By Mark Kenyon
If you’re not familiar with John Muir, I’m excited to make this introduction for you – as he is someone that every hunter and lover of wilderness should know.
John Muir (1838-1914), among many things, was one of the first and most influential conservationists in the history of the United States, and along with other leaders such as President Theodore Roosevelt, he put into action the modern conservation movement that is still today hard at work to protect and preserve wilderness in America and the lands that we hunt and fish. Roaming the wilderness forests and mountains of the West and Alaska, Muir penned some of the most beautifully written and critically acclaimed books and essays on nature and wilderness that our world has ever seen. And still today his words ring true to all that have spent time in a lush forest or a far reaching mountain range.
But his legacy isn’t just in his classic writings, but also in the change he was able to enact over the course of his life. Muir founded one of the largest environmental organizations – The Sierra Club, he was a staunch advocate for the preserving of wilderness areas, and he is widely known as the “Father of our National Park System” as he personally was involved in establishing national parks such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier.
While Muir was not a hunter himself, his impact and influence as a naturalist and conservationist has had a lasting impact on all those who cannot live without wild things – and we hunters have most certainly benefited from his advocacy and philosophies. If it weren’t for him, many of the wild places we now hunt, explore and find peace in, may not even exist.
With that said, I wanted to share with you three important lessons that we hunters can all learn from the great John Muir.
1. The importance of quiet time in the woods: Maybe above all things, John Muir advocated and urged the public to experience the wonders of wilderness and quiet time in God’s creation. For an urban population, at the time very much sheltered from the outdoors and the wilderness, John’s words inspired city-dwellers to come out and experience what mother nature had to offer. Muir explained that, “in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
And further, quiet time in the wild can offer even more…
“Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.”
As a hunter, I often times find myself in the wilderness, but always on a mission. I need to hang stands, I need to trim shooting lanes, I need to check trail cameras, I need to hunt. Whatever it might be, too much of the time I’m so focused on the task at hand that I forget to simply enjoy the nature around me.
I’m realizing now though that sometimes I just need to remember to slow down and enjoy “Nature’s peace.” In this crazy world, we occasionally need to just get away and recharge. And what better place to go, then out of doors. As Muir said, “Come to the woods, for here is rest.”
2. Wilderness is worth protecting: Through his writings, activism and speaking, John Muir became an incredibly influential figure across America – even making an impact in Washington and legislative policy. Sometimes referred to as the wilderness preacher, John Muir preached the good tidings of wilderness and the idea that wilderness is worth protecting. His words still ring true today and his message is just as much needed. Muir explained that wildness isn’t a luxury, but rather a necessity and one that we need to fight for.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
As hunters, we shouldn’t need reminding that wilderness and the environment is worth protecting, as we get so much fulfillment and enjoyment from our time out in it. But despite that, more often than not we fail to take any action.
Muir was a perfect example of someone who didn’t just enjoy the outdoors, but actively worked to protect it for future generations. He talked the talk and walked the walk. And if we want our sons and daughters and grandchildren to be able to enjoy the outdoors and the joy of the hunt, we too need to begin walking the walk. Join a conservation organization, volunteer to work on projects that help protect the environment, and make small changes in your daily life that will help keep this planet healthy. It’s what John Muir and our other conservation forefathers, like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, would have done.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
Lets work together to ensure we have beautiful places to hunt in the future, where our body and soul can be renewed by nature.
3. The importance of working with “others”: Speaking of working together to protect nature, that together should not apply just within the hunting community. I believe, and so did Muir, that we need to work with any and all people who have a love for nature and wilderness.
As mentioned before, John Muir was not a hunter, nor did he particularly understand or support it. None the less, he saw in conservation-minded hunters a similar care for the wild and he worked with them to advance common goals. Most notably, John Muir worked with the most renowned hunter-conservationist of all time, Theodore Roosevelt to develop and promote many of the conservation ideals advocated today. When discussing this somewhat surprising tandem, historians often refer back to a camping trip the two enjoyed together in Yosemite…
Per Sierra Club notes, “In 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir in Yosemite. Guided into the Yosemite wilderness by naturalist John Muir, the president went on a three-day wilderness trip that started at the Mariposa Grove, and included Sentinel Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Valley among other points of interest in Yosemite National Park. Muir seized the opportunity “to do some forest good in talking freely around the campfire,” and the President, referring to John Muir, is quoted as saying “Of course of all the people in the world, he was the one with whom it was best worth while thus to see the Yosemite.”
It’s widely acknowledged that this trip was greatly influential in Roosevelt’s conservation focused actions to follow, as he “signed into existence five national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests.”
John Muir founded The Sierra Club, one of the largest environmental organizations in the US, and Theodore Roosevelt founded the Boone & Crockett Club, one of the largest hunting organizations in the country. And while at times these groups, environmentalists and hunters, have found themselves at odds – these two great conservation leaders recognized their common goals and worked together to protect what matters most – wilderness, nature and the environment.
We as hunters today can learn from these two, and work together with others appreciative of nature, even those who don’t hunt or understand why we do, to protect these things. We may have our differences, but our common ground matters too much to ignore.
For as John Muir reminds us, “In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal..“