John Muir was a naturalist who called out – Go to nature. Drink her soothing waters. And learn the lessons she has to teach. He felt that something in us needs this and responds to it, even if we may not recognize this need.
Using the imagery of his times, he saw wilderness as the Earth as God made it. And he felt that understanding and accepting nature’s ways could lead to a special kind of faith. In this, recognition of beauty and order prompts a reverence, and appreciation of variety prompts respect for all forms of life.
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.
Wander a whole summer if you can. Thousands of God’s 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. The time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.
A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fibre thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.
We find in the fields of Nature no place that is blank or barren; every spot on land or sea is covered with harvests, and these harvests are always ripe and ready to be gathered, and no toiler is ever underpaid. Not in these fields, God’s wilds, will you ever hear the sad moan of disappointment, “All is vanity”. no, we are overpaid a thousand times for all our toil, and a single day in so divine an atmosphere of beauty and love would be well worth living for, and at its close, should death come, without any hope of another life, we could still say, “Thank you, God, for the glorious gift!” and pass on. Indeed, some of the days I have spent alone in the depths of the wilderness have shown me that immortal life beyond the grave is not essential to perfect happiness, for these diverse days were so complete there was no sense of time in them, they had no definite beginning or ending, and formed a kind of terrestrial immortality. After days like these we are ready for any fate – pain, grief, death or oblivion – with grateful heart for the glorious gift as long as hearts shall endure. In the meantime, our indebtedness is growing ever more. The sun shines and the stars, and new beauty meets us at every step in all our wanderings.
. . . this glorious valley might well be called a church, for every lover of the great Creator who comes within the broad overwhelming influences of the place fails not to worship as they never did before. The glory of the Lord is upon all God’s works; it is written plainly upon all the fields of every clime, and upon every sky . . .
Few are altogether deaf to the preaching of pine trees.
In our best times everything turns into religion, all the world seems a church and the mountains altars.
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!
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.
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. . .
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.
You are going on a strange journey this time, my friend. I don’t envy you. You’ll have a hard time keeping your heart light and simple in the midst of this crowd of madmen. Instead of the music of the wind among the spruce-tops and the tinkling of the waterfalls, your ears will be filled with the oaths and groans of these poor, deluded, self-burdened people. Keep close to Nature’s heart, yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean from the earth-stains of this sordid, gold-seeking crowd in God’s pure air. . . Don’t lose your freedom and your love of the Earth as God made it.
The Mountains of California (1894)
Our National Parks (1901)
The Yosemite by John Muir (1912)