By Joan Ellis
April 25 event to benefit Monmouth Conservation Foundation
John Muir – In the New World will be shown at the Atlantic Cinema as a benefit for the Monmouth Conservation Foundation.
Producer/director Catherine Tatge and her husband producer Dominique Lasseur have made a remarkable documentary portrait of the naturalist John Muir and the wilderness he worked so hard to protect. Tatge and Lasseur have been prolific and successful in bringing a wide range of provocative subjects to television audiences – sharp rays of intellect in an often barren desert. What lifts this biography beyond the ordinary is the clear determination of the filmmakers to explore Muir’s personal evolution. Gifted at whatever he chose to do, he returned finally to the wilderness that was his passion and became the father of the environmental movement.
Son of Scottish immigrants in Wisconsin, Muir was a tinkerer and inventor. His finely crafted wooden inventions so impressed Professor Ezra Carr and his wife Jeanne that they became mentors for the rest of his life. Turning his engineering mind to machines, Muir worked happily in a factory until an accident destroyed his right eye. Deciding then to explore the continent, he sketched, wrote and walked his way to the Gulf of Mexico while studying the stunning variety of all forms of life he found. He finally found his life’s work in the Yosemite Valley of California.
Along the way, Muir came to believe deeply that the details of the natural world were the work of God. “The Lord has written in capitals,” he said, “Who will protect it from profit?” In Muir’s love of botany and geology, God and the scientific began to blend. In a 34-year detour, he “came in” from the wilderness, married and ran his wife’s family farm. Worn down by management detail, he returned to writing. Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of The Century, urged him to write about the towering need for preserving the West just as men were clear-cutting its forests. The government didn’t know what to do with the vast Western land and was selling it for 50 cents an acre. Editor Johnson and President Theodore Roosevelt urged Muir to educate both the nation and its government. He did just that by writing The Treasure of the Yosemite and by lobbying Congress. He tried to circle the frontier with legal protection against “arrogant Lord Man.”
In the 1890s, as founder and president of the Sierra Club, Muir said, “Civilized man chokes his soul.” Roosevelt answered Muir’s call for government help until 232 million acres had become forever protected. “I have done what I set out to do,” Muir said before he died in 1914. The right man at the right time had, after all, been a man who climbed trees to feel the sway of the wind.
The public is invited to the showing of this documentary at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at the Atlantic Cinema, 82 First Ave., Atlantic Highlands. Tickets are $45 each; proceeds go to the Monmouth Conservation Foundation.
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