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John Muir Misquoted:

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."

The correct quote is:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

We are frequently asked for the source of the above "When one tugs..." misquote, which has been included in many popular "favorite quotes" websites around the Internet, and is indiscriminately posted on Twitter and other social networks. Actually, this statement is NOT what Muir wrote. It is only a shortened paraphrase of what Muir wrote, and is not nearly as interesting, eloquent, and charming as Muir's original.1

The correct quote as John Muir wrote and published it is this:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

In fact, there are many variants of the mysteriously popular "tugs" misquote, and none of them are correct.

For example, we have no idea where this one came from:

"Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe." A less popular variant of this misquote, but which appears to be another early source we can find on the Internet through a Google search is from 1997, where the authors of a paper titled Report on Integrated Practice: 4: Roadmap for Integration - American Institute of Architects claimed (without citation) that Muir said: "When we try to tug on anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

The earliest source for this "tugs" misquote we can find on the Internet through a Google Books search is from 1994, in Timber Wars By Judi Bari (Common Courage Press, Nov. 1, 1994), page 130, which used yet another version of the second variant above: ""Tug on anything in nature and you will find it is connected to everything else."

Earlier, yet another variation moved the "universe" from the end to the middle: ""Tug on anything in the universe, and you will find it connected to everything else." Designing Functional Streets That Contribute to Our Quality of Life by Margaret A. Kubilins (2000)
Source: (retrieved April 9, 2015)

It appears that since then, that idea has morphed in the popular imagination into several (mistakenly) more popular variants listed above.

Some other sources of the most popular variant of the misquote listed at the top of this page appears to be in the Third Edition of the textbook Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions by Michael L. McKinney and Robert M. Schoch (Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2003) and in the academic journal Environmental History (2004) 9 (4): 741-742. This appears to be the source for the wrong publication of the Muir quote in John Moir's (not a typo there) book Return of the Condor which uses this misquote and attributes it to John Muir on page 179.

It is a shame the publishers of all these textbooks, books and purportedly scholarly articles did not not correctly verify the quote!

We even found it being mistakenly used by Smith & Hawken on a 2007 gift card and in several products in the Northern Sun catalog. Worse, we even found it engraved on granite, and posted on signs at places like zoos and botanical gardens.

Astonishingly, we have even found this misquote used in a published book, Like a Hammer Shattering Rock By Megan McKenna which, with the citation for the source (in footnote 8) referencing this page - yes, the very web page you are now reading! How can we make this more clear? That title of the page reads "Misquotes" and the very file name is"misquotes.aspx"!

Once again - Muir never used the word "tugs" when writing about the interconnections of things! None of these variations on the "tugs" theme attributed to John Muir are correct. They are simply paraphrases of the fundamental ecological principle of connectedness that Muir is considered to be one of the first to articulate.

Similarly, it appears that some writers just make something up out of whole cloth, like this misquote attributed to John Muir in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 8, 2005 by a journalist who should have known better: "If you pick up anything in the universe, you find it hooked up to everything else." Like the other misquotes, it tries to get across the basic idea, but it garbles Muir's writing and has none of the wit and endearingly quaint expression of Muir's actual language.

We have also heard yet another version of this quote, but attributed to John Burroughs: "Tug on one part of nature and you find the whole world connected." We don't put a lot of stock on this version of the quote either, since we've never found it on the Internet or in John Burroughs writings.

If you do know of a documented primary source of any of these well-intentioned paraphrases - please let us know!

Here is the correct John Muir quote as Muir wrote and published it:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

You can verify the accuracy of this quote as it is found in Muir's book: My First Summer in the Sierra (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), on page 110 of the Sierra Club Books 1988 edition. It is found in Chapter 6.

To be sure, tracking down Muir quotes accurately can be difficult. He frequently wrote multiple versions of some of his most eloquent writings.

Given variant sources and multiple versions of Muir's writings, it is not surprising to find that Muir actually did originally express the same idea in the famous "hitched" quote in a different way. As originally written, he was nonetheless as eloquent as always, although rather more wordy:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. "

According to Stephen Fox's book, John Muir and His Legacy (p. 291), this is the original version of the famous quote, which Muir wrote in his journal for July 27, 1869. Muir's journals can be found in the John Muir Papers 2 . Fox notes that Muir later revised the wordy sentence to read with the more pithy word "hitched" in his book My First Summer in the Sierra.

Another variation expressing basically the same idea was recorded by Linnie Marsh Wolfe in her book Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir (1945, reprinted in 2003). This version, found on page 171 of her book, was attributed to Muir, but she did not give a citation, and this variation may very well be a paraphrase of her own creation (something she was wont to do). This expression was put in by Wolfe in the context of Muir lamenting how hard it was to write:

Everything is so inseparably united. As soon as one begins to describe a flower or a tree or a storm or an Indian a chipmunk, up jumps the whole heavens and earth and God Himself in one inseparable glory!

(This version was also reprinted citing Wolfe without comment in The Contemplative John Muir By Stephen Hatch (2012), pg. 96.)

So, we encourage you to quote John Muir correctly: please use either the "hitched" or the "thousand invisible cords" version of this quote. Any other version which use "tugs" is just a weak paraphrase.

In fact, there are an increasing number of misquotes attributed to John Muir widely circulated on the Internet and even in published books.Wiki Quotes reports a number of additional mis-attributed John Muir quotes. Please don't just repeat these mis-attributed quotes! In some cases, the misquotes are not merely misleading, but completely reverse Muir's meaning.

Here are a few more recent examples of quotes incorrectly attributed to John Muir.

Here is another very common misquote: "And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul." An equally incorrect version of this is "And into the forest I go, to lose myself and find my soul.". In fact, John Muir NEVER said either of these.
Although this quote can be found nowhere in Muir's writing, one recent source even brazenly attributed this misquote to a specific date in John Muir's journal - July 27, 1869 - but a careful examination of the original of the entry for that date reveals nothing approximating it whatsoever.

According to a November 4, 2018 communication from Mariah Danu, she wrote this last version in October of 2014 on Tumblr with her Mariah Danu account, but is aware that companies are taking her quote and attributing it wrongly to John Muir.

Another Misquote: "Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." Muir never said that!

Neither statement is remotely like anything that John Muir would have said or written, and a thorough electronic of his published and unpublished works reveals no such statement as either of these. One possibility for such misquotes are tourist shops or websites where T-Shirts, mugs, water bottles, or wooden signs are for sale with actual Muir quotes, accompanied by similar items with statements like these without an author identified. Visitors apparently mistake the fact that such a written sentiment in close physical proximity to items with actual Muir quotes - which may or may not be attributed to Muir on the items themselves - is a reason to believe the sentiment is from John Muir. Don't make that mistake!

And then there are quotes from John Muir which are taken out of context, which result in a meaning that is really very different from the point that John Muir was actually trying to make. Here's an example:

"The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly."

(Letter to sister Sarah Galloway, September 3,1873, in Life and Letters of John Muir, Chapter 10 (1923).) This quote is often truncated, removing the last half, italicized here, as if going on vacation to visit a mere playground. But reading the full quote, Muir actually insisted that going to the mountains was only a first step. As Michael Wurtz points out in "What Muir Really Meant by 'the Mountains Are Calling' in Adventure Journal, August 13, 2018, "the shortened quote doesn't fully capture John Muir or his desire to understand and protect California's Yosemite." The reason to go was to study nature, and just as important, work to protect our wilderness areas. Elsewhere in the letter, Muir revealed that he was spending "the season in prosecuting my researches," and hoped to make a scientific contribution from his mountain studies, in winter to "work with my pen." Wurtz points out, "These words reveal a man who saw responsibility and purpose as well as pleasure in the mountains." This essay by Michael Wurtz was first published as How John Muir's Incessant Study Saved Yosemite in The Conversation in 2016.

As writer Michael Seeger writes, "Perhaps we all would do well to work on studying nature while we can - and if we don't work to protect our lands, we may not have long to do so."]

Misquote: "....away from you like the leaves of Autumn."

Muir's famous quote "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings..." is often misquoted as "climb the mountains and get their glad tidings." That kind of mistake is obvious, with its Christmas connotations. But there is also another misquote feauturing an alternative ending that has been around for decades.
The correct "Climb the mountains" quotation as published in "Our National Parks" should end in "off like autumn leaves," like this: "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.""
However, there appear to many sources publishing a different ending, attributing it to John Muir, with the text at the end reading: "away from you like the leaves of autumn." But we are unable to find this version anywhere in the in Muir's actual published writings or his digitized journals and letters, including the archive of the John Muir Papers at the University of the Pacific. This variation is found only in secondary sources, not in Muir's published or unpublished writings. For example, a search on Google Books results in numerous books or magazines with that incorrect version of the quote. The most recent listed as of this writing (May 2020) was from a book of camping quotes published in 2016, but there also appear to be many earlier versions attributing this version to John Muir, with representations in the 90s, 50s, 30's, 20's etc.
The earliest we have found with this misquote was published in 1911, in a magazine called "The Fra: A Journal of Affirmation, Volume 7. It remains a mystery how this version could have existed as early as Muir's lifetime, though most of the published accounts are since the 1950's. Apparently failure of publishers to carefully check for correct quotes is a widespread and ancient practice.


- Harold Wood, Chair, Sierra Club John Muir Education Team

1. The only reference to "tug" based on a full-text search of Muir's published writings is a reference to a steam tug that helped move a sailing ship into a harbor in Cuba, which he describes in his book A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.

2. Limbaugh, Ronald H. and Kirsten E. Lewis, editors, The John Muir Papers, 1858-1957 MICROFORM, (Stockton, CA: University of the Pacific , 1980). With accompanying Guide (Alexandria, Virginia: Chadwyk Healey, 1986).
With 40 copies in libraries throughout the United States, and available to scholars through interlibrary loan, this is the complete collection of all extant Muir correspondence, manuscripts, notes, and illustrations.
See John Muir Collections, University of the Pacific

Misattributed to John Muir Quotes from Wiki Quotes

Favorite Quotations of John Muir

Writings of John Muir

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