Dan Chapman, veteran journalist, conservationist, and writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Charlotte Observer, Winston-Salem Journal, Congressional Quarterly, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has authored a fascinating new book. A Road Running Southward: Following John Muir’s Journey through an Endangered Land (Island Press, 2022) blends biography with an accounting of Muir’s observations in his 1867 post-war, thousand-mile transect of the American South. Chapman’s book spells out Muir’s personal awakening to threats to the natural environment, and offers a critical assessment of today’s perils to environmental resources in the southern U.S.
As some may recall, I authored my own account of “John Muir’s Southern Trek, 150 Years Later” in the sesquicentennial year of Muir’s southern adventure. My perspective differs from that presented by Chapman. Because my professional career has been in land and environmental conservation, the focus of my account was to identify the many places along Muir’s route where natural areas and native biota have been protected through the efforts of conservationists, and where one today can observe and imagine the natural scenes and biodiversity that Muir would have seen in his trek across the American South. Like Chapman, my vehicle for following Muir’s route was also my trustworthy old Subaru. <continued...>
A Road Running Southward is a fascinating and troubling account of Muir’s journey and observations, but more important, it concentrates on the many devastating threats to ecological assets and environmental health in the present-day South. Chapter titles indicate Chapman’s theme: A New South Reckoning: sprawling environmental problems; The South’s Incredible Biodiversity Is Threatened and Endangered; A Celebration of Muir Turns Toxic; “The Mountains Are Calling”—and They’re Not Happy; More Rain, More Heat and More Trouble; Water Wars; The Deeper the River, the Greater the Pain; Coastal Playground Disappearing; Where Hogs Rule and Turtles Tremble; Take My Water, Please; and The End of the Road.
Like Muir, Chapman concludes his journey at Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida.:
“So it was only fitting that Muir’s journey, and mine, ended in the Big Bend. Just about every environmental ill discovered along the Scotsman’s thousand-mile trek is found within a short ride of Cedar Key. Sprawl. Sea-level rise. Air and water pollution. Natural-resource destruction. Water wars. Ever-weirder weather. Threatened and endangered species. Invasive Species. . . . And, as Muir knew long ago, every upstream action carries downstream consequences. ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe,’ he [Muir] wrote.”
I recommend this book as yet another opportunity to ask ourselves, “What can we do?”
--Chuck Roe, President, Southern Conservation Partners
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Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land.
There is in fact no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people. When one is abused, the other suffers.
From the President
SCP President Chuck Roe looked at land conservation along the route of John Muir's "Southern Trek."
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