Pacific Hosts John Muir Symposium

Pacific students walk through Yosemite on Day One of the John Muir Symposium.
PC: Shaqouya Jones

The year 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of John Muir’s arrival to California, and University of the Pacific celebrated the event with a symposium, The Practical John Muir, that highlighted the legacy of Muir as a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and much more.

The celebration included a day-trip to Yosemite Valley on March 23rd, along with presentations the following Saturday in Grace Covell Hall. The John Muir weekend was made possible because of Dr. Bill Swagerty, the history department Co-Chair and Co-Director of the John Muir Center, and Mike Wurtz, head of the Holt-Atherton Special Collections.

The day trip to Yosemite followed John Muir’s approximate route to the valley, and was enriched by Muir reenactor Frank Helling. Helling joined the group on the trip, reenacting stories told by Muir about his life and journey.

“It is definitely an accurate depiction, because Muir loved to tell stories,” Wurtz said on the trip.

The following day, the celebration convened with a number of presentations, papers, and discussions given by John Muir enthusiasts and even some of his own family members.

Among the presenters included Robert Hanna, Muir’s great-great-grandson. Hanna presented “The Many Sides of John Muir” which delved into a very intimate and personal look into the life of John Muir that can only be explained by his family members.

“As a kid, I would shock all my elementary school teachers when I said I was John Muir’s great-great-grandson,” Hanna said during his presentation.

A convincing “John Muir” (Frank Helling) interacts with students in Yosemite. PC: Jaslyn Gilbert

The day also includes presentations by Matt Blessing, who is a Wisconsin Historical Society State Archivist, where he highlighted some of the inventions that Muir presented at the 1860 Wisconsin State Fair.

Students from Dr. Swagerty’s “John Muir’s World: The Origins of the Conservation” Movement also attended both days of the event, where they had a poster presentation of their research that included: Fruit, Nuts, and Vegetables produced on the Strentzel-Muir Ranch; Inventions of John Muir; John Muir Place Names; Public Lands Set Aside through the Influence of John Muir.  
“It was easy to listen and be engaged to what the speakers had to say due to their excited, passionate, and factual knowledge on the Father of National Parks,” said Jonathan Teixeira History ‘20. “It was really cool to not only listen to researchers from all over, but his own descendants.”

Additionally, University of Trieste student Sara Segantin travelled to California to give her presentation titled “THE RANGE OF LIFE from Words to Steps: Sauntering with Muir through Creeks & Crags from Yosemite to the Dolomites.” Another reenactor, Lee Stenson, presented “John Muir Live,” during lunch, where he enthused the audience with his many stories.

The symposium also included food that was John Muir-esque themed. This included Scottish dundee scones being served in the morning, and a ranch-themed lunch which included enchiladas, cactus salad, beans, and rice.

The Practical John Muir succeeded in highlighting the legacy of Muir, and his place here at Pacific.

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Natalia Gevara

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