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The John Muir Exhibit features the life and contributions of John Muir:
naturalist, writer, conservationist, and founder of the Sierra Club.

 

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John Muir by Herbert A. Collins

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Who was John Muir?

John Muir (1838-1914) was America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He is one of California's most important historical personalities. He has been called "The Father of our National Parks," "Wilderness Prophet," and "Citizen of the Universe." He once described himself more humorously, and perhaps most accurately, as, a "poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist and ornithologist-naturalist etc. etc. !!!!" Legendary librarian and author Lawrence Clark Powell (1906-2001), (anticipating an event that was not to occur until 2006), said of him: "If I were to choose a single Californian to occupy the Hall of Fame, it would be this tenacious Scot who became a Californian during the final forty-six years of his life."

As a wilderness explorer, he is renowned for his exciting adventures in California's Sierra Nevada, among Alaska's glaciers, and world wide travels in search of nature's beauty. As a writer, he taught the people of his time and ours the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage. His writings contributed greatly to the creation of Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks. Dozens of places are named after John Muir, including the Muir Woods National Monument, the John Muir Trail, Muir College (UCSD), and many schools.

President Roosevelt met John Muir in Yosemite 100 years ago

His words and deeds helped inspire President Theodore Roosevelt's innovative conservation programs, including establishing the first National Monuments by Presidential Proclamation, and Yosemite National Park by congressional action. In 1892, John Muir and other supporters formed the Sierra Club "to make the mountains glad." John Muir was the Club's first president, an office he held until his death in 1914. Muir's Sierra Club has gone on to help establish a series of new National Parks and a National Wilderness Preservation System.

Muir's last battle to save the second Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy Valley, failed. But that lost battle ultimately resulted in a widespread conviction that our national parks should be held inviolate. Many proposals to dam our national parks since that time have been stopped because of the efforts of citizens inspired by John Muir, and today there are legitimate proposals to restore Hetch Hetchy. John Muir remains today an inspiration for environmental activists everywhere.

John Muir's life reminds us of the important things that just one person can do:

"If you think about all the gains our society has made, from independence to now, it wasn't government. It was activism. People think, 'Oh, Teddy Roosevelt established Yosemite National Park, what a great president.' BS. It was John Muir who invited Roosevelt out and then convinced him to ditch his security and go camping. It was Muir, an activist, a single person."
-- Patagonia founder and outdoor enthusiast Yvon Chouinard in a ( recent Sierra Magazine interview).

John Muir is as relevant today as he was over 100 years ago when he met with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite. Many of today's headlines have Muir to thank for their inspiration. See our Chronology of of the Life and Legacy of John Muir, 1838 - 2010.
A few examples:

  • On April 9, 2010, The Scottish Government and Sierra Club held a special tree planting ceremony for A Celebration of the Treasured Life and Legacy of
    John Muir- Honored Son of Scotland and Sierra Club Founder
    at the Dr. Edgar and Peggy Wayburn Redwood Grove, The Presidio, San Francisco, followed by a special presentation on John Muir’s Legacy in a Climate-Challenged World with featured speakers Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club, and Michael Russell, Scotland's Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning and former minister for the environment.
  • On April 5, 2010, Scotland's Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning and former minister for the environment, Michael Russell in an editorial, Prizing the Power of the Sea said, "Muir was never deterred by those naysayers who thought his idealism misplaced. He won many battles, and some he lost. But he built movements for change that inspired millions, forced political leaders to join his cause and changed not only hearts, but minds. Muir was always more than an idealistic naturalist; he was a persuasive advocate, as adept as any politician at winning public support. Muir would have been excited by the prospect that the natural resources around us may actually be the key to solving the climate crisis. The potential of wind, solar and wave energy to produce renewable, clean sources of power and reduce our dependency on methods that damage our environmental future should be at the top of our list of solutions. Read more....
  • Documentary film maker Kern Burns knew little about John Muir before he started working on his long-anticipated new series "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," which premiered September 27, 2009 on PBS. Burns said, "Muir's "new creed of nature" was expressed in writings "so transcendent that millions of Americans are still beguiled and inspired by the rapture flowing from his words." Burns was not aware of this when he began the project, stating in an interview: "It's such a great thing to be hit over the head while making a film. I don't think I was prepared for what a great writer he was. Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. John Muir was lightning. My eyes, at times, would fill with tears in the editing room as we worked on telling Muir's story. It was a pleasure getting to know him better."
  • "The roots of the Sierra Club are embedded in land preservation, and nowadays that puts our focus on finding a solution to climate change; if we don't fix that problem, there will be no land to preserve, and no future generations to preserve it for. But something rather traditional happened on Monday that would make our founder, John Muir, very pleased indeed. That's the day President Obama signed the most extensive lands protection bill in 20 years, a bill that includes all of the Clinton/Babbitt-era national monuments, wilderness study areas, and other sites, totaling 26 million acres." - Greg Haegele (April 3, 2009) read more...
  • March 26, 2009 - the Clark County Columbian newspaper editorializes that "even though the founder of the Sierra Club died almost 95 years ago, his spirit was alive on Wednesday in the halls of Congress. The House approved landmark legislation that will trigger one of the largest expansions of American wilderness in a quarter-century.... John Muir - a naturalist so revered he is shown on the California state quarter - had no trouble describing the wilderness. It's a place where the "sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating … the very stones seem talkative and brotherly. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell. No wonder when we consider that we all have the same Father and Mother." Muir likely would say Wednesday's sun was shining not on Congress but in it; the rivers flowed not past Congress but through it."
  • In September, 2008, Photographer Stephen Joseph and historian Bonnie Gisel publish Nature's Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy, and in October, Historian Donald Worster publish a new biography, A Passion for Nature: the Life of John Muir,
  • A 2007 Time magazine special on "The Greening of the Pentagon" reported: "In a recent paper, former CIA Director James Woolsey imagined a dialogue between John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, and General George Patton on climate change. In Woolsey's telling, Muir cares about the environment, and Patton about security, but in subject after subject -- alternative energy, increasing efficiency, improving the electrical grid -- they come to the same green conclusion, if for different reasons. 'It just happens that the two ideas produce the same outcome,' says Woolsey. 'There is something there for everybody.' "
  • On October 16, 2006, two Silicon Valley leaders issued this statement about how John Muir can be an inspiration for us as we fight the climate crisis and promote smart energy solutions: "John Muir said nearly a century ago, 'When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.' That's the good news. It means that each of us can address overwhelming challenges, complex issues and diffuse responsibilities by taking action. It means we can do it both right now and right here. And it is especially true, and convenient, as we look at what we must do as individuals, businesses, communities and governments to develop alternative-energy solutions to tackle issues ranging from reducing America's dependence on foreign oil to taking on global climate change.... As Muir pointed out, it is all connected. Business success, quality of life and a sustainable environment are not in opposition. They are related, and we can make positive progress in each area together. Each of us. Here. Now. That's the necessary truth that, fortunately, is also convenient." ["Seeking Alternative Energy Solutions: A Convenient Truth," by Aart de Geus and Carl Guardino (San Francisco Chronicle, October 16, 2006)]
  • On July 31, 2006, John Muir was Inducted in the new California Hall of Fame of the California Museum of History, Women, and the Arts.
  • In June, 2006, a Minor Planet was named for John Muir - This 1-mile diameter celestial body, now named "Johnmuir" is Solar System object number 2004PX42. It was named by its discoverer, amateur astronomer R.E. Jones, in honor of our pioneer conservationist.
  • From April 2, 2006 to May 14, 2006, Peter and Donna Thomas re-traced John Muir's 1868 walking trip from San Francisco to Yosemite.
  • On March 32 - April 1, 2006, the John Muir in Global Perspective Conference was sponsored by the University of the Pacific, its sixth conference focused on John Muir.
  • In January, 2006, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum announced that John Muir was inducted in the Hall of Great Westerners.
  • On January 31, 2005, The new California State Quarter featuring John Muir was released by the U.S. Mint as California's entry in its 50 State Quarter program.

John Muir's vision is still sorely needed.

"Today, as much as when legislation was passed to create Yosemite, we need to remember Muir's call to protect wild places. He profoundly believed that preserving natural areas nurtured the human spirit as well. I hope you will join me in celebrating the birth and legacy of the American visionary, John Muir."
- U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (April 17, 2002)

For more information about Muir's life and legacy, start with our Life and Contributions of John Muir page. Also, download our John Muir - Father of Our National Parks brochure (2.5 MB, in PDF format) summarizing Muir's life and including recommended reading, audio, and video references.


What's on this Website

This website contains a wide variety of resources pertaining to John Muir. The links on the left will take you to many fascinating places!

This site is continually being updated and new additions are being made on a regular basis. Check our What's New page. Details about this website, including acknowledgements and off-site links, are provided on Website Resources.

In particular, please note our extensive Educational Resources, assisting both teachers and students from grade school to graduate school, from home-schoolers to life-long learners of all ages.

To keep current on upcoming events celebrating or inspired by John Muir, join our Listserv:


How to Use This Website

Saving or Printing Pages

This site uses frames-based web pages, which makes saving or printing a little different than other kinds of websites. Because this site is so text intensive, you may want to save the articles for off-line reading, or may wish to print out some of the pages.

In order to save or print documents within frame-based web pages, make sure you click within the main content frame of the page you want to print with your mouse pointer. On this website, this will be the pages with the white background, not the violet navigation bar at the left or the violet graphic at the top. Then simply right-click (or click and hold on a Mac) to save the page, or "Print" with your Web browser. Because we use very few tables, most pages will save or print out fine, regardless of the size of your monitor or the type of printer you are using.

Bookmarking

Because this site uses frames, you will need to do either of the following in order to bookmark a specific page:

1. Find the link TO the page you would like to bookmark. With Windows-based systems, right-click, and choose "copy shortcut to clipboard." You can do the same thing by using CTRL-Click on Macintosh systems.

2. Alternatively, once you are on the page you would like to bookmark, right-click, and then choose "Open in New Frame." In Macintosh-systems, hold the mouse button down, then choose "Open Frame in New Window." You will then have a new browser window containing the content you are interested in with a long URL using our frame index. You can either set a bookmark for the entire URL, or you can simply highlight and copy the direct URL, which is that part of the long URL coming after the question mark in "...frameindex.html?"

Navigation

We've enhanced our pages so that specific pages on the John Muir Exhibit found through an off-site or on-site search engine will open within the header and navigation bar frames.

Note that once you access this site, you may navigate within the frames. You will still need to click on the page you wish to bookmark or print out.

You should no longer have trouble getting back to a previous page or website if you found us on a search engine. If you do, please let us know, and note the following: To return to a previous website, instead of a single click on the back button, click-and-hold on the back button (Netscape) or click on the small triangle just to the right of the back button (Internet Explorer) and select the second item on that list in order to return to your previous page.


Volunteer!

This award-winning website is a volunteer effort of the Sierra Club John Muir Education Committee.

We welcome volunteer contributions to this effort, so the John Muir Exhibit can continue to be the most comprehensive resource about John Muir on the Internet! We express our gratitude to our volunteer contributors on our Acknowledgements page. If you would like to volunteer, please review the information about the Sierra Club John Muir Education Committee and contact the Webmaster, Harold Wood, at harold.wood@sierraclub.org




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Last updated: April 9, 2010
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