Guardians of the Valley

Guardians of the Valley

I once had an English teacher who claimed that the finest English prose written in America was by Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, which describes Thoreau’s two years in a cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. 

Thoreau’s writing is superb, but personally I prefer the words of John Muir, the poet of Yosemite and the great American outdoors.   

“The hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord Himself.”

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

I was so impressed with Muir that my composer friend Anthony Plog and I wrote an oratorio about him, called God’s First Temples. It traces the trajectory of the nation’s first great environmental struggle, the battle for Hetch Hetchy Valley, a near-twin to Yosemite Valley.   

The battle pitted Muir’s forces against the city of San Francisco, which sought to dam the valley and use it as a source of drinking water. The libretto consists of words by John Muir; Gifford Pinchot, head of the U.S. Forest Service; and President Theodore Roosevelt.

Imagine my delight when I learned of a terrific new book, Guardians of the Valley: John Muir and the Friendship That Saved Yosemite, by Dean King. Using generous quotations from Muir and others, King tells the little-known story of Muir’s devoted friendship with Robert Underwood Johnson, his editor, motivator, and partner in conservation.  

In particular, King goes into deep and fascinating detail about the battle for Hetch Hetchy and the birth of the modern environmental movement. I urge you to read this fine new book.


Capsule Reviews