Jon and I attended a film screening of a documentary that appeared on PBS “American Masters” in honor of Earth Day. The documentary is “John Muir in the New World”. The special screening was held because the filmmaker, Catherine Tatge, was a Lawrence University alumna (in Appleton) (1972) and she had involved students in the university to be a part of the process of making this film. Garth Neustadter, who graduated in 2010, composed the documentary’s beautiful score, which was performed by 50 plus Lawrence Conservatory of Music students. A few students worked as assistants in production, costuming, when filming in Wisconsin. She felt it was a wonderful way to give back to Lawrence and help graduating students start out with an amazing credit to their resumes having worked with an Emmy award winning filmmaker, like Catherine.
But this writing is not so much about Catherine, but about John Muir. I had associated him with Yosemite and the Sierra Club, but there was much more. He and his Scottish family immigrated to the U.S. and settled on a farm which is in Marquette County,Wisconsin about 70 miles southwest of Appleton. Muir was educated in a Scottish primary school until he immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eleven. From that point, while living on the Wisconsin farm, he was home schooled as well as self taught in math, science and literature. He was so brilliant and had so many interests. He could fix anything, he was an inventor, he carved and built clocks. But the life of a farmer was not his desire. He had bigger dreams. He went on to the University of Wisconsin. He settled on studying engineering at the university. He would later leave the university and work in a sawmill, a broom and rake factory, and a carriage factory all the while improving and automating manufacturing, yet he loved the flora and fauna of the natural world. He was encouraged by a good friend at UW Madison to follow this path. He set off walking thousands of miles throughout the country. Eventually his exploration would lead him to California, which would become his home. This state and its beauty plus political and media associations would suggest Muir begin writing and speaking on behalf of the protection of our country’s unique vast landscapes. In particular he wrote about The Sierra Mts.,Yosemite, Sequoia, Mount Ranier, Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon. He would eventually be dubbed the “Father of our National Parks”. He would in his lifetime travel the World exploring the beauty of nature. A man of natural expertise, who 173 years later, his views live on through the activism of the Sierra Club and other wilderness preservation groups.
Wisconsin also has honored him with Muir Memorial County Park and the Fountain Lake Farm National Historic Landmark designated by the National Park Service. Martinez,CA also has a National Historic Site and Interpretive Center honoring Muir’s later years living in the West. California has designated April 21st as John Muir Day. Wisconsin also celebrated that day on Muir’s 150th birthday. The tributes and awards are endless.
John Muir’s legend lives on in this very engaging 90 minute documentary.
National Park Service- http://www.nps.gov/jomu/index.htm and PBS Documentary “John Muir in the New World”