One of my all time favorite quotes comes from John Muir- “People need beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” It’s weird to think a person like John Muir can be reduced to a quote, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a good one. The quote comes up in John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Stan Fellows, as Muir falls in love with the California Mountains in the 1860’s.
This picture book from 2006 is a comprehensive look at John Muir’s life. It includes the requisite flash over his childhood that writing for children must have these days, his long walk to Florida, his days herding sheep in the Sierras, and his love of ice and storms. The book is arranged chronologically, and attempts to show how Muir’s love and respect for nature grew throughout his life experiences.
Most striking about this book are the illustrations. They balance between painting and sketchbook, vibrant color and pencil scratchings, and close detail and pictures fading to blurs. Fellows did a remarkable job capturing moments of Muir’s life in a truly beautiful way.
It’s always interesting to me how those on the forefront of the environmental movement are generally discounted as “quacks,” “ignorant,” or “unscientific.” Muir was captivated by glaciers, and conducted studies and made observations to show that glaciers actually move in Yosemite Valley. Yet, the scientists of the time called him a “mere sheepherder.” Were those scientists so bent on maintaining power over the science that they could not concede someone else might have unearthed some truth? Were they that scared of admitting their own mistakes? Or were they simply ignorant quacks themselves?
Hard to say, but I can see that we humans have a strong resistance to change, and an even stronger resistance to accepting our place in the nature of the earth. Thankfully, John Muir didn’t seem to have this problem. His work altered the course of so many natural places in this country; he caused thousands of acres of land to be preserved. And I for one, am so thankful to have those places where nature may heal and cheer and give me strength.
It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
Copyright © 2014 Amanda K. Jaros All Rights Reserved.