Born on the blustery shores of the North Sea in Dunbar, Scotland, John Muir would be 175 years old today. One day in 1849 his father came home one day and announced they were emigrating to the United States….tomorrow — and so America’s beloved naturalist, founder of the Sierra Club and the movement to preserve wilderness started his long journey to California. By all accounts, the young Muir was excited to be off on his first adventure.
Late last year I visited his birthplace located in Dunbar about a half hour east of Edinburgh by train. It was the type of day that Muir later remembered, with sheets of wind blow rain being driven off the north sea. The gulls sheltering from the wind-driven waves in the medieval harbor where he’d played as a boy. His childhood home has been turned into a great museum that describes his many journeys and seeks to instill Muir’s ethic in the visitors. His actual birthplace is in the non-descript stone house and shop next door — his father was a successful merchant. Both are a short walk from the ocean.
On the day I visited the boiler was broken and the museum closed due to the inclement weather and lack of heat. Fortunately a notice on the door said would-be visitors could inquire at the town museum to be let in. Having come thousands of miles from California I did just that and had the place to myself. It’s well worth a visit. Check out www.jmbt.org.uk.
But better still to walk along the walls of the harbor and feel the bracing wind and sea spray that Muir would recall many years and thousands of miles later. His love for wild places began there in Dunbar and having visited on a wild day, I got a glimpse of what transfixed him. Like Muir, I will remember my visit and the power of the north sea for a long time.