Born in Dunbar, East Lothian, Muir only spent the first few years of his life in Scotland as his family emigrated to Wisconsin, USA in 1849. He did however, fondly remember his discovery of his homeland’s “wild places and wild creatures”.
In America, his love for the natural world grew as he roamed the fields and woodlands near his home. Despite receiving no formal education, he taught himself maths, literature and philosophy and became a budding inventor. Following university, he worked for four years as an inventor and industrial engineer. However, in 1867 an accident left him temporarily blind and when his sight returned, he left his ‘industrial life’ to turn back to his love of wild places. He set out on a 1000 mile walk from Florida to Cuba, but throughout the remainder of his life he also travelled throughout the rest of America, Alaska, Australia, South America, Africa and Europe.
His heart however belonged to California – to the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley. He studied and wrote about the glaciers in the Sierra and proposed a controversial theory on the formation of Yosemite Valley through glaciation. He also discovered Glacier Bay in Alaska.
He became a successful writer and through his articles was able to highlight the destruction of the countryside by livestock. Largely through his efforts, the first National Park was set up in Yosemite in 1890 and many Americans view Muir as “The Father of National Parks”. He continued campaigning for the conservation of wild places until the year before his death.
In 1983, the John Muir Trust was set up in Scotland – to continue Muir’s work of conserving wild land.
Turner, Frederick. 1997. John Muir – From Scotland to the Sierra. Canongate Pub.