Two Tuesday Quotes: Muir and Krutch


A recent trip to Cedar Key, FL brought me face to face with John Muir. I was completely unaware of his impact on the Sunshine State, much less this small fishing (well, clamming) community that is Cedar Key. The historical marker at Cedar Key Museum State Park gives one a short explanation of the role John played and additional information can be found at the Florida State Parks site. His writings on Cedar Key can be found here. While visiting the park with my son he noted what I thought was an interesting point: “I don’t think John Muir would be happy with what the Sierra Club now does.” It prompted me to understand a bit more about who this man was and what he stood for in an effort to better appreciate my son’s perspective. Having been a member of the Sierra Club, reading their publications and listening to other members and critics I am not convinced my son is wrong.

As always I offer up this information for you to consider whether you agree or disagree. Regarding Mr. Krutch, I had never heard of him. His name popped up while researching Mr. Muir. The paths each man took to become involved in nature presented itself as mirror images to a certain degree.

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

John Muir

If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either.

Joseph Wood Krutch

Who they are

John Muir

In the spring of 1868, a young man came to Yosemite and changed the world. Muir had just turned 30 that year. His first 11 years were spent in Dunbar, Scotland. The next 11 he spent in the backwoods of Wisconsin, working through the daylight hours, clearing the forest, holding a plow to a straight furrow behind a team of oxen, digging wells through hard bedrock, and taking an adult’s part in subduing wild nature.

Years later, in The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, he stressed the rigors of his childhood, but he seemed to feel that his strenuous years in Wisconsin prepared him well for his later wilderness ramblings.

He also prepared throughout his childhood for his life as a naturalist by a close attention to the wonders of nature. Everything, it seemed, drew his eye and his mind, and all creatures drew his sympathy, whether the mice that ate the grain he had wrung from the earth by the sweat of his brow or the intelligent old ox Buck, who figured out how to open pumpkins to feast on the succulent inner flesh.

As a teenager, he had no time for school and little opportunity for formal study. Yet his mind hungered for knowledge. When his father grudgingly gave permission for him to rise before the rest of the family to read, he took to rising at one in the morning. He wrote, “I had gained five hours, almost half a day! ‘Five hours to myself!’ I said. ‘Five huge, solid hours!’ I can hardly think of any other event of my life, any discovery I ever made that gave birth to joy so transportingly glorious as the possession of these five frosty hours.”

Much of this new-won time he gave over to his inventions. In fact, it seems he was an inventor of substantial gifts. He created a thermometer so sensitive that it would react to the heat radiated by the body of a person standing four or five feet away. Another creation was an alarm clock that, at the appointed time, tipped up his bed and dumped him on the floor. He called it an “early-rising machine.”

These machines and his desire to escape from his overbearing father took him to Madison, Wisconsin and brought him to the attention of several people from the University of Wisconsin. He was admitted, though he had spent only a few months in school after the age of 11. In the following two and a half years, he followed an electic course of study, heavy on Natural Science, and left in 1863.

Muir’s budding re-awakening to literary and political activity was brought to fruition by Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century, one of the most prominent magazines in the country a hundred years ago. The catalyst was their famous camping trip to Tuolumne Meadows in 1889. Each seemed to have thought the trip was a way to inspire the other to do something to save the High Sierra from the sheep which Muir felt were rapidly altering the sub-alpine environment. Muir wrote two long articles on Yosemite, advocating a National Park to surround what was then the state-run Yosemite Valley. Johnson published the articles and lobbied energetically. Congress complied with this emotional and literary onslaught, creating a National Park that included almost all the present-day park plus the southeastern area down to Devil’s Postpile that was excised in 1905 when the Valley was taken from state control and added to the National Park.

Another fruit of this budding friendship was the creation, in 1892, of the Sierra Club, with Muir as President, apostle, guide, and inspiration. The purpose of the Club was to preserve and make accessible the Sierra Nevada.

The Club grew slowly and quietly for a few years, then a little faster after 1901 with the start of the High Trips. But not until the City of San Francisco began its push for a dam on the Tuolumne at the mouth of Hetch Hetchy Valley was the whole idea of preservation vs. use articulated on the front and editorial pages of the nation’s newspapers.

Muir summed up the basic arguments against the dam in some of his most elegant, most elevated prose:

“These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.

“Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.” (SOURCE)

Joseph Wood Krutch

Joseph Wood Krutch came to fame as a Jazz Age cultural commentator with The Modern Temper (1929), a pessimistic work that deplored the degree to which the rational skepticism of science had displaced religious certainty, leaving the world bereft of meaning for humankind.

By the early 1950s, however, Krutch had discovered a world of meaning in nature, emerging as a major advocate for the nonhuman world, and especially for the animals who became the subjects of his later works. This personal and intellectual odyssey marked the point of convergence between one of the twentieth century’s greatest men of letters and a fledgling animal protection organization, The HSUS.

It was Krutch’s study of Henry David Thoreau that eventually convinced him that humans could find profound spiritual satisfaction by acknowledging their place in the broader community of life. His first book of nature essays appeared in 1948, the same year his biography of Thoreau came out. In the early 1950s, Krutch moved to the Arizona desert, and from that time onward, he devoted much of his writing to a celebration of nature and a worldview that took account of all its inhabitants.

In his 1954 essay, “Conservation is Not Enough,” which appeared in the very year of The HSUS’s founding, Krutch offered a memorable statement of his basic philosophy. “What is commonly called ‘conservation’ will not work in the long run,” he wrote, “because it is not really conservation at all but rather, disguised by its elaborate scheming, only a more knowledgeable variation on the old idea of a world for man’s use only.” Anthropocentric and utilitarian resource management were not going to save nature or humankind, he argued; we also needed “love, some feeling for, as well as understanding of, the inclusive community of rocks and souls, plants and animals, of which we are a part.”

Krutch was an active participant in anti-cruelty work. In March 1965, as debate intensified over proposals to regulate animal use in research, testing and education by a federal law, he wrote a piece for the Saturday Review, condemning cruelty both within and outside of the laboratory and arguing the case for such legislation. In 1968 Krutch contributed a foreword to HSUS president Mel Morse’s book Ordeal of the Animals, and received The HSUS’s highest accolade, its Humanitarian of the Year award.  In 1970 The HSUS renamed the award in his honor, a fitting tribute to a man who had given heart and voice to some of the most fundamental premises of the mid-twentieth century humane movement. (SOURCE)

Krutch’s enthusiasm for and belief in the comic spirit emanated from his faith in human intelligence and reason: “Comedy first deflates man’s aspirations and pretensions, accepting the inevitable failure of his attempt to live by his passions or up to his enthusiasms. But when it has done this, it demonstrates what is still left to him — his intelligence, his wit, his tolerance and his grace — and then finally it imagines with what charm he could live if he were freed, not merely from the stern necessities of the struggle for physical existence, but also from the perverse and unexpected quixoticisms of his heart.”

The result of cultivating such a perspective is explained in alternative terms by Carl Hovde: “Common sense of Krutch’s kind is a poised alertness of the balanced mind, which can in turn move to the emotional extreme of proper tragedy, or to the restoration of order by comedy’s departure from and return to the freshened values of the proper social order. However rare the playwright’s capacity to do both at the highest level, the audience’s capacity to enjoy both is the mark of a flexible and civilized mind.” I would add that Krutch’s gifts derived from what D.H. Lawrence called “an intelligent heart” and what Albert Camus deemed “a compassionate mind: the mark of an integrated human being, having cooperated with nature.” (SOURCE)

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