“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.”
I’m writing this post on John Muir’s birthday, April 21. The pioneering Scottish-American preservationist would have been 178 years old today. I’ve been in love with Muir since the third grade, when I first read My First Summer in the Sierra, the journal he kept as he accompanied a flock of sheep from California’s San Joaquin Valley to the Yosemite high country in 1869 as an almost-penniless young wanderer.
Around this time each year, people try to put into words the feeling they have for the Earth, our terrestrial home. For those who feel deep connection to nature, that can be intimidating!
Muir was equal to the challenge, however. In Summer, as the group moved slowly from the heat of the Valley to their destination in the High Sierra near Tuolumne Meadows, he became increasingly entranced by what he saw and felt:
“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”
I know that feeling — maybe you do too. The suspension of time, a sense of oneness, kinship with everything, the joy of being truly home. I just can’t describe it the way he could!
Freedom and immortality can be real and concrete on a day spent in nature, rooted in things we can touch and hear. Muir was in the Sierra, but it can happen anywhere — mountains, valley, ocean, or a park in the heart of a city. The natural world can inhabit us, and we it:
“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun,—a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.”
Muir believed that everything in the natural world is beautiful in its own wild, original state. Landscapes spoke to him, along with plants and insects, rocks and storms and trees and “flower people” — recognition of the kinship we all share.
Sometime soon, along with all the things large and small that we do to try to be kind to our planet, try to go to the wildest place you can find. Even if only for a little while. And savor the feeling:
“Beauty beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever.”
Made and being made forever — everywhere. That’s our planet, our home. It’s beautiful.
Happy Earth Day.
(All photos: public domain)