John Muir has been called the "greatest Californian," "the father of our national parks," and "protector of the wilds." But he saw himself as an ordinary citizen of the universe, and in fact wrote his address as "John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe."
One of the earliest modern preservationists, his letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, were read by millions and are still popular today.
His direct activism helped to save Yosemite Valley and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is now one of the most important environmental organizations in the United States.
But more than that, his vision of nature's value for its own sake and for its spiritual, not just practical benefits to humankind helped change the way we look at our natural world.
While labeled a "conservationist," his efforts were not a merely a matter of conservation of natural resources, but a matter of human physical and psychic survival. Muir wrote, "I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found."
And he advocated preservation of natural areas for reasons of mental health: "Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the log cock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains."
The quotes below are representative of his writings, which easily convey both his passion and sense of gratitude at his (and our) inclusion in the grand design of infinite shared existence.
"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."
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
"None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild."
"When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty."
"Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue."
"This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls."
"Most people are on the world, not in it . . . these people have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them . . . they remain undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate."
"Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another."
"I only went out for a walk, and concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
"How infinitely superior to our physical senses are those of the mind! The spiritual eye sees not only rivers of water but of air. We hear woodpeckers and squirrels and the rush of turbulent streams but imagination gives us the sweet music of tiniest insect wings, enables us to hear, all around the world, the vibration of every needle, the waving of every bole and branch, the sound of stars in circulation like particles in the blood. Imagination is usually regarded as a synonym for the unreal. Yet true imagination is healthful and real, no more likely to mislead than the coarse senses. Indeed, the power of imagination makes us infinite."
"Wander a whole summer if you can. Thousands of God's blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. If you are business-tangled and so burdened by duty that only weeks can be got out of the heavy laden year, give a month at least. The time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal."
The online writings of John Muir, including articles, books, quotes, tributes to people and selected passages: http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/
From the Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Muir
The John Muir Global Network: http://www.johnmuir.org/
The John Muir Trust: http://www.jmt.org
The John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute: http://www.johnmuirproject.org