Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dunbar, Scotland

Friends: After a day of exploring and museuming in Edinburgh, trying to avoid the hail and rain, I had the option of heading south seven miles to Roslin, where the world's first cloned sheep, Dolly, was created in 1999, as well as home to the Rosslyn Chapel, reputed repository of the Holy Grail and site of "The Da Vinci Code" climax, or heading east 25 miles to Dunbar, birthplace of John Muir.

Even though I needed to be heading south to London, there was no debate about which direction I would take. Muir has long been a hero and inspiration. He was a life-long wanderer/explorer and lover of nature and the wilderness, and, above all, god-father of the conservation movement. His stature has only grown over the years since his death in 1914. California elected to put his image on the recently issued quarter representing the state. He has graced a couple of stamps. At the millennium he was named one of history's most influential people. There are countless parks and trails named in his honor, including a Muir Way along the coast here in Dunbar, where he lived from 1838-1849 until his family moved to Wisconsin.

Muir has been acknowledged in several of the museums I have visited here. Quotes from his prolific writings dot Scotland's National Parks. A quote of his is also chiseled into the side of the new Parliament building in Edinburgh. His family's three-story home in Dunbar abounded with them, some even on the window panes. It would be impossible to select a favorite--"Do something for wilderness and make mountains glad...I live only to entice people to look at nature's loveliness...How lavish is nature, ever changing, ever beautiful...Go quietly alone; no harm will befall you."

He was a reluctant writer, bemoaning, "I find the literary business quite irksome." He would have much preferred to be out in nature, but forced himself to write out of his devotion to save the wilderness. He was a luminary in his time, giving speeches, and sought out by his era's titans including Emerson and President Teddy Roosevelt. He and Roosevelt spent four days alone together in Yosemite shortly after Roosevelt assumed the White House. Shortly thereafter Roosevelt launched legislation creating a host of National Parks. Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892 and was its first President. He didn't devote himself to the out-of-doors until he was in his 30s after he suffered an accident that left him temporarily blind. He vowed after that to give up his life to nature and set out on a thousand mile walk from Kentucky to Florida. He planned to continue to South America but contracted malaria. A year later in 1868 he found himself in California and fell in love with Yosemite, making it the center of his attention, eventually establishing it as a National Park.

A class of 12-year olds joined me at his museum. Their assignment was to find their favorite fact about his life. They each clutched a writing pad. One girl said she was up to 14 facts. The museum is only four years old. It was established after a group of American mountaineers made a pilgrimage here and paid for a plaque, at least, to be put on the place of his birth. The museum lauds Muir as a "Conservation pioneer, Scottish hero."

The nine-tiered Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh also paid tribute to Scottish heroes. One floor was Scotland's sports hall of fame. Robert Miller is the only cyclist enshrined so far, tho the bicycle that Graeme O'Bree, recent subject of the movie "The Flying Scotsman," set a world record on was there. Bobby Thomson of baseball fame was one of the original 50 inductees. In the section of Scottish Innovators Alexander Graham Bell was featured. So was John Logie Baird, inventor of the television in 1925. Adam Smith was mentioned and the three great Scot writers--Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Edinburgh's main thoroughfare had a towering monument honoring Scott that one could pay six dollars to climb, who was born in Edinburgh. It was erected in 1846, several years after the 70' high similar monument to Burns in his home town, greatly upstaging it.

Despite its all too many brick and cobbled streets that were hell to bike on, especially descending in the hail, Edinburgh was a most captivating and vibrant city with loads of character. Its too bad its renowned film festival is in late August, overlapping Telluride's. Now its on to Hadrian's Wall, just south of the English/Scottish border.

Later, George

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