I’ve been thinking about that frequently quoted and plastered across pinterest and instagram quote “The mountains are calling and I must go” by John Muir. It’s become so universally known that hundreds of products are being sold on Etsy with some version of the saying on it. This is super problematic.
John Muir is praised as this innovative environmental advocate, a founder of the conservation movement in the United States in the late 19th century, a naturalist that coined the idea of National Parks. His name is lauded across schools and environmental organizations that refer to him as the godfather of environmental values. However, Muir was actually a privileged man that perpetuated elitist racist norms about who gets access to nature and who deserves a clean, not polluted environment. So why should we reproduce his words across our coffee cups and t-shirts?
I get it. Mountains are beautiful, majestic, larger-than-life energies. They are a place for reflection and exploration of self and the world, introspection or extrospection. I would love to spend most days hiking around different mountain chains around the world.
but can’t we quote someone else other than Muir to champion this sentiment?
Jedediah Purdy has said it best:
“It is tempting to excuse such views as the “ordinary” or “casual” racism of the time…. But Muir and his followers are remembered because their respect for non-human life and wild places expanded the boundaries of moral concern. What does it mean that they cared more about “animal people” than about some human beings? The time they lived in is part of an explanation, but not an excuse. For each of these environmentalist icons, the meaning of nature and wilderness was constrained, even produced, by an idea of civilization…. They went to the woods to escape aspects of humanity. They created and preserved versions of the wild that promised to exclude the human qualities they despised.”
– Jedediah Purdy, ENVIRONMENTALISM’S RACIST HISTORY, The New Yorker.