It was my first trip to the Sierra and it was a pilgrimage of sorts. These were not on New Jersey High School reading lists of the time, and the world they opened to me expressed perfectly the things I was feeling and exploring in my own life. The Sierra Nevada is also an international conservation icon, symbolic of the protective instinct of people for nature, and emblematic of the idea that one generation has a responsibility not only to succeeding ones, but to preceding ones as well, without whose foresight these wonders may well have been hopelessly degraded.
International norms of conservation such as the establishment of national parks and public preserves became norms in part because of the famous battles to protect the Range of Light. There was a national park before Yosemite Yellowstone, established by President Grant On March 1, for example, but the true meaning of the idea of National Parks took shape around Yosemite, and the utilitarian v. And it took firm shape and captured the public imagination in the battles to save the Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada.
No mountain range ever had a better press agent than the Sierra Nevada did in John Muir.
What qualified him for this honor? Scores of environmental leaders credit him with their inspiration, including David Brower, first executive director of the Sierra Club. Artists—like Alfred Bierstadt of the Hudson River School of artists—came west to portray the scenes Muir exalted in his books and articles for Century, the Atlantic Monthly and others. The year was a good year for Underwood Johnson-Muir collaboration.
Both Sequoia National Park and Yosemite were established as two of the crown jewels of the national park system, a system whose fame influenced nations around the world to protect their own spectacular landscapes.
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Exploitative child and adult labor practices and rampant air and water pollution were turning urban centers into hell-holes of not only economic struggle and despair, but places without respite. Vast tracts were logged off and huge fires followed in the North Woods. Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread. Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew. Yes, it is bread we fight for—but we fight for roses, too!
Could Muir have been influenced by the sentiments of organized labor? More likely this idea was common in an America where workers were maltreated and living in squalid and emotionally starving conditions. While Muir did not deal in the same economic framework as they did he never expressed much of an opinion about economic theory , and would never have been considered a muckraker, he did ride the same wave of public outrage and expressed a complementary sentiment that wild places needed government protection before the power of unfettered capital swept them away.
This was a message with a ready-made national audience. Government protection of wilderness was the antidote to corporate power that would save the Sierra forests, rivers and creatures. On this Muir was typically eloquent. As he noted in his memoir My First Summer in the Sierra :. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods—trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools—only Uncle Sam can do that.
There was a common wealth, and it was being raided by an unscrupulous exercise of capitalism Muir it should be noted was not a socialist. Much of American urban life had descended into darkness and battled for the light. There was a sickness in the land. The source of this light, portrayed like a religious icon in his books, articles, speeches and indefatigable lobbying was the Sierra Nevada. People, he argued, needed wilderness to connect with the nature that was part of their very fiber and being.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. They used demographics and labor statistics to make a case for government intervention on behalf of workers. Not Muir. Critics accused him of sentimentality guilty as charged , but he had perfect pitch for the emotional chords that inspired the people of his time—people of all classes.
He was a literary phenomenon. Muir claimed not only minds but hearts. He understood how disconnected from nature people of his time had become, and his insights made him the perfect messenger for wilderness. The Sierra, the purest example of the values he was expressing, had to be preserved; for their own benefit certainly, but always for the benefit of humanity present and future.
It needed no improvement; it needed protection for its perfection. In John of the Mountains, the Unpublished Journals of John Muir , he wrote insightfully about the craving he saw urban Americans had for even a hint of nature in their lives. This he saw was the connection needed to create a public constituency for places like the wild Sierra.
The window of my city study overlooked the backyard and porch of a hardworking German family. The eldest child, a girl perhaps about sixteen years old, was housekeeper, doing the washing, scrubbing, cooking. Every morning I saw her getting the boys ready for school, blacking shoes, washing faces, brushing and combing the hair of the youngest.
But on a little shelf of the back porch she had a row of plants in cans and damaged crockery—geranium, tulip, a small rose bush. He resists sin as one who knows the victory has already been given.
Selfish living clouds our ability to rightly see life. No matter the cost, we want to please self, live for self, justify self, and indulge self. Instead, confess your sins to God and thank Him for His forgiveness.
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God loves you and wants to free you for relationship with Him. You can find out more about what it means to have a relationship with God by visiting ThisIsTheGospel. He frees us from the control and penalty of sin. He frees us from the control and bondage of addiction.
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