Writing for a Wounded Planet FSEM
John Muir as a Role Model
Writing for a Wounded Planet FSEM
John Muir as a Role Model
Bill Mckibben’s book Deep Economy was a good take on many issues that we learned about in class.
In reality you often have to choose between “more” and “better”. That’s just the way it works for capitalism, too much needs to be done and not enough money to do it. This does bring up an interesting point, however about the relationship between “more” and
“better”. In our world “more” is almost always assumed to be “better”, but in reality it almost never works out that way. When you have more material possessions, you aren’t any more likely to be happy. In many cases it’s true otherwise, the more you have the more pained you are. I know this type of feeling from a book I read earlier this year: The hour of the star. In this book, a character inside it has almost nothing to her name, she is poor and dumb and lives simply; and yet it is shown time and time again that despite her life being bad she is happy. Why is this? Because she doesn’t know anything else. She knows no life outside of the life she lives. She is happy having little because she isn’t able to imagine anything more, but is it such a bad thing for her to be happy and poor? I don’t think so, even if it’s because of her own inability to lives consciously, she manages to live a happy life.
I think the more conscious we become of our lives, the less happy we become. This is why I’m not surprised to hear about happiness levels going down as technology increases. The more we understand the world around us, the more we realize how sad we are with the life we live. A worker happy to be with his wife, despite being poor, can become depressed when he realizes the same can be done with much more materials. This creates a generation of people who grew up when they got smartphones and learned about the world; and now they are filled with depression and anxiety because they know better.
The quote highlights beginning to realize that materialism doesn’t equal happiness. When one comes to terms with the fact that, despite having so much stuff, they aren’t any happier for it, they turn to charity and kindness to others. This is to fill that void that is left behind by those items they own. The more you have the less happy you become, in a way. So with that, the season where people give the most stuff, is also a time where people realize that they don’t want anymore stuff. At least, until the next big “thing” comes out, and they fall back into the cycle of materialism and despair.
Muir is an author that leaves a profound impact on his readers, it seems like all of us wanted to follow him into the wild and explore nature with him. I wanted to find out why, what makes us want to be in nature with Muir. So I will be exploring the language he uses, the mind and thoughts of people who follow his trails, and who Muir is as a person outside of his self reflective writing, in order to find out why we all feel the need to be in nature like he is.
My first source: “Articulating Wild Spaces: John Muir’s Lexical Wonderland” explores how he uses the language he uses to encapture the reader. This language is the foundation for how he as a writer makes us want to make direct experiences of our own in nature, so a deeper exploration of it allows us to get a greater picture on how and why he does this. This source also interestingly tells us more about Muir’s thoughts on language and how writing is supposed to effect the reader, which lets us see another aspect as to whether or not his writing does what he intends for it to do.
My second source: “This Glorious Darkness: Reflections from the John Muir Trail” is an incredibly interesting memoir of someone who decided to follow the Muir trail. From the beginning it is assured she knew that she would hike this trail after she turned 50, and she knew that she had to be alone. This source is full of isolation but also the beauty of the natural world. She lets us slip into her mind, and we can see the thoughts of someone who was enthralled in Muir’s work as we were. This philosophical source makes us think more about the time we spend in nature and life, as she moves towards the summit of the mt. whitney.
The final source is much more simple and calm in comparison. “John Muir and the modern passion for nature” talks more about Muir’s history and his character. Finding out more about the man himself leads us to be able to understand more of his actions. Just in the first few chapters, the author talks about his “incessant gab” and how Muir never stops talking about his passion for nature. Just knowing that fact, that everyone around him was interested in hearing his passionate talking of nature, allows us to link the Muir from the story to the Muir in real life. And the more we know about him the less fictional he becomes.
Heitschmidt, Gregg. “Articulating Wild Spaces: John Muir’s Lexical Wonderland.” CEA Critic,
vol. 75 no. 2, 2013, pp. 175-182. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/cea.2013.0018
Perluss, Betsy. “This Glorious Darkness: Reflections from the John Muir Trail.” Psychological
Perspectives, vol. 58, no. 2, Apr. 2015, pp. 135–150. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00332925.2015.1029410.
Donald Worster; John Muir and the Modern Passion for
Nature, Environmental History, Volume 10, Issue 1, 1 January 2005, Pages 8–19, https://doi-org.ezproxy.umw.edu/10.1093/envhis/10.1.8
I loved reading Muir in our class, and so I intend to figure out more in depth why exactly I(and so many others) loved him so much. Going off of this, I have decided to make my paper about the different scholarly ways one can view Muir as an influencer, a person, and even how he used language to convey his emotions. The first source tells a tale about actually going on one of his trails, following in Muir’s footsteps, and telling of the feeling they had. Next talks about the way one man thought of John Muir as someone he knows, his story of Muir giving us light to how people around him saw him. The final source talks more about the lexical properties of his writings, which gives us an insight into how his writing helps us see into his mind. All of this allows us to see how he is viewed by others, very much focusing on the effect he and his language has on the readers of his stories.
The piece I am presenting for Mistral, The Butterflies of Muzo Valley, has a very confusing but beautiful poetic voice. The poem certainly has a theme of blue, blue butterflies and thistles, the blue valley, blue clothes ect. This gives the sense of the lines of reality blurring as one enters Muzo Valley. This plays into the idea that Abram uses, that nature is beyond our understanding. These butterflies being a conduit into the supernatural world. Their ability to cast the entire world as blue, and bring different people together, show us the beauty of their magic. The nature in this poem is not just a backdrop; the characters are affected by its blue beauty, shaping their views of the world around it.
Altogether, despite the interesting writing of the poem; This poem brought many sad emotions to me, because of the memories of my grandfather. In life, he loved to see butterflies. He was apart of many organizations for watching butterflies, and he would go on trips to visit nature and meet them. Reading this reminded me of all the beauty he found in them, and I feel I could catch a glimpse of the world of his.
Everything is blue.
The portions we read of The Spell of the Sensuous shows us how our senses and our spirit can be interconnected with the natural world. He had an interesting take on the wildlife around us, implying that they are not just inhuman; to him they were more than human, something beyond our true understanding. This was a surprising take; one would not think that the ants plaguing your house or the birds pecking at seeds are something of awe, but when thinking about it they are sometimes quite surprising how beyond us they can be.
The closest I’ve had to experiencing something like that, was when I was visiting a family cabin in upstate New York. This place was isolated from a lot of technology (at least, at the time) and was hidden in the woods near a lake. It was here that I was able to relax and be in touch with nature. Several times during the trips I would see fish underneath the water, or birds above, and I would feel very tranquil in their presence. Of course, this would be shattered by the horse-flies, because I am terrified of insects and those buggers aren’t playing games, but the point still stands. When one truly lets go of the internet, and allows their senses and feelings to embrace the natural world, they can connect with something far beyond our life.
Nowadays, I am too attached to my computer and my phone to truly let go like I used to. I still enjoy the memories of that lake, especially now that the grandfather I always went with has passed away. I’m sure if I went again (and put down my electronics for a week or so). I could find him with the butterflies he loved so much, or with the fish we would idly catch, or with the passing wind through the trees of the wonderful woods we would walk through.
To be frank with you, John Muir sounds like one of those annoying but endearing types to hang out with, one that pushes you to be a better person and to live life to the fullest even if you just want to relax. But if I slipped and fell while walking, I know he would be one to catch me, and give a loud hearty laugh while doing so.
Muir seems to be a much more active writer than our previous philosophers. Instead of enjoying nature while relaxing, Muir seems to pride himself in the true physical dangers and perils of nature; namely mountain climbing. All of his direct experience is more tailored towards activity instead of complacency, he seems to believe nature requires work to truly experience. This is a fairly radical change from many of the other authors, who all seem to want to be relaxed and safe in nature. Muir laughs in the face of danger, even saying a line such as:”This time it is real- All must die, and where could mountaineer find a more glorious death!” His ability to face fear even in the perils of death makes him a much more interesting person than some of the others. Thoreau wishes he could be as cool as Muir.
Cronon, in my opinion, would be conflicted with Muir. On one hand he is glorifying the nature at home, and only enjoying the free nature in the mountains; on the other hand, however, he is a kindred spirit who doesn’t just believe in the passive enjoyment of nature, instead opting for the rush of danger in exploration and physical labor.
I’ve never been mountain climbing before (for good reason, I would prefer not to die.) so I have no real way of relating to his experience in nature. Even still I enjoyed hearing about it, and I thought it was much more interesting than some of the others. Especially his descriptions of things. He talks as if all is in the natural order, even the rocks are “talking” to him, all is alive in the rush of the dangerous world of nature. This sort of personification of all of the natural world around him gave a fun descriptive tone.
Whitman’s “Song of myself” gives insight to a natural way of living. Whitman lives this poem in a very active way, in several sections even describing how he lives and views nature. Section 6 goes in depth about what grass supposedly is, and shows how he is at peace with nature-
“And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of grass”
The way he is one with nature is an experience that not many can feel, but he believes those who can should try. Bello believes that people should be with nature too, he believes those who experience nature are better for it, the common men who work the fields more richer than city folk. Both grasp a similar but different view on the natural world. It seems like Whitman believes in a cycle of life, where it is best to live happily and kindly to all of the world. Bello believes in the sacredness of the worked environment, he wants to keep society humble in the face of innovation.
All of them agree that life is best lived with nature. Whitman believes a kind and giving life, not fretful of death and suffering. Bello pushes the virtues of the land we live and work on, the strength such a land can give you. Thoreau the wisdom and peace simply spending hours at a time exploring the land untouched by man.
Whitman seems to believe that all life is sacred, that all people in all the things they do are important. This is why the term “All-Embracing” could be used to describe him. He embraces all life, even those who other deem evil, like the escaped slave in section 10, treated with respect and kindness. The world is beautiful, and all of it should be given kindness, the land where men don’t walk and the men who walk upon land.
I feel like Thoreau and Cronon probably would have wonderful conversations if they could. Both value the wildness of nature, and they both have lots of ideas about those values in everyday life. Cronon values finding our own nature in our lives, whether that be in a nearby forest or a park, and protecting it like it was the environment itself. Thoreau values spending time with nature, learning from it and becoming more whole with it by being alone with it for prolonged times.
Thoreau has a very poetic way of viewing nature, but for many people like me it is an unrealistic one. Many people simply don’t have the time to do as he did, to “walk” in nature. I feel that in walking, Thoreau puts too much emphasis on two points- time and motive. He spends hours, several at a time, just walking. For many people though, we cannot just throw away a few hours of our lives to be in touch with the outdoors. We have lives and responsibilities we have to attend to. I also feel like he puts a lot of shame on others for not being able to “truly walk”. He states that only those gifted by god are able to walk in nature correctly, and that others aren’t really doing it. To me, I feel like so long as anyone tries to be one with nature, they have already somewhat completed the task. One does not have to be gifted by god. I feel like in a way, his reactions to others is more of a way to feel alone with nature. Like Cronon states, he seems to want a loneliness with nature, and to perpetuate that he feels he is the only one who can be in nature correctly. It is still a very beautiful idea, to be with nature, but I feel anyone can do it, they don’t have to do it for long or do it “correctly” as Thoreau would say it.
While I was floating down the Rappahannock River, I had enough time to truly grow appreciative of nature. The amount of manual labor of pushing our, me and Ivy’s, double tandem kayak was insane but it still let us truly grow appreciative of the work that going through the river takes. It was a wonderful experience, and I got to learn more about Ivy and everyone else – even learning everyone’s name. At first I didn’t think I wanted to swim in the river, but I faced my fears and did it anyways. This ended up being my favorite part, the river was extremely calm and serene to swim in. Being with everyone was an amazing time.
Then it started to rain. Then the thunderstorm started. It was surprisingly not that bad. At first it was sad because there was nothing we could do about it, but then once we came to terms with it, it was almost serene. We really got to see, as we learned from Cronon, the wild and unpredictable nature is some of the most beautiful parts of it. That being said, I am glad we made it out without any real problems. Once the rain cleared and we started heading back to campus is when I really got to know Ivy. Since we thought nature might rain on us again, we tried to make it back as fast as we could. This was very tough on the physical side, but since we had a tandem kayak we could also rely on each other to keep company and do the work. Me and Ivy really got to talk a lot and learn more about each other over this trip. In the end I really enjoyed the sides of nature we got to see. This is the type of thing I am glad we can do, and I hope we can do it more. While I have never been much of a nature person, this is still one of the funnest trips I’ve taken in a while.