The Botanist's Last Journey: John Muir in South America and southern Africa, 1911-12.

presentation by C. Michael Hall and Stephen R. Mark


C. Michael Hall
Faculty of Communication
University of Canberra, Australia

Stephen R. Mark
National Park Service
Crater Lake, Oregon USA

As a publicist and advocate, John Muir was of unquestioned importance to the American conservation movement during its formative years. Some of his most notable literary work stems from extensive travel throughout California's Sierra Nevada in search of large trees such as the Giant Sequoia. He later capitalized on his literary fame by leading battles to establish Yosemite National Park and worked to keep newly proclaimed forest reserves intact throughout the western United States.

A botanist's fascination with nature and, in particular, trees, fueled this advocacy for preserving federal parks and forests. While his life and work in North America is well known, relatively little has been written about his overseas travels. Muir's enthusiasm knew no national boundaries and the desire to see and learn about certain trees and other plants in their native habitats greatly influenced his travels in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Such travels are regarded as extremely significant in explaining Muir's attitudes towards nature conservation as they place his life and legacies in a much wider context than what has hitherto been the case.

This paper examines Muir's travels in South America and Africa during 1911 and 1912. It is of some significance that even the prolonged battle over Hetch Hetchy in his beloved Yosemite did not deter Muir from seeking certain tree species in Brazil, Chile, South Africa, and what is now Zimbabwe a few months before his 74th birthday. This constituted his most difficult trip in many respects and amazed many of his contemporaries. The authors discuss the nature of Muir's journey, its influence on his thinking and activism, and conclude by noting the significance of this final botanical expedition within the context of Muir's life.


1996 John Muir Conference

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