Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today is John Muir's birthday. I took a few moments today in between my classes to go visit his wooden clock which is on exhibit in the State Historical building on campus. (The State Historical Society is an amazing - and dare I say, secret - place on campus with one of the most spectacular libraries and reading rooms; I love the beautiful old building - and not just because I'm a history major) Anyway, if you ever get the chance to stop in and check out the small Muir exhibit, it really is worth it.

Muir isn't most well-known for his clocks, as amazing as they are. Most know Muir for his unmatched influence within the early American conservation movement; his conservation legacy lives on today in the Sierra Club and in the hearts of many Americans who have a passion for the outdoors and for protecting America's beautiful wild places.

Wisconsin is proud to claim Muir as a native: a Scottish immigrant whose parents settled near Portage, Muir spent his childhood playing in the roaming creeks and wooded hills of the central part of the state. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison (which has since named the wooded knoll just up the road from College Library "Muir Woods" in his memory), taking an unusual combination of classes, and excelling in botany and geology. Muir never graduated, and left school to travel to Canada, where he worked on and off and spent his free time wandering the natural landscapes of the north.

Though nature played an important role in young Muir's life, it wasn't until a factory accident temporarily blinded him at 29 years old that he truly realized how much he valued the natural world. Afraid that he had taken nature's beauty for granted, Muir set out on a hike from Indiana to Florida after his recovery. In September 1867, Muir set out for Florida by the "wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could find."

Muir's wanderings eventually brought him to Yosemite Valley, where he found what he called "the grandest of all temples of Nature". As Muir spent more time in Yosemite, he drew upon his education, which he mixed with his passion for nature, to study the area. His background with geology at UW-Madison aided him in developing a theory about the glacial formation of the Valley - an extremely advanced notion for the time. Muir settled in the Valley, and eventually he and a colleague and fellow alpinist formed the Sierra Club in 1892. The Sierra Club played an important role locally at first, by helping protect the Yosemite Valley and eventually helping to establish Yosemite as a National Park under the control of the Federal Government. The Sierra Club eventually expanded nationwide, and is known as America's earliest grassroots environmental organization.

Muir's role as the first President of the Sierra Club as well as his activist approach to the protection and conservation of Yosemite earned him nationwide recognition. President Theodore Roosevelt was impressed by Muir's vision and passion for the wilderness, and Muir even escorted Roosevelt on a backcountry tour of the park. Eventually, this close relationship helped Muir to convince Roosevelt that Yosemite needed the authority of federal government to continue to protect it.


So why, then, does Muir's legacy affect us here in Wisconsin? It might seem that Muir completely forgot about his home state after being swept off of his feet by the California wilderness. It was, after all, Wisconsin's natural beauty that helped foster Muir's passion for the outdoors. Though Muir concentrated most of his personal conservation efforts in Yosemite, his legacy of conservation continues throughout the nation, providing us Midwesterners (and everyone else, for that matter) with beautiful wild spaces to explore. I encourage you to check out the Sierra Club website and see if it is an organization that you are interested in supporting.

In the meantime, stop in and talk to us about new ways to get out and enjoy the wild places that Muir helped protect! We're constantly receiving shipments of new spring gear and clothing (I am particularly excited by the huge Black Diamond order that just came in - our climbing department is stocked to the brim). Plus, a lot of us employees have been spending our spare time out and about in the area, and can offer some great advice and ideas about trips and ways to get outside - it's supposed to be beautiful out this weekend!

Also, don't miss our upcoming events this weekend - there's a Chaco Arbor Day promotion (Buy One, Get One Tree) and a Preferred Customer Party (complete with live music, a beer tasting by Capitol Brewery, and ridiculous discounts and specials).

For now, I should probably stop writing about the history of Muir and start thinking about the papers I have due in my classes...oh, if only every class could be an environmental history class!

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