After a wonderful online Kindred Spirits Book Club chat about Lassoing the Sun, a chat that included the author, Mark Woods, I was inspired to come up with my own take on John Muir’s quote: Red Mountain is calling and I must go. And go I did, for a little hike on a beautiful Alabama morning in May.
I headed towards the Smythe trail, labeled “difficult”, and yes, I was breathing a bit heavy on that portion of my hike. Then I hooked up to the north trail. I am a terrible map reader, so even with the map and signs, I ended up in a different spot, but mainly because a portion of the north trail was closed off. So, I only hiked 2.2 miles, but it always takes a while as I stop for photos along the way.
On my route I met with people running, biking, hiking, walking the dog, and segwaying.
Red Mountain has a lot of lovely pieces of the past, bits of buildings left from the mining days.
This is Muir’s full quote, which appears in an 1873 letter from Muir to his sister: “The mountains are calling & I must go & I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.”
I didn’t like what I read about Muir’s view of Indians, so I decided to do a little research on the man. Here are a few things I learned:
- Muir founded the Sierra Club
- He often expressed the idea that humans had no more intrinsic value than any creature of nature; this is known as a bio-centric view.
- “All in all, there seems to be in Muir some grudging respect for Indians, but it is often masked behind the institutionalized racism that underlies his writing.” –
- John Muir could not see the Indians for the trees. – Roy Cook
- Although Muir claimed to oppose the oppression of Native Americans, he fully supported the extraction of Miwoks from Yosemite, referring to them as “dirty,” “deadly,” and “lazy.”
- Muir was more concerned with human perfidy toward bears (“Poor fellows, they have been poisoned, trapped, and shot at until they have lost confidence in brother man”) than with how Native Americans had been killed and driven from their homes.
- In his writings, Muir said the squirrels he killed on his ranch in Martinez, Calif., were disgusting pests out to ruin the orchards. But he described the squirrels living in his beloved High Sierra as hard-working creatures like those later popularized in the Disney classic “Snow White.”
So, after reading around the internet a bit, I have come to the conclusion that Muir, like the rest of us, is flawed. Yes, he did some great things and he had some noble goals. As for his view of Indians, it seemed to changed over time and not for the better. My takeaway is this: Be aware of others. Love and protect God’s creation, but not at the expense of man, God’s highest earthly creature.