Esteemed thinker: John Muir and respecting nature

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There are few people that would disagree with the idea that humans and plants should and can co-exist. Though we know that there are many species of plants that have raised the ire of both men and woman, for the most part our relationships are of the utmost importance, especially for people. Plants provide us not only shade, food, medicinal benefits, and aesthetics, they are the source that keeps our land from eroding and provides us with oxygen to breathe. All and all it seems as though they are certainly pulling their weight.

IMG_9963 Being this is the case, with all the positives they provide, one can agree… flora and fauna do not ask for much except to be left alone. However, it makes us wonder why it is that some humans have a propensity to destroy or maim with no regard for the outcome of the plants. For example, let us take the bamboo plants that are growing in a particular zoo’s habitat; it offers us the opportunity to walk among the gatherings of these majestic plants that have grown to heights that rival a tree. Such a lovely setting it is until you examine the stalks closely and see the bamboo  has been intentionally carved and defaced with names and dates of those who felt a need to molest the plants. An intentional act with seemingly little value or purpose.

And so, the next time you come upon a plant, take heed for although you may have a yearning to claim it as your own, think twice before putting you signature on Mother Nature’s creation.

Today’s post brings back the esteemed thinker John Muir (1838-1914), a revolutionary preservationist naturalist, writer, conservationist, and founder of the Sierra Club. Born in Dunbar, Scotland in 1849, the Muir family emigrated to the United States, settling first at Fountain Lake and then moving to Hickory Hill Farm near Portage, Wisconsin.muir

In 1867, while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis, he suffered a blinding eye injury that would change his life. When he regained his sight one month later, Muir resolved to turn his eyes to the fields and woods. He walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, sailed to Cuba, and later to Panama. After crossing the Isthmus, he sailed up the West Coast, to San Francisco making California became his home.

John Muir is noted as the Father of the National Park Service, convincing the U.S. government to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as national parks through his writing. John Muir’s words came from his lifetime work as a wilderness explorer, and his unyielding desire to maintain a natural environment that would not be exploited; still a rallying cry for all who wish to preserve our world.

So, I take you out of your hectic world into a day with John Muir and his observation of trees; Feast upon this vivid excerpt from Steep Trails.

“No lover of trees will ever forget his first meeting with the sugar pine. In most coniferous trees there is a sameness of form and expression which at length becomes wearisome to most people who travel far in the woods. But the sugar pines are as free from conventional forms as any of the oaks. No two are so much alike as to hide their individuality from any observer. Every tree is appreciated as a study in itself and proclaims in no uncertain terms the surpassing grandeur of the species. The branches, mostly near the summit, are sometimes nearly forty feet long, feathered richly all around with short, leafy branchlets, and tasseled with cones a foot and a half long. And when these superb arms are outspread, radiating in every direction, an immense crownlike mass is formed which, poised on the noble shaft and filled with sunshine, is one of the grandest forest objects conceivable. But though so wild and unconventional when full-grown, the sugar pine is a remarkably regular tree in youth, a strict follower of coniferous fashions, slim, erect, tapering, symmetrical, every branch in place. At the age of fifty or sixty years this shy, fashionable form begins to give way. Special branches are thrust out away from the general outlines of the trees and bent down with cones. Henceforth it becomes more and more original and independent in style, pushes boldly aloft into the winds and sunshine, growing ever more stately and beautiful, a joy and inspiration to every beholder…”

 

 

John Burroughs and time

strata zion national park_ burroughs post There is little doubt to most of us that the things we do and the pace we live continues to accelerate, and when simple actions and events come to a stand still for reasons that we have no control over, it creates disappointment and frustration. Individually, one cannot be at blamed for having taken on these feelings, for as our everyday rate of interaction speeds up, it has become quite clear that one has to hang on or be left behind.

However, within all this acceleration and an often self-imposed race to the top, it is most interesting to observe that our planet Earth has maintained an even and steady course, while continuing to change, evolve, and exhibit stunning effects. Slowly, very slowly, very methodically she turns rocks into sand and mountains into valleys. Her time is geological and as the saying goes, “has all the time in the world.” And though humans have journeyed a parallel road, our existence is as brief as a flicker of light.

Take witness to Earth’s miraculous changes and transformations within the sights and vistas; the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Cliffs of Dover. All are a product of time which needs no calendar to interpret age, but rather the striations on rocks or the rings within a tree trunk.

And though we find that we must keep up and maintain the haste of each day, our time is akin to a footprint on the ocean’s shore…so take the advice of Mother Earth and enjoy the caress of the water, and make as deep but kindly impression as you can within the sands of our time….

John burroughs 2 Today’s blog has invited back the esteemed thinker: John Burroughs (1837-1921) best known as one of the literary caretakers of nature. And though he lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, his philosophy for everyday life has maintained its value. We are fortunate to be able to read and observe his work, a tribute to his writing that he had the foresight to document the beauty of nature and its symbiotic relationship with man, Earth, and the surroundings.

From his book, Time and Change (1912) I present to you a short but poignant piece extracted for your reading pleasure. Here are the words of Mr. Burroughs…

“… I am well aware that my own interest in geology far outruns my knowledge, but if I can in some degree kindle that interest in my reader, I shall be putting him on the road to a fuller knowledge than I possess. As with other phases of nature, I have probably loved the rocks more than I have studied them. In my youth I delighted in lingering about and beneath the ledges of my native hills, partly in the spirit of adventure and a boy’s love of the wild, and partly with an eye to their curious forms, and the evidences of immense time that looked out from their gray and crumbling fronts. I was in the presence of Geologic Time, and was impressed by the scarred and lichen-coated veteran without knowing who or what he was. But he put a spell upon me that has deepened as the years have passed, and now my boyhood ledges are more interesting to me than ever.

If one gains an interest in the history of the earth, he is quite sure to gain an interest in the history of the life on the earth…”

First image: Strata in Zion National Park, Utah, 1946: Carol Highsmith
Second image: John Burroughs in rustic chair, c1901

Charles Waterton and preservation

dodo Such a fragile world we live in; so fragile that what was once thriving can disappear forever. Let us take for example the Dodo Bird. Though it is often thought of with a chuckle; for its name sounds rather silly…its existence was once quite real. A rather large bird of about 3 feet tall, it lived comfortably near Madagascar on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It was first documented by the Dutch when they inhabited the island as a penal colony in the 15th century. As history recalls, it had no natural predators and as such was fearless of humans. Being that they were flightless, they were also easy prey… as one can see where this is leading …. seafarers who used the island as a stop-over point came ashore hungry and along with the animals brought to the island, the poor birds had little chance and have been extinct since the last one in 1681.

We know that the world revolves around progress in many forms; and as we take this into account there is a positive mindset … humans need to be respectful of the world and its creatures. But in spite of this positive attitude…unfortunately, the number of species around the world that are threatened or endangered continues to climb; just as some species have been delisted for a variety of reasons … This month the Grey Wolf was removed from endangered status … however this delisting has become a contested debate for many environmental groups that maintain a continued need for its protection.

The bald eagle is a true success story for recovery… flourishing in numbers, whereby after having been nearly eradicated, in 2009 it was delisted from the Federal Endangered list and does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Sometimes an animal goes off and on a list; such as the Grizzly bear. By 1975 most had disappeared from the lower 48 states mainly due to habitat destruction, roads and reduction of large wildland areas. But thanks to Endangered Species Act protections, the Yellowstone grizzly bear population increased from around 224 bears in 1975 to 582 in 2010. Henceforth, it was delisted in 2007. But then a “grizzly” turn- of- events took place due to more habitat loss and global warming, relisting the poor animal in 2010, and then declared recovered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011.

And then there are some species that no longer exist in the wild; such as the Catarina pupfish of Mexico and the Hawaiian crow, also known as the Aumaka….which perhaps actually makes them extinct. It is no wonder that the sight or sound of an animal in the wild makes us sigh with awe; from the flutter of a yellow tail butterfly, the hovering of a dragon fly over water, to that “once in a while” lucky glimpse of a wading heron; who else but Mother Nature and her family could offer us such life…

Charles waterton 2 So today I bring back Charles Waterton, English naturalist and explorer whose words dating back to 1824 are significant and profound. I invite you to find a few moments and as you are reading be heartened by his insight that still hold so true today. From his book Wanderings in South America, allow me to make room for Mr. Waterton as we interrupt his thoughts about Philadelphia.

“…The extensive squares of this city are ornamented with well-grown and luxuriant trees. Its unremitting attention to literature might cause it to be styled the Athens of the United States. Here learning and science have taken up their abode. The literary and philosophical associations, the enthusiasm of individuals, the activity of the press and the cheapness of the publications ought to raise the name of Philadelphia to an elevated situation in the temple of knowledge.

From the press of this city came Wilson’s famous Ornithology. By observing the birds in their native haunts he has been enabled to purge their history of numberless absurdities which inexperienced theorists had introduced into it. It is a pleasing and a brilliant work. We have no description of birds in any European publication that can come up to this. By perusing Wilson’s Ornithology attentively before I left England I knew where to look for the birds, and immediately recognised them in their native land.

Since his time I fear that the white-headed eagles have been much thinned. I was perpetually looking out for them, but saw very few. One or two came now and then and soared in lofty flight over the Falls of Niagara. The Americans are proud of this bird in effigy, and their hearts rejoice when its banner is unfurled. Could they not then be persuaded to protect the white-headed eagle, and allow it to glide in safety over its own native forests? Were I an American I should think I had committed a kind of sacrilege in killing the white-headed eagle. The ibis was held sacred by the Egyptians; the Hollanders protect the stork; the vulture sits unmolested on the top of the houses in the city of Angostura; and Robin Redbreast, for his charity, is cherished by the English:
No burial these pretty babes
Of any man receives,
Till Robin-red-breast painfully.
Did cover them with leaves…”

Esteemed thinker: Charles Waterton

olinguito Oh, the horrors of a ‘mistaken identity’; we have all had an embarrassing moment when you confuse one person for another and depending upon who it is can result in a very awkward moment. Generally a quick apology can be enough to satisfy most, yet if your error is met during a business meeting, one would think you had committed the crime of the century. And then there are those times when an error in identification can become more than a social faux-pas and resulting in an injurious consequence. Let us take the example of misidentifying a suspect erroneously; such as what transpired in the classic film “12 Angry Men”… and then there was the time the poor grey cat was blamed for breaking into the neighbors screened porch, only to discover after the feline was driven away in the back of a van to an undisclosed location… it was actually a band of roving raccoons that had committed the dastardly deed!

Which brings us to a most important discovery that fringes on the tale of a “mistaken identity”… on August 15, 2013 researchers announced the discovery of the first new mammal found in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years. It is a rust colored furry olinguito, which translates from Spanish to “little olingo.’ According to Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals, he and his team first saw the animal in the Andes back in 2006 and have been constructing its family history ever since. But behold… “It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time….” The olinguito once lived in the National Zoo in Washington for a year; it had been mistaken for a sister species, the olingo. Alas, another case of mistaken identity! In retrospect the scientists stated that they wondered how the animals could have been confused; the olinguitos are smaller, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur than the captivated olingo.

Charles Waterton And so, we all can see that even under the scrutiny of science… mistaken identity occurrences can happen ( and probably more often than one would like to admit) …which brings us to today’s blog where I shall introduce you to a more obscure name in the 21st century… the esteemed thinker: Charles Waterton, (1782-1865) English born naturalist and explorer. His adventurous expeditions brought back profound contributions; especially concerning fauna and bird life from South America. One of his more notable additions to science was the introduction into Europe of curare, now an invaluable drug in surgical operations. Considered an eccentric during his lifetime, he turned his family estate into an extensive nature reserve, long before such a concept was ever heard of. From his autobiography, Wanderings of South America, I give you some most interesting observations by nature’s champion, Mr. Waterton …

“…Here I had a fine opportunity once more of examining the three-toed sloth. He was in the house with me for a day or two. Had I taken a description of him as he lay sprawling on the floor I should have misled the world and injured natural history. On the ground he appeared really a bungled composition, and faulty at all points; awkwardness and misery were depicted on his countenance; and when I made him advance he sighed as though in pain…
After fully satisfying myself that it only leads the world into error to describe the sloth while he is on the ground or in any place except in a tree, I carried the one I had in my possession to his native haunts. As soon as he came in contact with the branch of a tree all went right with him. I could see as he climbed up into his own country that he was on the right road to happiness; and felt persuaded more than ever that the world has hitherto erred in its conjectures concerning the sloth, on account of naturalists not having given a description of him when he was in the only position in which he ought to have been described, namely, clinging to the branch of a tree…”