New thing #16: The John Muir National Historic Site

I have wanted to visit the John Muir house ever since I realized it was only a town away from me in Martinez, CA. I grew up hearing John Muir’s name, but it wasn’t until I was older that I really began to understand his legacy. Not only has he had a tremendous impact on the world as the father of the national parks system (not to mention as a writer, artist, naturalist, inventor, conservationist, scientist, etc.), he has also had an indirect impact on my life.

When it came time for my parents— both environmental studies majors and outdoor enthusiasts— to name their first baby (yours truly), they had a few names in mind, and almost went with Sarah. They decided though that they wanted something more unique, and wanted to name me after something they both loved. Ultimately they settled on Sierra, after the mountains.

As my dad pointed out to my brother and I when we arrived at the site today, the Sierra’s would be a very different place today without the influence of John Muir. There would be no Yosemite. No national parks at all. I think my dad, a nature lover who grew up with John Muir as a hero, might have even grown up to be a different person, and therefor I would be different. At the very least I would likely be Sarah Machado.

I don’t know if it’s because of my name that I feel some kind of obligation to love the outdoors, but I really don’t think so. John Muir wrote a lot about that inner peace that comes from spending time in nature, and I really feel that. Sometimes it’s such a profound and overwhelming joy, so I wonder why I don’t spend more time outside. I guess I get too comfortable settling for mild contentment.

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” –John Muir

As we strolled through the orchards on the 10-acre property, explored the house, and learned more and more about John Muir’s amazing life, I kept saying how it blows my mind that remarkable/gorgeous/historical (pick your own adjective) places like this just exist in our own backyards. Like, John Muir’s house is just… there, sitting across the street from the Valero gas station. He lived in the same city my dad’s whole family grew up in. I seriously can’t get over it.

After we walked the grounds and ate a little lunch on one of the scattered picnic tables, my dad gave me my (early) birthday present. I unwrapped the small box, and inside was a “ticket” for one new thing of my choosing that he will fund. Very creative, Dad, and very much appreciated. Thanks again for coming with me today, and for being the man and father you are.



3 thoughts on “New thing #16: The John Muir National Historic Site

  1. What a perfect “new thing” to do with your dad. I’ve enjoyed his tales of backpacking and hiking over the years, always has been the outdoor enthusiast.
    About that funded new thing …..didn’t you tell me you always wanted to fly in the Concorde to Paris for a quick weekend trip sometime?

    • I may have told you before but here’s one of my fav John Muir Stories. I’ve read a couple of books that Johnny wrote (couldn’t tell which ones been so long) and there was a passage in one that described a tale of how he climbed to the top of a large tree (Pine or Fur I believe) during a howling rain and wind storm. He described how feeling the forces of nature made him feel so alive and connected. And the exileration he felt as the tree swayed wildly from side to side with rain and wind pelting him in the face. Wow! whatta ride. I wondered what that must have felt like never thinking that someday I would take that same “wild” ride.

      I was visiting Sister Lawre up in Oregon some 40 +/- years ago and we took a ride out into this forested river valley to visit friends of her’s. We drove in a rain and wind storm but arrived at the house safely. After meeting her friends and visiting for awhile we couldn’t help but notice how the storm had intensified with pounding rain and blustery winds. We stepped out onto the porch to observe and I looked over and saw this tall slender tree swaying back and forth in the wind. Instantly I remembered the John Muir story and knew at that moment I had to climb the tree. I jumped off the porch and ran to the tree without rain gear and proceeded to climb this tree. I remember sis yelling “Don, what are you doing?” but I was on a mission and nothing was going to stop me.

      Now I know when us old guys start spinning a tale we may have a tendency exaggerate our memories but I swear that tree must have been 300 hundred feet tall, well maybe 100 feet, seriously about 75 feet I would say.
      I have no idea what kind of tree it was but was fairly easy to climb since all the branches were close together and could step from one to the other. Man that tree was swinging from side to side and all around. Rain was coming down hard and I was already soaked. I was concentrating so hard on climbing, I didn’t even notice how freezing cold it was and made it as far as I could go before the trunk became too small to support my weight. So, there I was me and Johnny spirit at the top of this tree swaying wildly in the wind with rain beating down on me as I held onto the trunk with one arm and thrusting the other into the air triumphantly screaming at the top of my lungs, “I am John Muir, I am John Muir!!!” Seems silly to proclaim such a thing but for that one moment in my life I believe I know what Johnny must have felt like when he climbed that tree.

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