John Muir Son of Scotland, born in Dunbar, father of the American National Parks and probably the world’s first conservationist and ecological campaigner. The centenary of Johns death was in 2014 when the John Muir Way was opened to mark that anniversary, the walkway goes close by as it travels through Falkirk at https://johnmuirway.org/route/kilsyth-falkirk/ and then onto the next stage at https://johnmuirway.org/route/falkirk-linlithgow
A quick resume of his childhood takes us onto the beaches of south east Scotland, Dunbar castle and playing high risk dares with his younger brother David. Fathered by a strict disciplinarian lay preacher and facing terrible brutality on a daily basis, John nevertheless developed a spiritual closeness to nature and all things wild. He was not a great school pupil and was often getting into trouble with the class teacher, skiving off his class work to go on adventures looking for birds’ nests, animals, and rock pools and he is on record as saying, “Dunbar was my teacher”. Years later he was awarded a university degree and was hailed as a genius by many in the USA and certainly by President Roosevelt who responded to John Muirs expeditions and political campaigning by ensuring that the National Parks were established in America and have continued to thrive and develop as a core aspect of American life and culture. Muir knew that we could not take nature for granted and that as human beings we had a responsibility to look after every living thing, our human existence and the natural world were totally intertwined in an absolute whole.
The Muirs emigrated to Wisconsin in America when John was 10 years old and its somewhat ironic that the father of the American National Parks would not have seen a national park established in his home country of Scotland until 2002 when the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park opened. His biggest realisation was that the trees and forests were the lungs of the world, our source of oxygen and hence the air we breathe. He was a prolific writer and campaigner for the protection of those trees and forests and he demanded their protection from man’s continuous destruction of them for profit. Remember that he was writing and campaigning about these issues over 150 years ago and it is a sad indictment on our lack of vision, action and ongoing abuse of our environment when we declare have to declare in 2021 a worldwide climate emergency.
“I have never seen an unhappy tree”
The keep Camelon and Tamfourhill Tidy, Clean & Green campaign can embrace the spirit of John Muir in two interrelated ways, firstly by looking after our local Green spaces and actively improving and restoring them and secondly through encouraging local people to volunteer in local projects whilst undertaking their own John Muir Award.
The John Muir Trust was established in 1983 with a view to connecting, protecting, restoring and rewilding land for the common good. “Alongside communities nationwide, we connect people with wild places, campaign to protect those places, and restore and rewild land for the common good.” A key feature then is to work with communities, a theme that myself and Dan touch upon with regularity, the Trust cares for over 600,000 acres of wild land, the vast majority in Scotland and the Trust works with communities to conserve and improve this land. The Trust also supports and coordinates the John Muir Award, which is made up of 4 distinct sections, Discover, Explore, Conserve, and share your experiences about a wild place. A wild place could be a garden, a bit of waste ground, Easter Carmuirs Park, the Forth and Clyde Canal or the woodland around Antoine’s wall, it could even be the old coffin alley that links Brown Street with Glasgow Road in Carmuirs. Anywhere you decide is your wild place counts and then you can carry out your own John Muir Award. There are three levels of Award: The Discovery Award, The Explorers Award and the Conservers Award and each Award will involve you taking part in longer periods of time with more detailed involvement with each of the four sections. I hope that we can use the John Muir Discovery Award locally and that volunteers, community groups, local schools, families, and individuals can all do a John Muir Award and get themselves a nationally recognised certificate whilst contributing to keeping Camelon and Tamfourhill Tidy, Clean & Green.
You can find out all about the Award here: https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/john-muir-award
There will be opportunities in the near future for local people to start their own John Muir Awards. Firstly, there will be ongoing canal clear ups taking place, initially for young people during the Easter school holidays but thereafter there will be monthly Canal clear ups from May through to August, and I will be looking to support any individuals or local groups that would like to get involved with these clear ups to potentially develop this involvement as part of their own John Muir Award. These Canal clear ups have been supported through funding awarded by the Greater Places Falkirk National Lottery Heritage Project and the active inputs of TCV and Scottish canals. My recent discussions with the Addictions Support Counselling Recovery community and the Cyrenians Navigator Project have agreed that we would offer opportunities for their local volunteers to participate with conservation and outdoor work and this again will provide an ideal opportunity for those volunteers to undertake their own John Muir Award. This is part of the developing Community Safety strategy and will be in align with several of that strategies key outcomes, especially around improving our local green environment, supporting the community’s capacity to address ASB and provide additional opportunities for those in recovery to gain training and qualifications through volunteering.
More information about the John Muir Trust can be found here: https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/john-muir-award
And of possible interest is my own experiences of the River Devon Valley and my journey of exploration with John Muir:
‘When a man plants a tree, he plants himself. Every root is an anchor, over which he rests with grateful interest, and becomes sufficiently calm to feel the joy of living.’