John Muir’s Writings About Yosemite

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Library of Congress

We posted about John Muir’s writings in the Atlantic four years ago, once we realized they were so accessible in that magazine’s archives. In that post, two years into our foray in India, we simply wanted to share our amazement that Muir had written about India as an example relevant to the case for protecting the forests of North America. We have also posted about Muir indirectly, including a lovely photo-documented post about his visit with Teddy Roosevelt to several wilderness areas that would become iconic national parks.

As we prepare for the expansion of our activities in India, and in advance of our announcement of two exciting new conservation initiatives in Mesoamerica that we will embark upon next month, I have been going back through our archives, enjoying some examples of the historical perspective this platform has allowed us to share.

Today, in the spirit of the centenary of the National Parks Service, and considering this past weekend’s visit to Yosemite by the President of the USA, it makes sense to share another of Muir’s several contributions to The Atlantic, this one specifically about the first national park (which predates the creation of the NPS):

The Yosemite National Park

“All the world lies warm in one heart, yet the Sierra seems to get more light than other mountains.”


Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best. Though extremely rugged, with its main features on the grandest scale in height and depth, it is nevertheless easy of access and hospitable; and its marvelous beauty, displayed in striking and alluring forms, wooes the admiring wanderer on and on, higher and higher, charmed and enchanted. Benevolent, solemn, fateful, pervaded with divine light, every landscape glows  Continue reading

Freeze Frame

Eliot Porter Winter Wren, 1969 Amon Carter Museum Collection*

Sometimes it takes a scientific mind to re-calibrate the artistic eye.  Eliot Porter’s parents had instilled a love of nature and science in him from an early age, and he’d been photographing birds since received his first camera at the age of 10.  His training in medicine and as a chemical engineer didn’t dampen his interest, in fact he was among the first to bridge the gap between photography as a fine art and its foundations in technology and science. Continue reading

The Natural

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite 1903

One hundred and fifty-two years after his birth, Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy as a conservationist lives on in the nearly 230 million acres of land he helped place under public protection.  During his 2 terms as the 26th President of the United States of America he established 150 National Forests, 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, 4 National Game Preserves, and 21 Reclamation Projects, in many cases designated the first of their kinds. Continue reading

Don’t Tread On Me

Humans’ ecological footprint has been increasing while the Earth has remained the same size. Especially in the last three centuries, the impact of human populations on surrounding landscapes and resources has grown enormously. In the United States, the footprint’s swelling can be explained in large part by the change from subsistence to profit-minded production. The colonists who brought European ideas and techniques to America instigated this shift, which began in the late seventeenth century and has arguably continued till the present. The abundance of resources in early America, and the fact that they could be so easily exploited, facilitated this change towards a profiteering mindset. It is with this observation in mind that I can suggest that the fertile nature of early America contained the seeds of our profit-oriented attitude of today, leading to an ever-growing ecological footprint.

Arthur Rothstein “Soil erosion, Alabama, 1937”

Men such as Gifford Pinchot and John Muir realized the dangers of the attitude towards excess and, in order to avoid exploitation of American forests and mountains, attempted to Continue reading

October Air

National Geographic Magazine, Vol. 1

There must be something in the air.  Some Universal Energy of Inspiration that touches down in October, if not annually, then biannually for a brief moment in time. Or is it just coincidence that two events of such simple, yet great significance should have happened on the same date?

What had begun as an elite club for academics and wealthy travel enthusiasts was reorganized in January 1888 into  “a society for the increase and diffusion of geographical knowledge.”  The National Geographic Society was incorporated a few weeks later and the first issue of the magazine was published as its official journal on October 1st.

William Morris Davis, often called the “father of American Geography” was an early member and contributor who wrote the introduction to Vol.1 of the newly minted magazine.

History became a science when it outgrew mere narration and searched for the causes of the facts narrated; when it ceased to accept old narratives as absolute records and judged them by criteria derived from our knowledge of human nature as we see it at present, but modified to accord with past conditions.

The society’s historic mission has continued for well over a hundred years, extending beyond the specifics of geography to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources.”

And so we come to conservation.  Continue reading

Biophilia: E.O. Wilson, from Thoreau to Theroux

In December 2010 the Oxford English Dictionary (fondly called the OED) added 2,400 entries, including “biophilia“.  But E.O. Wilson published the term (as well as it’s city kin) in 1984 in the book of the same name.

My attention was on the forest; it has been there all my life.  I can work up some appreciation for the travel stories of Paul Theroux and other urbanophile authors who treat human settlements as virtually the whole world and the intervening natural habitats as troublesome barriers.  But everywhere I have gone–South America, Australia, New Guinea, Asia–I have thought exactly the opposite.  Jungles and grasslands are the logical destinations, and towns and farmlands the labyrinths that people have imposed between them sometime in the past.  I cherish the green enclaves accidentally left behind. Continue reading