They are Jackson Hole’s first family of environmental protection, this valley’s version of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Margory Stoneman Douglas, and St. Francis rolled into one clan.
Newcomers soon discover the progeny of the Muries, both the amazing children and grandchildren connected to them directly by bloodline and the eminently larger number of ideological descendants.
You find them fanned out across every category of business enterprise, scattered to every state, and certainly flowing through the mission statements of hundreds of local grassroots conservation organizations.
It’s an extraordinary feat thinking about the legion of individuals who acknowledge how the work of Olaus, Mardy and Adolph Murie, and Louise Murie MacLeod, impacted their lives, and affected the way they orient themselves toward the natural world.
A modicum of evidence can be found flipping through the latest Murie Center newsletter. If you have not yet seen a copy, I suggest you get one by calling the Murie Center at 307-739-2246.
Steve Duerr, the center’s executive director, and his staff have assembled a sweet, diverse lineup of stories that demonstrates how the Murie values continue to trickle down.
You’ll read about their impact on Pete Simpson and his brother, former U.S. senator Al Simpson, who actually lived for a year during the 1940s at the site of the Murie Center in Grand Teton National Park, now a National Historic Landmark.
You’ll learn how Olaus’ gentle interaction with a local ranch kid, John Turner, helped encourage Mr. Turner to leave his mark on conservation nationally as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And you’ll find a joyous picture of remarkable ladies carrying on the inspiration of Mrs. Murie under the umbrella of “Mardy’s Women.”
For Olaus, Mardy, Adolph and Louise, it was never about pretending to be big shots. They achieved their status by standing behind their convictions and suffering for them, grinding out a steadfast argument for the value of environmental protection when it was most unpopular. Their richness wasn’t measured in dollars but in satisfaction gleaned for their conscience by engaging the good fight and standing for something nonmaterial.
That’s why Mr. Duerr and his impressive predecessor at the Murie Center, Brooke Williams, believe so ardently in the “je ne sais quoi” concept that Olaus Murie coined about Jackson Hole, referring to its “spirit of place.”
Interestingly, Olaus made the observation in 1943, during arguably one of conservation’s darkest hours in Jackson Hole, when townsfolk in this community engaged in bitter name-calling. They accused the Muries and their circle of friends of being extremists, socialists, communists, and insisting their beliefs would destroy the valley.
Time vindicated conservation here, but it’s important to never forget the level of mean-spiritedness that erupted. It’s important to remember that history circles back upon itself.
As certain characters in the West persist in slinging the same baseless charges about modern conservationists, it’s important to ask: What’s really behind the posturing?
The Murie Center and its Jackson Hole cousin, Teton Science Schools, are anchors for an ethic that humans attain when they open themselves to a real relationship with nature. It’s why part-time valley residents like Wyomingite Rob Wallace, a senior international executive developing alternative energy for General Electric and who was touched by Mardy Murie’s spirit as a young man, keep coming “home” to Jackson Hole.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a place that was considered sacred to Olaus and Mardy Murie. Again, and perhaps more than ever, the refuge provides a mirror for each of us to reflect on values.
Don’t say that conservationists aren’t patriotic. Both Olaus and Adolph served their country by working for government agencies on behalf of citizens. Lest we forget, Mardy and Olaus’ son, Martin, a fine writer and now retired college professor, was a member of the legendary 10th Mountain Division—the same Army unit in which the late David Brower and other prominent conservationists served. You can read Martin's excellent essays and get links to his books by going to the Canyon Country Zephyr.
Aldo Leopold had Sand County as his muse, Margory Stoneman Douglas the Everglades, Muir the Sierra-Nevada, and Thoreau the North Woods of Maine, and for St. Francis, divinity dwelled in the countryside of Perugia.
The Muries’ vision of Valhalla was the Tetons. From the stoop of the Murie Center, you can see it.