Tuesday, March 31, 2009

John Muir's Botanical Travels

Some of Muir's collection.
Photo: Stephen J. Joseph
I have known John Muir (1838-1914) as the founder of the Sierra Club and a leading preservationist of the Teddy Roosevelt era. For the first directorate of the Forest Service, Roosevelt pass Muir over in favor of his friend and rival Gifford Pinchot -- a conservationist rather than a strict preservationist.Muir had a strong spiritual side and is known for his very long walks in the wilderness with little more than a stick and a cup. From this On Point radio production, I learned that he was also an accomplished botanist and something of a biogeographer. This fascinating hour-long program touches on biography, botany, biodiversity, and climate change.

Wherever Muir traveled, he gathered plant specimens, often sending them to friends like post cards. The featured guest on this program is Bonnie Gisel, who searched out these artifacts for a new book. My only qualm about this otherwise fascinating program is Gisel's response to a caller who asked about Muir's role in driving indigenous people out of the Yosemite Valley. As with many biographers of great figures, she became more of an apologist than a scholar on this question, essentially explaining that Muir was less racist than his contemporaries.

See more about how Muir viewed indigenous Americans -- and how many of them view him today -- in my 2016 post Muir to the Story.

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