Cutting edge and groundbreaking—for this is often what we look for when searching for answers. But what if the answers lie in the simple or in the past?
The light at the end of the tunnel is something even more astonishing when it leads to Yosemite. As I glance upwards, the grandness of the park opens up before me. The towering granite stands tall, dwarfing the pine forest below. So many have driven this winding road before me. But long ago, this path was not a common one.
As the story goes, “in the spring of 1868, a young John Muir first visited California, arriving by sea in San Francisco. He stepped off the boat and soon inquired about the quickest way out of town. ‘Where do you want to go?’ he was asked, to which Muir replied, ‘Anywhere that is wild’” (Muir, Thomas 2018). And thus began his journey to Yosemite.
Upon discovering the beauty of the valley, Muir, a prolific writer, documented his observations in two Century articles, which would go on to influence the U.S. Congress about how to manage the land. Nevertheless, the land would remain under state control for years. For Muir, this wasn’t enough. He went on to co-found the Sierra Club and partnered with Frederick Law Olmstead, a landscape planner, and Robert Underwood, editor for Century Magazine, to encourage Congress to designate Yosemite as a national park. Muir spread the importance of preservation and in 1906, Roosevelt took back control of the valley and Mariposa Grove from the state, completing the national park as we know it today.
Preservation became Muir’s legacy— protecting the nation’s most iconic open spaces. This vision of Muir exploring the Sierras, his nature as one of a pristine refuge from urban life, dominates my idea of the famous environmentalist. Yet, much of his time was spent not within the haven of the valley, but the rolling hills and orchard land of Martinez, California. With a spare weekend and eager to visit the lesser known national historic sites, I set out to visit John Muir’s home and see a different side of the father of the national park service.
In 1878, Muir returned from his time in Yosemite to the Oakland area, where he settled down and managed a large fruit ranch with his family. The home stands as a glimpse of a moment in time, with the pine tree he once planted now towering over the home and the fruit trees continuing to grow. Upstairs, Muir’s scribble den is preserved as a memory of the countless writings shared that inspired a movement to protect the land. Notebooks piled high with nature writing lay nearby and light streams in over his desk and retired typewriter.
For Muir, nature in its purest form was a source of inspiration. Nowadays, nature is once again serving as an inspiration to solve the formidable challenge of mitigating climate change. Nature-based solutions, a common environmental buzz word, has transformed into a crucial mitigation strategy harnessing the simple and natural.
Nature-based solutions can take form in a few manners:
Preservation (Muir’s Strategy): Taking action to protect ecosystems that provide services, such as controlling run-off, reducing risks of extreme weather conditions, conserving biodiversity, etc. By maintaining environments such as mangroves along coastal areas or old-growth forests, benefits such as carbon sequestration and buffer protections zones are increased and maintained.
Conservation/Sustainable Intervention: This type of nature-based solution takes form in sustainable development or environmental planning. Such efforts could include innovative urban planning to increase co-benefits and multi-functionality. Strategies such as increasing genetic diversity to increase resilience amongst endangered species or managed urban greening programs contribute to existing natural processes.
Ecosystem Management: This category of nature-based solutions lends itself to transforming nature into a managed tool. This could be installing urban green roofs, tree planting to reduce urban heat island effects, cooling infrastructure, restoration of polluted areas, etc.
Recognizing that the nature we seek holds the solutions to the very environmental dilemmas we have created will remind us of what John Muir has already discovered—“..For going out, I found, was really going in.”