Assuming Marquette County, Wisconsin was flat as a good registered Holstein cow’s back, and I was in a walking mood I’d be standing on the boyhood farm property of John Muir in approximately an hour. Long legs and an easy stride could accomplish this.
The small hard-scrabble Wisconsin farm gave the world the beginnings of John Muir that would later attain international celebrity. His, whose mind and soul was already shaped by his environment on that now extinct farm straight across the bog.
There is nothing between our properties, in fact, but a straight line I’ve drawn on a Wisconsin State Atlas. No farms, no homes, no subdivisions. On Muir’s end, the farmhouse has been gone for seventy years or so, burned by vandals. The home lot is private property and not open to visitors. It does, however, abut the public John Muir Memorial County Park.
There is a prairie reconstruction, sometimes good, sometimes for the worse, in the County Park dedicated by the Sierra Club to its founding father, John Muir. Muir is most famous for California, and a great chunk of its adjacent northern and southern continental walks. However, once you’ve read his boyhood writings of Wisconsin you’ll discover that here he planted and grew his roots, gained study habits, love of environment, and the beginnings of his education.
There is a prairie reconstruction, sometimes good, sometimes not as good depending on the year, on the property which I use for much of my photographic and spiritual models.
Could I fly like the Bald Eagles which use my house roof for homing to the bog for a long, spiral cut on morning’s warming currents, I’d still be a straight line of five or so miles from Muir’s old home farm site. Cut the spiral ride, lose the thrill, and I’d be there in under fifteen minutes.
Walking a bog is an obstacle course only to be completed by the long of limb and very small of feet. Wild turkeys run along the edges. Deer prefer to follow the watercourses. Humans of fair mind and sound limb tend to turn back after twenty feet of sinking to their knees in remnant ice age peat only to stumble over the rounded mounds of big, healthy sedge grasses stretching forever into the distance.
Aldo Leopold lived and wrote from his Sand County Shack 35 miles from here. His conservation and empathy for the animals he once abhorred, and those he watched disappear, remind me that even a once dedicated animal hunter will reverse his thinking if he but watch. To those who may think Wisconsin is the backwater of civilization, and a Wisconsin photographer has nothing to contribute, let this remind them that there would be no conservation movement, no National Park system, no Earth Day, and no international group returning and saving nearly extinct bird to the wilds.
Wisconsin’s environmental riches, spurred by John Muir and Aldo Leopold, the late Senator Gaylord Nelson, the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, and others, presented generations with the reasons to rethink, challenge, change, and to record wild and endangered portions of the world the public has come to know through photography.
I’ve been mentored by the written and recorded oral histories of Wisconsin’s fathers’ of conservation. I’m dedicated to preserving wilderness, public, national, and endangered portions of Wisconsin for the world to experience through photography.