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John Muir And His Spiritual Connection With Nature

Updated on January 7, 2014

The Life Of John Muir And His Spiritual Connection With Nature

John Muir was a botanist, author, explorer, philosopher, and has been called the "Father of the National Park System". He co-founded the Sierra Club, wrote sixteen books and countless articles in his lifetime. He was also a husband and father of two.

What spoke to me about John Muir and encouraged me to write this however, is the relationship he had with God and nature as well as how deeply nature affected him spiritually. His quotes and writings about his spiritual connection with nature are eloquently laced with his deep love of being in creation.

I hope you enjoy getting to know this remarkable man and see some of what he accomplished in his life.

John Muir

A Passion For Nature From The Beginning

John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland on April 21, 1838, and immigrated to the US in 1849. His family settled in Portage, Wisconsin and started a farm named Fountain Lake Farm which today is a historical landmark.

His parents were members of a conservative church called The Disciples of Christ and Muir grew up in the strict, rigid confines of a family who adhered to the churches inflexible practices.

Upon entering college at the University of Wisconsin he discovered and studied botany and began his life long passion for nature and the study of plants.

His decision to dedicate his life to observing, preserving and studying nature was precipitated with an unfortunate accident. In 1866, while working in a factory in Indianapolis making wagon wheels, a tool struck Muir in the eye causing a realistic concern he might never see again. Upon recovering he decided to follow a different course in his life and devoted himself to the exploration of nature.

John Muir, Naturalist and Founder of the Sierra Club

John Muir, The Wanderer

A 1000 Mile Walk To The Gulf

In September 1867, Muir embarked on a solitary walk that began in Indiana wandered through Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and ended in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way he sketched plants, engaged in a myriad of conversations with ex-slaves and ex-Confederate soldiers recovering from the Civil War and kept a journal of his findings and thoughts. This journal would eventually grow to become a book written about his experiences called A 1000 Mile Walk To The Gulf" that was originally published in 1916.

It appears to me that this was the life changing event that began his passion for exploring and spiritually experiencing nature. In his diary he eloquently speaks of his journey and relays many moments of an almost spiritual awakening promoted by the wonders of nature.

Muir also captures the essence of the diverse mix of people he met along the way. It was especially interesting to read about his encounters with "negros" as he called them. What was interesting was his racial acceptance of blacks as well as other races he met along the way even though the year was 1867. He wrote nothing from a perspective of racial inequity, but only about cultural differences and observations.

After arriving and spending time exploring Florida, Muir then ventured to Cuba where he spent a month enjoying Havana's treasures. He was also resting in hopes of recovering from Malaria that he contracted while in Florida. His plan was to continue on to South America, but his plans changed when he couldn't find a ship sailing to South America.

He instead settled for passage to California, via New York. From New York he found a ship sailing to San Francisco that he was able to purchase fare for only $40.00! Once in California he continued walking to the Sierra Mountains where he spent time working, enjoying God and nature for the summer of 1868 and the spring of 1869.

A 1000 Mile Walk To The Gulf - by John Muir

The Writings of John Muir: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth & A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf
The Writings of John Muir: The Story of My Boyhood and Youth & A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf

John Muir's diary of his first exploration walk as a young man beginning in Indiana and ending in Florida. It is a delightful read that is easily engages interest in his incredible journey. Not only will does he describe in eloquent detail that plants and flowers he discovers along his way, but also the hospitality of those who provided him food and shelter and even those who attempted to take advantage of him. I particularly enjoyed his recount of his spiritual moments when observing the beauty he discovered in nature. Here is an excerpt of his first sight of a mountain stream:

" There is nothing more eloquent in Nature than a mountain stream, and this is the first I ever saw. Its banks are luxuriantly peopled with rare and lovely flowers and overarching trees, making one of Nature's coolest and most hospitable places. Every tree, every flower, every ripple and eddy of this lovely stream seemed solemnly to feel the presence of the great Creator. Lingered in this sanctuary a long time thanking the Lord with all my heart for his goodness in allowing me to enter and enjoy it."


Forest Creek

"Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another."

Discovering The Sierra Mountains For The First Time

In 1868 Muir ventured into the Sierra Mountains of California . While working as a shepherd, he was also able to pursue his passion for botany. However his spiritual connection between God and nature continued to unfold as he became more at home in the wilderness.

It was that year that he wrote in his journal that would later become My First Summer In The Sierra that he gazed upon the mountains and the Merced River in the distance and wrote the following:

"Through a meadow opening in the pine woods I see snowy peaks about the head-waters of the Merced above Yosemite. How near they seem and how clear their outlines on the blue air, or rather in the blue air; for they seem to be saturated with it. How consuming strong the invitation they extend! Shall I be allowed to go to them? Night and day I'll pray that I may, but it seems too good to be true. Some one worthy will go, able for the Godful work, yet as far as I can I must drift about these love-monument mountains, glad to be a servant of servants in so holy a wilderness."

Merced River, Yosemite Falls in the Background, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

" God himself seems to be always doing his best here, working like a man in a glow of enthusiasm."

"The place seemed holy, where one might hope to see God. After dark, when the camp was at rest, I groped my way back to the altar boulder and passed the night on it, above the water, beneath the leaves and stars, everything still more impressive than by day, the fall seen dimly white, singing Nature's old love song with solemn enthusiasm, while the stars peering through the leaf-roof seemed to join in the white water's song. Precious night, precious day to abide in me forever. Thanks be to God for this immortal gift."

From: My First Summer In The Sierra

"God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild."

John Muir On Connecting Spiritually With Nature

"your baptisms will make you a new creature indeed. Or, choked in the sediments of society, so tired of the world, here will your hard doubts disappear, your carnal incrustations melt off, and your soul breathe deep and free in God's shoreless atmosphere of beauty and love."

Excerpt from: A 1000 Mile Walk To The Gulf

We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.

Travels In Alaska

After spending eleven years studying the landscape and plants of the Sierra Mountains, Muir next ventured on to Alaska. Even with his extensive travels thus far, no landscape compared to Muir as what he witnessed upon exploring Alaska. Here are a few excerpts from his book, Travels In Alaska

."To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world."

"Every particle of rock or water or air has God by its side leading it the way it should go; The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness; In God's wildness is the hope of the world."

Icebergs Floating in a River, Shakes Glacier, Stikine River, Wrangell, Alaska, USA

"While the word of God was being read in these majestic hieroglyphics blazoned along the sky. The earnest, childish wonderment with which this glorious page of Nature's Bible was contemplated was delightful to see. All evinced eager desire to learn."

John Hopkins Glacier Mirrored in the Waters of Glacier Bay, Alaska, USA

Travels In Alaska

Travels in Alaska
Travels in Alaska

Travels In Alaska brings Alaska alive in the pages before you. I can almost feel Muir's inspired awe at being in such pristine nature. He both entertains and educates the reader on his Alaskan adventures in his candid easy flowing style. In the event I never realize an opportunity to visit Alaska, it's encouraging to know I've still visited there with John Muir.


God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.

A Few Of John Muir's Accomplishments, Milestones & Tributes

In 1867 He began his 1000 mile walk from Indiana to Florida and then on to Cuba.

In 1871 Ralph Waldo Emerson visits him in Yosemite

In 1873 he solo-climbs Mount Whitney (14500 ft) and Mount Shasta In 1874 (14400 ft)

After writing articles over many years about preserving Yosemite, in 1890 Yosemite becomes a national park.

In 1892 Muir co-founds the Sierra Club and remain its president until his death.

1899 Mount Ranier becomes a national park.

1903 President Theodore Roosevelt joins Muir on a three night camping trip in Yosemite.

1903-1904 Muir embarks on a world tour during which he climbs Mueller Glacier on Mount Cook, New Zealand at the age of 65.

in 1908 The Grand Canyon National Monument is established

1911 he begins a year long trip to the Amazon and Africa

John Muir Photo with Quote

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.

Trees Around a Lake, Heart Lake, John Muir Wilderness, California, USA

Thank You John Muir

"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself." from My First Summer In The Sierra

Muir Woods, Trees, National Park, Redwoods, California

The passage above is perhaps the most inspirational words I've personally read written by John Muir. While church and The Word are deeply woven into the fabric of my life, the spiritual connection I feel while in the midst of God's Creation is by far the "soul food" that nurtures me spiritually.

Sitting or walking in the woods, listening to the quiet while the songs played by birds entwine themselves with the stillness is what brings me true spiritual peace. Looking at the vivid pink and orange display of a setting sun or gazing at a hawk sailing gracefully, yet purposefully through the sky shows me how real God is. The vastness of the open sky and the sweet smell of pine and flower scented air did not occur by chance. Nor is it by chance that a flowers petals can repeat themselves over and over creating a pattern with nature that man could never hope to achieve with his limited abilities.

Time spent in the woods soaking up God's creation is by far the best way to achieve inner peace and a oneness with the universe. I am inspired that in a time long gone, but when nature was in such abundance, that there were those like John Muir who never dared to take it for granted. Not only did he not take it for granted, he dedicated his life to preserve it, perhaps in hopes future generations would cherish it as much as he did.

"The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark."

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn."

A Life On Purpose

John Muir's passion for nature sparked another passion and that was his life long passion to preserve nature. He spent so much of his life walking, hiking and and climbing throughout not only much of the United States, but in many far reaching parts of the world. His dedication to preserving nature was as intense as his love to be in nature. From playing a pivotal role in establishing the National Park system in the US to dedicating decades of his life fighting to prevent the damming and subsequent flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Glacial Valley in Yosemite National Park, Muir lived his life with a purpose of preserving what God created.

He detested the clearing of trees in the name of progress and fought a plethora of "good fights" in the name of preservation over the years. His life's purpose is chronicled on the Sierra Clubs website. A purpose filled life that would exhaust the average person, however he never considered slowing down until his death from pneumonia in December of 1914.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

First Lake at Sunrise on North Fork of Big Pine Creek Trail, John Muir Wilderness Area, California

What Do You Think About John Muir

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    • profile image

      Glenn Brough 

      3 years ago

      If only there were more folks who had his love and passion for nature the world would be a different place. If these people can not be found our planet is in greater danger than it already is.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      4 years ago from Colorado

      I just finished reading a biography about John Muir. Now I feel even more gratitude for what he did to preserve the glorious wilderness that makes our spirits glad. I very much appreciate Muir's legacy and how he felt about the wondrous creation all around us. I feel the same way.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      He was great and he did great things. Thank you for publishing this lens.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Well, I am just learning about John Muir! I didn't realize he was the founder of the Sierra Club ... I do believe I've heard mention of activities of that club in Jacksonville, FL. Did he have anything to do with Muirfield in Ohio?

    • Philippians468 profile image


      7 years ago

      indeed God directs all and is in control of all! cheers


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