“I had long been looking from the wild woods and gardens of the Northern States to those of the warm South, and at last, all drawbacks overcome, I set forth from Indianapolis…joyful and free, on a thousand-mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico.” — John Muir
I’m breaking my ten-month streak of not leaving Indiana by going back to Florida for a four-day photo trip. I miss butterflies and the shorebirds, and the life and color that a Midwestern winter lacks. I’m flying, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how John Muir made the trip.
In 1867, Muir traveled from Indianapolis to Florida, mostly on foot. I’ve long associated Muir with all things Sierra Nevada-related, but it was a surprise to me that he had spent time in my hometown. Not only that, but one of the most influential events of his life occurred here.
Muir was born in Scotland and emigrated to Wisconsin as a preteen with his family. After wandering around Canada during the Civil War collecting plants and hoping to avoid the draft, he landed in Indianapolis and found work at a factory. In the spring of 1867, one of the tools he was using slipped and lacerated his cornea. He spent six weeks blind, contemplating, thinking, stewing. Upon regaining his sight, he wrote, “I bade adieu to all my mechanical inventions, determined to devote the rest of my life to the study of the inventions of God.”
That fall, he walked to Florida. When I first unearthed this fascinating tidbit about two of my home places, I wondered what the botanist Muir made of wild Florida, of the alligators and birds and plants as they were when he traveled there. So I downloaded A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf on the iPad to find out. I’ll finish it on my thousand mile flight to the Gulf.
I’d rather walk.