Monday, February 1, 2010

Muir on Mt. Rainier

In 1901 Houghton Mifflin Company published the articles by Johh Muir originally published in the The Atlantic Monthly. In the January 1898 issue, just over a year before the designation of Mt. Rainier as a National Park in March 1899, Muir wrote the essay, "The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West", which included some impression from his visit to Mt. Rainier in 1888. And so here is the excerpt.

"The Mount Rainier Forest Reserve should be made a national park and guarded while yet its bloom is on; (1) for if in the making of the West Nature had what we call parks in mind,-- places for rest, inspiration, and prayers,-- this Rainier region must surely be one of them. In the centre of it there is a lonely mountain capped with ice, from the ice-cap glaciers radiate in every direction, and young rivers from the glaciers; while its flanks, sweeping down in beautiful curves, are clad with forests and gardens, and filled with birds and animals. Specimens of the best of Nature's treasures have been lovingly gathered here and arranged in simple symmetriical beauty with regular bunds.

"Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest in form, has the most interesting forest cover, and, with perhaps the exception of Shasta, is the highest and most flowery. Its massive white dome rises out of its forests, like a world by itself, to a height of fourteen thousand to fifteen thousand feet.

"The forest reach to the height of a little over six thousand feet, and above the forests there is a zone of the loveliest flowers, fifty miles in circuit and nearly two miles wide, so closely planted and luxuriant that it seems as if Nature, glad to make on open space between woods so dense and ice so deep, were economizing the precious ground, and trying to see how many of her darlings she can get together in one mountain wreath,-- daises, anemones, geraniums, columbines, erythroniums, larkspurs, etc., amoung which we wade knee-deep and waist-deep the bright corollas in the myriads touching petal to petal.

"Picturesque detached groups of the spiry Abies lasiocarpa stand like islands along the lower margin of the garden zone, while on the upper margin there are extensive beds of bryanthus, Cassiope, Kalmia, and other heathworts, and higher still saxifrages and drabas, more and more lowly, reach up to the edge of the ice.

"Altogether this is the richest subalpine garden I ever found, a perfect floral elysium. The icy dome needs none of man's care, but the unless the reserve is guarded the flower bloom will soon be killed, and nothing of the forests will be left but black stump monuments."

"1. This was done shortly after the above was written. "One of the most important measures taken during the past year in connection wiht the forest reservations was the action by Congress in withdrawing from the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve a portion of the region immediately surrounding Mount Rainier and setting it apart as a national park." Report of Commissioner of General Land Office, for the year ended June, 1899. But the park as it now stands is far too small."

The footnote was added in the book publication of the article, and the land issue was resolved partially in 1926 and significantly in 1931 to near the present day boundaries with minor additions and adjustments since then.

While John Muir's contribution to the effort to designate Mt. Rainier a national park should not be understated, a national figure of his importance in the conservation and preservation movement then, his contribution can easily be overstated, as has occurred. There were far more important people who did the blue collar work in the effort for national park status.

John Muir's voice was helpful, and his words are, as they were, eloquent in his own right.

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