Film producer Amy Phelan has turned to the writings of 18th-century Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humbolt to help her understand what might have influenced the young John Muir, while he was living in Meaford’s Trout Hollow in the mid-1860s and formulating his world views. John Muir is known posthumously as the father of the American National Park System and founder of the Sierra Club. He lived for two years in a rustic cabin in Trout Hollow in the Municipality of Meaford.
Phelan is producing a John Muir docudrama with the financial assistance of a grant through the Ryerson University Chang School of Continuing Education, where she is completing a certificate program in film studies. She is taking the facts of John Muir’s sojourn in Trout Hollow to a higher level by focusing on what she refers to as the “beating heart” of the Muir story.
“I am taking the biographic facts of John Muir’s life and building a dramatic moment that tells what John Muir wanted out of life, what was pushing him onward,” she says. “What I have found is that John Muir had a drive for knowledge. His time in Wisconsin and his acquaintance with Jean Carr, for example, provided him with a nucleus of intellectuals who introduced him to the likes of Ralph Emerson. However, the one book he carried with him to Canada and into Trout Hollow was that of Von Humboldt.”
Von Humbolt wrote of the phenomenon and cause of human-induced climate change based on observations generated during his travels in South America. Like Darwin, John Muir was influenced by von Humboldt’s writings. Like Darwin, John Muir carried Von Humboldt’s book on his life-long journeys.
Reading between the lines of a set of letters between John Muir and members of the Trout family in the years following Muir’s sojourn in Trout Hollow, Amy senses that John Muir’s first-hand experience with the environmental impact of logging and farm practices in the area factored into the discourse between Muir and the young minds that Muir might have encountered during his time in Trout Hollow.
“That and religion,” she says. “I have tried to imagine what conversations they had, what conflicting ideas and issues they talked about.”
Phelan expects her docudrama John Muir At Trout Hollow to be completed by the end of May.
Photo: Meaford actor Brian Fray portrays 80-year old Wm. Trout, one of John Muir’s close acquaintances during Muir’s time in in the Meaford area in the mid-1860s, in Amy Phelan’s docudrama John Muir At Trout Hollow.