Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A reflection upon visiting Muir Woods

Outside the entrance to Muir Woods National Monument, just north of San Francisco near the California coast, John Muir is quoted: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.”

The same quote is repeated on a sign at the beginning of a section of the park known as Cathedral Grove. The rest of the sign reads as follows:

Cathedral Grove was set aside as a quiet refuge to protect its natural soundscape in an increasingly noisy world.

The soundscape is vital to animals for hunting and foraging, courtship and mating, nurturing young, and avoiding predators.

By walking quietly, we experience the natural sounds of a living, ancient forest. We hope you enjoy the beauty of Muir Woods through both sight and sound.

At both ends of the grove signposts announce your arrival in this specially set aside section of the park and add: “Enter quietly.”

I did enjoy the beauty of the woods, but I had to wonder: if the soundscape is vital to animals for all those good reasons, why limit the request for silence to this one grove? And why single out this particular grove with the name "Cathedral Grove," as if only part of the forest is sacred?

I noticed that people did tend to hush as they passed by the signs. At least for a while. On this glorious first warm day of spring—and a Sunday to boot, I shared the redwoods with what seemed to be thousands of other people. A sign, no doubt, of the value we place on these natural wonders. But I didn’t hear too many animals while I was there. I also had to wonder what Muir would have said were he present to witness what has been done in his name.

Here’s another quote from Muir that I did not read anywhere in Muir Woods National Monument:

“Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed—chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones. ... It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods—trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries ... God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools—only Uncle Sam can do that.”

I wonder.

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