William Hanna, great-grandson of John Muir, visited Lake View Hill earlier this year. Photo by Jon Becker

By Jon Becker
Earth/Art Resources

In April the great-grandson of John Muir visited Lake View Hill. William Hanna, with his wife Claudie, was in Wisconsin for the first time to visit sites associated with his ancestor, the famous environmentalist and writer.

Lake View Hill likely was the destination of a hike mentioned in the final paragraph of Muir’s 1913 memoir, “The Story of My Boyhood and Youth”:

“From the top of a hill on the north side of Lake Mendota I gained a last wistful, lingering view of the beautiful university grounds and buildings where I had spent so many hungry and happy and hopeful days. There with streaming eyes I bade my blessed Alma Mater farewell. But I was only leaving one university for another, the Wisconsin University for the University of the Wilderness.”

From Lake View Hill, the Hannas could see North Hall, where Muir roomed while studying at UW-Madison in the early 1860s. Like his great-grandfather, Hanna has an interest in geology. He was delighted to hear about the Lake View Hill area’s seam caves, documented by Wisconsin Speleological Society cavers and local oral histories.

At UW-Madison, the Hannas viewed the bust of Muir in Birge Hall and toured Muir’s North Hall dormitory room and nearby Muir Knoll, from both of which Lake View Hill can be seen. They got a close look at Muir’s clock in the Wisconsin Historical Society building and enjoyed a curated showing of the Society’s other Muir holdings, including an elegant walking stick that Muir used when in cities.

Braving cold and snow, the Hanna’s also toured most of the Montello area Muir sites, including the Fountain Lake and Hickory Hill homesteads, Observatory Hill and the “wee kirk” where Muir’s father preached.

Hanna was also interviewed by NBC affiliate anchor John Stofflet during the evening newscast.

The Hannas traveled to Wisconsin from their home in Napa Valley, California, by invitation of the Madison-based nonprofit Earth/Art Resources (E-art-H), to perform for an Earth Day Heritage “concert” at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s auditorium. There he read his great-grandfather’s words over the master recording of “Earth Day Portrait,” a symphonic setting by Wisconsin composer John Harmon of texts by John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Earth Day founder Sen. Gaylord Nelson.

The music for “Earth Day Portrait” was recorded by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Macarthur “genius” Marin Alsop and produced by EMI/Abbey Roads Studio. Hanna and descendants of Leopold and Nelson performed voiceovers of their ancestors’ words.

Following an autumn 2017 crowdsourcing campaign, “Earth Day Portrait” will be released on a CD titled “Earth Day Heritage,” along with a rerelease of Edward Joseph Collins’s “Hymn to the Earth.” Also composed in Wisconsin, the 1929 “Hymn to the Earth” likely was the first western classical composition to use the English phrase “Mother Earth.”

E-art-H founder and president Jon Becker, who commissioned “Earth Day Portrait” and coordinated the “Earth Day Heritage” CD recording, said, “A portion of CD proceeds will benefit Earth/Art Resources.”