It is April 21, a special occasion for all the lovers of nature and wilderness. Today is John Muir’s 178th birthday! His legacy is well and truly alive not only through National Parks, Sierra Club and National Audubon Society but also through all those who love being outdoors and relish Nature at its finest. His ideas regarding conserving ‘Cathedrals of Nature’ and importance of wilderness in modern life are not only inspiring but increasingly relevant and important today. For me, as a landscape and nature photographer, John Muir’s contribution is even more impacting as the National Parks, the State Parks, the Wildernesses, the Wildlife Refuges and many more conserved lands are the areas I find myself, often with a camera, trying to showcase the beauty that motivates me; the same splendor had inspired Muir, and numerous others before and after him.
John Muir spent quite some time exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountain range or ‘the Range of Light’ (an adjective given by Muir). The anecdote of him giving a tour of Yosemite to President Theodore Roosevelt is fascinating and quoting from PBS website:
“…three-night camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 could be considered the most significant camping trip in conservation history. He was able to persuade Roosevelt to return Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to federal protection as part of Yosemite National Park. The trip would have a lasting impact on the president.”
Sierra Nevada is truly an amazing place with Yosemite National Park arguably being its crowning jewel. I have had my share of Sierra moments- it’s where I started backpacking, developed a knack to explore and imagine a composition beforehand, and then wait for light- a process that has often resulted in my favorite images.
Muir arrived in San Francisco on March 27, 1868, and when asked where did he want to go, he replied, “where the wild places are”. Then, he walked to the Sierra Nevada through California’s central valley (a description worth reading). It is not surprising to me that Muir preferred a ‘saunter’ to a ‘hike’. The former being a slow placed walk in Nature, during which you stop, value what you see and almost loose a sense of time; in contrast to the relatively fast paced, distance driven ‘hike’. Sometimes, I feel that we photographers get so obsessed with capturing the ‘perfect shot’ that we almost forget to savor the moments. I, myself have been a culprit of this and now, consciously I try to get into the spirit of ‘saunter’ when walking with a camera- those are times when I come back home with unusual, intimate compositions. After all, it’s the emotional connection that provides each of us our unique perspective.
His lyrical, almost spiritual writing is a great read and thanks to the Sierra Club, it is freely available online (http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/). Some of my favorite quotes by Muir are
“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 alike.”
“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Lastly, Muir’s words from his ‘Travel to Alaska’ best summarize my one week visit to this last frontier-
“To the lover of pure wildness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world… it seems as if surely we must at length reach the very paradise of the poets, the abode of the blessed.”
Happy Birthday John Muir, ‘the John of the Mountains’, ‘the Father of National Parks’!