“His heart remained wild.” John Muir’s reckless life

Wrangler Island is a rocky spur in the East Siberian Sea: a heritage preserved by UNESCO since 2004 due to its natural features; To polar bears it seems a delicacy, a lust, they land there for breeding. Seal dock en masse, they found mammoth skeleton. The island is 125 kilometers long, it seems uninhabitable, but until a century ago, reckless American, Canadian and Russian settlers fought to occupy it. Discovered by Baron Wrangler, one of the founders of the Russian Geographical Society, the island has been under siege since 1916, the Soviet Union for a hundred years. It was first described in 1881 in natural detail by John Muir: it happened on a cutter, “Corwein”, Commander Calvin L. Led by Hooper; The mission, at least officially, was aimed at retrieving members of the devastating 1879 expedition “Jeanette” led by George W. DeLong to conquer the North Pole. Breaded in the Siberian ice, overwhelmed by a series of storms, the crew wrecked on Wrangler Island. However, Muir’s description persuaded the United States to claim – ultimately useless – the outfit of that rock, in the vibrant Arctic rock.

At the time, John Muir was 43 years old: Born in Scotland, Dunbar, he moved to Wisconsin in 1849; He has long been known for his exceptional travel and bizarre character. He married Louisa Wanda Strangezel a year ago, and set out to run a family farm full of vineyards and orchards in California. Between 1879 and 1880 he made several expeditions to Alaska, often by canoe, the results of which were collected. Travel to Alaska. He was a practical man, with an innate ability to observe and catalog; He liked Ralph Waldo Emerson’s book, he invented a water saw to cut iron, he said “I could be a millionaire, I would be a Trump”.

With a keen eye, an intelligent beard, and a well-groomed body, Muir is best known for his expeditions to Yosemite. He has spent part of his life fighting for the protection of the region, under threat of exploitation: a photograph shows him, in 1906, with Theodore Roosevelt, whom he took on a trip through the sharp rocks, the muddy forest, the rivers. In 1892 he founded the Sierra Club, the first environmental organization in the United States. Muir was an extremist: he was not interested in “conserving” natural areas in order to exploit them with agreed accuracy; It was for “preservation”, that is, for the creation of a natural garden suitable for “wandering life, inspiration, prayer”. The locals called it “Ankautahan”, but according to Muir they did not know enough about the spirit of nature. Of course, he was blamed – a couple of years ago, on the culture team With eraser – “Not being immune to racism”, “Contempt for blacks and locals”, “For racial stereotypes”. Fortunately, Controversial, Stupid, Evil, Historical, seems to be back: In Italy – in a completely ecological fashion – John Muir’s books were published by La Vita Felice (Wind storm in the forest2019; Stickin. The story of a dog2022), from Plan B (If you want to go to the mountains, you have to go home2020), by Keller (My first summer in Sierra, 2021). A true classic of the English-speaking world, John Muir’s “Wilderness Collection” – including Alaska Travel – published by Gibbs Smith; In France, for some time, Jos Curti has edited some books by traveling naturalists: Pass as the last one Apple du Savage. Here we are translating some passages from Muir’s autobiography, which speaks of the indomitable “call”, “arcane violence” of the forest world, as he wrote, forcing a man to turn his face towards the earth, to drown. Sylvan risk

In contrast to the experience of Henry David Thoreau, a writer who was able to build a hut on the shores of the lake, Muir had little experience. PolicyLess Intellectuals. For Muir, what stands out is not “life in the forest” but life Of Wood; The man who chooses the barbarian has no predominance over the seed path of the eye, the value of the stone, the power of the beast. The forest has no sense – moral, religious, civic disobedience – because a single man has chosen it; Forests give meaning to human existence. This is not the result of an alternative, but a necessity.

Either way, Muir failed: there was something stubborn and intolerant, unbearably anti-human, anti-progressive in his way of spreading the morality of the nature park. His bearded face, from time to time, was printed on commemorative stamps, even on the back of some coins; Until Muir became an environmental guru. Several mountains in the Sierra Nevada and Alaska bear his name. Friends say that even when he worked on the farm, “his heart was wild, his soul restless”; Then his wife left him in the mountains. He left for a few days. Sometimes for months. He often took his two daughters with him. He wrote ‘Glory’ to define light.


When I was little in Scotland, I loved everything wild; For the rest of my life I became more and more passionate about space and wildlife. Fortunately, there was no shortage of deserts around my hometown of Dunbar, which gradually settled on the shores of the North Sea, despite cultivating a lot of land. With wild friends like me, I loved wandering in the fields, listening to the birds singing, strolling along the shore to check seaweed and shells, looking for crabs in water holes, in rocks, when the tide was low; Looking at the waves, during the terrible storms, the darkness collapses like lightning over the hills and against the confused ruins of the old Danbar fort, when the sky and the sea, the waves and the clouds become one, moving things.

I didn’t feel like skipping school, yet, when I was five or six, I flew in the countryside or out to sea every Saturday; On holidays I would go there every day except Sunday, although the official custom was to avoid the risk of being forced to play in the garden. It was all in vain. In spite of the inevitable, violent punishment, a staggering violence, arrogantly refined, flowed through our veins and continued its glorious course, irresistible, irresistible, like a star.


A whole series of horrific experiences related to the first days of school was associated with a series of crimes committed by a barn keeper in Edinburgh: he let the homeless sleep for free, or let them sleep for a penny at night, until death persuaded him. And so they sold their bodies to Dr. Hare of the medical school, who dissected them. Teachers told us about some of the “flying doctors” who wore elaborate black coats, with extraordinarily deadly patches, who spent the night on city streets in search of children: they suffocated them to sell in their morgue. According to the school’s doorman, these “flying doctors” quickly cover the children’s faces with patches so they can’t ask for help, wrap them in large overcoats, take them to Edinburgh, sell them and cut them into small pieces. So that we can see how the inside is made. At night no one dared to cross the door: the whispers of “Flying Doctors” were everywhere. In winter, when darkness descends and fog hinders the way, a servant, with a lantern, takes the children home. I, immovable, went alone, shadows, fascinated by fear.


My dad is very proud of his garden: he wanted to look like Eden as much as possible. In one corner, he gave each of us a small piece of land where we could plant whatever we wanted. We’ve always wondered how a dried and hard seed can turn into fragrant leaves and tender flowers, finding its way to light by itself. My aunt also had her own corner in the garden: she filled it with lilies. We all stared at that precious crowd of lilies with the utmost respect and admiration, wondering if we would find something exceptional as we grew up. None of us dared to touch the leaves or petals of those lilies: we thought they were worth a fortune. They hit us with amazement and amazement.


There is only one bird that frequents Sierra Falls: the dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) It is a cheerful, single type, covered with a bluish-gray plumage, Dark on the head and back. It has a thick, compact appearance, the profile is interrupted by solid legs and beaks. Among the countless waterfalls I have found the gift of exploring the Sierra for more than ten years – be it the top of a glacier or the warm mountains of Yosemite or the abyss – I have never found one without its own black bird. No gorge is too cold for this little bird; No one is too isolated, as long as they have waterfalls. Look for a waterfall, or a speedboat that disrupts the flow: there you will find a dipper that flies in the air, sinks in a whirlpool of foamy or swollen leaves – always full of vitality and joy, which cannot be found or run. Away Your company.

John Muir

Leave a Comment