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To MY FRIENDS AND FELLOW MEMBERS OF THE SIERRA CLUB:
ay I venture to express to you the sorrow with which the news of the death of our friend, the venerable John Muir, has filled me? He was the patriarch of American lovers of mountains, one who had not only a passion for the splendours of Nature, but a wonderful power of interpreting her to men. The very air of the granite peaks, the very fragrance of the deep and solemn forest, seem to breathe round us and soothe our sense as we read the descriptions of his lonely wanderings in the Sierras when their majesty was first revealed. California may well honour the service of one who did so much to make known her charms and to shield them from desecration. And you of the Club will cherish the memory of a singularly pure and simple character, who was in his life all that a worshipper of nature ought to be.
February 19th, 1915
JOHN MUIR-PRESIDENT OF THE SIERRA CLUB
BY WILLIAM E. COLBY
John Muir was the Sierra Club's first President and held that office for twenty-two years—until his death. The Sierra Club was organized in 1892 largely as a result of the wide-spread interest in California's wonderful mountain playgrounds, which had been aroused by his twenty years of preaching the necessity for their preservation before it should become too late. The Yosemite National Park had just been created as one result of his splendid work. While we could have this great leader of all true mountaineers and lovers of “pure wildness,” it was unthinkable that any one else should hold the office of President,
It was my good fortune to be Secretary of the Club for the last fifteen years of this period and I came to know this wonderful man as I have known few others. It is a priceless privilege to be in close contact with a man whose mind was as pure and whose ideals were as high as were John Muir's, and moreover, one who so thoroughly lived up to this ideal purity.
John Muir will never be fully appreciated by those whose minds are filled with money getting and the sordid things of modern every-day life. To such Muir is an enigma-a fanatic -visionary and impractical. There is nothing in common to arouse sympathetic interest. That anyone should spend his whole life in ascertaining the fundamental truths of nature and glory in their discovery with a joy that would put to shame even the religious zealot is to many utterly incomprehensible. That a man should brave the storms and thread the pathless wilderness, exult in the earthquake's violence, rejoice in the icy blasts of the northern glaciers, and that he should do all this alone and unarmed, year in and year out, is a marvel that but few can understand. These solitary explorations were quite in contrast with the usual heavily equipped expeditions which undertake such work. John Muir loved and gloried in this sort of life and approached it with an enthusiasm and power of will that made hardships and those things which most human beings consider
essentials, mere trifles by comparison. He was willing to subordinate everything in life to this work which he had set out to do supremely well, and it is little wonder that he attained his goal.
His latter days were so full of the rich experiences of these earlier years of devotion to his chosen work and he looked with such calm and serenity out upon the feverish haste and turmoil of those about him, engaged in making everything within reach “dollarable,” that he seemed to be living in a world apart-a world created by his own wonderful spirit and efforts.
To those who thought him impractical and visionary, it is only necessary to point out his early skill as an inventor, which, if continued, would have made him world famous, or to his success as an orchardist, making his friends, the trees, bear as they had never been known to bear before or since. But these activities were chosen mainly because they seemed the duty of the hour and when finished were left for the nobler pursuits that lay nearest his heart.
His true position as a geologist will never be adequately recognized because his writings on his geological studies were so minimized by contrast with that greater field of beautiful literature in which he excelled. But any one who has read his “Studies in the Sierra” (now being reprinted in the SIERRA CLUB BULLETIN), and who realizes that his views on glaciation as bearing on the origin of Yosemite Valley were written at a time when geologists of great eminence were advancing other theories, and had no patience with any glacial theory, will appreciate that John Muir was no ordinary student of the physical laws of nature. I ran across the following extract from a little pamphlet on the Yosemite, published in 1872:
“There is and has been for two years past, living in the Valley, a gentleman of Scottish parentage, by name John Muir, who, Hugh Miller like, is studying the rocks in and around the Valley. He told me that he was trying to read the great book spread out before him. He is by himself pursuing a course of geological studies, and is making careful drawings of the different parts of the gorge. No doubt he is more thoroughly acquainted with this valley than any one else. He has been far up the Sierras where glaciers are now in action, ploughing deep
depressions in the mountains. He has made a critical examination of the superincumbent rocks, and already has much material upon which to form a correct theory.” (The Yosemite, by John Erastus Lester.) (1873.) Prepared for and read before the Rhode Island Historical Society.
When we bear in mind the fact that at that time Muir had been in the Valley only a little over two years, and that his glacial theory of the origin of the Valley is now quite generally accepted, this prophecy is all the more striking.
John Muir himself can tell more fittingly than I am able to his relation to the Club and, therefore, the following extracts have been selected from some of his letters. From his home near Martinez he wrote under date of January 15, 1907: “I herewith return the draft of a Club report on Kings River region with my hearty approval, excepting the first two pages of the MS., in which the Yosemite and Kings River regions are compared. Every possible aid and encouragement should be given by the Club for the preservation, road and trail building, etc., for the development of the magnificent Kings River region, but unjust one-sided comparisons seeking to build up and glorify one region at the expense of lowering the other is useless work and should be left to real estate agents, promoters, rival hotel and stage owners, etc. Certainly the Club has nothing to do with such stuff, tremendous advantages, wealth and variety of mountain sculpture depending on greater depths and heights, etc., suggest boys with eyes to depth and height of butter and honey, seeing tremendous advantages in one slice of bread over another cut from the same loaf.
“Have you seen the President's Proclamation of Dec. 8, 1906, creating the ‘Petrified Forest National Monument'under the Act of Congress of June 8, 1906? Contains 60,776.02 acres, and includes the Blue Jasper Forest Helen and I found. The large new forest to the north of Adamana is to be added to the above. Come up some Saturday night or Sunday and talk over matters."
Martinez, Jan. 13, 1908: "Of course I heartily approve of the proposed vote of thanks to Mr. Kent, and suggest a slight change in the form of the resolution, as follows:
"Resolved: That the Sierra Club extend a hearty vote of