Prominent through much of the Ken Burns series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” is John Muir, an early and persuasive voice for preservation of significant natural areas. I ran into a friend at Starbucks the morning after the first segment. He wanted to know more about Muir. “You have any books on Muir?”
I did. I loaned my friend The Library of America volume on Muir, which has as much of the essential John Muir as most people are likely to need, including his excellent autobiography “My Boyhood and Youth.” It is just that – the story of his upbringing and essentially ends when he reaches adulthood. It is a great story. Muir and his brother come to America when he is 6. They move to Wisconsin, the frontier at the time. To say that Muir’s boyhood waking hours were essentially confined to exhausting manual farm labor and prayer is not an exaggeration.
There is plenty more in the Library of America volume, too, but I suggested he make sure he checked the Muir essay on the water ouzel, a delightful bird now known as the American dipper. It is one of my favorite Muir essays.
Who could not love a bird that is always found in or beside beautiful mountain streams in the West, a bird capable of walking and swimming underwater? Muir watched them for hours on end, and those hours of observation enrich his essay.