Happy Birthday, John Muir

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portrait of John Muir

Today in outdoor history John Muir was born in 1838 in Scotland. His family emigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old and he lived in Wisconsin up until the middle of the American Civil War.  Few know that Muir was draft dodger. He fled to Canada in 1864 to avoid getting called up for involuntary military service. During his dodge, Muir earned his way in the world through rough labor in the logging industry at a Canadian sawmill. Even fewer will see the irony in that - considering what he did later in life to help establish Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks and to found, oh, that little environmental (tree-saving?) organization known as The Sierra Club.

An accident at a sawmill rendered Muir nearly blind. Upon his recovery he decided simply to follow his dream of exploring wilderness and studying botany. Just a few months later he set out on his famous 1,000-mile walk from Indiana to Florida by way of, as he later wrote in a memoir, "the wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could find."

Muir's travels and explorations kept him from any semblance of a "normal" life for years. He wrote, he built a cabin that allowed a creek to run through it, he wandered in the mountains alone for weeks at a time, and rarely contracted himself with gainful employment. This lifestyle sustained him; he loved it. He was 42 years old when he did marry, and I'll avoid using the term "settled down." Muir managed to devote himself both to his family and to his love of the outdoors, which is why I'm writing about him here - that beautiful balance we parents all want, I assume, to attain.

He's well-known for referring to mountains and wilderness as home. I think we'd like to raise children who feel the same way.


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