Friday, July 13, 2012

Uncommon vision

I haven't been very good about keeping up my blog lately. I've got several books I need to write reviews on before I forget them and I've been mostly coasting on posts I wrote months ago. I've also got half-written posts on what the family's been doing but haven't had time to pull the pictures from three different cameras (4 if I count my phone). The truth is I'm feeling burned out. Work is busy, the family's going in six different directions at once, and I've been focusing all my writing energies on my own book, the novel I hope to publish one day. The good news is that it's moving along better than ever and my goal is to finish the first draft this month. Then I'll take a few weeks off before starting on the rewrite, and Jamie suggested I write a short story in those weeks and post it here. We'll see how that goes...

... but first things first: backpacking. We leave today and expect to hike 50 to 60 miles over the next week carrying 40-50 lb packs and climb Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in the lower 48 states) by the end. I've been alternately excited and dreading it for months now. (I'll report back afterward – hopefully!)

But with the trip in mind I picked up a book that had been on my TBR list for a couple years – A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster. After donating blood last month I was reading it at the cookies and juice table (where I'm supposed to wait for 10 or 15 minutes, but unless someone starts talking to me I'm out in 4) when someone said "John Muir? Who's that?" Bear in mind that I live in California, and if you look at the back of the California quarter you'll see John Muir on it. Oh well...

John Muir was a leading naturalist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was the first president of the Sierra Club and prominent in establishing Yosemite National Park. He was probably more responsible than even Thoreau and Emerson for getting people to appreciate and conserve nature, although he didn't really set out to do that. He emigrated from Scotland when he was 10, studied botany at the university in Wisconsin, and had a knack for inventing machines. But after walking to the Gulf Coast from Wisconsin (soon after the Civil War) on his way to see the Amazon he ended up in San Francisco and took a job herding sheep in Yosemite Valley – and fell in love with the place. Before long he'd rambled over much of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and began writing newspaper articles on the places he'd seen. And even though he wasn't much of a writer it was through his articles and later books that he gained notoriety and eventually became the voice of American wilderness.

The interesting thing about Muir is that he wasn't an enemy of mankind or progress as some environmentalists seem today. He acknowledged that people need to survive on the land, but he wanted to protect those most amazing and spectacular sights that he saw as God's handiwork. To him, Nature wasn't "red, in tooth and claw," but beautiful from the tiniest wildflowers to the majestic work of glaciers over centuries. I'd previously read a book by Worster and was unimpressed by his somewhat Marxist views and disdain for American culture, but I appreciated the portrait he paints here of a man who wasn't rabid and unyielding in his beliefs but who sought to share a greater respect for Nature.

It's an interesting biography but not exceptionally so, but I wanted to understand more about him before I go hiking on the trail that was named in his honor.

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