“I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” ~Theodore Roosevelt’s letter to John Muir, March 14, 1903.
Back in the days (1903) when a president could actually go off on a camping trip alone with a famous author and naturalist, President Teddy Roosevelt (Teedie) asked naturalist John Muir (Johnnie) to take him on a camping trip, and the rest was history. After Teedie’s and Johnnie’s journey through Yosemite, President Roosevelt became more than an outdoorsman; he “turned . . . into one of nature’s fiercest protectors. Roosevelt pushed Congress to pass laws saving the wilderness. He failed at first, but that didn’t stop him. He created national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and national forests.”
“Teedie” Roosevelt is my favorite president, and this story of his encounter with Johnnie Muir and the wilderness of Yosemite is a colorful and fascinating introduction to Roosevelt’s ideas and his personality. (“Bully!” said Teedie, stretching. “What a glorious day!”) It also introduces children to the concept of nature conservation and even the political concept of changing the president’s mind and direction by a little well-placed lobbying for a good cause. (Maybe someone needs to take our current president on a camping trip?)
There’s a touch of generalized “spirituality” in the imagined dialog between Teedie and Johnnie: “Everywhere nature sang her melody. Can you hear it?” And, of course, Muir adheres to the tenets of “old earth” geology: “a massive river of slow-moving ice carved the rock beneath them millions of years before.” Teedie is said to depend on “John Muir’s spirit as his guide” as the president goes about his work in preserving American parks and wildlife. However, these are minor and personal quibbles, things I would have worded differently, that don’t spoil the overall beauty and message of the book at all.
If you or your child is a fan of TR or John Muir or just a nature lover or even a wannabe naturalist, this book serves up a great slice of American history. The imagined dialog is taken from Muir’s books and from newspaper accounts of the famous camping trip.