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John Muir, nature man of Yosemite

June 26, 2008 |  1:17 pm

John muir

Naturalist John Muir is the focus of a feature in this month's Smithsonian magazine. The man who championed protecting natural spaces — especially in what is now Yosemite National Park — was born in Scotland, moved as a boy to Wisconsin and later hiked from Kentucky to south Florida; there, he got sick and headed to California to recuperate. Once he found the wilds of Northern California in 1868, he was smitten. He climbed rocks, cursed the sharp hooves of sheep that tore up wildflowers and even snuck President Teddy Roosevelt away from his handlers and into the backcountry for three nights of camping.

He also wrote like a fiend.

Most of Muir's writings — which appeared, predominantly, in magazines — are in the public domain. The Sierra Club has put many of them online, in HTML format, with the original illustrations (in other words, no PDF downloads). But if you prefer book form, there have been reprints, and in 1997 the Library of America published "John Muir: Nature Writings," a weighty 928 pages. Here's a taste from "The Yosemite," originally published in 1912:

But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly aware, yet heedless, of everything going on about them. Awful in stern, immovable majesty, how softly these rocks are adorned, and how fine and reassuring the company they keep: their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky, a thousand flowers leaning confidently against their feet, bathed in floods of water, floods of light....

If that's not to your taste, a selection of books about Muir are after the jump.

In 1946, the Pulitzer Prize for biography was awarded to "Son of the Wilderness" by Linnie Marsh Wolfe; the book was reprinted by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2003.

Candlewick Press published the illustrated children's book "John Muir: America's First Environmentalist" for kids ages 6-10 in hardcover in 2006; it's coming out in paperback later this summer.

Gorgeous color photos are combined with Muir's writings and drawings in National Geographic's "John Muir: Nature's Visionary," published in November 2000.

An exhaustive list of Muir literature is included in the Sierra Club's online John Muir exhibit. If you're planning on making Yosemite a summer vacation destination, this might be a good place to find some reading material to bring along.

Carolyn Kellogg

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