by Bruce Sklare
The following is a true story of Indianapolis’ connection to one of the great champions of the natural environment.
In the 19th century, many political and religious leaders believed the natural world was a boundless garden of abundance created solely for the enjoyment and exploitation of mankind. The policies and actions of those leaders reflected that belief.
At that same time, a young man was growing up in Scotland. His family migrated to America as the father sought to improve his position in life. The young man worked hard on the family farm and spent 2 ½ years at the University of Wisconsin. At the same time he began to question the prevailing beliefs concerning our environment. His perspective recognized that nature was infinitely beautiful and held answers to many of mankind’s problems. Nature needed to be studied and conserved, not exploited with abandon.
In 1866, the subject of our story found his way to Indianapolis. At that time, our city was a major railway center and was surrounded by hardwood forests. While working for a carriage company, he poked his eye with a tool, lost his eyesight and feared he would never again lay eyes on the natural world. While blinded, he decided that if he did regain his eyesight, he would commit the rest of his life to his true passion: the study of nature.
Consequently, this young man’s decision – made here in Indianapolis – has a profound effect on the world and our relationship with nature.
That young man was John Muir, a name that is now synonymous with nature conservation. Muir was a prolific writer about and advocate for the study and preservation of our environment. He was a founder of the Sierra Club and the National Park System, both of which continue to be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people today. There are dozens of places throughout the country named after John Muir, a testimony to his impact on the world.
Muir’s commitment launched a major initiative to learn about and conserve the natural world. His life’s work awakened an awareness of the effects our exploitation of natural resources have on the world now and for future generations.
The national celebration of Earth Day continues Muir’s spirit. We hope you will join us for the JCC’s inaugural Earth Day Celebration on Sunday, April 22, 11:30 am-2:30 pm. It will be a day of activities, education and celebration of the magnificent world of nature around us.