Appreciating John Muir

For anyone who likes to see the forest from the trees, stories about John Muir are likely to be a source of interest and inspiration. A bold and attentive naturalist, Muir traveled in and wrote about many of America’s wild places during the second half of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. To this day, his experiences and his words remain attention-grabbing and thought-provoking. Muir believed strongly in the emotional and spiritual necessity of spending time in nature, and he worked hard for many years to help preserve wilderness sites for everyone. For someone seeking to appreciate his legacy, a variety of reading options are available. The books listed below are some of my favorites.

For readers of all ages, picture books are a lovely way to explore Muir’s life and work. With just a quick read, these books summarize Muir’s experiences and establish his lasting importance. At the same time, the illustrations allow readers to encounter nature’s beauty, prompting a deeper connection with the wild places Muir traveled in and cared for. In the following picture books, the illustrations offered by the painter Thomas Locker are especially beautiful, and they definitely helped me to recall and to contemplate the outdoors:

John Muir: America’s Naturalist by Thomas Locker 
John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall by Julie Danneberg
John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist by Kathryn Lasky
The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock

For readers who would like to investigate further, Muir's own writings are a wonderful route to take. After all, he was both prolific and skilled as a writer. Muir produced many books, essays and letters detailing his travels in and thoughts on America’s wild places, before his death in 1914. Throughout, he demonstrated an uncommon ability to put his experiences and his philosophies into words. Muir’s writings are still somewhat familiar today, circulating most frequently as brief excerpts or quotes. Yet reading his words at greater length makes plain how he not only witnessed amazing sights in nature, but he also transformed his experiences into valuable insights about wild places:

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir
Travels in Alaska by John Muir
Writings by John Muir excerpted in American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau

Ultimately, John Muir’s words were powerful and his work was practical. With dedication, he sought to protect the wilderness he loved and to increase understanding of its value for all. Because Muir was born on April 21st, 1850, this month is a fitting time to learn more about the individual who helped to preserve wild places for everyone. It’s also a fine time to spend some time directly in nature, thereby further appreciating his legacy. Of course, as John Muir knew, the present day is always a good one for outdoor exploration – and its attendant exhalation.