The power of the written word: John Muir’s journey from wonder, adventure and discovery to action

 In Communications, Environment

Birth of Yosemite National Park - visitor panel in Soda Springs, Tuolumne Meadows

Yesterday, a Yosemite National Park ranger pointed to the place where a conversation and an idea led to the preservation of Yosemite for all time. A panel here, near Parsons Memorial Lodge in Soda Springs, commemorates the event. Around a campfire in 1889, John Muir and publisher Robert Underwood Johnson talked about how to protect this area, which Muir worried would be “stripped of its forests” by lumbermen and “gnawed and trampled into a desert condition” by sheep.

To push for the establishment of the park, the two set out to influence public opinion. Johnson lobbied Congress while Muir wrote two articles for publication in Johnson’s Century Magazine: The Treasure of the Yosemite and
Features of the Proposed Yosemite National Park.

A short time after, in 1890, Yosemite National Park was born, extending from the famed Valley to the high altitude peaks and meadows.

The Power of the Written Word

Beyond those two influential articles, in his lifetime, John Muir wrote over 300 magazine articles and 12 books as well as many unpublished works. The New York Tribune published his first article “Yosemite Glaciers,” in December 1871. Just two years earlier, in 1869 at the age of 31 Muir was herding sheep in the high mountains of what is now Yosemite National Park.

When Muir was not studying nature and ascending peaks in the wilderness he wrote stories for publication from his Bay Area home in Martinez. Muir wrote about how the mountains changed him, about their beauty and grandeur, his scientific discoveries and ultimately the need to protect and conserve these places he treasured.

Panel describing John Muir's writing, Soda Springs, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

A Walk in the Wild: Continuing John Muir’s Journey

In that spirit, a new exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California on the life and legend of John Muir takes visitors on a journey through four realms – the same personal journey Muir took as he went from “wonder” to “adventure” to “discovery” to “action.” In my last post I describe my preview of the exhibit just before it opened.

The exhibit’s curator Dorris Welch believes that people are inspired by John Muir to this day. “If he had not been such a prolific writer, that probably would not be the case,” said Welch.

Be sure to listen to KQED Forum’s show on John Muir’s Life and Legacy with the exhibit’s creators and John Muir historians. Host Sydnie Kohara interviews Dorris Welch, who worked for four years to curate “A Walk in the Wild;” Bonnie Gisel, an environmental historian, educator, curator of the Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite National Park and author of “Nature’s Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy;” and Donald Worster, professor of American history at the University of Kansas and author of “A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir.”


The Oakland Museum of California’s special exhibit continues through January 22, 2012.

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