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John Muir, Conservationist, and ‘Father of our National Park’ System

Are You Concerned about the Environment?

John Muir in Yosemite National Park

These days a lot of people are concerned about our environment and climate change.  In fact in a poll taken this year, this is the top concern for any gen-xer or millennial.  And unfortunately, over the centuries man has not taken care of the land/animals as God commanded us to do (Gen 2:15).  Too many times we have plundered the land and killed animals for our own profit.

So what is a gen-xer or millennial to do in an effort to try and conserve our natural resources?  I believe John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club can guide you.  Here’s his story:

John Muir’s Early Days 

John was born in Scotland in 1838 and attended school there until he was 11.  His family then emigrated to the U.S. and they lived in Wisconsin where his father owned a small farm.  His family were strict Scottish Presbyterians and his father made him memorize scripture almost daily.  By the time they had emigrated, John was able to recite from heart, almost the whole Old and New Testament.

When he was 22, he had enough money to attend school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  He stayed there for 3 years studying botany and geology.  He traveled to the Canadian West to visit his brother where both of them worked in a sawmill factory.  A year later he returned to the U.S. where he settled temporarily in Indianapolis and worked in a wagon wheel factory.

It was here at the age of 29, that he had the accident which almost took his sight away.  A tool he was using flipped out of his hand, and caught him in the right eye, blinding him.  With that injury his left eye decided to sympathize with it, and also went blind.  John spent the next 6 weeks laying in a dark room, wondering and praying whether he would re-acquire his eyesight.

After six weeks he had his answer. God had healed him and he stated, “God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.”  With his recovery he decided he was meant to be a naturalist/botanist and henceforth began following his dream.

The Naturalist/Botanist/Conservationist was Born

He left Indianapolis and traveled (walked) 1,000 miles south to Florida, where he hopped a ship and traveled to Cuba to study botany.  He soon found himself on another ship bound for New York City, where he paid for his passageway to California.

He worked as an itinerant worker, picking up odd jobs here and there whenever he needed monies.  After landing in San Francisco, he traveled south to Yosemite valley and spent a week there, totally in awe of God’s natural beauty.

Upon his return to San Francisco (after years of being away, in Yosemite) he was introduced to Louisa Strentzel, through a friend of his.  She was to become his wife in 1880.  After they married he ended up working for his father-in-law on the fruit plantation he had.

His Writings Acquired the Attention of Washington, DC

John Muir began writing in his journals and eventually began submitting his writings for publication.  He found success at doing this.  In fact he was so successful with his writings that the U.S. Congress took notice and followed his recommendations in two of his published articles, passing a bill in 1890 to establish Yosemite National Park.

In 1892 at the behest of Professor Henry Senger, UC Berkeley, John Muir was asked to present the idea of forming a ‘Sierra Club’.  Immediately after it was formed the Sierra Club went into action trying to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley from having a dam built.  They eventually lost this fight.

Yet again his writings caught the attention of someone in Washington, DC.  This time it was President Teddy Roosevelt.  In 1903 he traveled out to see Muir and had Muir accompany him on a tour through Yosemite National Park.  Due to Muir’s detailed journal writings about how the Yosemite Valley had changed due to the state’s mismanagement of it, he was able to convince President Roosevelt of the need for the federal government to claim it as national land.  Upon his return to Washington, DC, he did just that.

Christianity Formed His Outlook on Life and God’s Creation

Throughout his whole life, God was forever at the front of his mind.  He styled himself as a ‘John the Baptist.’  He came to believe that God was always active in the creation of life and thereby kept the natural order of this world.  Muir saw nature as a great teacher, revealing the mind of God.

Today, the Sierra Club has over 2.4 million members.  Due to Muir’s work he is looked upon as being the ‘Father of our National Park System.’  He died in 1914 at the age of 76 in Los Angeles from pneumonia.

Muir was a naturalist and preservationist, he didn’t want any of God’s creation marred by human touch.  We owe a debt of gratitude to him for all of his work.

What Can You Do?

So if you are like Muir, and want to conserve the environment, what can you do to help?  Here are some ideas:

  • Shop at your local farmer’s markets during the summer and fall, many of them will have organic produce instead of pesticide sprayed produce.
  • Ride your bicycle to work
  • Refuse to buy plastic bottles (such as water bottles, ice tea, etc)
  • Reuse your ziplock plastic bags at home
  • Use re-useable grocery bag containers instead of the plastic ones from the grocery store
  • If you go camping, pack out what you packed in
  • Call a local conservation group and ask them whether you can volunteer to help clean up or repair the local hiking trails in your area.
  • Contact arborday.org about planting trees on Arbor Day (4/26)
  • Contact your local national park about their scheduled clean up days they have throughout the year where volunteers come in and clean the park facilities and trails
  • if you live by a beach (lake, sea or ocean) take a trash container and go and pick up the trash left behind and dispose of it properly
  • lastly, get involved in your local arbordayfoundation group, or speak in your local community about what can be done to conserve the environment, or run for a public office.

These are just some ideas, you can probably come up with some of your own.  The bottom line is to become an activist for what you believe in.

Below is a short video on John Muir’s life:

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