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April 14, 2010

Planting a Tree for John Muir

Tree-planters

On the final day of Scotland Week in North America, the Scottish Government and the Sierra Club held a special tree-planting ceremony in San Francisco's Presidio National Park to celebrate the life and legacy of Scottish-born Sierra Club founder John Muir.

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Two Scottish dignitaries joined Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton, John Muir National Historic Site General Superintendent Martha Lee, and kids from the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings program and the Presidio YMCA to plant a sapling in the Edgar and Peggy Wayburn Redwood Grove.

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That's Michael Russell (center), Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Education, and John Hutchison (right), chairman of the John Muir Trust, pictured above with Hamilton at the April 9 ceremony.

Hamilton opened the proceedings by thanking Muir for being an "agitator for nature." He recounted how the 30-year-old Muir stepped off the boat in San Francisco in 1868 and headed straight for Yosemite.

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"Muir could have just loved nature, but he went a step further," Hamilton said. "He saw the damage from logging and mining and had the radical idea of bringing citizens together to protect nature. By giving us John Muir, Scotland exported to us the modern environmental movement."

Russell, formerly Scotland's environment minister, wondered aloud what Muir would make of the "precarious environmental position we now find ourselves in. How would he take on what the Sierra Club calls the 'climate crossroads?'

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"Muir would most certainly bring a passionate zeal to the debate," Russell said. "He was never deterred by those naysayers who thought his idealism misplaced. In particular, I think Muir would have been excited by the prospect that the natural resources around uswind, solar, and wave energymay actually be the key to solving the climate crisis."

Motioning to the children expectantly waiting with shovels in hand, Russell said that "the future of the environment lies with the kids who are about to plant these trees. Our job is to pass on to them an appreciation of nature and a passion and excitement to be good stewards of the world they inherit."

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Hutchison, above, a longtime Sierra Club member, mentioned with a twinkle in his eye that at the Club's Board of Directors meeting in Florida this February, one Club leader asked him, "What does John Muir have to do with Scotland?"

"Yes, he was a Scot, of course," Hutchison chuckled. "He only became a U.S. citizen when he was 65, in 1903, the same year that he sat with President Theodore Roosevelt in Yosemite. So our idealist was a pragmatist too, perhaps!

"Muir prepares us for today's environmental challenges by urging us to make sure that 'the enormous conceit of the dogma taught by the present civilization' does not go unchallenged. But, to borrow Muir's phrase, we mustn't be seen as leading 'blind opposition to progress,' but leading 'opposition to blind progress.'

"We are finding and nurturing the next generation of environmental activists," Hutchison said. "And to people of all ages, Muir's inspiration is to gather people together and be aware of the need to protect their local environment."

And with that, the waiting children were loosed with shovels, trowels, and water hoses to plant a redwood sapling in Muir's honor.

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The festivities concluded that evening with a presentation on John Muir's Legacy in a Climate-Challenged World, featuring Russell, Hutchison, and Sierra Club Chairman Carl Pope. "There is huge interest everywhere in what Scotland has done in its Climate Change bill," Russell said, "but even I was surprised at the warmth of my reception here. It was a very pleasant way to end the week."

All photos by Tom Valtin

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