleys below. As a man in the Sierras, he continued this practice. In youth, 1,100 feet Observatory Hill was mountain enough and the juniper had the stature of a Sequoia.

The formative years spent on this old sand farm were among those most cherished and important to John Muir. Even while on a worldwide journey, Muir's memories often took him home:"When we first saw Fountain Lake meadow, on a sultry evening, sprinkled with millions of lightning bugs throbbing with light, the effect was so strange and beautiful that it seemed far too marvelous to be real.... Once I saw a splendid display of gloworms in the foothills of Calcutta, but glorious as it appeared in pure starry radiance, it was far less impressive than the extravagant, abounding, quivering, dancing fire on our Wisconsin meadow," he wrote. John Muir never lost what Rachel Carson called "a sense of childlike wonder."

It is a special privilege to be part of the landscape so dear to John Muir. Still today, one can sense the power of the place and its historical sacredness. There are times yet when the spirit of "John of the Mountains" can be felt in the prairie sand underfoot. It was John Muir's dream to protect and restore his boyhood spring meadow; a dream later shared by another seminal Wisconsin naturalist, Aldo Leopold. In November, 1895, in a speech given to the Sierra Club in San Francisco, Muir recalled the evolution of his preservation ethic: "Saving bits of pure wilderness was a fond, favorite notion of mine long before I heard of national parks. When my father came from Scotland, he settled in a fine region of Wisconsin, beside a small glacier lake bordered with white pond lilies. And on the north side of the lake, just below our house, there was a Carex (sedge) meadow full of charming flowers.... And when I was about to wander away on my long rambles, I was sorry to leave the precious meadow unprotected; therefore I said to my brother-in-law, who by then owned it,"Sell me the 40 acres of lake meadow, and keep it fenced and never allow cattle or hogs to break into it, and I will gladly pay you whatever you say. I want to keep it untrampled for the sake of its ferns and flowers, and even if I should never see it again, the beauty of its lilies and orchids is so pressed into my mind, I shall always enjoy looking back at them in imagination, even across seas and continents, and perhaps after I am dead."

Behind us is the lake that first challenged Muir's mettle; in fact, he nearly drowned in it. But ultimately, its frogs taught him to swim. And swim he did, to rare depths indeed. Trying to resurrect John Muir the mortal is like trying to recreate a passenger pigeon. Rather, today, as we pay homage to this great place and its man, we are gathered to resuscitate his spirit and revive his philosophy. The most important lesson John Muir learned from Fountain Lake Farm is that "everything is hitched to everything else." This is the Muir message into which we must breathe life, so it can live and flourish throughout the land.

I extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of you who continue to make John Muir's dreams come true. Thank you.



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