A Note on John Muir and the Appalachian Mountain Club
By Richard Fleck
Reprinted by permission of the author from Appalachia,
New Series, Vol. L., No. 3, # 200, June 15, 1995
Three years before his death, on Saturday May 20, 1911, John Muir came to
Boston to visit his
friend Professor Charles Sargent of Brookline, to look over proofs of his
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth 1912, at Houghton Mifflin
Company, and to
dine as guest and honored member of the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Before going to dinner, Muir was interviewed by a reporter from The
Sunday Herald at the Hotel Bellevue. He was quoted in The Sunday Herald
of May 21, 1911, regarding the need for a national forest reservation in the White Mountains of New
"New England has a birth-given right to this breathing spot,
and all arguments to the
contrary, from whatever source emanating, are put forward by thieves and
robbers. The ingenious
excuses that commercial interests plead for destroying God's handiwork are
when you finally see through them you discover that they are all actuated
by greed, and I imagine
that those who would like to mutilate the White Mountains are no exception
to the rule."
Muir, according to the reporter, had a good deal of wrath in his voice and
jumped up from his
leather chair with his fist clenched as though he would have liked to pick
a fight with the clans of
despoilers. He was again quoted as saying,
"You see, I've been wandering about the mountains and the forests and the streams all my life, and I know something about their beauties and
something, too, about the irreparable loss they are bound to suffer if commercial enterprises have unrestricted control of them. And what is their loss is the loss of mankind generally, for you cannot measure in dollars and cents the worth to the world of a rarely designed bit of nature."
But if I get started, really started, on the subject of preserving the natural
beauties of this country, I'll keep you here all evening and I'll miss my dinner at the Appalachian Club."
Before Muir left the Hotel Bellevue for the club, he focused once again
on New Hampshire,
"There isn't the slightest hope for preservation when greed makes
an entrance into nature's garden spots. We've fought hard to save the Yosemite valley, the finest mountain park that God ever designed - and we've been all over the world except South America and we've succeeded. It's now the duty of New England to save the White Mountains. If you wait it's lost;
if you don't fight it's lost."
Muir explained that our nation was far behind the conservation efforts of
Australia, Russia, Germany, and other European countries who "take it for granted that the preservation of their marvels of nature is a necessity." He stated that "while it is true that our forests are worth millions, what of that? Destroy it for its lumber and you have wiped out of existence phenomena that exist nowhere else in this world."
The reporter explained in his column the next day that Muir had seized a
piece of paper and a pencil and sketched roughly some of the astonishing aspects of Yosemite National Park. While Muir sketched, he discussed the marvels of Yosemite. He mentioned such things as stunted timberline pines, giant sequoias more than 3,000 years old, and the dangerous threat to Hetch Hetchy Valley of a proposed reservoir for the city of San Francisco. (There is now talk in the 1990's of dismantling the Hetch Hetchy dam and transferring its waters to the lower and much larger Don Pedro Reservoir.)
The famous conservationist's last bit of discussion before going to the
Appalachian Mountain Club concerned his trip the following month (June, 1911) to the Amazon where he hoped to see the world's greatest rain forest, and where he then hoped to explore Paraguay and observe the monkey puzzle tree. The tree, he explained, "is a conifer with a blunt leaf and yields a big nut
which the natives use in various forms of food." He intended to comb the
slopes of the Andes to feast his eyes on two other members of the monkey puzzle tree family.
Unfortunately we do not have a public record of what John Muir said later
that evening at dinner to the Appalachian Mountain Club, but we can readily surmise, thanks to the account of his visit to Boston in The Sunday Herald of May 21, 1911.
As he explained at Hotel Bellevue, "It would take twenty-nine books, and
perhaps a greater number, to tell comprehensively my observations in all parts of the world, or one-tenth part of my experiences. I've been wandering about, you know, since I finished at the state university (Wisconsin). Instead of taking a vacation then I went into the woods and fields and tramped, and
I've been tramping ever since."
Perhaps members of the club attending that dinner heard of Muir's impressions
(never published but still in handwritten copy at the John Muir Center at the University of the Pacific) of seeing, eight years earlier in 1903, a hazy Mount Fuji from Yokohama Bay, or of seeing blossoms in the temple gardens of Nanking, or of his first sight ever of Mount Everest from the foothills above Darjeeling.
Richard Fleck has contributed articles to Appalachia since
1961 and is the editor of
John Muir's Mountaineering Essays (Peregrine Smith Books, 1984)
Critical Perspectives on Native American Fiction (Three Continents
Source: Appalachia, New Series, Vol. L., No. 3, # 200, June 15, 1995. Reprinted on the John Muir Exhibit by permission of the author.
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