I'm sure you've all heard this quote in the title before. Some of you may even know that it's from John Muir. His quotes often adorn many travel-themed Instagram posts and wanderlust Pinterest pages, usually along with a cheesy photo of a mountain and some further writing about how you should go out on an adventure, as well as order the latest and greatest super hammock or inflatable kayak that the page is advertising. Okay, maybe I'm being a bit to cynical here... This is all well and good, but very few people actually read Muir's work before using a few snippets of his writing to illustrate their travel-themed posts.
I'll be honest, I knew some of John Muir's quotes well before I knew anything about him or have read any of his work. I was convinced to read one of his books when Chris Burkard talked about his inspirational book collection, and I quickly jumped on Ebay to find a copy of Muir's Our National Parks, a collection of some of his early essays which was published in 1901. Reading the book came at a very odd time, just as I was producing my undergraduate dissertation, which requires a fairly dry, academic style. Muir is the exact opposite of that, with vivid descriptions of the mountains, valleys, plants and animals of the US National Parks.
His writing is stunning because of how vividly and how poetically he can describe the most simple things. You are reading the book, only to realize that you just got through ten pages solely dedicated to describing pine trees, yet the beauty of the writing makes it really entertaining. Just see how intricate and poetic a description of streams is:
'...outspread over all the range like embroidery, their silvery branches interlacing on a thousand mountains, singing their way home to the sea: the small rills, with hard roads to travel, dropping from ledge to ledge, pool to pool, like chains of sweet-toned bells, slipping gently over beds of pebbles and sand, resting in lakes, shining, spangling, shimmering, lapping the shores with whispering ripples...' (Muir, Our National Parks, Chapter 8, p. 181)
This is also in stark contrast to the writing I do here on my blog, where instead of carefully crafting poetic sentences, I write in a very relaxed, personal style and I often end up dropping a few swear words as well. Don't expect that to change, but Muir has certainly inspired me to write more about my travels and to document the places I visit. But unlike his carefully sculpted sentences, I use pictures to document the hills and the winding roads through them, words are merely there to fill up the gaps in the story that is captured through my lens.
Muir's writing is also still extremely relevant because of his concern for the environment and his work as a conservationist. He was passionately advocating for establishing and enlarging national parks, protecting areas of natural beauty and trying to stop deforestation and the destruction of the environment. I can only imagine how disappointed he would be in us today, over a century later, still chopping down precious forests, flooding our oceans with plastic and ignoring the environmental consequences of our actions. His description of governments that are incapable of and uninterested in acting on environmental issues is still spot on.
I am not saying that we should all rush to hug a baby seal right now, but to be considerate when you are out in nature. Muir can inspire you to slow down and appreciate the little details in nature, but slowing down, you will inevitably notice traces of human activity, dropped litter along the trail and names carved in the trees.
Honestly, I have no clue what I wanted to make the main message of this blogpost... But I was inspired to write it, so I'll just say that you should do yourself a favor and read some John Muir! And climb some mountains! Or read some Muir on a mountaintop!
PS: There is a good write-up about John Muir and why his famous quote is misinterpreted over at the Adventure Journal. Check it out!