Ronald Turnbull on Muir and More
- Monday 18 July 2016
‘Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike!’ John Muir
Back in 2008, award-winning outdoor writer Ronald Turnbull brought us Muir and More, a book that celebrates John Muir – the somewhat eccentric yet wise and groundbreaking conservation activist of the 1800s – and guides us on his journey along two very different John Muir walks: California’s John Muir Trail and East Lothian’s John Muir Way.
We are excited to be publishing an ebook version of Muir and More this month, which includes the beautifully detailed illustrations of Colin Brash seen in the hardback version. To mark the occasion Ronald Turnbull shared a few thoughts with us about why Muir matters.
What did you learn about Muir by walking his namesake trails?
Before leaving for the USA, I knew more about the trail – celebrated as perhaps the finest walk of its length in the world. The man I knew mainly as a source of soppy quotes for signboards in Loch Lomond National Park and a rather sharper one on the wall of the Scottish Parliament, ‘The battle for conservation will go on endlessly. It is part of the universal battle between right and wrong.’ inscribed in Ross of Mull granite). It was only when I got there that the Americans I met on the trail started to instruct me in the life of this Scotsman so famous, and important, for environmentalism in the US.
Why do you think it is important to share Muir’s opinions in the public domain, through publishing?
Muir was the first to put forward that the ancient forests deserved protection for themselves, not just as a source of future timber. He is also inspiring as a single man whose well-directed activism made a huge difference, leading to the establishment of the American national park system.
Muir lived from 1838 to 1914. Do you think his attitudes were ‘ahead of his time’?
You can call him that if you want, certainly. For me he is a man whose attitude to the outdoors, whose life and activities, are both interesting and inspiring.
How do you think we can use Muir’s observations in Muir and More to help us today in our current climate of environment vs. man?
I hope that most environmental activists today have now caught up with Muir’s ideas and attitudes, and share his sense of fun in the mountains. Given which, his great usefulness today is as a source of shamelessly sentimental quotes.
Do you have a favourite section of either the John Muir Trail or the John Muir Way?
The former John Muir Way has been extended (in Muir’s centenary year 2014) and renamed as another John Muir Trail – though as it hasn’t been stretched all the way to California perhaps it’s not entitled to share the JMT name. Oddly, my favourite part of it was the winter night under the buckthorn bushes gazing across the bay at the orange lights of Torness nuclear power station.
The John Muir Trail rambles along in a way that is continuously varied, often surprising, and always intensely enjoyable. I hope the same to some extent might be said of my book.
What did you personally get from writing Muir and More?
Mostly, a whole lot of fun. I found Muir himself intensely likeable with his dodgy adventures among the waterfalls, his clockwork get-out-of-bed machine, his mildly self-mocking writing style. On top of that – as a professional outdoor writer I’m proud rather than ashamed to admit it – a certain amount of cash.