As American environmental heroes go, John Muir was among the most fascinating - and I'm not just saying that because he founded the organization I work for, the Sierra Club, in 1892, and helped protect places like Yosemite. For instance, before he was a treehugger, he was an inventor who exhibited his work at a state fair. He was blinded in an accident but regained his sight. He was a world-traveler long before JetBlue. He's got a planet named after him. And, hey, he's on the California quarter! Need more convincing? Consider the following.
1. When the U.S. Mint issued its collection of quarters representing each state, it put Muir on the coin for California, along with Yosemite's Half Dome and the California condor.2. There's a bunch of stuff named after him, like numerous geographic places; a mineral, several plants, and some animals; and a whole planet! (Okay, so it's just a "minor planet" that's just one mile in diameter. Still cool, though.)
• Links for mineral, plants, animals here are found here.
• And for the minor planet: here.
• And for geographic place names: here.
3. He was a Scottish guy! His family relocated to the U.S. (Wisconsin) when he was 11. His birth is the first of "Ten Milestones" tracked on this Google Earth map of his life.
4. Before he started saving the planet, he was an inventor. In fact, the Wisconsin State Journal wrote in 1860 about how his clocks on display at the state fair registered "not only hours but minutes, seconds, and days of the month." He also invented a desk that would retrieve a book, hold it in place for the prescribed period of time, and then automatically replace it with another book. See photos of his inventions here.
5. In 1867, when he was 29, he was blinded in a factory accident when his right eye was pierced by a file. Catharine Merrill, a woman who, "like an angel of light, with hope and cheer and sympathy purely divine," helped him regain his sight.
6. Apparently the accident gave him a new lease on life. He quit his job and just six months later, right after the Civil War, walked from Louisville, Kentucky, to Cedar Key Florida, collecting plants and writing stories in his journal about the interesting people he met. You can read his account of that journey online, here.
(At least five people in the last decade or two have been inspired to recreate that walk, or his other famous walks like the one from San Francisco to Yosemite in 1868.)
See retracing accounts here.
7. Muir's adventure with a friend's dog, Stickeen, on an Alaskan glacier made him realize how close we all really are to what he dubbed "our horizontal brothers." One of his most famous stories is about that harrowing glacier adventure with Stickeen in 1880. See the account by Muir, here.
8. He got to camp for three days with a U.S. president -- Theodore Roosevelt, in 1903. They explored Yosemite on horseback, ditching most of the Secret Service security, aided only by a Park Service ranger. Roosevelt later wrote, "I shall always be glad that I was in the Yosemite with John Muir."
9. Muir traveled all around the world, on every continent except Antarctica, searching for big, rare, and unusual trees and other sights. In India, he found the beautiful Deodar Cedars in Simla, and admired the Himalayas at Darjeeling. In Africa, he enjoyed the great Victoria Falls and journeyed to the headwaters of the Nile River. At the age of 73, in Chile, he hired a packer to take him high in the Andes range to find the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
10. Although John Muir was successful in promoting the establishment of five national parks, he lost one battle - the effort to preserve the "second Yosemite," Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Today, environmental advocates are seeking a way to restore the valley while still providing water to thirsty San Francisco.
And just FYI, John Muir loved wilderness, but he was no misanthrope. He had many friends with whom he corresponded to regularly. And he was married with a wife and two children! Both girls accompanied their father on walks in the nearby hills of the family's Martinez, California ranch, and Muir named two of the area's peaks after them -- Mt. Wanda and Mt. Helen.