Our National Parks by John Muir, Gibbs Smith, US $16.99, Pp 232, July 2018, ISBN 978-1423650393
Over-urbanized people are beginning to find out that going to wilderness and mountains is necessary. This realization has come late in time when the rapid growth industry and the deadly apathy of luxury have already led to the destruction of the forests and wilderness. However, like a good merchant, when we take a stock of our wilderness, we are glad to see how much of even the most destructible kind is still unspoiled. In Our National Parks, John Muir writes, “Looking at our continent as scenery when it was all wild, lying between beautiful seas, the starry sky above it, the starry rocks beneath it, to compare its sides, the East and the West, would be like comparing the sides of a rainbow. But, it is no longer equally beautiful. The rainbows of today are… as bright as those that first spanned the sky; and some of our landscapes are growing more beautiful from year to year, notwithstanding the clearing, trampling work of civilization.” Muir says that wilderness is a necessity and mountain parks are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life.
Muir provides detailed discussions on the state of America’s national parks and forests with vivid descriptions of the sights, scents, sounds, and textures. Muir takes us from the forest reservations of the West to the Yellowstone National Park and then to Yosemite National Park. There are detailed discussions on the animals and birds of the Yosemite as well as the fountains and streams of the Yosemite National Parks. The journey ends in the Sequoia and General Grant National Parks. Muir writes that all the Western mountains are still rich in the wilderness, and by means of good roads are being brought nearer civilization every year. To the sane and free it will hardly seem necessary to cross the continent in search of wild beauty, however easy the way, for they find it in abundance wherever they chance to be.
Man is not alone in destroying forests and wilderness; nature plays its full part as well – but in a different way. Muir says that all the continents and islands are slowly rising or sinking under the control of the vast mysterious forces of the interior of the earth. Most of the mountains are diminishing in size under the wearing action of the weather, though a few are increasing in height and girth, especially the volcanic ones, as fresh floods of molten rocks are piled on their summits and spread in successive layers like the wood-rings of trees, on their sides. New mountains are also being created from time to time as islands in lakes and seas, or as subordinate cones on the slopes of old ones, thus in some measure balancing the waste of old beauty with new.
Muir tells us that the natural changes taking place in the wilderness are spectacular, although people living in urbanized and civilized world are completely unaware of these changes. Muir says that new plants and animals are enriching woods and gardens, and many landscapes wholly new, with divine sculpture and architecture, are just now coming to the light of the day as the mantling folds of creative glaciers are being withdrawn, and life in a thousand cheerful, beautiful forms is pushing into them, and new-born rivers are beginning to sing and shine in them. The old rivers, too, are growing longer, like a healthy tree, gaining new branches and lakes as the residential glaciers at their highest sources on the mountains recede, while the root-like branches in the flat deltas are at the same time spreading farther and wider into the seas and making new lands.
Our National Parks remains perhaps the best book on America’s national parks, forests, and reservations. It is authentic, comprehensive and accessible. Its importance has not diminished since it was first published in 1901. As an early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States and founder of The Sierra Club, John Muir (1838-1914) has the right scholarly credentials to write on this subject. It is a must-read for travelers, campers, environmentalists and naturalists and will go a long way to inspire them in their work. It is so well written that everybody interested in nature will enjoy reading it. Gibbs Smith must be commended for re-publishing an important book on forests and national park we had forgotten about.