What an honor it must be to be called the father of our national parks and, even further, the father of America’s conservation movement. The one so honored is John Muir. There’s no anniversary that I know of just now, but twice lately the welcome happenstance of reminders of his life and work have come my way. One came as an article in a little free news magazine and the other a CSPAN book talk on A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir. I bought the book.
I’ve long been intrigued by Muir and his work in the late 1800s and early 1900s, sparked by his determination to preserve the uniquely beautiful Yosemite Valley. His powerful writings reached Americans at all levels, many with the political and monetary means to effect extensive wilderness preservation. The monumental Sierra Club, which he founded, continues to watch out for the wild America he loved.
I love the pictures of Muir, particularly the profiles with that signature long scraggly beard. I love that historically significant picture of Muir standing on a mountaintop, in dark suit and vest and bowtie, hands clasped behind his back, talking with President Teddy Roosevelt who earlier had said: “I’m going to California, and the man I want to see is John Muir.”
There’s another profile I treasure in that context but with no long scraggly beard this time. I see this profile live at church. It belongs to Elizabethton’s Gary Barrigar, who long ago committed his mind and energy to protecting America’s natural heritage, particularly in Tennessee. He’s known, respected and valued for it locally. Apparently, others have been noticing, too.
On Aug. 24, Gary was honored by the state of Tennessee with the awarding of the Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award. These were the words offered at the awarding: “Each year, we recognize an individual who has devoted a lifetime of exemplary service to environmental protection or conservation stewardship in Tennessee. Gary Barrigar has imparted the value and importance of the natural world to thousands of students, parents, administrators and various organizations throughout his 40-year career by using nature as a classroom and integrating environmental education into daily curriculum.”
That’s not the half of it. In a future column, I want to tell you about his work with the Boone Watershed Partnership, unless I can get him to use this space to do it himself, which would be better.
My hat’s off to John Muir who loved Yosemite Valley and wouldn’t give up. Without him, would someone else have picked up his vision? Maybe. My hat’s off to Gary Barrigar who has claimed his own Yosemite Valleys and won’t give up. Would someone else have come along in his stead? Maybe. I have my own Yosemite Valleys, and the haunting question always is: If I don’t, who will? You, too?
I haven’t looked up Robert Sparks Walker yet, but I will. I need to know how he fits into this impressive stewardship network.