John Muir, my patron saint

“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.”

Those words, almost a prayer to nature, were written by John Muir, the legendary Scottish-American naturalist and preservationist, whose love of the wilderness is a deep inspiration to me.

 Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and led the effort to create several national parks, was featured in the first two episodes of Ken Burns’ series on America’s national parks, which is airing this week.

I watched these shows with fascination, moved by Muir’s passion for nature and his hard work in saving the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas from commercial developers.

Muir spoke with reverence of nature. He considered it a temple for the soul, a cathedral for mankind.

 He never tired of climbing mountains, hiking through forests, exploring new wilderness areas. He seemed moved by a religious fervor to respect and preserve the natural beauty.

I think of Muir as the godfather of American naturalists. And speaking as someone who loves spending time in the woods, I feel a deep connection to his spirit, if I may be so bold.

When I re-read some old journal entries of mine, I think I must have  been unconsciously channeling Muir’s spirit.

Here, for example, is a line from my old running journal from November 2007, about a run through the Ohio woods with two good friends:

We finally reached the top of the path, caught our breath for 10 seconds, then entered the woods. A feeling of joy and ecstacy enveloped me as we ran under a row of majestic evergreen trees, with the woods spreading out far around us. We trotted down the singletrack trail, dodging rocks and roots, and trying to keep our balance on a carpet of slipppery pine needles and leaves.

The trail was slightly damp, so we had to slow down to a walk on the steepest turns and downhills, lest we go sailing over the embankments into the wild blue yonder.

We got to the bottom in one piece, and found several logs that served as crude footbridges over creeks . They were covered with a light layer of snow and ice. We tiptoed carefully across. When we reached the wide stream, I ran straight across, splashing through an inch or two of water with a big grin on my face. 

We continued to a big uphill, which we were smart enough to take at a walk. After that, it was a sheer joy to run for the next half-hour through woods, meadows, along ravines, across roads, through groves of trees of all kinds. I stopped once or twice to take in the view of glorious hillsides, with steep drops and lots of glistening trees and leaves. 

In the past, when I’ve re-read this entry (and others like it), I was slightly embarrassed, thinking I was getting a bit too melodramatic and lightheaded.

Now, I realize I’m just writing in the time-honored tradition of John Muir, whose prose about the wilderness was heartfelt and spiritual. If anything, it was even more florid and unrestrained than mine.

Consider these writings of Muir’s from nearly 100 years ago:

* 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.

* 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.

* The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir, thank you for reverence, respect, love and advocacy of nature.  

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Summer is definitely over. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Fall is my favorite season. I love the crisp air, low humidity and dramatic changes to the landscape.

I ran five miles on the towpath at lunchtime today and enjoyed it immensely. Of course, I wish I had dressed a little warmer. A long-sleeved shirt would have been just right, instead of the short-sleeved one I was wearing.  Fall kind of snuck up on me this year. 

It was 62 degrees, but a stiff wind made it feel 5-10 degrees cooler. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my solo run on a crisp day.

This was an easy day, following my hard outing yesterday at the 10K. I just enjoyed watching the ducks and turtles in the canal, and all the trees that are starting to turn.

It’s the beginning of a magnificent season.

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