Today we kick off the weekend with a Friday inspiration post.
During these posts each of us takes turns selecting something that inspires us, and we hope offers inspiration to other writers.
I’m showcasing one of my favorite nature writers, John Muir (1838 – 1914) Writer, naturalist, political activist, and Co-founder of the Sierra Club, as my first topic.
Some may remember I wrote about Muir in another post, The Call of the Wild and How Writers Respond.
Muir is perhaps best known for his books, My First Summer in the Sierra, and Stickeen: The Story of a Dog. However, Muir wrote over a dozen other books, and countless essays and magazine articles in his lifetime.
Muir said he never found writing easy, and he often described the pains and the speed of his writing process in glacial terms. He agonized over every word and his associates would watch him scratch out and replace a word up to twenty times before he felt satisfied.
Muir also didn’t think his prose had the ability to capture nature, often feeling his words were a poor substitute for the real thing. I disagree.
“That memorable day died in purple and gold, and just as the last traces of the sunset faded in the west and the star-lilies filled the sky, the full moon looked down over the rim of the valley, and the great rocks, catching the silvery glow, came forth out of the dusky shadows like very spirits.”
Muir favored a plain speak style of writing, something that’s not so apparent to modern readers as it was in Muir’s own day. He used words with reverence and respect, often seeking to bring forth a complicated idea with dignity and deep emotion.
“Most people are on the world, not in it– having no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them– undiffused separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.”
Muir wrote copiously about the world he encountered, filling journals with his musings and travel notes. Today readers can devour not only his prose, but his maps, sketches, doodles and detailed accounts of flora and fauna. Muir exchanged letters with people all over the world during his lifetime. The volume and depth of his observations still benefit natural scientists today. And his ideas were highly progressive for his time, for Muir believed in valuing the needs of nature above the needs of men.
“The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.”
Never satisfied that nature was safe from fools, Muir took an active role in changing government policy toward nature. He wanted people to see wild spaces differently and he made it his mission to bring important people into the mountains so they could witness the magic of the wilderness first hand.
After touring Yosemite Valley with Muir, President Roosevelt later wrote:
“Not only are his books delightful, not only is he the author to whom all men turn when they think of the Sierras and northern glaciers, and the giant trees of the California slope, but he was also — what few nature lovers are — a man able to influence contemporary thought and action on the subjects to which he had devoted his life.”
Muir lived the last forty-six years of his life in my home state of California. His house is now a National Historic Site, and California celebrates his life every April 21st as a commemorative day. In California his name is synonymous with the love of outdoor adventure and our rugged natural landscapes. Yet, Muir belongs to everyone who believes in the commitment and responsible of safeguarding the natural world for future generations.
I think the reason I find Muir inspiring is he proves to me a lone voice spoken with passion can move mountains. He serves as a brilliant model for nonfiction writers everywhere. We still need people like Muir, the ones who dream about making a difference and who are willing to use their voices to change the world.
“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”