John Burroughs was a popular author, naturalist and conservationist in the 19th and early 20th century. Burroughs would author some 27 books, many of them collections of articles and essays that appeared in the most popular magazines of the day. His first book (and his big break), Wake Robin in 1871, was an early collection of his published nature essays. In The Catskills: Selections from the Writings of John Burroughs collects eight essays about the author’s home region, including an essay called “The Heart of the Southern Catskills” that details his climb of Slide Mountain, the tallest mountain in the Catskills. Although Burroughs traveled and wrote widely he was always most associated with the Catskills region. His fame led to friendships with some of the country’s most influential citizens such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Walt Whitman, about whom he would write several biographies.
John Burroughs in rustic chair. Oct. 29. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2002695442/>.
Burroughs’ most popular writings became generally known as the nature essay. The nature essay relied on Burroughs’ astute observation of his natural surroundings. He took long walks in the woods, collected plant and animal specimens and read voraciously about nature. He would often write not about faraway places that few readers would ever see but about his immediate surroundings. Subjects would include flowers, trees, birds, country living, open fields, barns and barnyards and farm animals. He would write about long hiking trips and fly-fishing. Readers could individually relate to the subjects and his essays resonated with wide audiences.
Woodchuck Lodge, the old family home and Burroughs summertime home that is now also known as John Burroughs Memorial State Historic Site, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. Slabsides, a rustic cabin built in 1895 by his Riverby home, followed suit in 1968. Slide, Cornell and Wittenburg Mountains in the central Catskills are collectively referred to as the Burroughs Range in his honor. A memorial plaque commemorates Burroughs at the summit of Slide Mountain. While his fame has diminished over the past century since his death, his contribution to the literary arts and environmental conservation has ensured that his legacy will not be forgotten.
John Burroughs, head-and-shoulders portrait, wearing hat and coat, seated, facing front. Nov. 23. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2001697072/>.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the legendary John Burroughs:
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
“If I were to name the three most precious resources of life, I should say books, friends, and nature; and the greatest of these, at least the most constant and always at hand, is nature.”
“Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance. Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth.”
“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter. . . to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”
“A man’s life may stagnate as literally as water may stagnate, and just as motion and direction are the remedy for one, so purpose and activity are the remedy for the other.”
“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”
“We cannot walk through life on mountain peaks.”
“I have discovered the secret of happiness – it is work, either with the hands or the head. The moment I have something to do, the draughts are open and my chimney draws, and I am happy.”
“Blessed is the man who has some congenial work, some occupation in which he can put his heart, and which affords a complete outlet to all the forces there are in him.”
“To me – old age is always ten years older than I am.”