There has been renewed interest in conservation as of late, and no historic figure reminds us of the importance of the conservation of our natural beauty and resources more like the great John Muir. Born in Scotland in 1838, he is one of America’s most renowned conservationists. He is to thank for inspiring America’s earliest conservation legislation, and this year (2021) he would have been 183.
So, every year on his birthday of April 21, we celebrate John Muir Day.
His writings about his travels and the nature surrounding those travels have inspired countless photographers, writers, as well as other travelers and conservationists to appreciate and protect the natural world. It is ironic that John Muir began his professional career as a talented and inventive craftsman; a vocation that almost led him to lose his sight. Had that happened, he would not have had the chance to use that all-important sense which made him such a success in the conservationist world.
Working at a carriage factory, a young John Muir was working with a sharp hand tool, when it slipped and pierced his right eye.
Immediately he lost sight in both eyes. Bedridden for the next two weeks, he made a vow to himself that if he were to recover, he would give up his craftsmanship to travel the world. As fate would have it, he did regain full vision, and off he went – beginning with a 1,000 mile walk to Cuba. This now-famous trip is chronicled in his book, A Thousand Mile Walk Into the Gulf. In that work includes detailed sketches of novel plants and intimate descriptions of exploring caves and fighting malaria. A true adventurer’s delight.
Later, his travels in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains led to some of the most poetic and inspirational prose ever to be written about the landscape found there. This and subsequent writings about the grandeur of the natural world eventually wooed the hearts and minds of scientists and politicians alike, not to mention the public at large.
He led tours of the Yosemite region, and advocated tirelessly for some sort of federal program to protect all natural wonders, warning that without action, a large part of the nation’s natural beauty would perish from human development.
Finally in 1890, Congress acted, and established the creation of first Sequoia National Park, then Yosemite National Park. Among his contemporary fans were Ralph Waldo Emerson, and even President Theodore Roosevelt. In fact, the President spent three whole days with Muir, and together they brainstormed what might be done to help protect the country’s vast forest system. From that collaboration, Roosevelt went on to establish five national parks, 150 national forests, and 18 national monuments throughout his time in office.
Muir also founded the Sierra Club, and is considered the father of the National Parks system, with good reason. Today, there are many places that bear John Muir’s name: everything from a trail, to a monument, to a glacier, and much more. And yes, even an asteroid, called ‘128523 Johnmuir.’ Fitting for a man who wrote his address as “Earth-Planet, Universe.”
Meet Rob Decker, Creator of National Park Posters
Photographer and graphic artist Rob Decker studied photography with Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park during the summer of 1979 when he was just 19. It was an experience solidified his love of photography and our National Parks. Now he is on a journey to photograph and create iconic WPA-style posters of all our major national parks as we celebrate the next 100 years of the National Park Service.
"I feel it’s important to protect America’s special places, and to connect people with nature. And it’s up to all of us to pitch in. Perhaps more importantly, we need to inspire the next generation of park stewards. I’m trying to make a difference by giving back to the amazing organizations that support our National Parks. I donate 10% of annual profits, so when you buy one of these original works, you're helping these trusts, conservancies and associations, too."
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