THREE DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD

A work of the imagination concerning the three days that John Muir spent in the wilds of Yosemite with President Roosevelt. 

One of the most poignant of the stories that have emerged from the commemorations marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is the one about German and British troops laying down their arms and emerging from their trenches to exchange greetings and share rations on the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914. Some even say that a football match took place though evidence is scant. If it did, what a pity it wasn’t a game played for two years each way. Football could then truly have justified its claim to be ‘the beautiful game’. The sad irony is that this spontaneous outburst of goodwill lasted for only a few hours and foresaw four years of senseless slaughter and destruction resulting in the deaths of tens of millions, leaving much of central Europe as a vast wasteland.

Against this background the peaceful death of one man some 6000 miles away seems relatively insignificant, but John Muir was no ordinary human being, for his legacy was the prevention of even more senseless destruction in the name of so-called ‘progress’. Although much of what he preached about the conservation of our natural heritage only came into being after his passing, nevertheless his influence is felt to this day. And we can be thankful for that.

It is said that ‘history teaches fools’ and ‘those who forget it (history) are doomed to repeat it’. And doomed we human fools might have been if not for this eccentric genius and a remarkable three days spent by two men in the wilderness of North America.

John Muir was born in Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland in 1838 and emigrated with his family to the United States of America in 1848. Throughout his life he developed an ever-growing fondness wild places and wild creatures. Largely self-taught this son of East Lothian became a poet, philosopher, preacher, inventor and mountaineer, as well as an expert in the fields of botany and geology.

Dunbar Harbour and Castle

Doon Hill overlooking Dunbar

Rockpools at Dunbar seashore

His journeys into the vast wilderness of 19th.Century America brought him to discover the oneness and order of the natural world in which ‘every rock, plant and animal is a golden thread in the infinite fabric of life, and from which no fibre can be pulled without spoiling the whole.’ 

                                                                   

‘When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with all the other stars, all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty. This show is eternal.’

  

This extraordinary man, regarded today as the ‘Father of Conservation’, was truly ahead of his time. His passionate concern for the future of our planet, allied to a unique clarity of thought and expression, enabled him to influence the world’s most powerful men. His legacy in the form of America’s National Parks is there for all to see and enjoy. There is no actual record of their conversations, but perhaps by sprinkling a little Muir-esque imagination into what we do know, we can glean how they might have felt and corresponded.

A Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) in the Inyo Mountains, California

The following postcard was written by John Muir to his wife Louisa at their family home in Martinez,  California. Muir was spending two nights in the wilderness of Yosemite with President Teddy Roosevelt. It is generally understood that it was this ‘adventure’ that persuaded Roosevelt to introduce the concept of ‘National Parks’ in the USA.

Please click on the postcard to magnify.

 

May, 1903

Mrs Louisa Muir

4202    Alhambra Avenue                 

Contra Costa County

Martinez

California

 

Dearest Louisa,

President Roosevelt and I spent another glorious night under the stars here in Yosemite .  No guides, no security men, just two men sitting together on this striped dewdrop of a planet as it spins silently through the vastness  of the universe.                                      

 

I think he has begun to grasp the concept of the oneness of life on earth; that when one tugs at nature you find it connected to everything else. Last night in a sudden storm I persuaded him to link arms around a giant redwood and feel the pulse of the Earth. We woke in the morning covered in snow. “ If Eleanor could see me now” he said.                                                                                                      

He is good company and a good man. I’m sure he senses that America with all its God-given riches and diversity may be our best and last hope to save our Earth and its treasures from man’s endless greed. If he can convince Washington to save our wilderness areas for future generations then it may be the noblest act ever performed by man. He asked me to call him ‘Teddy’ and I believe we will become good friends. When we look back we may think that these were the three days that saved the world.

 

Your loving husband,

 

John

The following postcard was written by President Roosevelt to John Muir a few weeks after he returned to Washington. 

Please click on the postcard to magnify.

 

From the Office of the President of the Unites States of America,

The White House,

Pennsylvania Avenue,

Washington DC

 

June 4th2003

 

My Dear John,

 

I guess Washington is about three thousand miles from Yosemite, but it seems like a lifetime away. Here in the Oval Office of an evening, just as dusk falls over Washington, the busy world quietens and I sometimes hear a birdcall. It disturbs my concentration and I lay my pen down. Imagine that; the leader of this great country unable to perform his duties of office because of a bird singing in the trees on Pennsylvania Avenue. What would they make of that in Congress I wonder? 

I never noticed that sound before you took me into the wilds of Yosemite. Come to think of I don’t recall noticing the scent of the flowers in the Rose Garden either. Now, much to the disdain of my staff, I find myself having conversations with our gardeners at every opportunity. 

We had a big storm here last week and I went down to the Rose Garden to hear what the Earth had to say.  It was singing its old song; the song of songs. ‘I am here. Heed me’.  Now that I know what the song means I intend to take heed and have instructed a Bill to protect our wild places to be drafted and placed before Congress without delay. We must save America from itself. 

God bless you, and God Bless America,

Your friend,

Teddy (Roosevelt) 

 

 

The John Muir tartan was created in 1998 by David McGill for the 150th anniversary of John Muir's arrival in the United States and was launched at a reception in the San Francisco Bay area City of Pleasanton in 2002 when Muir's grand-son accepted an inscribed tartan clock and picture frame on behalf of the Muir family. A baby shawl made in the Muir tartan was presented to the John Muir National Historic site in Martinez in 2016 on behalf of David McGill. 

The colours in the John Muir Tartan were chosen to represent what Muir first saw, and invited us all to see, long before man walked on the moon: the earth spinning silently through infinite space." The postcard to his wife Louisa, depicted below were distributed at the exhibition – “In the Footsteps of John Muir” - by Scottish photographer Ken Paterson at Federal Hall in New York City in April 2013.

Works of the imagination by David McGill, International Tartans

John Muir was born in Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland in 1838 and emigrated with his family to the United States of America in 1848. Throughout his life he developed an ever-growing fondness wild places and wild creatures. Largely self-taught this son of East Lothian became a poet, philosopher, preacher, inventor and mountaineer, as well as an expert in the fields of botany and geology.

 

His journeys into the vast wilderness of 19th. Century America brought him to discover the oneness and order of the natural world in which ‘every rock, plant and animal is a golden thread in the infinite fabric of life, and from which no fibre can be pulled without spoiling the whole.’

                                                                                         

‘When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with all the other stars, all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty. This show is eternal.’

 

This extraordinary man, regarded today as the ‘Father of Conservation’, was truly ahead of his time. His passionate concern for the future of our planet, allied to a unique clarity of thought and expression, enabled him to influence the world’s most powerful men. His legacy in the form of America’s National Parks is there for all to see and enjoy.

 

The John Muir tartan was woven to celebrate the 150th. Anniversary of his arrival in America, and the colours chosen to represent what he first saw, and invited us all to see, long before man walked on the moon: “…the fragile earth spinning silently through infinite space.”

 

Funds from the sale of John Muir tartan products are donated to environmental projects worldwide.

 

 

Registered with the Scottish Tartans Register No. 2933

 A Scots Pine (Pinus silvestris) in Glen Affric, Scotland

© 2019 | Ken Paterson