Walk This Way (the John Muir Way, That Is)

Walk This Way (the John Muir Way, That Is)

Left: Lee Stetson portrays John Muir at the Yosemite Theater (Photo courtesy of Lee Stetson). Right: John Muir with his walking stick in Yosemite (Photo: Courtesy of NPS).

"Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue."

— John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)

April 21, 1838, might have seemed like an ordinary Saturday in Dunbar, on Scotland's southeast coast. But it marked the first day in the life of an extraordinary man, whose name today is intertwined with the legacy of land preservation in the U.S. and around the world: John Muir.

Exactly 145 years later, actor and historian Lee Stetson stepped onto the Yosemite Theater stage for the opening night of Conversation with a Tramp: An Evening with John Muir — the debut show in the Conservancy's theater program, which just kicked off its 33rd season in the park. 

And next week, Stetson, a Yosemite Centennial Ambassador, will be heading to Scotland to walk the John Muir Way, a coast-to-coast route connecting Helensburgh and Dunbar. The 134-mile hiking and biking trail was completed in 2014, the 100th anniversary of Muir’s death.


"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."

— John Muir, from John in the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (1938)

John Muir in Yosemite, near Royal Arches. Photo: © Courtesy of NPS.


Over the years, Stetson has created (and starred in) several shows celebrating Muir, and has brought history to life for hundreds of thousands of spectators in Yosemite and around the world — including through his roles (as Muir, of course) in the acclaimed PBS series The National Parks: America's Best Ideaand in the 2016 National Parks AdventureIMAX film. With his walking stick and long white beard, it's easy to mistake Stetson for a time-traveling Muir, the conservationist, adventurer and naturalist whose passion and prose helped propel the movement to preserve wild lands.

 

Here in the U.S., Muir is famed as the "father" of the national park idea. He first visited Yosemite in 1868, just four years after President Lincoln had set aside the Valley and Mariposa Grove as protected lands through the Yosemite Grant Act. In subsequent years, Muir's writings about his beloved Sierra Nevada helped spur the 1890 creation of Yosemite National Park; he also played a key role in the establishment of Sequoia (1890) and Grand Canyon (1919) national parks.

"This one noble park is big enough and rich enough for a whole life of study and aesthetic enjoyment. It is good for everybody, no matter how benumbed with care, encrusted with a mail of business habits like a tree with bark. None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree."

— John Muir on Yosemite, from John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (1938)

Across the Atlantic (and more than a century after Muir's instrumental efforts in the American West), the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) took on the task of creating a new pedestrian and cycling route through the Scottish heartland, in honor of the legendary man who had emigrated from the country with his family at age 11. According to the CSGN, the "Way" helps boost awareness of Muir, and his legacy, in his homeland, and recognizes that “his inspirational work is even more relevant today than it ever was during his lifetime.”

Stetson will start his  journey on the John Muir Way on April 26. He'll spend two-and-a-half weeks on a leisurely walk to Dunbar, sharing Muir's stories from his early years in Scotland, his life on a Wisconsin farm, and his escapades and environmental activities in the Sierra, Alaska and beyond. To learn more, check out Stetson's website: johnmuirlive.com.

Lee Stetson embodies John Muir on the Yosemite Theater stage. Photo: © Keith Walklet.

When he returns to Yosemite in late May, Stetson will be back on stage in the Valley, breathing life into the past through two performances: Conversations with a Tramp, about Muir's efforts to preserve Hetch Hetchy Valley; and The Spirit of John Muir, a romp through Muir's wanderings in the western wilderness. Seasoned with Muir's famously poetic musings and anecdotes from grand adventures, both shows will transport you back to a transformative time in Yosemite's — and our nation's — history. The John Muir Series joins two other shows (one featuring Galen Clark, the other about Buffalo Soldiersto celebrate the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service by sharing stories of those who shaped Yosemite’s earliest years as a protected place.

We look forward to seeing you at the Yosemite Theater this season! And in the meantime, as Lee sets off on his journey through central Scotland, we hope you'll take your own Muir-inspired walks through woods, mountains and meadows.

"Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. 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." — John Muir, Our National Parks (1901)

 

Yosemite Insider

Lee Stetson as John Muir at the Yosemite Valley Theater

Lee Stetson as John Muir

Lee Stetson’s career includes writing many one-person shows based on the life of naturalist John Muir. He has portrayed Muir in productions in Yosemite National Park since 1983. Stetson is passionate about promoting the performing arts in the national parks, and he is the voice of John Muir in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Stetson has performed on stage and television, and he has been a freelance director. Lee Stetson has been performing in Yosemite Valley since 1983, and now celebrates his 35th season in the role of John Muir.