John Muir Quotes to Inspire
your inner mountaineer
Who was John Muir? A brief background…
John Muir was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, botanist, zoologist, glaciologist, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America.
He was also known as “John of the Mountains” and “Father of the National Parks”,
It’s been said, that Muir has become “one of the patron saints of twentieth-century American environmental activity,” both political and recreational. As a result, his writings are commonly discussed in books and journals, and he has often been quoted by nature photographers such as Ansel Adams.
Muir was noted for being an ecological thinker, political spokesman, and religious prophet, whose writings became a personal guide into nature for many people, making his name “almost ubiquitous” in the modern environmental consciousness.
He believed his mission was “saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism.” On April 21, 2013, the first John Muir Day was celebrated in Scotland, which marked the 175th anniversary of his birth, paying homage to the conservationist.
John Muir the Writer
In his life, Muir published six volumes of writings, all describing explorations of natural settings. Four additional books were published after he died. Several books were subsequently published that collected essays and articles from various sources.
His first appearance in print was by accident. A person John Muir did not know submitted, without his permission or awareness, a personal letter to his friend Jeanne Carr, describing Calypso borealis, a rare flower he had encountered.
The piece was published anonymously, identified as having been written by an “inspired pilgrim”. Throughout his many years as a nature writer, John Muir frequently rewrote and expanded on earlier writings from his journals, as well as articles published in magazines. He often compiled and organized such earlier writings as collections of essays or included them as part of narrative books.
During his lifetime John Muir published over 300 articles and 12 books. He co-founded the Sierra Club , (of which I am a proud member) which helped establish and maintain a number of national parks after he died. Today the Sierra Club has over 2 million members whose main goal is to protect the wilderness and national parks.
John Muir has been called the “patron saint of the American wilderness” and is the “archetypal free spirit.”
As a dreamer and activist, his eloquent words changed the way Americans saw the mountains, forests, seashores, and deserts,” said fellow nature writer Gretel Ehrlich. He not only led the efforts to protect forest areas and have some designated as national parks, but his writings presented “human culture and wild nature as one of humility and respect for all life.
Below I have listed 26 of my favorite John Muir quotes that I’ve found over the years.
26 John Muir Quotes to inspire your inner mountaineer
1. “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
2. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
3.“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news”
4.“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals as friendly fellow mountaineers. Nature as a poet, an enthusiastic workingman, becomes more and more visible the farther and higher we go; for the mountains are fountains — beginning places, however related to sources beyond mortal ken.”
5. “The world’s big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
“The world's big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
6. “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
7. “Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.”
8. “Everybody needs beauty…places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.”
9.“Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at. Great is the power of the guidebook maker, however ignorant.”
10. “One must labor for beauty as for bread,”
11. “Fortunately wrong cannot last. Soon or late it must fall back home to Hades, while some compensating good must surely follow.”
12. “It was the afternoon of the day and the afternoon of his life, and his course was now westward down all the mountains into the sunset. [speaking about Ralph Waldo Emerson]”
13. “And into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”
14. “Once arrived in the valley, it is important to know what to do with one’s self. I would advise sitting from morning till night under some willow bush on the riverbank where there is a wide view. This will be “doing the valley” far more effectively than riding along trails in constant motion from point to point. Sunlight streaming over the walls and falling upon the river and silvery foliage of the groves; the varied rush and boom of the falls; the slipping of the crystal river; birds, flowers, and blue, alpine sky, are then seen most fully and impressively, without the blurring distractions of guiding, riding, and scrambling. Few, however, will believe this, and anxious inquiries will always be made for ponies, points, and guides.”
15. “Wander a whole summer if you can…time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.”
“Wander a whole summer if you can...time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.”
16. “I don’t like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not ‘hike!’ Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
17. “Society speaks and all men listen, mountains speak and wise men listen.”
18. “Nevertheless, again and again, in season and out of season, the question comes up, “What are rattlesnakes good for?” As if nothing that does not obviously make for the benefit of man had any right to exist; as if our ways were God’s ways….Anyhow, they are all, head and tail, good for themselves, and we need not begrudge them their share of life.”
19. “You may be a little cold some nights on mountain tops above the timber-line, but you will see the stars, and by and by you can sleep enough in your town bed. or at least in your grave. Keep awake while you may in mountain mansions so rare.”
20. “No other excursion that I know of can be made into any of the wild portions of America where so much fine and grand and novel scenery is brought to view at so cheap and easy a price. Anybody may make this trip and be blest by it–old or young, sick or well, soft, succulent people whose limbs have never ripened, as well as sinewy mountaineers; for the climate is kindly, and one has only to breathe the exhilarating air and gaze and listen while being carried smoothly onward over the glassy waters.”
21.“To the timid traveler, fresh from the sedimentary levels of the lowlands, these highways, however picturesque and grand, seem terribly forbidding — cold, dead, gloomy gashes in the bones of the mountains, and of all Nature’s ways the ones to be most cautiously avoided. Yet they are full of the finest and most telling examples of Nature’s love; and though hard to travel, none are safer. For they lead through regions that lie far above the ordinary haunts of the devil, and of the pestilence that walks in darkness. True, there are innumerable places where the careless step will be the last step; and a rock falling from the cliffs may crush without warning like lightning from the sky; but what then? Accidents in the mountains are less common than in the lowlands, and these mountain mansions are decent, delightful, even divine, places to die in, compared with the doleful chambers of civilization. Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand.”
22. “The body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all one’s flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic pleasure glow not explainable.”
23. “I am learning to live close to the lives of my friends without ever seeing them. No miles of any measurement can separate your soul from mine.”
24. “so much like wild beasts are baby boys, little fighting, biting, climbing pagans.”
25. “But the darkest scriptures of the mountains are illumined with bright passages of love that never fail to make themselves felt when one is alone. I”
26. “Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”
Those are my 26 favorite John Muir quotes.
Each one making me want to go explore the wilderness, raft a river, and get lost staring at the stars.
Which one of these John Muir quotes is your favorite?
Do you have any favorite John Muir quotes I missed?