keeping my eye on the prize (and other thoughts on living)

Muir's response as a child to the common bird, robin redbreast

Last week, I finished reading My Boyhood and Youth by John Muir.

As many of you know, I grew up in northern California, near Muir Woods and Muir Beach.   These were places I visited often (weekly).  As an adult, the first place I associate with John Muir is Yosemite National Park (another place I used to visit, at least on an annual basis).

As a current midwesterner residing in Minnesota, it was comforting to read of Muir's experiences growing up in Wisconsin.  I am so easily seduced by the grandiose spaces of mountains and ocean, missing these vast, majestic spaces so much at times.  It was refreshing to read of Muir's attachment and wonder with the midwest.  His interest in nature and all things living began at a very early age (he shares memories as early as 2 years) and his investigation and observation of all things small - birds, especially.  

There were other themes throughout this childhood memoir that kept my keen attention: Muir's outlook and perspective on life.

Muir was put to work on his father's farm at a very early age.  He recalls having two days off a year (one of them being the 4th of July).  Relishing these "holidays", he chose to spend them exploring his surroundings.  He approached them with sheer delight, taking advantage of every moment.

Muir never attended school after the age of eight but devoted the 5 or 10 minutes he was given (of lamp light) every night to books.  His father, believing that the Bible was the only book worth reading, eventually forbid him to read in the evenings but told him that if he could rise before his morning chores, that this time could be dedicated to books.  Muir began rising at 1 am, amazed daily in this miracle, and spent 3 to 4 hours on his own vision.  He continued waking at this hour for years.

There is a clear and constant theme of gratitude and appreciation in this book.  Muir neither expresses nor hints at any resentment or regret.  He chooses to only focus on what delights and encourages him: his love for reading and his abilities to observe and explore nature.  Muir demonstrates his perseverance by rising at 1 am daily.  Later in life, at 18 years, he leaves his family with all but a little pocket change to see what the wider world had to offer.  And from this point...well, most of you know that story...

John Muir is another example of an individual who chose where to put his focus at a very early age.  He kept his eye on the prize and did not waver or spend time in doubt or discouragement.  Muir focussed on those two days of freedom he was given every year.  From those two days, a life time of daily exploration was born.

Thanks to reading this book, I am reminded to ask myself these questions today: Where will I chose to focus my attention?  How will I spend those precious minutes of free time? Am I keeping my eye on the prize?

To read more about John Muir visit this post.

To read of another who lived life in a similar manner, see my post on Booker T.

To read about the peace and beauty I have found while living in the midwest, read this post.

Have a great weekend, EVERY one!


  1. talk about synchronicity--I just started reading a biography on John Muir! I remember visiting Muir Woods when I was a teenager, but I never put much thought behind the name. While watching a documentary on the National Parks, I had my first intro into who John Muir was, and was totally captivated. I've since read his book Travels in Alaska, got a documentary about him from the library, plus the biography. It's so cool to know he's such an inspiration to you; he certainly is to me now too!


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