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John Muir as a Fellow Human Being
by P.J. Ryan
One of the problems in interpreting a great historical figure to the public is avoiding what I call the bronze statue syndrome.
The Bronze Statue Syndrome is simply an artificially created feeling of awe; the image of a man or woman ten feet tall,cast in bronze, suffering none of the frailties of mere mortal flesh, having nothing to fear except roosting pigeons.
Muir was a mortal man and a very lovable and human one. Things that happened to Muir are things that happen to you and me. (The one great bond I share with Mr. Muir is our extreme sensitivity to poison oak!) So let us for a moment neglect his famous, ringing quotations and take an intimate peek at the everyday John Muir on the ranch as seen by his mother-in-law and others.
November 25, 1880: Mr. Carmer (?) finished the new chimney. Mr. Muir made the mantel board and put them on after dark.
Louie wore rosebuds in her hair.
November 29, 1889: We all went out to look at the satellites of Jupiter which has been visible for several weeks. Mr. Muir has arranged a spy glass on a frame so that we can get quite a good view.
December 15, 1880: Mr. Muir and Charley have built a new wine press, and the men are now pressing wine trying to save the grapes that way but they will soon be too badly injured if the rainy weather keeps on.
Perhaps nothing so illustrates Muir's character as his efforts to keep a speaking engagement in spite of a bout with poison oak and lack of transportation. We will let Mrs. Strentzel tell this anecdote i her own laconic way:
January 16, 1881: John has been gone for several days to show the man about making a ditch to the east of the vineyard to turn the water from washing a gully into the garden. He has also planted buckeyes at the same place. Got fearfully poisoned with poison oak, confined to his room several days, face badly swollen, could not see part of the time but hot baths with salt and boron finally cured him and he was able to come down to the table.
January 17, 1881: Dr. Dwinelle of Sacramento wrote to Mr. Muir some time ago requesting to lecture in that city on the 18th. He accepted the invitation, and although feeling very weak, he left for Sacramento. Charley was to take him to the depot but he misunderstood the orders and when the buggy was ready, started out without him, then had to get ready the spring wagon and take him in that, but they were too late for the train, and so Mr. Muir had to walk to Port Costa. [He made it! - P.J.R.]
The talk was the resources of Alaska.
It should be noted that Muir's cross country "walk" to Port Costa would be what most of us consider a dead run.
Exerpted from The View From John Muir's Window, June 1974,
Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association.