John Muir

Ever since I stumbled across the John Muir Woods in California over a decade ago, John Muir has been a source of inspiration. He writes from the heart to the heart and his words are laced with joy. Despite a repressive Christian fundamentalist upbringing he never cowered or let cynicism colour his world. Whether it was in Scotland in his first 10 years, or in Wisconsin grafting on a frontier farm in the mid 19th Century, he found what he needed in the natural world. He was a deeply spiritual man too.  Over time he grew closer to God in meadows and mountains, rather than in the pews of a church.

Statue of John Muir as a boy in Dunbar High Stret

Statue of John Muir as a boy in Dunbar High Stret

I have always been bemused as to why John Muir is not better known in Britain. In America he is a legend, but in the British Isles he is largely forgotten. Yet what he faced, and how he faced it, speaks as clearly today as then. Muir witnessed the destruction of North America for profit. He saw the clear-felling of the great forests, the extermination of wildlife, the ravaging of mountains for ore and the grabbing of resources everywhere and anywhere. In his lifetime agriculture and industry spread throughout the continent, and it laid waste to nations of native peoples and the wild places that sustained them. But instead of retreating in despair he took the president of the United States out camping for 3 nights in the Yosemite and secured the foundation of the world’s national parks. To me, John Muir is an inspirational hero for nature and a model for activism.  He was a kind, spiritual man and by all accounts a lot of fun. If you've not met him yet - you have a wealth of wonderful literature awaiting.

My book is an introduction to John Muir and his beliefs.  It traces his story from Dunbar in Scotland to the Sierra Nevada in California, charting his successes and failures as well as his legacy of protected lands around the world.  Here are some reviews: 

“John Muir is now regarded as the father of the great American national parks, a man who was far ahead of his time when he urged Americans to balance their headlong rush to development with a respect for nature, and especially for their unique wilderness areas. In this book, Mary Colwell, writer and film-maker, presents a clear and engaging account of Muir’s harsh upbringing in Scotland, and his later public role in the United States, where he led by example, living off the land in a minimal way, and writing powerfully about his love of Nature.”
Professor Mike Benton FRS

“This is a most important biography. As environmentalists we may feel that we already know the man and his achievements but Mary Colwell gives us the whole life which is much less familiar. It was complex and not always easy. From harsh beginnings both physical and mental Muir emerged as a great speaker and writer about the natural world with huge influence in the USA and beyond. The most compelling aspect of Muir’s character is that, from childhood, he had an intense emotional and spiritual response to nature in all its forms. Colwell emphasises this at every point in her biography and correctly so. This is his key message to us now. We need to love the Earth for only from love can we generate a proper concern without which our species has no long-term future.”
Professor Aubrey Manning OBE
“John Muir changed the world - yet in this country we know almost nothing of him. Perhaps it’s true that a prophet is without honour in his own land, but Mary Colwell is seeking to put that right, and she does him justice in this lively and accessible account. I hope it ensures that he now achieves the recognition in his homeland that is long overdue.”
George Monbiot, environmentalist and writer

”I wondered what an author could possibly find to say about Muir that had not been said before, but I found your thoughts fresh, thoughtful, and perceptive. For a British reader, who is likely new to Muir, you have provided an excellent starting point for understanding this fascinating man.”
Bill Tweed, former Chief Naturalist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

“John Muir was indeed a quite extraordinary man ... the author eloquently captures what it was that made him so special.”
Jonathon Porritt

’As this book so beautifully makes clear, John Muir deserves to better known by British naturalists. Read this and meet the man whose writing, commitment and integrity persuaded a president that nature matters.”
Professor Tim Birkhead FRS