John Muir and the power of nature

Why exactly do you seek out nature?

I read a biography on conservationist John Muir recently, and after learning about his incredible life, I pondered the question I asked above.

What is it that is inside of me that drives me to leave my comfortable urban surroundings and head to the hills?

I think I like the quiet – though it freaks me out a bit when you get really deep into the woods and the only human sounds are from the group I’m with.

I know I like the views – as evidenced by the pictures all over my social media and my house.

I guess I like the exercise – you won’t get far without some sweat equity.

But it feels like there is another reason, a sort of spiritual renewal you get from walking through a meadow of wildflowers, or up a hill in an old growth forest, or next to a stream, lake, ocean or waterfall.

“Everything turns into religion, all the world seems a church and the mountains altars.” John Muir

Muir certainly believed so. He believed it so much, he turned away from his Evangelical upbringing and embraced the spirituality of nature. I won’t quite go that far, but I certainly can buy into the idea that every person out there needs to find a way to connect with nature to recharge.

“I am hopelessly and forever a mountaineer … Civilization and fever and all the morbidness that has been hooted at me has not dimmed my glacial eye, and I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s loveliness. My own special self is nothing. My feet have recovered their cunning. I feel myself again.”

John Muir in a letter to his mentor and friend Jeanne Carr

Even if you don’t have the money or the means to travel to a National Park, you can find a park in your town, a green space, a beach, and just sit and reflect on the immensity of our earth and the amazing quality of the natural beauty that isn’t man made.

“Different as they were, both (Carleton) Watkins [photographer] and (Albert) Bierstadt [painter] shared Muir’s natural piety. None was interested in social realism – pictures of Indians grinding acorns, carpenters nailing together a bridge, cows being milked for the tourists’ breakfast. That mundane, humanized world could be easily found in this place too, but to discover it was not what drew them to Yosemite. The artists came to find not man-made beauty or man-made ugliness, but an other-than-human beauty. This they sought to capture and take away. Muir, in contrast, sought to make that beauty part of his daily, lived experience – letting it capture him.”

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir – Page 172

While I will never summit Mount Rainier or hike the Pacific Coast Trail, I do know that thanks to Muir and countless others I have the ability to connect with nature through the National Park system, the state parks and countless county and city parks. Nature is at our fingertips and we must do all we can to not only protect it, but also to enjoy it.

– Craig Craker

“Nature was the best tonic for the nation’s diseased way of thinking – more efficacious than any high-minded president or any government regulation at encouraging a spirit of generosity and philanthropy among the rich and more useful than a settlement house or a union card in restoring the mental health of the poor. (John Muir) did not criticize market regulations, or unions, or reform politics but found them all inadequate. The best remedy for the ills of an industrial, class-divided society was popular access to nature and a shared vision of nature’s divine harmony.”

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir – Page 416

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