Yukon politicians require a visit from John Muir’s ghost

There are a lot of books floating around that boast fondly of what the Scots have done for humanity. With titles like How the Scots Invented the…

There are a lot of books floating around that boast fondly of what the Scots have done for humanity.

With titles like How the Scots Invented the Modern World and The Mark of the Scots: Their Astonishing Contributions to History, Science, Democracy, Literature and the Arts one would think that without Scotland humanity would still be evolving from some primordial soup.

Now the impact the offspring of Scotland has had on the Yukon would no doubt fill many pages of this fine newspaper.

This includes the early European explorers and fur traders, good Scots most of the them.

It is also worth noting that this column is being transmitted from Edinburgh to Whitehorse partly over telephone wires which were invented, of course, by a Scotsman.

No matter where one stands on which nation has done what for the human race it is instructive to look at one of the offspring of Scotland and his environmental legacy.

For this a wee road trip is required.

There is a small community on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, about an hour’s drive east of Edinburgh, called Dunbar.

It is a small regional centre, economically dependent on tourism, agricultural and fishing.

One of the reasons tourists, especially North American tourists, go to Dunbar is to visit 126 High Street.

This house, or possibly the one next door, no-one is quite sure, is the birthplace of John Muir.

It has been transformed into a fascinating museum celebrating both the time into which he was born and the works that he accomplished.

Born in 1838 and living until the ripe old age of 76, Muir is regarded as the creator of modern-day conservation.

The odd thing is that he is virtually unknown in Scotland while being worshipped by those of an environmental bent in North America.

Perhaps it was because, while Scottish by birth, he, like many Scots, emigrated at an early age.

He spent his youth rambling around the wilds of the Dunbar region, but his family emigrated to Wisconsin when he was 11.

In North America he truly blossomed into a friend of the wild places.

Not only was he founder of the Sierra Club, but he went camping with politicians.

He did this to make them appreciate wilderness.

One person he went camping with was President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903.

Teddy Roosevelt was instrumental in creating many of the United States national parks and monuments.

No doubt his three days of camping alone with Muir greatly influenced his later actions.

As an aside, one of the many places throughout the world that Muir visited included Alaska.

Regretfully, he did not visit the Yukon.

It is a pity that Muir in no longer with us.

One could only imagine the impact a camping trip with him and, say, a current Yukon premier would have.

It is sometimes not easy to articulate why certain portions of the territory should be preserved in their current ecological state.

The best way to appreciate their beauty is to spend some time within them.

As Muir said: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.“

Perhaps, then, it would be realized that these areas should be spared the attention of the industrial developers, be they miners or oil companies or loggers.

So here is hoping a small volume of some of John Muir’s essays make it onto the desks of each and every Yukon territorial politician.

It might inspire them to go onto the land and truly appreciate it.

After all, as Muir pointed out: “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”

Now there are many other reasons to visit Dunbar apart from the John Muir museum.

The ruins of the castle are interesting and the high street has some fascinating old buildings.

But a good reason to visit Dunbar is to sample some of the regional cuisine.

The deep-fried pineapple is unusual, especially when drowned in a sugar syrup.

And people wonder why so many Scots emigrate.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist. He is but one of many Scottish emigrants.

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