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John Muir Who? Three reasons why Muir is relevant and interesting to my generation

Thursday, 11 October 2018

John Muir: Wilderness-Discovery Books

Known as the ‘Father of the National Parks’ and ‘John of the Mountains’, John Muir was a Scottish-American author and conservationist with a drive for adventure and a dedication to studying and protecting all things natural and wild. Though he was working and writing during the nineteenth century, the power of his words and values live on to the present day, inspiring people across generations.

In this blog I look at why John Muir is still so relevant today, with a special focus on the younger generation – Generation Z. As a ‘Generation Zeder’ myself, I feel somewhat qualified to discuss this and offer a personal perspective on why the great work of Muir is truly timeless.

 

#1 THE POWER OF HIS WORDS

As any reader of Muir will know, his writing is packed with passion and his approach to conserving the environment is nothing short of devoted. The myriad heartfelt accounts and observations contained within the pages of his Wilderness-Discovery Books will charm anyone into falling in love with nature. This is evident in all that Muir achieved with words alone – by drawing people into the world of wildness through his classic use of extended metaphors and vivid descriptions, Muir put America’s conservation issues into the spotlight.

 

#2 HIS PASSION FOR CHANGE

The impact of Muir’s written word is inextricably linked to his drive for long-lasting change. Our National Parks, arguably Muir’s most influential book, is especially known for addressing the need for action by appealing to both the political will and moral code of his readership: ‘Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away … God has cared for these trees, saved them from draught, disease, avalanches … but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that’. 

Muir’s passionate approach is no doubt appealing and relatable to my generation. Generation Z are known for being outspoken on issues that they hold dear – just look at some examples of what has been achieved in recent years through the work of young activists:

Malala Yousafzai – her fight for women’s education rights started with blogging about her desire to be able to return to school while under Taliban rule. At just twenty-one years old, she is now an Oxford University student, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and one of the most influential educational activists to date.

The Climate Change Movement – more and more young people are becoming vocal about protecting the planet. Earth Guardians, set up by eighteen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Zero Hour, a youth-led movement who are devoted to ensuring a ‘liveable future … with access to natural resources and a clean, safe and healthy environment’, are to name just a few. Through marches, raising awareness and calling for political change, these young people are determined to make their voices heard.

 

#3 WE NEED NATURE NOW MORE THAN EVER

My generation grew up attached to screens: TV, iPad, mobile phones … Nowadays, by the time you enter primary school you own at least one form of modern technology. We see through our cameras and Snapchat filters. Most of our experiences are recorded through a status update. We are known for our ability to juggle and multitask – but that may well be because, in our modern world, we are always on the go. What does this have to do with John Muir? Everything.

Muir’s work reminds us of the solace that lies beyond our doorstep and the plethora of adventures that are to be had in the great outdoors. In Steep Trails and Travels in Alaska, Muir examines not only delights of the wilderness, but the spiritual, mental and physical benefits of being ‘at one’ with nature: ‘How delightful it is, and how it makes one’s pulses bound to get back into this reviving northland wilderness! How truly wild it is, and how joyously one’s heart responds to the welcome it gives, its waters and mountains shining and glowing like enthusiastic human faces!’ and ‘When a man plants a tree, he plants himself. Every root is an anchor, over which he rests with grateful interest, and becomes sufficiently calm to feel the joy of living.’

In an era where we are becoming increasingly proactive with regards to wellbeing and healthy living, Muir’s work is as inspiring as it is relevant. What’s more, going outdoors is free and accessible to all – something which my generation can find comfort in at a time when we are paying ever-rising costs to rent and study. I myself am even an example of Muir’s impact; once I finished reading The Mountains of California, which has a whole chapter dedicated to the joys of woodland creatures, I found myself switching off Netflix and going for a lovely autumnal stroll in the woods near my house.

Where will his books take you?

 

Sarah Gunton

 

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