John Muir "Father of the National Parks"
On John Muir's 180th birthday, Cat Webster revisits his roots in the UK and how his passion developed for protecting and exploring wild places.
Spring should be a time for celebration as new life bursts forth and drives the grey skies of winter away. For #GetOutside Champion Nigel Vardy though, this Spring bought reflection on a man who inspired him in nature.
We ate outside, we played outside and we laughed outside.
As a child I spent many happy days with my father watching the buds burst, flowers rise and listening to the birds call, but this spring is different. This spring is grey again. On the first day of spring this year, I lost the man who gave me my love of the outdoors. An early morning call was like a tolling bell and within a few hours, he was gone.
My father grew up in a time where every village had a post office, a church and a pub. People knew their neighbours and the only way to get around was by bicycle, bus or on foot.
Few people had cars and the only school run was because you were late..!
The great outdoors wasn’t called great, because everyone was in it. Few folk shunned the sun as it was a source of warmth, and as I sat and listened to my father telling me his childhood stories, I felt that a part of old England had gone.
I felt quite jealous of the simpler times where children played football in the fields, walked to church and helped their families garden.
My father was an avid gardener, as am I, and we always looked forward to the spring when so many plants either came alive or needed to be planted. We’d already planned this year’s vegetable plot and had seed prepared when my father died. The garden will live on as I’ve taken it over to not only help my mother, but honour my father.
As children my sister and I would spend hours either helping or hiding in the family garden. Spring was a time to plant vegetables, carry canes and clear out weeds. Tulip, Azealia and Daffodils filled the borders, Dahlia corms were boxed, potatoes were planted, lettuce and cress poked their tiny green shoots through the tilled soils and we were happy. We ate outside, we played outside and we laughed outside.
One thing my father was never shy of was work. Until his early 80’s he was still building dry stone walls, mowing the hillside lawn at home and tinkering on some project. He was always on the go (as is my mother). Many think that he did too much, but he never knew boredom.
He had a childlike glint in his eyes, which never left him, whether he was working in the rain, wind and sun. Spring was a busy time as we cleared the winters ravages away at home, but also walked in the peaks of Derbyshire, enveloping ourselves in dales strewn with cowslips and orchids. Flowers were special to my father, particularly bluebells. As a child, he played in woodland filled with them.
As I grew, he showed me the same woods, which I then spent my childhood exploring. There is nothing to rival the damp mist of a bluebell wood when the air is still and the fragrance heavy. To this day, I still visit those same woods and sit, silent, surrounded by a sea of blue. A single afternoon fills my heart and soul with such joyful memories and allows my body to release the ills of this modern world. I find no need to retreat to a spa, drink alcohol or throw money at counsellors.
Springs scent absorbs stress.
Modern society is crazed by convenience. If there isn’t an app, then people seem lost.
My father never needed an app to be outdoors. All he needed was that glint in his eye and off he went, over the fields and fences, always finding something new. He brought the outdoors into his family’s life, when kit was knee length socks, leather boots and woolly jumpers. He didn’t need miles of clothing, plastic and technology, only a map and compass, a box of sandwiches and a flask of tea.
I was lucky to have such a father in my life. A father who I looked up to all my life, a father who inspired me and a father who taught me to appreciate nature.
This year will be different and life will never be the same again, but nature moves onward and I look at the new life and growth of spring and remember my Father. He cannot come back, but I shall never forget the wonderful springtime’s we shared together as Father and Son.
On the fateful day, he left us as peacefully as the sunrise, with memories as vivid as bluebell woods and a touch as soft as fresh spring grass. He now rests, surrounded by spring flowers, close to the fields he roamed as a boy.
I miss him…