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Remember nature’s eternal beauty

It was a sunny fall day, Sept. 25, 16 years ago, when some 100 people gathered on the Summit of Round Bald on Roan Mountain. They had come to remember John Muir’s visit there, a century before.
A Scottish-born American naturalist of great fame, Muir had been instrumental in swaying public and congressional opinion toward creation of the Yosemite and Sequoia national parks and the first forest reserves under President Grover Cleveland.
He had founded the Sierra Club environmental organization (1892) to help citizens “explore, enjoy and protect” the Sierra scenic and other wild natural areas. As a guide and camping companion to Theodore Roosevelt, he would later influence that president’s conservation initiative, in forest preservation for public recreation and sustainable timber use, wildlife refuges and many wilderness areas, and in scenic lands protection for future American’s enjoyment and national heritage.
But Muir decided he wouldn’t want to die “without once more saluting the grand, godly, round-headed trees of the east side of America,” which had made him “weep with joy” when he has young and unknown.
From the Cloudland Hotel on September 25, 1898, he wrote to his wife that, for 18 miles that day, he had come through the most beautiful forest he had ever seen. He said all the landscapes in every direction are made up of mountains, “a billowing sea of them without bounds as far as one can look, and every mountain hill and ridge and hollow is densely forested with so many kinds of trees their mere names would fill this sheet.”
Of the great wealth of trees he had seen in the Roan Highlands, he singled out the tulip tree and sourwood, mountain ash and sassafras, basswood, beech and birch, hickory and black tupelo, three magnolia species and chestnut and maple. He wished he could send his wife a bouquet of the leaves of these, “perfectly enchanting” in their early fall coloring.
More than 30 years earlier on his thousand-mile hike from Wisconsin to the Gulf, Muir had been awe-inspired by the vegetation along Tennessee’s Emory River, a branch of the Clinch River. “Its banks are luxuriantly peopled with rare and lovely flowers and overarching trees,” he remarked in his diary entry on September 12, 1867. “Every tree, every flower, every ripple and eddy of this lovely stream seemed solemnly to feel the presence of the great Creator.”
Voluminous and eloquent writing made Muir famous, as both a scientist who painstakingly detailed his firsthand observations, and as a philosopher, poet and humorist.
Deeply religious, his books and articles seemed aimed at helping people see nature’s loveliness and beauty, their interconnectedness with its many other elements and their responsibility for its vigilant protection.
One of his frequently cited insights into nature’s workings is that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
December 24 will mark the 100-year anniversary of John Muir’s death, to whose vision and powerful voice for nature protection we owe much today.