Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
THE DECAY OF AMERICAN MEDIA — Patrick L. Smith on the decline and fall of American journalism; Peter Lee on China and its Uyghur problem; Dave Macaray on brain trauma, profits and the NFL; Lee Ballinger on the bloody history of cotton. PLUS: “The Vindication of Love” by JoAnn Wypijewski; “The Age of SurrealPolitick” by Jeffrey St. Clair; “The Radiation Zone” by Kristin Kolb; “Washington’s Enemies List” by Mike Whitney; “The School of Moral Statecraft” by Chris Floyd and “The Surveillance Films of Laura Poitras” by Kim Nicolini.
The Necessity of Wilderness in the Anthropocene Epoch

John Muir is Dead; Long Live John Muir!

by TOM BUTLER and EILEEN CRIST

John Muir, a man whose love for nature seemed almost to transcend Earthly limits, was not immortal. One hundred years ago, on Christmas eve 1914, Muir’s spirit set off into the pathless wild. The great naturalist’s obituary in the New York Times was effusive, listing professional accomplishments after recounting his emigration from Scotland (“the youth who was destined to become one of the greatest thinkers of America came to this country when he was 11 years old”) and hardscrabble boyhood on a Wisconsin farm hewed from the wilderness.

Later, as a champion for national parks and founder of the Sierra Club, Muir would become, and remains, the personification of conservation focused on preserving parks and wilderness areas. The early American conservation movement was profoundly influenced by Muir’s philosophy and charisma. Literary lions and politicians from the East—Ralph Waldo Emerson and Teddy Roosevelt among them—sought him out, wanting to be introduced to the great temple of Yosemite by its leading acolyte.

Muir was a self-taught naturalist in a day when amateurs could make significant advancements in science—which he did, in botany, geology, glaciology, and other fields. Whereas Henry David Thoreau was little known in his day, Muir became a public figure engaged in political battles for land preservation. Through much of his early adulthood Muir supported himself by writing about wild places and wild life in such prominent outlets as Century Magazine and The Atlantic. His articles and books enjoyed wide popularity, and many of us still revel in Muir’s stories—the adventure with that brave little dog Stickeen on an Alaskan glacier, or the account of a December day in 1874 when Muir was rambling in the northern part of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and a storm kicked up.

A cautious mountaineer would have sought shelter in the low country. Muir went up, climbing a ridge to experience the weather’s full force. At the height of land, he noted a cluster of hundred-foot-tall Douglas fir trees whose “lithe, brushy tops were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy.” Muir was accustomed to climbing trees for his botanical studies, so he easily ascended the tallest fir and spent hours riding the storm’s currents.

“The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobolink on a reed,” he later wrote. During his time aloft, Muir reveled in the “the high festival” of fragrant air, sublime light, and the “music” of windswept trees. “The sounds of the storm,” he noted, “corresponded gloriously with this wild exuberance of light and motion.”

Like no one before him, Muir was able both to hear the...

CounterPunch’s Top Stories
ROBIN D.G. KELLEY
Wait. Patience. Stay Calm. “This is a country that allows everybody to express their views,” said the first...
DIANA JOHNSTONE
For over a year, the United States has played out a scenario designed to (1) reassert U.S. control...
MIKE WHITNEY
“John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, allegedly struck a deal with King Abdullah in September under which...
MIKE WHITNEY
“The Fed’s ‘need’ to take on an even more active role as foreigners further slow the purchases of...
JOHN PILGER
Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the...
MIKE WHITNEY
The International Monetary Fund has finally admitted that it was wrong to recommend austerity as early as it did...
GILBERT MERCIER
The sad reality about the United States of America is that in a matter of a few hundreds...
MIKE WHITNEY
Crude oil prices dipped lower on Wednesday pushing down yields on US Treasuries and sending stocks down sharply....
MIKE WHITNEY
“The plunge of the Russian currency this week is the drastic outcome of policies implemented by the major...
Visit our archives for even more interesting articles from past CounterPunch authors.