The Life and Inspiration of John Muir
“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
As spring has sprung in central Illinois, it’s become a lot more difficult to focus on projects and exams when I’d much rather spend all day outside. It also happens to be National Park Week, and today is the birthday of John Muir, the great conservationist and naturalist who helped in the establishment of two of my favorite places on earth, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.
I learned a lot about Muir’s life by watching Ken Burns’ “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” documentary — which everyone should watch — and reading a biography of Muir’s life by Donald Worster.
Muir advocated for the protection of nature and spoke often about how he believed that human beings are interconnected to nature. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe,” he said in one of his many writings, My First Summer in the Sierra. He was changed by nature, and allowed himself to use this passion to make real change in conservation efforts. He gave President Theodore Roosevelt a tour of Yosemite National Park, which led to further protection of the park that so many have grown to love.
Everyone who visits Yosemite should make it their goal to see Lee Stetson’s portrayal of Muir. After learning about Muir’s life, seeing Stetson imitate a man who almost seems like an unreal part of history was pretty surreal. In a darkened room, Stetson, with his Scottish accent and Muir-like white beard, tells stories like of his beloved dog Stickeen. You can really imagine that it’s Muir sitting in a rocking chair, telling you a story about his dog that is both riveting and heartwarming.
Muir’s life was both fascinating and inspirational, and you can’t help but wish it was a life you had lived — spending summers in the Sierra, going on adventures in Alaska, and going through Yosemite with Teddy Roosevelt. But in a way his life has been an inspiration for my own. It sets the example that if you truly love what you are doing, it’s easier to put in the work to see the rewards — for both yourself and others. When I’m stressed out over studying for final exams and scrambling to finish projects, I remember that I’m doing what I’m doing because I have passion for it and it allows me to make an impact in people’s lives. It’s a different kind of impact than what Muir made, but I’m thankful to be able to do it.
One Week to London
Last year, I went on an incredible trip to Belgium through the University of Illinois College of Media James Scholar program. It was my first trip out of the country and a completely life-changing experience. Going on that trip made me realize how much I want to travel.
So when the opportunity arose to go on the same James Scholar trip again this year, only to London, I was beyond excited. I’ll be spending one week in the city with fellow College of Media students, visiting the BBC, seeing many of the tourist spots, and taking it all in as an aspiring journalist in the era of digital media.
My college experience has opened my world to so many new things, including my love for science journalism, my excitement about new and social media, and the pursuit of learning new things and meeting new people through my reporting. But being able to study abroad has been an added bonus on top of everything, and something I would’ve never imagined I would be able to do. London will be the largest city I’ve visited yet, so coming from a small town of 1,300 people makes this trip, once again, beyond exciting.
Until my flight leaves on Sunday, I’ll be reading up on London and thinking about the possibility of fulfilling the number one item on my London to-do list: getting that iconic Abbey Road crossing picture that every Beatles fan dreams of. Wish me luck.
What small town summers taught me about the excitement of everyday life
There is nothing better than being a kid and having no agenda for three whole months. Having this experience in a small, rural town with a population of about 1,300 people makes it a little different. But it’s something I wish everyone could experience. At the time, it seemed less than glamorous, but now I wish I had those days back. I realize it forced me to create my own fun and allowed for some of my favorite childhood memories.
My experience living in my hometown in central Illinois is not something people fully understand until I explain it to them. It’s a comforting yet repetitive feeling to live in a place where you know everyone and everyone knows you. You go to school with the same people you were in diapers with and you’re with them until the day you graduate.
Growing up, I thought I had a lot to complain about. I felt there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me. I felt pretty isolated — which is understandable since doing almost anything required a half hour drive. I felt like the world was going on without me, and I wanted to be a part of it. Here, I felt like I couldn’t be.
I can’t deny that growing up in my town was different from a lot of people’s experiences, but I also can’t deny that I had a great childhood. I stayed in the same house and school system, I had the same friends all the way through. I was close to my relatives and got to spend a lot of time with them. I grew up in a place full of warm-hearted people who would drop everything to help you out, watch your kids, or run by your place to lend you a cup of sugar.
Without a doubt, my favorite memories that go along with this childhood come from the summers that seemed to drag on and on, summers that I mark my childhood by. Those three months each year were filled with endless fun, most of it occurring in my backyard with my older brother and our two neighbors who were around our same age.
All of them were older than me, so naturally I admired them and would do anything they told me to do. This led to some interesting situations and hilarious stories. There was always something fun we could do in our joined backyards, and I always made sure to join in on it. Together we created neighborhood baseball games, wrote a neighborhood newspaper, made a puddle in my front driveway become one of the most fun places to be, filmed home movies with my mom’s video camera that will go down in history, and invented other unusual activities such as playing snake doctor (just as it sounds).
For three months, my backyard was a magical place to be, and it was the only place I wanted to be. It didn’t matter what was beyond it, or what town my backyard was located in, because within these areas of green grass and swimming pools, a normal Tuesday in June or July became an adventure. Imagine if I still looked at every day as an adventure, if I woke up eager and excited, just because. I envy that ability we all have as a child, the sense of wonder we have towards life. Though spending a day making up games in my backyard and shooting home movies sounds more enjoyable than the online class I’m taking this summer, shouldn’t I be waking up and getting excited? Shouldn’t we all?
What did I lose from then until now that caused this change? In my opinion, it’s the loss of my own sense of creativity and imagination, qualities I had an abundance of during my childhood. The kind of childhood summers I enjoyed are the ones I hope my younger brothers and future generations of kids will have: ones that are unimpeded by video gaming and television marathons, smartphone using and YouTube watching. Ones where the only tool for creating a day that will later become a fond memory is a mind of imagination and great friends to share it with.
These summers, I believe, can act as an example for how I should live my life: excited, carefree, imaginative, enjoying my friends and family who surround me, living as if every day is an endless summer day where anything can happen. For that, I’m grateful for my small town upbringing and the imagination it created.
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Trashed: it starts (and ends) with us
What if not recycling was seen to be as socially unacceptable as drunk driving, smoking indoors, or not wearing your seatbelt?
What if bringing your own container to the grocery store became the new norm?
What if recycling something was as habitual and common practice as throwing something away?
Obviously we’d be living in a much cleaner, healthier and more efficient world. But what exactly does that mean? These questions are answered by the 2012 documentary “Trashed,” which explains the growing problem of consumer and industrial waste that our planet faces.
On April 22, Earth Day, the UIUC Students for Environmental Concerns and Lambda Theta Phi, Inc. hosted a screening of “Trashed,” the award-winning documentary about the issue of waste, followed by a panel discussion with University of Illinois faculty and administration, including Bart Bartels, zero-waste coordinator at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Professor Zsuzsa Gille of the Department of Sociology, and Professor Ann Reisner of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science and the College of Media and Cinema Studies.
“Trashed” is an eye-opening film for anyone who’s not really sure how much waste our planet truly creates. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot. This film gives both the facts as well as a solution proposed by actor and the film’s maker, Jeremy Irons.
It opens with a scene in Lebanon, where they’ve resorted to dumping their trash on beaches that once could have been enjoyed for sunbathing. Now, the beaches surrounded by beautiful blue water have been resorted to a landfill, overflowing with plastic, food waste, and toxic fluids that seep into the ground below.
Looking at this picture, one can only think: is this what we’re all coming to?
We don’t really understand the amount of waste that we create until we see it. But it’s not something that people want to think about. As I watched this film, I was amazed by the statistics that I heard and the images that I saw.
For example, every person living today has dioxins (highly toxic compounds) inside their bodies at some concentration level. Dioxins are environmental pollutants that enter our bodies mainly when we intake food that is also polluted. And the human body can’t get rid of them naturally, which means they stay in your body for a long time and can have effects even at low concentrations.
Yet, we still only recycle 33% of our waste.
“Trashed” makes the consequences and the facts plain. But the solution it proposes is where it gets tricky. The film ends on a much happier note than the horrific scenes that it opened with. It shows how things can get better if we stop ignoring this problem. It ends with a rallying cry that sounds familiar: if we all do our part individually, things will get better.
After the screening, Professor Gille voiced her concern with this solution, stating that she is skeptical of the diagnosis and the solution it tries to promote – the one against the many.
In agreement with that statement was Professor Reisner, who said: “Nothing’s going to work unless we get government behind us.”
Yet the point of this film was mainly to educate, and that it did. It’s a problem we truly can’t ignore. You can’t ignore the landfills that are filling up faster than we can control them, the wildlife that is being harmed both internally and externally by our waste, the human health defects that pollutants are causing, and the beautiful landscapes and oceans that are full more with trash than life.
“Our stupidity was well documented,” Bartels said. That, in essence, is what sums up this film. And that, I believe, was the goal that the filmmakers achieved.