April 21, 2002
Dear Friends and Colleagues -- On the 164th Anniversary of John Muir's birth in Dunbar, Scotland, on April 21, 1838, I'd like to share with you some of his thoughts about life, nature, and those who would destroy the earth's wild places. The last items are early examples of what is now known as "grassroots lobbying." Today, as we celebrate Muir's accomplishments, glorification of nature, and wisdom about what needs to be done, we can honor his memory by working for true global security -- environmental security -- against the "selfish seekers of immediate mammon."
Happy birthday, Johnnie!
To Sarah Muir Galloway, April 17th, 1876
Dear Sister Sarah: … My life these days is like the life of a glacier, one eternal grind, and the top of my head suffers a weariness at times that you know nothing about. I'm glad to see by the hills across the bay, all yellow and purple with buttercups and gilias, that spring is blending fast into summer, and soon I'll throw down my pen, and take up my heels to go mountaineering once more....
TO: Robert U. Johnson, December 12, 1894 [Letter in Bancroft Library]
I hate this job of thrashing old straw-‑proving what has already been proved a thousand times-‑still as it must be here goes-‑
Every good thing-‑every reservation in this world, public or private needs defense against thieves that walk bravely forth in the light beneath the dome of the nation's capitol. And so it is that no sooner are our forest reserves made for the good of all people than they are subject to the attacks of lumbermen sheepmen and other selfish seekers of immediate mammon. ...
The very first forest reserve that I ever heard of, and the most moderate in extent was located in the Garden of Eden and included only one tree. The Lord himself laid out the boundaries of it, but even that reserve was attacked and broken in upon. The attacks then of sheepmen & lumbermen, unregenerate sons of Adam, on Yosemite National Park are in the natural course of things ...
Excerpts from Our National Parks (1901), Chapter X, "The American Forests"
The forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted. The whole continent was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed to be favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe. To prepare the ground, it was rolled and sifted in seas with infinite loving deliberation and fore-thought, lifted into the light, submerged and warmed over and over again, pressed and crumpled into folds and ridges, mountains, and hills, subsoiled with heaving volcanic fires, ploughed and ground and sculptured into scenery and soil with glaciers and rivers,--every feature growing and changing from beauty to beauty, higher and higher. And in the fullness of time it was planted in groves, and belts, and broad, exuberant, mantling forests, with the largest, most varied, most fruitful, and most beautiful trees in the world. Bright seas made its border, with wave embroidery and icebergs; gray deserts were outspread in the middle of it, mossy tundras on the north, savannas on the south, and blooming prairies and plains; while lakes and rivers shone through all the vast forests and openings, and happy birds and beasts gave delightful animation. Everywhere, everywhere over all the blessed continent, there were beauty and melody and kindly, wholesome, foodful abundance.
Emerson says that things refuse to be mismanaged long. An exception would seem to be found in the case of our forests, which have been mismanaged rather long, and now come desperately near being like smashed eggs and spilt milk. Still, in the long run the world does not move backward. The wonderful advance made in the last few years, in creating four national parks in the West, and thirty forest reservations, embracing nearly forty million acres; and in the planting of the borders of streets and highways and spacious parks in all the great cities, to satisfy the natural taste and hunger for landscape beauty and righteousness that God has put, in some measure, into every human being and animal, shows the trend of awakening public opinion. The making of the far-famed New York Central Park was opposed by even good men, with misguided pluck, perseverance, and ingenuity; but straight right won its way, and now that park is appreciated. So we confidently believe it will be with our great national parks and forest reservations. There will be a period of indifference on the part of the rich, sleepy with wealth, and of the toiling millions, sleepy with poverty, most of whom never saw a forest; a period of screaming protest and objection from the plunderers, who are as unconscionable and enterprising as Satan. But light is surely coming, and the friends of destruction will preach and bewail in vain.
The United States government has always been proud of the welcome it has extended to good men of every nation, seeking freedom and homes and bread. Let them be welcomed still as nature welcomes them, to the woods as well as to the prairies and plains. No place is too good for good men, and still there is room. They are invited to heaven, and may well be allowed in America. Every place is made better by them. Let them be as free to pick gold and gems from the hills, to cut and hew, dig and plant, for homes and bread, as the birds are to pick berries from the wild bushes, and moss and leaves for nests. The ground will be glad to feed them, and the pines will come down from the mountains for their homes as willingly as the cedars came from Lebanon for Solomon's temple. Nor will the woods be the worse for this use, or their benign influences be diminished any more than the sun is diminished by shining. Mere destroyers, however, tree-killers, wool and mutton men, spreading death and confusion in the fairest groves and gardens ever planted,--let the government hasten to cast them out and make an end of them. For it must be told again and again, and be burningly borne in mind, that just now, while protective measures are being deliberated languidly, destruction and use are speeding on faster and farther every day. The axe and saw are insanely busy, chips are flying thick as snowflakes, and every summer thousands of acres of priceless forests, will their underbrush, soil, springs, climate, scenery, and religion, are vanishing away in clouds of smoke, while, except in the national parks, not one forest guard is employed.
All sorts of local laws and regulations have been tried and found wanting, and the costly lessons of our own experience, as well as that of every civilized nation, show conclusively that the fate of the remnant of our forests is in the hands of the federal government, and that if the remnant is to be saved at all, it must be saved quickly.
Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed,--chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. During a man's life only saplings can be grown, in the place of the old trees-tens of centuries old-that have been destroyed. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods,--trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ's time-and long before that- God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools,--only Uncle Sam can do that.
Excerpts from The Yosemite (1912), Chapter 16, "Hetch Hetchy Valley"
Sad to say, this most precious and sublime feature of the Yosemite National Park, one of the greatest of all our natural re-sources for the uplifting joy and peace and health of the people, is in danger of being dammed and made into a reservoir to help supply San Francisco with water and light, thus flooding it from wall to wall and burying its gardens and groves one or two hundred feet deep. This grossly destructive commercial scheme has long been planned and urged (though water as pure and abundant can be got from outside of the people's park, in a dozen different places), because of the comparative cheapness of the dam and of the territory which it is sought to divert from the great uses to which it was dedicated in the Act of 1890 establishing the Yosemite National Park.
The making of gardens and parks goes on with civilization all over the world, and they increase both in size and number as their value is recognized. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks -- the Yellowstone, Yosemite, sequoia, etc. -- Nature's sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world. Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from the very beginning, however well guarded, they have always been subject to attack by despoiling gainseekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, shampiously crying, "Conservation, conservation, panutilization," that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great. Thus long ago a few enterprising merchants utilized the Jerusalem temple as a place of business instead of a place of prayer, changing money, buying and selling cattle and sheep and doves; and earlier still, the first forest reservation, including only one tree, was likewise despoiled. Ever since the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed.
That any one would try to destroy such a place seems incredible; but sad experience shows that there are people good enough and bad enough for anything. The proponents of the dam scheme bring forward a lot of bad arguments to prove that the only righteous thing to do with the people's parks is to destroy them bit by bit as they are able. Their arguments are curiously like those of the devil, devised for the destruction of the first garden -- so much of the very best Eden fruit going to waste; so much of the best Tuolumne water and Tuolumne scenery going to waste. Few of their statements are even partly true, and all are misleading.
These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.
Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people' cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.
TO: Robert Underwood Johnson, Oct 27, 1913 [Letter in Bancroft Library]
Dear Johnson: That letter of yours in Colliers of Oct. 25 is capital, the best ever! We held a Sierra Club meeting last Saturday-‑passed resolutuions and fanned each other to a fierce white Hetch Hetchy heat.
I particularly urged that we must get everybody to write to Senators and the president keeping letters flying all next month thick as storm snow flakes, loaded with park pictures, short circulars, etc. Stir up all other park and playground clubs, women's clubs, etc. ...
Yours bravely ...
Damming Hetch Hetchy (From Muir's unpublished journals, circa 1913.)
A great political miracle this of "improving" the beauty of the most beautiful of all mountain parks by cutting down its groves, and burying all the thicket of azalea and wild rose, lily gardens, and ferneries two or three hundred feet deep. After this is done we are promised a road blasted on the slope of the north wall, where nature-lovers may sit on rustic stools, or rocks, like frogs on logs, to admire the sham dam lake, the grave of Hetch Hetchy. This Yosemite Park fight began a dozen years ago. Never for a moment have I believed that the American people would fail to defend it for the welfare of themselves and all the world. The people are now aroused. Tidings from far and near show that almost every good man and woman is with us. Therefore be of good cheer, watch, and pray and fight!