Today is the 173rd birthday of John Muir. Muir was the co-founder and first president of the Sierra Club and a steadfast advocate for the protection of wilderness. His essays and books, penned late in life after years of exploration, exposed millions to the wonders of the untrammeled outdoors. His legacy lives on in the millions of acres of American wilderness that has been protected from the saw, the plough, the bulldozer and the drilling rig.

Although Canadians have not embraced Muir’s penchant for protecting wilderness the way Americans have, Canada did play a role in his education and evolution. In 1863, John’s brother Dan fled to Canada to avoid being drafted into the horrors of the American Civil War. A year later, John followed his brother to Canada, spending the spring, summer, and fall wandering the woods and swamps around Lake Huron collecting plants. With his money running out and winter coming, he met up with his brother in Meaford, Ontario, where the two worked at the Trout Hollow Sawmill until the summer of 1865. American wilderness scholar Roderick Nash described Muir’s travels in Canada as sojourns into wilderness to avoid military service. According to the Canadian Friends of John Muir, Muir’s years in Canada were one of the most formative periods in his life, “a period of self discovery and awareness of man in Nature.”

How to celebrate Muir and his legacy? Go for a walk in the woods, of course, and commit to protecting what little remains of wilderness in Canada and the United States! Those who decide to take on this monumental challenge, as those who already have already know, will find this to be hard, tireless (but rewarding) work with as much failure as success. Here, then, are some words of wisdom from Howard Zinn that will help you on your way. I received them just today, on Muir’s birthday, and anyone who strives to make the world a better place for all living things would do well to peruse them.

“You ask how I manage to stay involved and remain seemingly happy and adjusted to this awful world where the efforts of caring people pale in comparison to those who have power?” begins Zinn in “On Getting Along.” “It’s easy. First, don’t let ‘those who have power’ intimidate you. No matter how much power they have they cannot prevent you from living your life, speaking your mind, thinking independently, having relationships with people as you like.”

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Click here to read the rest of Zinn’s worthwhile words of wisdom. And long live the spirit of John Muir!

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