John Muir's Longest Walk:
John Earl, a Photographer, Traces His Journey to Florida
from the book's dust jacket
John Muir's Longest Walk: John Early, a Photographer, Traces His Journey to Florida
by John Earl, with Excerpts from Muir's A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.
Doubleday and Company, Inc.
Garden City, New York
I have known about John Muir for most of my life. But what I did not know until 1969 when I became involved in nature photography was that Muir's first long walk of any consequence took place in the East. In 1897 at the age of twenty-nine he walked for a distance of one thousand miles, from Louisville, Kentucky, to Cedar Key, Florida, in less than two months. I learned that he had kept a journal and that it had been published in the form of a book entitled
A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.
I began photographing the thousand-mile walk in March of 1973, starting at Cedar Key and retracing Muir's route backward so as to follow spring north. I located the site where he worked in a sawmill before catching malaria, and the place where he lived while recuperating. I sailed among the Keys and found many of the things he wrote about: "long-winged gulls," "burnished treeless plain," and "many gems of palmy islets." I "sat beneath a moss-draped live-oak watching birds feeding on the shire," and saw palmettos and ferns. But with great sorrow I also saw something else - the effect man has had on Florida during the 106 years since muir arrived there. And I realized it was going to be extremely difficult to find photographs depicting the unspoiled natural beauty that existed in the East in 1867.
One day I suddenly realized that the only way I could succeed would be to think of myself as being John Muir, in the body of John Earl, and to learn to see things through his eyes in the same way he saw them through his. From then on, my work became easier. I pretended I was John Muir, searching for nature's secrets, seeing this thing and that for the first time. I began to realize that I must occasionally deviate from the original trail to avoid shopping centers, subdivisions, trailer parks and all the other developments that man has labeled "progress."
Thanks to Muir, a few places do remain almost as he found them. They were the pockets I sought out.
As I moved north into Georgia, I photographed Ossabaw Island. Then I visited the bluffs of the Savannah River and, further north, found rivers and mountains still in their natural state. As I worked my way into North Carolina, I began to see things more and more through Muir's eyes. And I began to understand what he meant when he wrote about his "eagerness ... to baptize all of my fellow sinners in the beauty of God's mountains." Entering Tennessee and Kentucky, I grew increasingly excited. I knew Muir had visited Mammoth Cave, so I, too, visited Mammoth Cave. Going north toward Louisville, I walked through dense green forests and past knobby hills where rock formations reached up like towers to the sky. All summer I visited places so beautiful it seemed impossible that I could ever photograph them all.
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