Happy Birthday, John of the Mountains

April 21 marks the birthday of a guy who’s arguably the nation’s most famous tree hugger.

John Muir was a sheepherder, storyteller, fruit rancher, citizen scientist, tinkerer, philosopher, conservationist, and first-class wanderer.

He first saw what later became Yosemite National Park at age 29 or 30 in 1868 and, since then, the two have been inseparable. Muir fought for, and secured, Yosemite’s protection and agitated for the protection of other lands now part of the national park system.

The passion with which Muir experienced landscapes is still palpable, even these many years later. He described his initial look from above Yosemite Valley this way: “My first view of the High Sierra, first view looking down into Yosemite, the death song of Yosemite Creek, and its flight over the vast cliff, each one of these is of itself enough for a great life-long landscape fortune–a most memorable of days–enjoyment enough to kill if that were possible.”

Muir is remembered by most as a wise, avuncular figure with a long white beard and a poetic way of describing his environs. But I like to hold him in my mind’s eye as that adventurous young man, exploring wherever his legs could carry him, and expressing his sheer astonishment at what he saw and what it meant. Of those early days Muir later wrote that he’d had a “soul hunger.” He said, “I began to doubt whether I was fully born…I was on the world. But was I in it?”

Thanks to him, and many others, we too can experience utter awe in the places they devoted much of their lives to protecting.

Learn more about him at John Muir National Historical Site.

Learn more about Muir and other conservation titans in Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.