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Mike Wurtz is an assistant professor and head of University of the Pacific Libraries Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives.

Mike Wurtz is an assistant professor and head of University of the Pacific Libraries Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives.

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John Muir’s Stockton Legacy

By Mike WurtzApr 12, 2019

The most recognized quote of famed naturalist John Muir (1838-1914) is, "The mountains are calling and I must go and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly."

It's OK if the second half of the quote isn't familiar - it's frequently left off T-shirts and souvenir items. When we go to the mountains, we don't want to "work" or "study," right? But this is what the most influential conservationist of our time meant and did throughout his life, and we should take it as a call to action to be much more aware of - and concerned for - the environment around us.

Muir's work — which has already inspired generations of conservationists, environmentalists, policymakers and nature lovers — is more important today as the debate over climate change continues and as threats to public lands appear at every turn.

At University of the Pacific, we are fortunate to house, and now own, Muir's work. In 1970, the product of Muir's "work" and "study" — boxes and boxes of written materials and sketches — came to Pacific to be curated in the library's archives. Since then, the collection has grown to include 7,000 correspondence, 100 journals and notebooks, 400 drawings, thousands of photographs, hundreds of book manuscripts and articles, and a 1,000-volume personal library. Students, researchers and the public experience Muir and become immersed in his works by visiting the Stockton campus or viewing the digitized material. In the past year alone, Muir-related items have been viewed online more than 22,000 times. Through this direct personal access, students, researchers and the public can better understand Muir and perhaps have a better feel for the significance of the land and all that it provides us.

Muir's collection will help us understand Stockton and the Central Valley as they once were so that we can study the impact of our footprint and take action toward preservation and sustainability. When Muir first crossed the Central Valley in 1868 headed for Yosemite Valley, he called it the "floweriest piece of world I ever walked." He declared in his book "My First Summer in the Sierra" that our valley climate has only two seasons — spring and summer. "The spring begins with the first rainstorm, which usually falls in November. In a few months, the wonderful flowery vegetation is in full bloom, and by the end of May, it is dead and dry and crisp, as if every plant had been roasted in an oven." Muir was reflecting  on an era when the population in California was about 560,000. Now with more than 39 million people in the state — and issues of pollution, congestion and waste continuing to be growing concerns — it's unlikely that Muir would recognize the "floweriest piece of the world" today.

To instill the importance and value of preserving nature's best, Pacific integrates Muir into the student experience. From incorporating his masterful observational skills on geology field trips, to a class on the American Conservation Movement, to making his legacy part of our sustainability program, our students learn how vital it is to nuture and protect our environment. For the public, we are developing a Muir museum to better understand the works and the man.

Curating Muir's works at Pacific places Stockton in the middle of the Muir archipelago — Muir Woods in Marin County, the John Muir home in Martinez and, of course, Yosemite.

And 1-4:30 p.m., Saturday, April 13, from we will add another milestone in our history with Muir. We will celebrate John Muir descendants' gracious gift of ownership of his works to the university. Congressman Jerry McNerney, Sierra Club President Loren Blackford, representatives from the Muir family and the university, as well as "John Muir" himself  portrayed by Lee Stetson, will be part of the celebration, which is free to the public.

Come learn about the wonderful gift and discover how together, we can preserve nature for future generations to love and cherish as did Muir. If we do not, John Muir's words may be all we have left of nature.

Mike Wurtz is an assistant professor and head of University of the Pacific Libraries Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives.