“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” This is but one of the bountiful and sagacious epiphanies put to paper by naturalist, writer, inventor and visionary, John Muir (1838-1914). He emerged from a childhood of tedious labor, an overbearing father and an industrial accident that nearly claimed his eyesight to become one of the most passionate, curiously observant and intuitive voices for the preservation of wild places. More than anything, he enjoyed the simple pleasures of nature as an innocent observer. Yet his realization of the destructive nature of an industrializing nation awakened in him a tenacious and impassioned literary and political figure. This strange young Scotsman who wandered the land talking to rocks and flowers became an American hero – the “Father of the National Park System”.
After an adolescence in the Midwest, a free-spirited wandering eventually landed Muir in California. It was there that John was seduced by the beauty of the Yosemite Valley. Inspired by other erudite minds, he wrote and published persuasive essays on the need to sustain the unblemished land. Along with other awakened intellects, he formed a group dedicated to protecting the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club today is the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States.
Stirred by these sentiments, President Theodore Roosevelt engaged in journeys with John through the huge groves of Mariposa trees in the Yosemite Valley. In 1906, President Roosevelt signed legislature birthing America’s first federally protected land – Yosemite National Park.
Stephen Mather, an incongruous yet prosperous combination of industrialist and conservationist, spearheaded a publicity campaign to organize a federal agency to oversee National Parks.
This campaign resulted in the creation of a National Park Service. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that mandated the agency “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Mr. Mather became the first director of the newly formed NPS. Currently airing on television is a six-part documentary directed by Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”. This fascinating series reveals the complexities of a system of over 450 parks woven together and watched over still by many persevering conservationists.
John Muir recognized mankind’s dependence – not just physical, but emotional and spiritual – on the glory of nature. In his many published volumes of eloquent essays, he suggested that without the splendor of the wild, man would succumb to pestilence, famine, anarchy and uncontrolled war. Not being random occurrences, the grand synthesis of all things wild is one of the purest forms of design. It is a delicate and complex relationship of elements that captivates and tames the psyche.
The evolution of modern aesthetics are continually inspired by our natural surroundings. All great visual designs are born from theoretical concepts whether academic or intuitive and instinctive. We, as designers, should pay homage to these earthkeeper heroes of past and present. We should step away from our technological tangles as often as possible. We should wander into the wild and become lost in the organic illuminations constantly occurring around us. As John Muir himself stated, “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”