Muir and Me in Marquette County
John Muir grew up just a wee bit south of my cabin in Marquette County. I arrive at his childhood haunts on a fog-shrouded October morning and walk down the hill to the spring-fed lake. Shafts of sunlight anoint the misty waters. The Muirs’ farm is long gone and all has returned to nature.
In 1849, the Muirs left Scotland, went to central Wisconsin, cleared the woods and grew winter wheat. As the eldest son, John worked long days in the fields, but the birds and trees always revived him: “Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkly lake, all wildly, gladly rejoicing together!” As the mist lifts, so does a flock of small birds, moving from shore grass to golden treetops. A hawk flies by. Sand Hill Cranes call in rusty chortles, creaking open, as always, the door of my heart.
As offerings, I have two of Muir’s favorite foods: bread and an apple. I hike through the meadow on the Ice Age Trail along the boundary of a glacier that was here 15,000 years ago. Two oaks, with autumn leaves glowing in the sun as if buttered, draw me in. The trees are so old, surely they were around when young Johnnie Muir was here! I lean against their bark and offer chunks of spelt bread and apple to the land.
After he moved to California, Muir tried—unsuccessfully—to buy this place he loved as a boy. He helped create vast national parks, but was unable to preserve this patch of land in his lifetime. It wasn’t until 1957 that it became John Muir Memorial Park, a National Historic Landmark and a place to be reminded of Muir’s words, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
Three cranes glide by, stretching their wings for the fall migration to come. I head home, munching the tart remains of the apple I shared with John Muir and the trees.