It’s hard to grow up Wisconsin without hearing about John Muir. It’s also hard to be interested in hiking, camping, canoeing, and outdoorsy things in general without having heard of John Muir. Needless to say I’ve heard my fair share about the man. I’ve always had a vague knowledge of who he is and have been intrigued and wanting to check out the trail named after him in California in the Sierra Nevada mountain range for ages. It has taken me far too long to actually check out one of his books. I thought it best to start with his beginning. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth by John Muir is an autobiographical account of his time growing up in Scotland and Wisconsin.
What stuck me most about this book was that throughout Muir is describing trees, birds, flowers, lakes, and anything else he could find in nature as though he is seeing it for the first time and it’s a delightful discovery. This is especially impressive considering this was published when he seventy five, just one year before his death. He’d been studying nature for such a long time and it never stopped bringing him joy. In a general way that’s understandable. I don’t know any nature lover that’s gotten tired of nature. What was impressive was how that joy jumped out of the page at me when reading his accounts of discovery and appreciation. This was about his youth and he was sure to include certain pinnacle moments and stories from his boyhood but they are were all bookended and sometimes even interrupted by descriptions of a certain flower, or bees, or the sun shining just the right way. It was a beautiful distraction.
It was extra fun for me to recognize a lot of the places he was talking about. When his family moved to Wisconsin they settled near Portage and he also spent some time taking classes at UW-Madison. Every time I recognized a place he explored I got a little thrill. Being a UW-Madison student myself I felt just a little extra nudge of pride that my school is where John Muir first officially started learning about botany. (This is obligatory I swear…Go Badgers!!!)
John Muir was a wildly influential and, honestly, quite a wild person. The Story of My Boyhood and Youth gives an idea of his work ethic and the beginning of his ideas about how nature should be preserved and loved. It’s best read outside, surrounded by grass, trees, birds, and sunshine that can distract you and bring you as much joy as they clearly brought John Muir.
Common Place Book Entry
“And surely all God’s people, however serious and savage, great or small, like to play. Whales and elephants, dancing, humming gnats, and invisibly small mischievous microbes, -all are warm with divine radium and must have lots of fun in them.”
-The Story of My Boyhood and Youth by John Muir