A Memorial Trail To John Muir

We chose to memorialize John Muir for a trail at The Sanctuary. Originally, the project was dedicated in his name, however we wanted to make the burial ground inclusive to all people and cultures; thus we changed our name to Cathedral Trees Sanctuary with a focus on nature as the sustainer of all people. We believe Muir would have wanted the focus to be on nature, given the extent of our current climate crisis.

Muir as a young man, around 1860.

Muir was known as the founder of the Conservation Movement, the defender of Yosemite National Park and recipient of numerous dedicated glaciers and preserves, and one of the founders of the National Parks. Through nature, Muir had an experience around death which is unique even for our times. In a near brush with death as a young man and many times later during his mountain adventures, he came to an inner peace with death that is rare in our culture today. Every person who is sustained the our precious water, food and natural beauty can understand the wisdom of giving back to nature that Muir so ardently defended in his lifetime.

Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods National Monument was the inspiration for our project name, Cathedral Trees Sanctuary. Muir considered that ancient forests were as important to civilizations as the great cathedrals of the world. Science has since verified that mature forests provide essential water, air and beauty for all.
(JC Ridley photo)
Muir’s close friends, Charles Keeler and John Burroughs, paying their respects at Muir’s gravesite.
Photo: National Park Service

“On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than death… Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” –from A Thousand-Mile Walk To the Gulf, 1867

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and island, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” from John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

Muir called on the people of the Northwest to cherish and preserve the many (at that time) ancient stands of tree species native to Oregon and Washington. At a visit to Crater Lake, he marveled at the huge sugar pines, now since gone and replaced by scrub oak woodlands and mixed conifer. (Photo MR Geller, Pinterest)

Aside from his own granite headstone and iron fence surrounding his grave, Muir did receive a natural burial typical of his times, probably without embalming and certainly without herbicides or a burial vault. In a webpage on Muir’s funeral and burial, Harold Wood, Esq. wrote, “John Muir’s burial site is in a quiet, tree-shaded spot near the banks of Alhambra Creek, about one mile south of the Muir homestead and the National Historic Site, managed by the U.S. National Park Service…. John Muir, the champion of the wilderness, died on Christmas Eve 1914 in California Hospital, Los Angeles. Challenged by the heart-breaking loss of the Hetch Hetchy battle, and by what he called “the grippe” (influenza)… His body was shipped home to Alhambra Valley, where he was to be buried next to his beloved wife Louie. On December 26, the Sierra Club held a memorial service at Muir Lodge for their beloved leader, and over several days newspapers all around the nation carried his obituary and published tributes to him.”

“The funeral was attended by over 100 members of the Sierra Club…At the Muir House, the simple casket rested in a bay window just below the study where he wrote most of his books. It was covered with a drapery of ferns and violets…Some mourners brought branches of fir or pine to place beside the coffin. Among the floral tributes were a large laurel wreath with purple and gold ribbon, from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a wreath of red roses from the National Institute of Arts and Letters…. Moving to the gravesite a mile away, a brief ceremony was held… As the coffin was lowered into the ground, ‘A member of the Sierra Club placed on the coffin a bough of the Sequoia gigantea which the naturalist had planted with his own hand near what is now his grave.’ The San Francisco Chronicle, in uncharacteristic poetic fashion, reported that ‘As the beloved body was being lowered into the grave, quail on the side hills called out their farewells and overhead, in trees Muir himself planted forty years ago, God’s feathered creatures, that had come to know, and not to fear the man, sang his requiem.”

A modern photo of John Muir’s family cemetery under the trees he planted:.
Photo: Harold Wood

“Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal.” –John Muir

Much of the information and photos on this page were provided by webmaster Harold Wood from the John Muir Exhibit at the Sierra Club webpage.

Harold Wood (left) and Lee Stetson, who performs as John Muir every year in Yosemite National Park, make a pilgrimage to John Muir’s gravesite
Photo: Harold Wood