(Muir quotes below)
The other night I stumbled upon PBS’ documentary series on Netflix about our National Parks. If you arnen’t aware of how amazing our National Park system is, I strongly encourage you to check it out.
As the documentary cataloged the beginning of the parks, they focused on a man I’ve grown to admire in many ways, John Muir. Muir was a forever curious mystic wanderer. Some historians suggest that Muir was a genius, and that if he had committed his energy to business or politics he would have been immensely successful.
However, for John, the trappings of society and civilization could never satisfy the deep longing of his soul. This deep longing drove John to wander and live in nature for months at a time. He would travel thousands of miles on foot, walking back and forth from Oakland to Yosemite repeatedly. This trip takes about 3 hours by car today, covers a few hundred miles and some seriously drastic elevation changes. During his journeys John would admire, listen to, breath in, touch, smell, contemplate, and write about the wilderness all around him. His writings and efforts were a significant reason Yosemite became the first American National Park. This system pioneered the unprecedented concept of public space set aside undeveloped, with the intention that it would remain wild for posterity’s sake. Some people conclude that if it wasn’t for John Muir, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and every other National Parks would have been developed, dammed up, and forever lost to the historical momentum of economies, consumption, and society.
John wasn’t just an environmentalist who spoke for and defended a the protection of nature as an abstract notion, he was himself personally and spiritually invested. Deep within John’s essence was a love for and connection with the wild.
As I read some of John’s writing about his experience in creation I became jealous. Imagining his intimate friendship with the trees, mountains, sky, and rivers awoke a longing within me. John saw God’s work, love and mercy in creation. His church was the mountain, his worship was curiosity and reverence, and his theology was listening to God’s voice in the symphony of the forrest.
In today’s world this type of connection is most often totally absent. We have no personal relationship to the earth, and in so doing, I’m afraid we miss out on connecting to God in a way we were designed to. One of the ways I think that we can rekindle this connection with our environment is by emulating people like John who seemed to have the ability to listen to the wild. This ability to listen is something we’ve long forgotten, and something John Muir seemed to have.
I’ve selected some of my favorite Muir quotes to share as a window into the experience and intimate relationship he seemed to have with nature. As you read them imagine yourself seeing what he saw, touching what he touched, smelling what he smelled, hearing what he heard, and feeling deep inside the ecstatic joy of seeing God’s artistry in creation.
Bottom line: I need to get out of the city more.
“No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!”
“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.”
“All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God’s eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best.”
In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.
“I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in “creation’s dawn.” The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.”
“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can”.”
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls. ”
Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”