After much searching I found some old photos of the Scottish town where John Muir was born. There is no information about the year these photos were taken but I’m guessing that’s what Dunbar looked like somewhere around John Muir’s lifetime (1838 – 1914).
Looking at the photos left me surprised. Then I found out that Muir’s family home was located at the town’s business district. I can’t help myself but feeling even more respect for John’s devoted appreciation for nature. While reading the story about his youth I was assuming he was a country boy, living in the midst of wilderness. Apparently not so.
Update: Unfortunately, those photos are no longer available for sharing.
On April 21, 1838, a great adventurer, inventor and nature-lover was born in a three-story stone house in Dunbar, East Lothian, on the east coast of Scotland. He was the third of the eight children, born to Daniel Muir and his second wife Ann Gilrye. His parents named him John.
When I was a boy in Scotland I was fond of everything that was wild, and all my life I've been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and wild creatures.
Fortunately around my native town Dunbar, by the stormy North Sea, there was no lack of wildness, though most of the land lay in smooth cultivation.
With red-blooded playmates, wild as myself, I loved to wander in the fields to hear the birds sing, and along the seashore to gaze and wonder at the shells and seaweeds, eels and crabs in the pools among the rocks when the tide was low; and best of all to watch the waves in awful storms thundering on the black headlands and craggy ruins of the old Dunbar Castle when the sea and the sky, the waves and the clouds, were mingled together as one.
Dunbar Castle was one of the mightiest fortresses in Scotland (see photo below), first built out of stone around 1070 AD and was in use until 1567.
Young John was first sent to school when he was less than three years old. But his grandfather taught him letters from shop signs across the street even before that.
With my school lessons father made me learn hymns and Bible verses. For learning "rock of Ages" he gave me a penny, and I thus became suddenly rich.
Scotch boys are seldom spoiled with money. We thought more of a penny those economical days than the poorest American schoolboy thinks of a dollar.
To decide what to do with that first penny was an extravagantly serious affair. I ran with great excitement up and down the street, examining the tempting goodies in the shop windows before venturing on so important an investment.
My playmates also became excited when the wonderful news got abroad that Johnnie Muir had a penny, hoping to obtain a taste of the orange, apple, or candy it was likely to bring forth.
Father was proud of his garden and seemed always to be trying to make it as much like Eden as possible, and in a corner of it he gave each of us a little bit of ground for our very own in which we planted what we best liked, wondering how the hard dry seeds could change into soft leaves and flowers and find their way out to the light; and, to see how they were coming on, we used to dig up the larger ones, such as peas and beans, every day.
In comparison with today's standards, some practices of raising and treating children in 19th century civilized world seem downright cruel - like this one (read below) - for cleanliness.
It appears natural for children to be fond of water, although the Scotch method of making every duty dismal contrived to make necessary bathing for health terrible to us.
I well remember among the awful experiences of childhood being taken by the servant to the seashore when I was between two and three years old, stripped at the side of a deep pool in the rocks, plunged into it among crawling crawfish and slippery wriggling snake-like eels, and drawn up gasping and shrieking only to be plunged down again and again.
Image above Seashore of Dunbar credits: Paweł Stankieiwcz
But after we were a few years older, we enjoyed bathing with other boys as we wandered along the shore, careful, however, not to get into a pool that had an invisible boy-devouring monster at the bottom of it. Such pools, miniature maelstroms, were called "sookin-in-goats" and were well known to most of us.
Nevertheless we never ventured into any pool on strange parts of the coast before we had thrust a stick into it. If the stick were not pulled out of our hands, we boldly entered and enjoyed plashing and ducking long ere we had learned to swim.
One of our best playgrounds was the famous old Dunbar Castle, to which King Edward fled after his defeat at Bannockburn. It was built more than a thousand years ago, and though we knew little of its history, we had heard many mysterious stories of the battles fought about its walls, and firmly believed that every bone we found in the ruins belonged to an ancient warrior.
We tried to see who could climb highest on the crumbling peaks and crags, and took chances that no cautious mountaineer would try. That I did not fall and finish my rock-scrambling in those adventurous boyhood days seems now a reasonable wonder.
Image of Dunbar Castle above was taken by Maclean Photographic
I've never 'met' a bigger example of when there's a will there's a way saying - than John Muir. For the first eighteen years or so John lived with his father who was not only strict, but downright tyrannical, controlling, supervising and ruling everything and everyone in the family, especially John.
Daniel Muir, was a hard task-master to his family, but also believed that 'anything that distracted from Bible studies was frivolous and punishable.' In his opinion the Church of Scotland was not strict enough in faith in practice. Therefore he decided to emigrate to America where he joined the Disciples of Christ congregation and devoted a lot of his time to religious work and study.
In 1885 John wrote an obituary for his father and here's one of the paragraphs from it:
He seemed to care not at all what people would think of him. That never was taken into consideration when work was being planned. The Bible was his guide and companion and almost the only book he ever cared to read.
At the age of seven or eight, John was already entered into a grammar school where he studied Latin, French, English grammar and spelling, as well as history, arithmetic and geography.
Word lessons in particular, the wouldst-couldst-shouldst-have-loved kind, were kept up with much warlike thrashing, until I had committed the whole of the French, Latin and English grammars to memory, and in connection with reading-lessons we were called on to recite parts of them with the rules over and over again, as if all the regular and irregular incomprehensible verb stuff was poetry.
Photo above credits: Luc Koscielniak
In addition to all this, father made me learn so many Bible verses every day that by the time I was eleven years of age I had about three fourths of the Old Testament and all of the New by heart and by sore flesh.
I could recite the New Testament from the beginning of Matthew to the end of Revelation without a single stop. The dangers of cramming and of making scholars study at home instead of letting their little brains rest were never heard of in those days. We carried our school books home in a strap every night and committed to memory our next day's lessons before we went to bed, and to do that we had to bend our attention as closely on our tasks as lawyers on great million-dollar cases.
I can't conceive of anything that would now enable me to concentrate my attention more fully than when I was a mere stripling boy, and it was all done by whipping, - thrashing in general. Old fashioned Scotch teachers spent no time in seeking short roads to knowledge, or in trying any of the new-fangled psychological methods so much in vogue nowadays. There was nothing said about making the seats easy or the lessons easy.
Photo of the manor house in Dunbar, Scotland, was taken by George Doleman
We were simply driven pointblank against our books like soldiers against the enemy, and sternly ordered, "Up and at 'em. Commit your lessons to memory!" If we failed in any part, however slight, we were whipped; for the grand, simple, all-sufficing Scotch discovery had been made that there was a close connection between the skin and the memory, and that irritating the skin excited the memory to any required degree.
Image above credits
I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil - to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.
No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers.
I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least - and it is commonly more than that - sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.
When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them - as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon - I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.
No doubt temperament, and, above all, age, have a good deal to do with it. As a man grows older, his ability to sit still and follow indoor occupations increases. He grows vespertinal in his habits as the evening of life approaches, till at last he comes forth only just before sundown, and gets all the walk that he requires in half an hour.
Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy.
To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.
... if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. THe rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches.
The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence.
Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection.
Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood.
To me, one of the most awe-inspiring personalities of all times became John Muir (1838 - 1914), right after I stumbled upon his nature conservation efforts and literary works in March of 2014.
I have a feeling there's not all that many people out there who know about Muir and appreciate his contribution to preservation of this country's most valuable treasures, hence, I intend to devote some of my time and some space on this site to express my gratitude for one of the most devoted daydreamers of all times.
Image above: Now PD photo of the Scottish born American conservationist, author, naturalist, and one of the first modern environmentalists, John Muir, was Taken by Professor Francis M. Fritz in 1907
One of Muir's most famous quotations is:
Image above: PD photo of American president Theodore Roosevelt and nature preservationist John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, standing on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, was taken in 1906. In the background Upper and lower Yosemite Falls can be seen.
As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can
Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.
God never made an ugly landscape. All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.
This morning, while reading one of John Muir's books, I all of a sudden realized that the biggest inventors, authors, artists and other creative people of all kinds, were also the biggest daydreamers.
Every grand idea starts in one's mind, one's fantasy, one's dream. It's a vision of something new, never done or achieved before, Its birth is thrilling beyond description!
My emotional state while daydreaming is more pleasant than words can say. The feeling of utter excitement sends blood rushing through the veins and makes me feel more alive and happy than ever before!
So I decided to start my own collection of quotes by some of the most profound daydreamers of all times. And since I won't ever be able to explore and study all of them I'll be happy to share on this site the quotations that resonate with my heart the most.
I'm not much of a math and science guy. I spent most of my time in school daydreaming and managed to turn it into a living.
Visualization is daydreaming with purpose.
Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.
You get ideas from daydreaming.
You get ideas from being bored.
You get ideas all the time.
The only difference between writer and other people is we notice when we're doing it.
In my youth, daydreaming nurtured me, provided a safe heaven. I'd sleep for twelve hours and even when awake escape to the safe place in my mind.
Image below credits: Veronica Loveless
Travel is impossible, but daydreaming about travel is easy.
I'm 74 but I feel like I'm 35. And it isn't work. You know what it is?
It's fun, absolute fun. I don't know many people who are fortunate enough to be in a business like that.
Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.
Image above credits: AlectorFencer
What do they give you for a side dish in England for breakfast? Home Fries? Hash Browns? Fresh fruit? Nay, nay. They give you beans. Oh, good. Let's start me off in the morning: empty stomach, cup of black coffee, and some beans. Now let's walk me around London for a little while, getting me all churned up. Put me in a taxi and see what happens. I blew the doors off the taxi.
If it's a good song and it fits me, that's what I'm going to do, I'm not out there trying to change the world. I'm just out there trying to sing country music the best way I can.
Image above credits: Paula, artist from Poland
Image below credits
... no fire can be hotter than the heavenly fire of faith and hope that burns in every healthy boy's heart.
Kings may be blessed; we were glorious, we were free, - school cares and scoldings, heart thrashings and flesh thrashings alike, were forgotten in the fullness of Nature's glad wildness.
Image below: US postage stamp issued in 1998 with the image of John Muir. Source
My aunt had a corner assigned to her in our garden which she filled with lilies, and we all looked with the utmost respect and admiration at that precious lily-bed and wondered whether when we grew up we should ever be rich enough to own one anything like so grand. We imagined that each lily was worth an enormous sum of money and never dared to touch a single leaf or petal of them. We really stood in awe of them.
We have to look far back to learn how great may be the capacity of a child's heart for sorrow and sympathy with animals as well as with human friends and neighbors.
So far from complete at times is sympathy between parents and children, and so much like wild beasts are baby boys, little fighting, biting, climbing pagans.
The first US postal stamp featuring John Muir and his contribution as one of the first and most influential conservationists. Issued on April 29, 1964. Designed by Rudolph Wendelin, and titled John Muir and Redwood Forest.