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Quotations from John Muir

Selected by Harold Wood

CAUTION: There are an increasing number of misquotes attributed to John Muir widely circulated on the Internet and even in published books. The following quotes, by contrast, have been carefully vetted by Muir scholars and librarians, with a citation given to the original source. For permission to use these quotes, see Copyright Status of John Muir's Writings.
See our John Muir Misquoted page for more information.

  Note on Sources

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.
-- Our National Parks , 1901, page 56.
Full version of above quote: Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. 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. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.
Note: there is also a variant misquote of this quotation. See our John Muir Misquoted page for more information.

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
- My First Summer in the Sierra , 1911, page 110.
See also: John Muir Misquoted (referencing the common but inaccurate paraphrase: "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." JOHN MUIR NEVER SAID THIS.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
- The Yosemite (1912), page 256.

Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean...
- John Muir quoted by Samuel Hall Young in Alaska Days with John Muir (1915) chapter 7, pg. 204.
For a visual representation, see Alaska Days with John Muir, page 204, on Internet Archive

I'm losing the precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.
- John Muir quoted by Samuel Hall Young in Alaska Days with John Muir (1915), chapter 4, pg. 216.
For a visual representation, see Alaska Days with John Muir, page 216, on Internet Archive

"God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild."
Source for this version of this quote is: "The Scenery of California," California Early History: Commercial Position: Climate: Scenery. San Francisco: California State Board of Trade, 1897, 16.
(Available online at See John Muir, in His Own Words: A Book of Quotations Compiled and Edited by Peter Browning, (Lafayette: Great West Books, 1988). Browning states: "This strong statement in a little-known state promotional brochure appeared later in a watered-down and grammatically incorrect version in a prominent periodical and a major book."

None of Nature's landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.
- Our National Parks, (1901), Chapter 1, page 4. Reprinted from The Atlantic Monthly Volume 0081 Issue 483 (January 1898)
"The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West" [pp. 15-28, at 17.]

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.
- Travels in Alaska by John Muir, 1915, chapter 1, page 5.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 313.

In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.
- Steep Trails, Chapter 9, Mormon Lilies, (1919), originally in Muir, John, "Mormon Lilies. Liliaceous Wonder-A Mountain Covered with Flowers Gorgeous Lily Gardens-A Sublime Scene-The Queen of All. (Special Correspondence of the Bulletin.) Salt Lake, July, 1877." (1877). John Muir: A Reading Bibliography by Kimes, 1986 (Muir articles 1866-1986). 53.

I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 191.

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.
- Muir's marginal note in volume I of Prose Works by Ralph Waldo Emerson (This volume containing marginal notes by John Muir is located at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. See Albert Saijo, "Me, Muir, and Sierra Nevada", in Reinhabiting a Separate Country: A Bioregional Anthology of Northern California, edited by Peter Berg, San Francisco, California: Planet Drum Foundation, 1978, pages 52-59, at page 55, and Frederick W. Turner, Rediscovering America: John Muir in His Time and Ours (1985), page 193.) Between every two pine trees is a door

There is not a "fragment" in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself.
- A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916), page 164.

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 logcock 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.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235. The quote as Wolfe records it appears in longer form with additional text in Muir's journal for August-November 1875, Sequoia Studies from Yosemite, South End of Belt at White River Image 44. John Muir Papers.© 1984 Muir-Hanna Trust.

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening - still all is Beauty!
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 208.

Compared with the intense purity and cordiality and beauty of Nature, the most delicate refinements and cultures of civilization are gross barbarisms.
- Letter to Emily Pelton, April 2, 1872, in Badè's Life and Letters of John Muir.

In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 317.

We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.
- June 9, 1872 letter to Miss Catharine Merrill, from New Sentinel Hotel, Yosemite Valley, in Badè's Life and Letters of John Muir.

The wrongs done to trees, wrongs of every sort, are done in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, for when the light comes, the heart of the people is always right.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 429

When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.
- - John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 295 (quoted in The Wilderness World of John Muir, edited by Edwin Way Teale, p. 313.)

Fresh beauty opens one's eyes wherever it is really seen, but the very abundance and completeness of the common beauty that besets our steps prevents its being absorbed and appreciated. It is a good thing, therefore, to make short excursions now and then to the bottom of the sea among dulse and coral, or up among the clouds on mountain-tops, or in balloons, or even to creep like worms into dark holes and caverns underground, not only to learn something of what is going on in those out-of-the-way places, but to see better what the sun sees on our return to common everyday beauty.
- The Mountains of California (1894) chapter 15.

Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.
My First Summer in the Sierra , 1911, page 231.

Man must be made conscious of his origin as a child of Nature. Brought into right relationship with the wilderness he would see that he was not a separate entity endowed with a divine right to subdue his fellow creatures and destroy the common heritage, but rather an integral part of a harmonious whole. He would see that his appropriation of earth's resources beyond his personal needs would only bring imbalance and beget ultimate loss and poverty for all.
- by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, describing Muir's remedy for human misery in her book, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir (1945) page 188.

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed -- chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests. ... It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods -- trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries ... God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools -- only Uncle Sam can do that.
- Our National Parks (1901) chapter 10.

The natural and common is more truly marvelous and mysterious than the so-called supernatural. Indeed most of the miracles we hear of are infinitely less wonderful than the commonest of natural phenomena, when fairly seen.
My First Summer in the Sierra , chapter 7, 1911, page 133.

Range of Light:
Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.... Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.
- The Yosemite (1912) chapter 1.

So extraordinary is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees....
- My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 4.

Surely all God's people, however serious or savage, great or small, like to play. Whales and elephants, dancing, humming gnats, and invisibly small mischievous microbes - all are warm with divine radium and must have lots of fun in them.
- The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, (1913), pages 186-187

Everything is flowing -- going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches; the air in majestic floods carrying minerals, plant leaves, seeds, spores, with streams of music and fragrance; water streams carrying rocks... While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like Nature's warm heart.
- My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 10.

Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.
- My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 2.

By forces seemingly antagonistic and destructive Nature accomplishes her beneficent designs - now a flood of fire, now a flood of ice, now a flood of water; and again in the fullness of time an outburst of organic life....
- "Mt. Shasta" in Picturesque California (1888-1890), chapter 10, page 148, and in Steep Trails (1918) chapter 3.

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.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.

Most people are on the world, not in it -- have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them -- undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 320.

I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in "creation's dawn." The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.
- "Explorations in the Great Tuolumne Cañon," Overland Monthly, August, 1873; and John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 72.

There is a love of wild nature in everybody an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.
- From Muir's journals - cited in Wilderness World of John Muir, edited by Edwin Way Teale (1954); and A Passion for Nature by Donald Worster (2008) page 319.

How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make - leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone - we all dwell in a house of one room - the world with the firmament for its roof - and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 321.

Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.
- Letter to wife Louie, July 1888, Life and Letters of John Muir (1924), chapter 15.

It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 313.

If my soul could get away from this so-called prison, be granted all the list of attributes generally bestowed on spirits, my first ramble on spirit-wings would not be among the volcanoes of the moon. Nor should I follow the sunbeams to their sources in the sun. I should hover about the beauty of our own good star. I should not go moping among the tombs, not around the artificial desolation of men. I should study Nature's laws in all their crossings and unions; I should follow magnetic streams to their source and follow the shores of our magnetic oceans. I should go among the rays of the aurora, and follow them to their beginnings, and study their dealings and communions with other powers and expressions of matter. And I should go to the very center of our globe and read the whole splendid page from the beginning. But my first journeys would be into the inner substance of flowers, and among the folds and mazes of Yosemite's falls. How grand to move about in the very tissue of falling columns, and in the very birthplace of their heavenly harmonies, looking outward as from windows of ever-varying transparency and staining!
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), pages 43-44.

Our crude civilization engenders a multitude of wants, and law-givers are ever at their wits' end devising. The hall and the theater and the church have been invented, and compulsory education. Why not add compulsory recreation? ... Our forefathers forged chains of duty and habit, which bind us notwithstanding our boasted freedom, and we ourselves in desperation add link to link, groaning and making medicinal laws for relief. Yet few think of pure rest or of the healing power of Nature.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 234.

One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature -- inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.
- My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 10.

On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death... Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.
- Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, p.41-42

Pollution, defilement, squalor are words that never would have been created had man lived conformably to Nature. Birds, insects, bears die as cleanly and are disposed of as beautifully as flies. The woods are full of dead and dying trees, yet needed for their beauty to complete the beauty of the living.... How beautiful is all Death!
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), pg. 222.

The rugged old Norsemen spoke of death as Heimgang-"home-going." So the snow-flowers go home when they melt and flow to the sea, and the rock-ferns, after unrolling their fronds to the light and beautifying the rocks, roll them up close again in the autumn and blend with the soil. Myriads of rejoicing living creatures, daily, hourly, perhaps every moment sink into death’s arms, dust to dust, spirit to spirit-waited on, watched over, noticed only by their Maker, each arriving at its own Heaven-dealt destiny. All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried. Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast-all alike pass on and away under the law of death and love. Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share Heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity. "Our lives are rounded with a sleep."
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), p. 339-340.

The snow is melting into music.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 107.

How little note is taken of the deeds of Nature! What paper publishes her reports? .... Who publishes the sheet-music of the winds, or the written music of water written in river-lines? Who reports and works and ways of the clouds, those wondrous creations coming into being every day like freshly upheaved mountains? And what record is kept of Nature's colors - - the clothes she wears - of her birds, her beasts - her live-stock?
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) p. 220.

If one pine were placed in a town square, what admiration it would excite! Yet who is conscious of the pine-tree multitudes in the free woods, though open to everybody?
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) p. 220.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
- Our National Parks, (1901), chapter 1, page 1.

Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), p. 337.

No dogma taught by the present civilization seems to form so insuperable an obstacle in the way of a right understanding of the relations which culture sustains to wildness as that which regards the world as made especially for the uses of man. Every animal, plant, and crystal controverts it in the plainest terms. Yet it is taught from century to century as something ever new and precious, and in the resulting darkness the enormous conceit is allowed to go unchallenged."
- from "Wild Wool", from "Overland Monthly" (April 1875) reprinted in Steep Trails (1918) chapter 1.

Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit - the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo sapiens. From the same material he has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals.... This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them. After human beings have also played their part in Creation's plan, they too may disappear without any general burning or extraordinary commotion whatever.
- from A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916) - Read longer excerpt.

Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.
- My First Summer in the Sierra (1911) chapter 2.

The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it. ... So we must count on watching and
striving for these trees, and should always be glad to find anything so surely good and noble to strive for.
- "The National Parks and Forest Reservations" in a speech by John Muir (Proceedings of the Meeting of the Sierra Club Held November 23, 1895.) Published in Sierra Club Bulletin, (1896).

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.
- from Our National Parks by John Muir (1901) last paragraph Chapter 3

All Nature's wildness tells the same story: the shocks and outbursts of earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, roaring , thundering waves and floods, the silent uprush of sap in plants, storms of every sort, each and all, are the orderly, beauty-making love-beats of Nature's heart.
- "Three adventures in the Yosemite" (off-site link in "The Century Magazine", vol. LXXXIII, no. 5 (March, 1912) page 661 [also available on Google Books]; modified slightly in The Yosemite (1912) chapter 4.

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1938, republished 1979, page 439.

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
(Muir used this statement in two different places, with quite different connotations. The one usually intended when the quote is used by itself is probably this one:
"One touch of nature makes the whole world kin; and it is truly wonderful how love-telling the small voices of these birds are, and how far they reach through the woods into one another's hearts and into ours. The tones are so perfectly human and so full of anxious affection, few mountaineers can fail to be touched by them." This version supports Muir's view that there is kinship among all species.
John Muir, Our National Parks, Chapter 7, 1917.
Muir also used a slight variation of the same statement, with a rather different context and meaning, in The Cruise of the Corwin:
"Joe's wife came aboard for a final farewell. After taking him aside and talking with him, the tears running down her cheeks, she left the vessel and went back with some others who had come to trade deerskins, while we sailed away. One touch of nature makes all the world kin, and here were many touches among the wild Chukchis." This version supports Muir's view that all people are brothers, regardless of culture or race.
- The Cruise of the Corwin (1917) chapter 3
Both versions by John Muir echo William Shakespeare, which in turn seems to use the phrase in a different context, in Troilus and Cressida, iii, 3: "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.")

Two versions of the following can be found:
Version 1:
"As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can."
- As quoted (paraphrased) by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir (1945) page 144, (referring to Muir Journals, c. March, 1871)
Version 2:
"As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing... I'll interpret the rocks, the tones of flood storm and the avalanche, and acquaint myself with glaciers and wild gardens ... altogether as one harmony. I will follow my instincts myself for good or for ill, not leaving the world, but going into it, as near its heart as I can get."
- Extracted from - Autobiography...Introduction [No.1], c1876. (Handwritten manuscript followed by typewritten transcript by Linnie Marsh Wolfe), identified in , Register for the John Muir Papers (1849-1957 Finding Aid from the University of the Pacific, specifically "SERIES IIIb, c, d: PUBLISHED & PRECURSOR WORKS; UNPUBL. WORKS; NOTES

Notwithstanding the magnificent views opened by science into the universe, everything still ends in mystery and infinity.
- "Mysterious Things," quoted in Wurtz, M. J. (2006). John Muir Disrupts a Seance. John Muir Newsletter, 17(1), 3–4.

How many hearts with warm red blood in them are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are shining! A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us, but of whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own affairs as we are about ours.
- Our National Parks, (1901), chapter 1.

These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.
- The Yosemite (1912) chapter 15.

How infinitely superior to our physical senses are those of the mind! The spiritual eye sees not only rivers of water but of air. It sees the crystals of the rock in rapid sympathetic motion, giving enthusiastic obedience to the sun's rays, then sinking back to rest in the night. The whole world is in motion to the center. So also sounds. We hear only 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 round 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. The Sierra canyons are full of avalanche debris -- we hear them boom again, for we read past sounds from present conditions. Again we hear the earthquake rock-falls. Imagination is usually regarded as a synonym for the unreal. Yet is true imagination healthful and real, no more likely to mislead than the coarser senses. Indeed, the power of imagination makes us infinite.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) page 226.

Hiking - "I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, 'A la sainte terre, 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."
- John Muir quoted by Albert W. Palmer in The Mountain Trail and its Message (1911) pages 27-28 - excerpted in A Parable of Sauntering.

Editor's Note: Most likely, Muir got his reference to the phrase "going a la Sainte Terre" from this excerpt from Henry David Thoreau's 1862 essay on "Walking." In any case, the accuracy of the quote about hiking vs. sauntering attributed to John Muir by Albert W. Palmer above is verified by a very similar account by another early Sierra Club member, C. Nelson Hackett, who reported meeting John Muir on the trail while on the 1908 Sierra Club Annual Outing to the Kern River Region. Hackett explains:

"He [Muir] said, 'Where are you going?' And we said, 'Why, we are just hiking in to camp.' And he said, 'Hiking' is a vile word. You are going right past one of the finest views in the Sierra. Now stop and look at it. Now as you are looking down, there is that beautiful lake, and the moraine is where the glacier stopped and dropped all those rocks that you see there, and the lake formed behind it.' And he said, 'You know, when the pilgrims were going from England to the Holy Land, the French would ask them 'Where are you going?' and they did not speak French very well, but they would say 'Sante Terre' (Holy Land). That is where we get our word 'saunter'. And you should saunter through the Sierra, because this is a holy land, if ever there was one.'"
Source: C. Nelson Hackett in "Lasting Impressions of the Early Sierra Club" in Sierra Club Reminiscences Volume II, 1900s-1960s. See also a summary of this 1908 encounter in Sauntering in the Sierra by Roger Eardley-Pryor, PhD, in Berkeley Library Update (University of California), July 2, 2018.

Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind. Your animal fellow beings, so seldom regarded in civilization, and every rock-brow and mountain, stream, and lake, and every plant soon come to be regarded as brothers; even one learns to like the storms and clouds and tireless winds. This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment. It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark. None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) page 350.

Government protection should be thrown around every wild grove and forest on the mountains, as it is around every private orchard, and the trees in public parks. To say nothing of their value as fountains of timber, they are worth infinitely more than all the gardens and parks of towns.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) page 350-351.

Winds are advertisements of all they touch, however much or little we may be able to read them; telling their wanderings even by their scents alone.
- The Mountains of California (1894) chapter 10.

My fire was in all its glory about midnight, and, having made a bark shed to shelter me from the rain and partially dry my clothing, I had nothing to do but look and listen and join the trees in their hymns and prayers.
- Travels in Alaska (1915) chapter 2.

One day's exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books. See how willingly Nature poses herself upon photographers' plates. No earthly chemicals are so sensitive as those of the human soul.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) page 95.

The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains - mountain dwellers who have grown strong there with the forest trees in Nature's workshops.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) pages 315-316.

There is at least a punky spark in my heart and it may blaze in this autumn gold, fanned by the King. Some of my grandfathers must have been born on a muirland for there is heather in me, and tinctures of bog juices, that send me to Cassiope, and oozing through all my veins impel me unhaltingly through endless glacier meadows, seemingly the deeper and danker the better.
-- Letter to Mrs. Ezra S. Carr, location and date indicated as "Squirrelville, Sequoia Co. Nut Time" (c. 1870) as quoted in The Life and Letters of John Muir (1924) chapter 8.

Plants, animals, and stars are all kept in place, bridled along appointed ways, with one another, and through the midst of one another -- killing and being killed, eating and being eaten, in harmonious proportions and quantities.
- from "Wild Wool", from "Overland Monthly" (April 1875) reprinted in Steep Trails (1918) chapter 1.

Wander here a whole summer, if you can. Thousands of God's wild 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 to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.
- Our National Parks (1901) Chapter 1.

Lie down among the pines for a while, then get to plain pure white love-work ... to help humanity and other mortals and the Lord.
- Letter from John Muir to Mrs. J.D. (Katharine) Hooker, 19 September 1911, from Para, Brazil, as quoted in The Life and Letters of John Muir (1924) chapter 17, II
and in John Muir's Last Journey (2001) page 67.

I love [the] ocean as I do the mountains--indeed the mountains are an ocean with harder waves...
- John Muir,
- Letter to J.B. McChesney, December 10, 1872, in Life and Letters of John Muir, Chapter 10.

God who is Light has led me tenderly from light to light to the shoreless ocean of rayless beamless Spirit Light that bathes these holy mountains.
- John Muir - Letter to Mrs. Kate N. Daggett, December 30, 1872, in Life and Letters of John Muir, Chapter 10.

Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees. Their sermons on the mountains go to our hearts; and if people in general could be got into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish.
- John Muir,
- "The National Parks and Forest Reservations" in a speech by John Muir (Proceedings of the Meeting of the Sierra Club Held November 23, 1895.) Published in Sierra Club Bulletin, (1896), v. 1, no. 7, January 1896, pp 271-284, at 282-83.

All the wild world is beautiful, and it matters but little where we go, to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains, on the sea or land or down among the crystals of waves or high in a balloon in the sky; through all the climates, hot or cold, storms and calms, everywhere and always we are in God's eternal beauty and love. So universally true is this, the spot where we chance to be always seems the best.
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) page 299.

I have this one big, well-defined faith for humanity as a workman, that the time is coming when every "article of manufacture" will be as purely a work of God as are these mountains and pine trees and bonnie loving flowers.
- Letter to Mrs. Kate N. Daggett, December 30,1872, in Life and Letters of John Muir, Chapter 10.

With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake, feeling yourself contained on one of Nature's most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner influences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty. And notwithstanding the scene is so impressively spiritual, and you seem dissolved in it yet everything about you is beating with warm, terrestrial human love, delightfully substantial and familiar.
- John Muir, " The Glacier Meadows" Scribner's Monthly, February, 1879, from Nature Journal with John Muir edited by Bonnie Johanna Gisel (Poetic Matrix Press, 2006) and The Glacier Meadows, Chapter 7, of The Mountains of California (1894).

Going to the mountains is going home.
- Our National Parks, (1901), chapter 1, page 1.

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).
[Note that this quote is often truncated, removing the last half, 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." 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."] (If the Adventure Journal link no longer works, the article is available on the Internet Archive WayBack Machine. This essay by Michael Wurtz was first published as How John Muir's Incessant Study Saved Yosemite in The Conversation in 2016.

Quotations from John Muir were selected by Harold Wood from various sources.
Many thanks to Dan Styer for finding and identifying the sources for many of these quotes. See his story about how he helped improve this website, as well as the WikiQuotes page of John Muir quotes, on his web page about the Quotable John Muir. On that page he also provides further background on the source of the "Between every two pine trees..." quote.

A note on sources:

CAUTION: There are several misquotes of John Muir widely circulated on the Internet, printed on souvenirs like mugs and signs, and even in published books. See our John Muir Misquoted page to make sure you don't use quotes incorrectly attributed to John Muir.

Different versions of Muir's best quotes can be found in several of his published articles, letters, and journal reprints, as well as his books. Generally speaking, books and articles published prior to 1923 are in the public domain; however, note that some of Muir's most-quoted passages come from the book John of the Mountains - The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe. Scholars are discovering that Wolfe not infrequently edited or paraphrased some of Muir's original writings, keeping the original idea but simplying language and removing redundancies and digressions. That book was first published in 1938, copyright renewed 1966 by John Muir Hanna and Ralph Eugene Wolfe. It will be at least 95 years after its original publication before this work becomes public domain, unless Congress extends the copyright period yet again. For permission to publish excerpts, contact the Holt-Atherton Libary at the University of the Pacific.
See generally Copyright Status of the Writings of John Muir.

If you know the source for a quote that does not have one identified, please let me know by e-mail to:

Additional sources for Muir quotes: WikiQuote website for John Muir Quotes. (off-site link)

For a printed resource for finding Muir's quotes, see John Muir in His Own Words: A Book of Quotations Compiled and edited by Peter Browning (Lafayette, CA: Great West Books, 1988).

There are also several collections Muir's passages published as "meditatons" or "spiritual writings":

  • The Contemplative John Muir: Spiritual Quotations from the Great American Naturalist by Stephen K. Hatch
  • Meditations of John Muir: Nature's Temple By Chris Highland
  • John Muir: Spiritual Writings, Selected with an introduction by Tim Flinders.

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