THE NATURAL LIST

You’ve heard of Charles Darwin. Also, concordantly, Henry David Thoreau. If you’re really into national parks, naturally you’re familiar with John Muir (“Father of the National Parks”). If you have an avian fixation, you’re birds-of-a-feather with John James Audubon, world famous ornithologist and painter of our feathered friends.  But I suspect that the name of John Burroughs probably drew a blank when you saw it in my last post.

Fame is fickle. In his day, Burroughs (1837-1921) was as well known as any of the above naturalists who remain well remembered today. But, according to biographer Edward Renehan, he was more “a literary naturalist” than a scientific one, which (along with his rejection of religious orthodoxy) may account somewhat for his fading into relative obscurity.  Whatever the case, Burroughs, who was a contemporary of Thoreau and Audubon, a good friend of Muir (as well as of Walt Whitman and Theodore Roosevelt), and has been called “America’s Darwin,” has been left in their shadow. More’s the pity.

The last of his many books was ACCEPTING THE UNIVERSE (1920), from whence the quote in my 9/20 post. Other quotes I like from Burroughs’ works include these:

Nature is not moral. There is no moral law until it is born of human intercourse. The law of the jungle begins and ends in the jungle; when we translate it into human affairs, we must take the cruelty of the jungle out of it, and read it in terms of beneficent competition. Man is the jungle humanized.

The greatest of human achievements and the most precious is that of the creative artist. In words, in color, in sounds, in forms, man comes closest to emulating the Creative Energy itself. It seems as if the pleasure and the purpose of the Creative Energy were endless invention.

How beautifully the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.

Only a living tree drops its fruit or its leaves; only a growing man drops his outgrown opinions.

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.

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I close with a curio: a 1919 prizmacolor film of “a day in the life of John Burroughs,” which ends with words wise in the ways of what really matters:

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6 comments on “THE NATURAL LIST

  1. arekhill1 says:

    I am already campaigning for Darwin Day as a national holiday for rationalists. They should put this guy on a postage stamp, at least. Thanks for bringing him to our attention Sr. Muse

    Liked by 2 people

  2. mistermuse says:

    An excellent suggestion, Ricardo. Now that America has the “FOREVER” postage stamp, we have a stamp fit for making up to Mr. Burroughs for his country’s forgetfulness.

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  3. Don Frankel says:

    You never know Muse. Sometimes these type of people come back into vogue. Naturalists might become the subject of some documentary or movie. Hey almost no one had heard of Scott Joplin until that movie The Sting. Till then Muse, you keep them alive.

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  4. mistermuse says:

    Among Ken Burns’ many great documentaries was THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (in which John Muir was a major figure), so it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to do one on naturalists.

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  5. Mike says:

    Gifford Pinchot, flawed though he was, created the conservation ethic. He found the way not to wreck the economy of man while at the same time not clearing all the forest in the process.

    He did however oppose Muir a few times and his view was economic only as he didn’t value preservation for the sake of beauty; his biggest flaw in my opinion. Though likely viewed as an enemy by some contemporary conservationists, Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt did help to get the ball rolling in the process of creating National Parks.

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  6. mistermuse says:

    Thanks for pointing that out. I agree with your opinion of Pinchot’s biggest flaw, but, as they say today, whatever works!

    Like

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