Many years ago, when I was still at school, I used to volunteer on a Friday afternoon at my local museum, John Muir’s Birthplace in Dunbar. I read most of Muir’s books over the period of a few months. Travels In Alaska I remember reading on a Sunday night before my bath. A Thousand Mile Walk To The Gulf, which remains my favourite Muir book, I read on a Saturday morning in bed with the curtains closed. It’s amazing the memories you have of reading. Anyway, there was a deputy head at my high school who I heartily disliked. He was a bit of a choob, a bit of a bigmouth and authoritarian. Due to my liking to find out stuff, some of my teachers used to ask me to do some research for them. My Modern Studies teacher asked for arguments for and against the Commonwealth while this Deputy Head, through someone else, it has to be said, asked me to track down a particular Muir quote. At first I was drawing a blank then I thought about Thousand Mile and also through the various quotations dotted around the Birthplace. I tracked it down to my favourite passage from Thousand Mile, when Muir is sleeping rough in a cemetery called Bonaventure in Georgia, USA.
I was thinking about this particular section of Thousand Mile yesterday. I haven’t read it in a few years but I was talking about it in relation to death and how we should celebrate the living and those who have left us. I would like to share it.
“But let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.”
Incidentally, this is the centenary of the publication of A Thousand Mile Walk To The Gulf, published in 1916 two years after Muir’s death. It is available in various compilation volumes of Muir’s work – I own at least two of them – and online at http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/a_thousand_mile_walk_to_the_gulf/chapter_4.aspx. There are a lot of Muir commemorations happening and the hubbub sometimes clouds the man himself and that Muir was a good writer, despite his noted dislike of writing.
John Muir believed that nature was the embodiment of God’s work. I am an humanist so I tend to differ with some of Muir’s beliefs while not disagreeing with his many eloquent words on the beauty and life-enriching qualities that nature has. Read some of his books and you will see the world a little bit differently. That is a promise.