|"When we try to pick out anything by itself, |
we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
In his autobiography, he described his boyhood pursuits, which included fighting, either by re-enacting romantic battles from the Wars of Scottish Independence or just scrapping on the playground, and hunting for birds' nests.Our house formerly belonged to a physician, and a servant girl told us that
the ghost of the dead doctor haunted one of the unoccupied rooms in the second story that was kept dark on account of a heavy window-tax. Our bedroom was adjacent to the ghost room, which had in it a lot of chemical apparatus,—glass tubing, glass and brass retorts, test-tubes, flasks, etc.,—and we thought that those strange articles were still used by the old dead doctor in compounding physic. In the long summer days David and I were put to bed several hours before sunset. Mother tucked us in carefully, drew the curtains of the big old-fashioned bed, and told us to lie still and sleep like gude bairns; but we were usually out of bed, playing games of daring called “scootchers,” about as soon as our loving mother reached the foot of the stairs, for we could n’t lie still, however hard we might try. Going into the ghost room was regarded as a very great scootcher.
John Muir's boyhood home, later a hotel
Father was proud of his garden and seemed always to be trying to make it as much like Eden as possible, and in a corner of it he gave each of us a little bit of ground for our very own, in which we planted what we best liked, wondering how the hard dry seeds could change into soft leaves and flowers and find their way out to the light; and, to see how they were coming on, we used to dig up the larger ones, such as peas and beans, every day. My aunt had a corner assigned to her in our garden, which she filled with lilies, and we all looked with the utmost respect and admiration at that precious lily-bed and wondered whether when we grew up we should ever be rich enough to own one anything like so grand. We imagined that each lily was worth an enormous sum of money and never dared to touch a single leaf or petal of them. We really stood in awe of them. Far, far was I then from the wild lily gardens of California that I was destined to see in their glory.His father believed that anything that distracted from Bible studies was frivolous and punishable. The family were members of the Presbyterian Church while in Scotland.
I had committed the whole of the French, Latin, and English grammars to memory, and in connection with reading-lessons we were called on to recite parts of them with the rules over and over again, as if all the regular and irregular incomprehensible verb stuff was poetry. In addition to all this, father made me learn so many Bible verses every day that by the time I was eleven years of age I had about three fourths of the Old Testament and all of the New by heart and by sore flesh. I could recite the New Testament from the beginning of Matthew to the end of Revelation without a single stop. The dangers of cramming and of making scholars study at home instead of letting their little brains rest were never heard of in those days. We carried our school-books home in a strap every night and committed to memory our next day’s lessons before we went to bed, and to do that we had to bend our attention as closely on our tasks as lawyers on great million-dollar cases. I can’t conceive of anything that would now enable me to concentrate my attention more fully than when I was a mere stripling boy, and it was all done by whipping,—thrashing in general. Old-fashioned Scotch teachers spent no time in seeking short roads to knowledge, or in trying any of the new-fangled psychological methods so much in vogue nowadays. There was nothing said about making the seats easy or the lessons easy. We were simply driven pointblank against our books like soldiers against the enemy, and sternly ordered, “Up and at’em. Commit your lessons to memory!” If we failed in any part, however slight, we were whipped; for the grand, simple, all-sufficing Scotch discovery had been made that there was a close connection between the skin and the memory, and that irritating the skin excited the memory to any required degree. . .
Breakfast in those auld-lang-syne days was simple oatmeal porridge, usually with a little milk or treacle, served in wooden dishes called “luggies,” formed of staves hooped together like miniature tubs about four or five inches in diameter. One of the staves, the lug or ear, a few inches longer than the others, served as a handle, while the number of luggies ranged in a row on a dresser indicated the size of the family. We never dreamed of anything to come after the porridge, or of asking for more. Our portions were consumed in about a couple of minutes; then off to school. At noon we came racing home ravenously hungry. The midday meal, called dinner, was usually vegetable broth, a small piece of boiled mutton, and barley-meal scone. None of us liked the barley scone bread, therefore we got all we wanted of it, and in desperation had to eat it, for we were always hungry, about as hungry after as before meals The evening meal was called “tea” and was served on our return from school. It consisted, as far as we children were concerned, of half a slice of white bread without butter, barley scone, and warm water with a little milk and sugar in it, a beverage called “content,” which warmed but neither cheered nor inebriated. Immediately after tea we ran across the street with our books to Grandfather Gilrye, who took pleasure in seeing us and hearing us recite our next day’s lessons. Then back home to supper, usually a boiled potato and piece of barley scone. Then family worship, and to bed. . . .
In 1849, when John was eleven years old, the Muir family immigrated to the United States.
It appears natural for children to be fond of water, although the Scotch method of making every duty dismal contrived to make necessary bathing for health terrible to us. I well remember among the awful experiences of childhood being taken by the servant to the seashore when I was between two and three years old, stripped at the side of a deep pool in the rocks, plunged into it among crawling crawfish and slippery wriggling snake-like eels, and drawn up gasping and shrieking only to be plunged down again and again. As the time approached for this terrible bathing, I used to hide in the darkest corners of the house, and oftentimes a long search was required to find me.
One night, David and I were at grandfather’s fireside solemnly learning our lessons as usual, my father came in with news, the most wonderful, most glorious, that wild boys ever heard. “Bairns,” he said, “you needna learn your lessons the nicht, for we’re gan to America the morn!”
No more grammar, but boundless woods full of mysterious good things; trees full of sugar, growing in ground full of gold; hawks, eagles, pigeons, filling the sky; millions of birds’ nests, and no gamekeepers to stop us in all the wild, happy land. We were utterly, blindly glorious After father left the room, grandfather gave David and me a gold coin apiece for a keepsake, and looked very serious, for he was about to be deserted in his lonely old age.
And when we in fullness of young joy spoke of what we were going to do, of the wonderful birds and their nests that we should find, the sugar and gold, etc., and promised to send him a big box full of that tree sugar packed in gold from the glorious paradise over the sea, poor lonely grandfather, about to be forsaken, looked with downcast eyes on the floor and said in a low, trembling, troubled voice, “Ah, poor laddies, poor laddies, you’ll find something else ower the sea forbye gold and sugar, birds’ nests and freedom fra lessons and schools. You’ll find plenty hard, hard work.” And so we did. But nothing he could say could cloud our joy or abate the fire of youthful, hopeful, fearless adventure. Nor could we in the midst of such measureless excitement see or feel the shadows and sorrows of his darkening old age. To my schoolmates, met that night on the street, I shouted the glorious news, “I’m gan to Amaraka the morn!” None could believe it. I said, “Weel, just you see if I am at the skule the morn!"
Next morning we went by rail to Glasgow and thence joyfully sailed away from beloved Scotland, flying to our fortunes on the wings of the winds, care-free as thistle seeds. We could not then know what we were leaving, what we were to encounter in the New World, nor what our gains were likely to be. We were too young and full of hope for fear or regret, but not too young to look forward with eager enthusiasm to the wonderful schoolless bookless American wilderness. Even the natural heart-pain of parting from grandfather and grandmother Gilrye, who loved us so well, and from mother and sisters and brother, was quickly quenched in young joy. Father took with him only my sister Sarah (thirteen years of age), myself (eleven), and brother David (nine), leaving my eldest sister, Margaret, and the three youngest of the family, Daniel, Mary, and Anna, with mother, to join us after a farm had been found in the wilderness and a comfortable house made to receive them.
In crossing the Atlantic before the days of steamships, or even the American clippers, the voyages made in old-fashioned sailing-vessels were very long. Ours was six weeks and three days. But because we had no lessons to get, that long voyage had not a dull moment for us boys. Father and sister Sarah, with most of the old folk, stayed below in rough weather, groaning in the miseries of seasickness, many of the passengers wishing they had never ventured in “the auld rockin’ creel,” as they called our bluff-bowed, wave-beating ship, and, when the weather was moderately calm, singing songs in the evenings,—”The Youthful Sailor Frank and Bold,” “Oh, why left I my hame, why did I cross the deep,” etc. But no matter how much the old tub tossed about and battered the waves, we were on deck every day, not in the least seasick, watching the sailors at their rope-hauling and climbing work; joining in their songs, learning the names of the ropes and sails, and helping them as far as they would let us; playing games with other boys in calm weather when the deck was dry, and in stormy weather rejoicing in sympathy with the big curly-topped waves.
. . . In leaving Scotland, father, like many other home-seekers, burdened himself with far too much luggages as if all America were still a wilderness in which little or nothing could be bought. One of his big iron-bound boxes must have weighed about four hundred pounds, for it contained an old-fashioned beam-scales with a complete set of cast-iron counterweights, two of them fifty-six pounds each, a twenty-eight, and so on down to a single pound. Also a lot of iron wedges, carpenter’s tools, and so forth, and at Buffalo as if on the very edge of the wilderness, he gladly added to his burden a big cast-iron stove with pots and pans, provisions enough for a long siege, and a scythe and cumbersome cradle for cutting wheat, all of which he succeeded in landing in the primeval Wisconsin woods. . .
Everything about us was so novel and wonderful that we could hardly believe our senses except when hungry or while father was thrashing us. When we first saw Fountain Lake Meadow, on a sultry evening, sprinkled with millions of lightning-bugs throbbing with light, the effect was so strange and beautiful that it seemed far too marvelous to be real. Looking from our shanty on the hill, I thought that the whole wonderful fairy show must be in my eyes; for only in fighting, when my eyes were struck, had I ever seen anything in the least like it. But when I asked my brother if he saw anything strange in the meadow he said, “Yes, it’s all covered with shaky fire-sparks.” Then I guessed that it might be something outside of us, and applied to our all-knowing Yankee to explain it. “Oh, it’s nothing but lightnin’-bugs,” he said, and kindly led us down the hill to the edge of the fiery meadow, caught a few of the wonderful bugs, dropped them into a cup, and carried them to the shanty, where we watched them throbbing and flashing out their mysterious light at regular intervals, as if each little passionate glow were caused by the beating of a heart. Once I saw a splendid display of glow-worm light in the foothills of the Himalayas, north of Calcutta, but glorious as it appeared in pure starry radiance, it was far less impressive than the extravagant abounding, quivering, dancing fire on our Wisconsin meadow.
. . . But those first days and weeks of unmixed enjoyment and freedom, reveling in the wonderful wildness about us, were soon to be mingled with the hard work of making a farm. I was first put to burning brush in clearing land for the plough. Those magnificent brush fires with great white hearts and red flames, the first big, wild outdoor fires I had ever seen, were wonderful sights for young eyes. Again and again, when they were burning fiercest so that we could hardly approach near enough to throw on another branch, father put them to awfully practical use as warning lessons, comparing their heat with that of hell, and the branches with bad boys. “Now, John,” he would say,—”now, John, just think what an awful thing it would be to be thrown into that fire—-and then think of hell-fire, that is so many times hotter. Into that fire all bad boys, with sinners of every sort who disobey God, will be cast as we are casting branches into this brush fire, and although suffering so much, their sufferings will never, never end, because neither the fire nor the sinners can die.” But those terrible fire lessons quickly faded away in the blithe wilderness air; for no fire can be hotter than the heavenly fire of faith and hope that burns in every healthy boy’s heart.
. . . I well remember my father’s discussing with a Scotch neighbor, a Mr. George Mair, the Indian question as to the rightful ownership of the soil. Mr. Mair remarked one day that it was pitiful to see how the unfortunate Indians, children of Nature, living on the natural products of the soil, hunting, fishing, and even cultivating small corn-fields on the most fertile spots, were now being robbed of their lands and pushed ruthlessly back into narrower and narrower limits by alien races who were cutting off their means of livelihood. Father replied that surely it could never have been the intention of God to allow Indians to rove and hunt over so fertile a country and hold it forever in unproductive wildness, while Scotch and Irish and English farmers could put it to so much better use. Where an Indian required thousands of acres for his family, these acres in the hands of industrious, God-fearing farmers would support ten or a hundred times more people in a far worthier manner, while at the same time helping to spread the gospel.
Mr. Mair urged that such farming as our first immigrants were practicing was in many ways rude and full of the mistakes of ignorance, yet, rude as it was, and ill-tilled as were most of our Wisconsin farms by unskillful, inexperienced settlers who had been merchants and mechanics and servants in the old countries, how should we like to have specially trained and educated farmers drive us out of our homes and farms, such as they were, making use of the same argument, that God could never have intended such ignorant, unprofitable, devastating farmers as we were to occupy land upon which scientific farmers could raise five or ten times as much on each acre as we did? And I well remember thinking that Mr. Mair had the better side of the argument. It then seemed to me that, whatever the final outcome might be, it was at this stage of the fight only an example of the rule of might with but little or no thought for the right or welfare of the other fellow if he were the weaker; that “they should take who had the power, and they should keep who can,” as Wordsworth makes the marauding Scottish Highlanders say. . .
None of the bird people of Wisconsin welcomed us more heartily than the common robin. Far from showing alarm at the coming of settlers into their native woods, they reared their young around our gardens as if they liked us, and how heartily we admired the beauty and fine manners of these graceful birds and their loud cheery song of Fear not, fear not, cheer up, cheer up. It was easy to love them for they reminded us of the robin redbreast of Scotland. Like the bluebirds they dared every danger in defense of home, and we often wondered that birds so gentle could be so bold and that sweet-voiced singers could so fiercely fight and scold. . .
It was a great memorable day when the first flock of passenger pigeons came to our farm, calling to mind the story we had read about them when we were at school in Scotland. Of all God’s feathered people that sailed the Wisconsin sky, no other bird seemed to us so wonderful. The beautiful wanderers flew like the winds in flocks of millions from climate to climate in accord with the weather, finding their food—acorns, beechnuts, pine-nuts, cranberries, strawberries, huckleberries, juniper berries, hackberries, buckwheat, rice, wheat, oats, corn—in fields and forests thousands of miles apart. I have seen flocks streaming south in the
fall so large that they were flowing over from horizon to horizon in an almost continuous stream all day long, at the rate of forty or fifty miles an hour, like a mighty river in the sky, widening, contracting, descending like falls and cataracts, and rising suddenly here and there in huge ragged masses like high-plashing spray. How wonderful the distances they flew in a day—in a year—in a lifetime! They arrived in Wisconsin in the spring just after the sun had cleared away the snow, and alighted in the woods to feed on the fallen acorns that they had missed the previous autumn. A comparatively small flock swept thousands of acres perfectly clean of acorns in a few minutes, by moving straight ahead with a broad front. All got their share, for the rear constantly became the van by flying over the flock and alighting in front, the entire flock constantly changing from rear to front, revolving something like a wheel with a low buzzing wing roar that could be heard a long way off. In summer they feasted on wheat and oats and were easily approached as they rested on the trees along the sides of the field after a good full meal, displaying beautiful iridescent colors as they moved their necks backward and forward when we went very near them. Every shotgun was aimed at them and everybody feasted on pigeon pies, and not a few of the settlers feasted also on the beauty of the wonderful birds. . . . “Oh, what bonnie, bonnie birds!” we exclaimed over the first that fell into our hands. “Oh, what colors! Look at their breasts, bonnie as roses, and at their necks aglow wi’ every color juist like the wonderfu’ wood ducks. Oh, the bonnie, bonnie creatures, they beat a’! Where did they a’ come fra, and where are they a’ gan? It’s awfu’ like a sin to kill them!” To this some smug, practical old sinner would remark: “Aye, it’s a peety, as ye say, to kill the bonnie things, but they were made to be killed, and sent for us to eat as the quails were sent to God’s chosen people, the Israelites, when they were starving in the desert ayont the Red Sea. And I must confess that meat was never put up in neater, handsomer-painted packages."
. . . Surely a better time must be drawing nigh when godlike human beings will become truly humane, and learn to put their animal fellow mortals in their hearts instead of on their backs or in their dinners. . . . All hale, red-blooded boys are savage, the best and boldest the savagest, fond of hunting and fishing. But when thoughtless childhood is past, the best rise the highest above all this bloody flesh and sport business, the wild foundational animal dying out day by day, as divine uplifting, transfiguring charity grows. in.From age 11 to 21, John worked as his father's farm laborer; he received no formal schooling, but taught himself mathematics, geometry, literature, and philosophy.
Excepting Sundays we boys had only two days of the year to ourselves, the 4th of July and the 1st of January. Sundays were less than half our own, on account of Bible lessons, Sunday-school lessons and church services; all the others were labor days, rain or shine, cold or warm. No wonder, then, that our two holidays were precious and that it was not easy to decide what to do with them. They were usually spent on the highest rocky hill in the neighborhood, called the Observatory; in visiting our boy friends on adjacent farms to hunt, fish, wrestle, and play games; in reading some new favorite book we had managed to borrow or buy; or in making models of machines I had invented.
. . . In summer the chores were grinding scythes, feeding the animals, chopping stove-wood, and carrying water up the hill from the spring on the edge of the meadow, etc. Then breakfast, and to the harvest or hay-field. I was foolishly ambitious to be first in mowing and cradling, and by the time I was sixteen led all the hired men. An hour was allowed at noon for dinner and more chores we stayed in the field until dark, then supper, and still more chores, family worship, and to bed; making altogether a hard, sweaty day of about sixteen or seventeen hours. Think of that, ye blessed eight-hour-day laborers!
. . . When I was about fifteen or sixteen years of age, I began to grow hungry for real knowledge, and persuaded father, who was willing enough to have me study provided my farm work was kept up, to buy me a higher arithmetic. Beginning at the beginning, in one summer I easily finished it without assistance in the short intervals between the end of dinner and the afternoon start for the harvest-and-hay-fields, accomplishing more without a teacher in a few scraps of time than in years in school before my mind was ready for such work. Then in succession I took up algebra, geometry, and trigonometry and made some little progress in each, and reviewed grammar. I was fond of reading, but father had brought only a few religious books from Scotland. Fortunately, several of our neighbors had brought a dozen or two of all sorts of books, which I borrowed and read, keeping all of them except the religious ones carefully hidden from father’s eye. Among these were Scott’s novels, which, like all other novels, were strictly forbidden, but devoured with glorious pleasure in secret. . . . Dick’s “Christian Philosopher,” which I borrowed from a neighbor, I thought I might venture to read in the open, trusting that the word “Christian” would be proof against its cautious condemnation. But father balked at the word “Philosopher,” and quoted from the Bible a verse which spoke of “philosophy falsely so-called.” I then ventured to speak in defense of the book, arguing that we could not do without at least a little of the most useful kinds of philosophy.
"Yes, we can,” he said with enthusiasm, “the Bible is the only book human beings can possibly require throughout all the journey from earth to heaven."
"But how,” I contended, “can we find the way to heaven without the Bible, and how after we grow old can we read the Bible without a little helpful science? Just think, father, you cannot read your Bible without spectacles, and millions of others are in the same fix; and spectacles cannot be made without some knowledge of the science of optics."
"Oh!” he replied, perceiving the drift of the argument, “there will always be plenty of worldly people to make spectacles."
To this I stubbornly replied with a quotation from the Bible with reference to the time coming when “all shall know the Lord from the least even to the greatest,” and then who will make the spectacles? But he still objected to my reading that book, called me a contumacious quibbler too fond of disputation, and ordered me to return it to the accommodating owner. I managed, however, to read it later.
. . . I remember as a great and sudden discovery that the poetry of the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton was a source of inspiring, exhilarating, uplifting pleasure; and I became anxious to know all the poets, and saved up small sums to buy as many of their books as possible. Within three or four years I was the proud possessor of parts of Shakespeare’s, Milton’s, Cowper’s, Henry Kirke White’s, Campbell’s, and Akenside’s works, and quite a number of others seldom read nowadays. I think it was in my fifteenth year that I began to relish good literature with enthusiasm, and smack my lips over favorite lines, but there was desperately little time for reading, even in the winter evenings—only a few stolen minutes now and then. Father’s strict rule was, straight to bed immediately after family worship, which in winter was usually over by eight o’clock. I was in the habit of lingering in the kitchen with a book and candle after the rest of the family had retired, and considered myself fortunate if I got five minutes’ reading before father noticed the light and ordered me to bed; an order that of course I immediately obeyed. But night after night I tried to steal minutes in the same lingering way, and how keenly precious those minutes were, few nowadays can know. Father failed perhaps two or three times in a whole winter to notice my light for nearly ten minutes, magnificent golden blocks of time, long to be remembered like holidays or geological periods.
One evening when I was reading Church history father was particularly irritable, and called out with hope-killing emphasis, “John, go to bed! Must I give you a separate order every night to get you to go to bed? Now, I will have no irregularity in the family; you must go when the rest go, and without my having to tell you.” Then, as an afterthought, as if judging that his words and tone of voice were too severe for so pardonable an offense as reading a religious book, he unwarily added: “If you will read, get up in the morning and read. You may get up in the morning as early as you like." That night I went to bed wishing with all my heart and soul that somebody or something might call me out of sleep to avail myself of this wonderful indulgence; and next morning to my joyful surprise I awoke before father called me. A boy sleeps soundly after working all day in the snowy woods, but that frosty morning I sprang out of bed as if called by a trumpet blast, rushed downstairs, scarce feeling my chilblains, enormously eager to see how much time I had won; and when I held up my candle to a little clock that stood on a bracket in the kitchen I found that it was only one o’clock. I had gained five hours, almost half a day! “Five hours to myself!” I said, “five huge, solid hours!” I can hardly think of any other event in my life, any discovery I ever made that gave birth to joy so transportingly glorious as the possession of these five frosty hours.
. . . I first thought of going on with my reading, but the zero weather would make a fire necessary, and it occurred to me that father might object to the cost of fire-wood that took time to chop. Therefore, I prudently decided to go down cellar, and begin work on a model of a self-setting sawmill I had invented. Next morning I managed to get up at the same gloriously early hour, and though the temperature of the cellar was a little below the freezing point, and my light was only a tallow candle, the mill work went joyfully on. There were a few tools in a corner of the cellar—a vise, files, a hammer, chisels, etc., that father had brought from Scotland, but no saw excepting a coarse crooked one that was unfit for sawing dry hickory or oak. So I made a fine-tooth saw suitable for my work out of a strip of steel that had formed part of an old-fashioned corset, that cut the hardest wood smoothly. I also made my own bradawls, punches, and a pair of compasses, out of wire and old files.
. . . Boys are fond of the books of travelers, and I remember that one day, after I had been reading Mungo Park’s travels in Africa, mother said: “Weel, John, maybe you will travel like Park and Humboldt some day.” Father overheard her and cried out in solemn deprecation, “Oh, Anne! dinna put sic notions in the laddie’s heed.” But at this time there was precious little need of such prayers. My brothers left the farm when they came of age, but I stayed a year longer, loath to leave home. Mother hoped I might be a minister some day; my sisters that I would be a great inventor. I often thought I should like to be a physician, but I saw no way of making money and getting the necessary education, excepting as an inventor. So, as a beginning, I decided to try to get into a big shop or factory and live awhile among machines. But I was naturally extremely shy and had been taught to have a poor opinion of myself, as of no account, though all our neighbors encouragingly called me a genius, sure to rise in the world. When I was talking over plans one day with a friendly neighbor, he said: “Now, John, if you wish to get into a machine-shop, just take some of your inventions to the State Fair, and you may be sure that as soon as they are seen they will open the door of any shop in the country for you. You will be welcomed everywhere.” And when I doubtingly asked if people would care to look at things made of wood, he said, “Made of wood! Made of wood! What does it matter what they’re made of when they are so out-and-out original. There’s nothing else like them in the world. That is what will attract attention, and besides they’re mighty handsome things anyway to come from the backwoods.” So I was encouraged to leave home and go at his direction to the State Fair when it was being held in Madison.
When I told father that I was about to leave home, and inquired whether, if I should happen to be in need of money, he would send me a little, he said, “No; depend entirely on yourself.” Good advice, I suppose, but surely needlessly severe for a bashful, home-loving boy who had worked so hard. I had the gold sovereign that my grandfather had given me when I left Scotland, and a few dollars, perhaps ten, that I had made by raising a few bushels of grain on a little patch of sandy abandoned ground. So when I left home to try the world I had only about fifteen dollars in my pocket.
Strange to say, father carefully taught us to consider ourselves very poor worms of the dust, conceived in sin, etc., and devoutly believed that quenching every spark of pride and self-confidence was a sacred duty, without realizing that in so doing he might at the same time be quenching everything else. Praise he considered most venomous, and tried to assure me that when I was fairly out in the wicked world making my own way I would soon learn that although I might have thought him a hard taskmaster at times, strangers were far harder. On the contrary, I found no lack of kindness and sympathy.
. . . This was in the time of the great popular phrenology craze, when the fences and barns along the roads throughout the country were plastered with big skull-bump posters, headed, “Know Thyself,” and advising everybody to attend schoolhouse lectures to have their heads explained and be told what they were good for and whom they ought to marry. My mechanical bundle seemed to bring a good deal of this phrenology to mind, for many of the onlookers would say, “I wish I could see that boy’s head, —he must have a tremendous bump of invention.” Others complimented me by saying, “I wish I had that fellow’s head. I’d rather have it than the best farm in the State."
. . . I got lots of praise from the crowd and the newspaper reporters. The local press reports were copied into the Eastern papers. It was considered wonderful that a boy on a farm had been able to invent and make such things, and almost every spectator foretold good fortune. But I had been so lectured by my father above all things to avoid praise that I was afraid to read those kind newspaper notices, and never clipped out or preserved any of them, just glanced at them and turned away my eyes from beholding vanity. They gave me a prize of ten or fifteen dollars and a diploma for wonderful things not down in the list of exhibits.
|Young John Muir|
Like everybody else I was always fond of flowers, attracted by their external beauty and purity. Now my eyes were opened to their inner beauty, all alike revealing glorious traces of the thoughts of God, and leading on and on into the infinite cosmos. I wandered away at every opportunity, making long excursions round the lakes, gathering specimens and keeping them fresh in a bucket in my room to study at night after my regular class tasks were learned; for my eyes never closed on the plant glory I had seen.John Muir was 23 years old when the Civil War began.
"The showy coverings of war hide its real hideousness," he wrote in the fall of 1861 to Frances Pelton of Prairie du Chien. He described for the scene at Camp Randall when her cousins left for the front with the Seventh Regiment:
I was down the morning they left Madison and helped Byron to buckle on his knapsack. Dwight with his fife seemed uncommonly happy but 0 how terrible a work is assigned them ... how strange that such [men] can so completely compose themselves for such work and even march to the bloody fray in a half dance with a smile on their faces and perhaps a loud laugh.The Wisconsin Agricultural Society fairgrounds were converted into the state's central training ground in early 1861. About 70,000 of Wisconsin's 95,000 soldiers passed through Camp Randall over the next four years. There were problems from the start. The spring of '61 was cold and wet, the men were often cold and wet, the food was bad, arms and equipment were in short supply, and training and discipline were rudimentary. On June 10 and 11 of 1861, several hundred new recruits on furlough terrorized Madison. One group reportedly assaulted and murdered a German woman while another drunken mob exchanged gunfire with the proprietor and patrons at Voight's Brewery. Over the next three years, soldiers posed an increasing threat to public safety through numerous assaults, drunken brawls, insubordination and even arson at Camp Randall itself. Several saloons operated within the campgrounds, further eroding discipline.
The inflation in one vital item - firewood - caused lasting ecological damage, as the forests of University Heights and Maple Bluff were sacrificed to satisfy energy needs at Camp Randall and throughout the city.
Charles Vroman became Muir’s roommate in the spring of 1862:
My acquaintance with John Muir began when a tutor, John D. Parkinson, took me in tow and led me to the northeast corner room of North Hall on the first floor. It was my first impression that the tutor was showing me a part of the college museum, for it was a strange-looking place to be the room of a college student. The room was lined with shelves, one above the other, higher than a man could reach. These shelves were filled with retorts, glass tubes, glass jars, botanical and geological specimens, and small mechanical contrivances. On the floor around the sides of the room were a number of machines of larger size whose purposes were not apparent at a glance, but which I came to know later.
A young man was busily engaged sawing boards and presently the tutor introduced him as John Muir. I was much younger than he and was entering the preparatory department, but it was the beginning of a close and delightful college friendship. When telling me stories of his early life, or reading Burns, he often dropped into a rich Scotch brogue, although he wrote and spoke English perfectly. The only books which I remember seeing him read were his Bible, the poems of Robert Burns, and his college textbooks. It was a very hard and dreary life which he had been compelled to live on his father’s farm, but in spite of all he was the most cheerful, happy-hearted man I ever knew.
Muir boarded himself during his stay at the University, as did other students. His fare was very simple, consisting chiefly of bread and molasses, graham mush, and baked potatoes. Being on good terms with Pat, he had access to the wood furnaces in the basement where he could boil his mush on the coals and bake his potatoes in the hot ashes.
. . . There were no laboratory facilities in the University at that time, so Muir built a chemical laboratory in his own room. He was by common consent regarded as the most proficient chemical student in the college. In disposition Muir was gentle and loving—a high minded Christian gentleman, clean in thought and action. While he was not a very regular attendant at church, he read his Bible regularly, said his morning and evening prayers each day, and led the kind of life which all this implies. He was, however, in no respect austere or lacking in humor, but bubbling over with fun, and a keen participant in frolics and college pranks, especially when Pat the janitor needed to be taken down.
Madison men volunteered at a higher percentage than those of any other major Wisconsin city, and died in higher numbers than the state average. By early 1865, two of every three of the city's adult males had gone to war. As time went on, more and more casualties occurred. Muir's friend Bradley Brown from Marquette County was one of the wounded. His brother William came to Madison to search for him at Camp Randall, but unable to locate him, he visited with Muir at the North Dormitory instead. Eventually, Bradley was found ill at Camp Dennison.
On July 1, 1862, President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 more men. Another draft followed in August. In November, Wisconsin Governor Salomon ordered the draft commissioners to begin enrollment of all men between the ages of 18 and 45. On January 31, 1863, he ordered all drafted men to report to Camp Randall.
Muir's mother constantly worried that her sons would be drafted. On March 1, 1863, she brought John up to date on the situation of his brother Dan.
Daniel left home yesterday for Canada. His father said he would not hinder him if he wished to go but would not advise him. He wouldn't give him money, but said I might if I wished. It is a hard trial to me - all my boys have left me. I try to think it is for the best. You will have heard of this new conscription law exempting none.
|Muir in 1863|
The National Park Service's John Muir National Historic Site notes that Muir was not a draft dodger because his name did not appear on any list of draftees. Muir would not, however, volunteer to go to war. Doubtless he felt no obligation to volunteer, as he was not a U.S. citizen at that time. Moreover, Muir later wrote his opinion that "War is the farthest reaching and most infernal of all civilized calamities."
In a letter to his friend Emily Pelton, dated May 23, 1865, he wrote, "I never tried to abandon creeds or code of civilization; they went away of their own accord . . .without leaving any consciousness of loss."
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill giving Yosemite Valley Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to California as state park lands; this was the nation's first act of wilderness preservation.
Muir put his mechanical skills to work creating machinery, and producing broom handles and rakes, at a manufacturing factory in Trout Hollow, Ontario. In February of 1866 the factory caught fire and all of his work was destroyed. Muir returned to the United States in March 1866. He found a job in Indianapolis at Osgood, Smith & Company, a steam-powered factory that made wooden hubs and spokes for wagon wheels. Muir excelled at the job and was soon promoted. He took an intense interest not only in the technical aspects of the factory but in questions of efficient management, going so far as to chart a typical day’s labor with the aim of harmonizing the human behavior in the factory with the rhythm of machines.
In 1902, Muir wrote a tribute to Catharine Merrill, after her death:
Miss Merrill was the first friend I found in Indiana, and one of the kindest, wisest, and most helpful of my life. I first met her about thirty-five years ago through a letter of introduction from Professor J.D. Butler, when I was studying plants and rocks around Indianapolis. Knowing how shy I was, and fearing I might not deliver his letter, he took pains to tell how rare and good she was in heart and mind, and to assure me that at first sight all bashful misery would vanish, for none better than she knew that "a man's a man for a'that." And so it proved. She became interested in my studies, loaned me books, and I soon learned to admire her scholarship, ken, sane, kindly criticism, the wonderful range of her sympathies, her kindness in always calling attention to the best in the character of any one under discussion living or dead, and her weariless, unostentatious, practical benevolence in smoothing as she was able the pathways of others and helping them up into wider, brighter, purer living.
But it was in a time of trouble, then drawing nigh, that I learned to know her well. While at work in a mill my right eye was pierced by a file, and then came the darkest time of my life. I was blind for months and the blindness threatened to be lasting and complete.She came to my darkened room like an angel of light, with hope and cheer and sympathy purely divine, procured the services of the best oculist and the children she knew I loved.
And when at last after long months of kindness and skill she saw me out in Heaven's sunshine again, fairly adrift in the glorious bloom of the spring, her joy was as great as my own. And in her beautiful life how many others has she lifted up, - - cheered and charmed out of darkness into light! Few have left the world so widely beloved, and it is not easy for those who knew her to speak of her without apparent excess.
She was tall, rather frail looking, with broad brow and wonderful eyes, a countenance glowing with kindness and as free from guile as a child's. She was an admirable scholar, with perfect mental independence, and her heart was one of the kindest and least selfish I ever found. those who knew her best loved her best, and almost worshipped her.
Everywhere she was welcomed like light - in social gatherings, clubs and camps, homes and schools, asylums, hospitals, churches and jails; for she was a natural teacher and helper, a bearer of others' burdens, brightener of others' joys. none could be near her without being made better. One was lifted and strengthened simply by seeing her. The weary and troubled went to her as the thirsty to a well. Her home was a center of heart sunshine. Like a stream with deep fountains she was a friend on whom we could depend, always the same, steady as a star. And like streams and stars in their flowing and shining she seemed wholly unconscious of the good she was going. However important the work in hand she never appeared to be in a hurry or laboring beyond her strength. In the midst of striving crowds she seemed calm, gaining her ends with apparent ease. she followed the well-beaten roads of humanity with the enthusiasm and freshness of perception of the explorer in new fields. Before her all embracing sympathy obstacles melted. Humble, devout, reverent in presence of life's mysteries, her faith in the final outcome of good never varied, while humor and common sense preserved her from extravagance of opinion and language.
. . . Though I saw but little of her after the first year or two in Indiana, her gracious influence, not easily put into words, never lost its charm. Go where I would in my long, lonely wanderings "the idea of her life would sweetly glide into my study of imagination," and so, I doubt not, it was with her friends near and far.
|Route of Muir's Walk to the Gulf|
When they asked where I was going I said, ‘Oh! I don’t know — just anywhere in the wilderness, southward. I have already had glorious glimpses of the Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, and Canada wildernesses; now I propose to go South and see something of the vegetation of the warm end of the country, and if possible to wander far enough into South America to see tropical vegetation in all its palmy glory.’He began his trip by taking a train from Indianapolis to Kentucky; from that there he made the trip on foot. With his plant press, he traveled through Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Emerging about noon from a grove of giant sunflowers, I found myself on the brink of a tumbling rocky stream [Rolling Fork]. I did not expect to find bridges on my wild ways, and at once started to ford, when a negro woman on the opposite bank earnestly called on me to wait until she could tell the “men folks” to bring me a horse — that the river was too deep and rapid to wade and that I would “sartain be drowned” if I attempted to cross. I replied that my bag and plants would ballast me; that the water did not appear to be deep, and that if I were carried away, I was a good swimmer and would soon dry in the sunshine. But the cautious old soul replied that no one ever waded that river and set off for a horse, saying that it was no trouble at all. In a few minutes the ferry horse came gingerly down the bank through vines and weeds. His long stilt legs proved him a natural wader. He was white and the little sable negro boy that rode him looked like a bug on his back. . . . The old horse, overladen with his black and white burden, rocked and stumbled on his stilt legs with fair promises of a fall. But all ducking signs failed and we arrived in safety among the weeds and vines of the rugged bank. . . .
September 5. . . . Arrived about noon at Munfordville; was soon discovered and examined by Mr. Munford himself, a pioneer and father of the village. He is a surveyor — has held all country offices, and every seeker of roads and lands applies to him for information. He regards all the villagers as his children, and all strangers who enter Munfordville as his own visitors. Of course he inquired my business, destination, et cetera, and invited me to his house. After refreshing me with “parrs” he complacently covered the table with bits of rocks, plants, et cetera, things new and old which he had gathered in his surveying walks and supposed to be full of scientific interest. He informed me that all scientific men applied to him for information, and as I was a botanist, he either possessed, or ought to possess, the knowledge I was seeking, and so I received long lessons concerning roots and herbs for every mortal ill. Thanking my benefactor for his kindness, I escaped to the fields and followed a railroad along the base of a grand hill ridge. As evening came on all the dwellings I found seemed to repel me, and I could not muster courage enough to ask entertainment at any of them. Took refuge in a log schoolhouse that stood on a hillside beneath stately oaks and slept on the softest looking of the benches.
September 6. Started at the earliest bird song in hopes of seeing the great Mammoth Cave before evening. Overtook an old negro driving an ox team. Rode with him a few miles and had some interesting chat concerning war, wild fruits of the woods, et cetera. “Right heah,” said he, “is where the Rebs was a-tearin’ up the track, and they all a sudden thought they seed the Yankees a-comin’, obah dem big hills dar, and Lo’d, how dey run.” I asked him if he would like a renewal of these sad war times, when his flexible face suddenly calmed, and he said with intense earnestness, “Oh, Lo’d, want no mo wa, Lo’d no.” Many of these Kentucky negroes are shrewd and intelligent, and when warmed upon a subject that interests them, are eloquent in no mean degree.
. . . Arrived at the great Mammoth Cave. I was surprised to find it in so complete naturalness. A large hotel with fine walks and gardens is near it. But fortunately the cave has been unimproved, and were it not for the narrow trail that leads down the glen to its door, one would not know that it had been visited. There are house-rooms and halls whose entrances give but slight hint of their grandeur. And so also this magnificent hall in the mineral kingdom of Kentucky has a door comparatively small and unpromising. One might pass within a few yards of it without noticing it. A strong cool breeze issues constantly from it, creating a northern climate for the ferns that adorn its rocky front.
Tourists at Mammoth Cave
I never before saw Nature’s grandeur in so abrupt contrast with paltry artificial gardens. The fashionable hotel grounds are in exact parlor taste, with many a beautiful plant cultivated to deformity, and arranged in strict geometrical beds, the whole pretty affair a laborious failure side by side with Divine beauty.
. . . Started for Glasgow Junction. Got belated in the hill woods. Inquired my way at a farm-house and was invited to stay overnight in a rare, hearty, hospitable manner. Engaged in familiar running talk on politics, war times, and theology. The old Kentuckian seemed to take a liking to me and advised me to stay in these hills until next spring, assuring me that I would find much to interest me in and about the Great Cave; also, that he was one of the school officials and was sure that I could obtain their school for the winter term. I sincerely thanked him for his kind plans, but pursued my own. . .
Crossing the Cumberland Mountains. I had climbed but a short distance when I was overtaken by a young man on horse-back, who soon showed that he intended to rob me if he should find the job worth while. After he had inquired where I came from, and where I was going, he offered to carry my bag. I told him that it was so light that I did not feel it at all a burden; but he insisted and coaxed until I allowed him to carry it. As soon as he had gained possession I noticed that he gradually increased his speed, evidently trying to get far enough ahead of me to examine the contents without being observed. But I was too good a walker and runner for him to get far. At a turn of the road, after trotting his horse for about half an hour, and when he thought he was out of sight, I caught him rummaging my poor bag. Finding there only a comb, brush, towel, soap, a change of underclothing, a copy of Burns’s poems, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a small New Testament, he waited for me, handed back my bag, and returned down the hill, saying that he had forgotten something.
. . . Arriving at a house, my knock at the door was answered by a bright, good-natured, good-looking little woman, who in reply to my request for a night’s lodging and food, said, “Oh, I guess so. I think you can stay. Come in and meet my husband.” “But I must first warn you,” I said, “that I have nothing smaller to offer you than a five-dollar bill for my entertainment. I don’t want you to think that I am trying to impose on your hospitality.” She then called her husband, a blacksmith, who was at work at his forge. He came out, hammer in hand, bare-breasted, sweaty, bell grimed, and covered with shaggy black hair. In reply to his wife’s statement, that this young man wished to stop over night, he quickly replied, “That’s all right; tell him to go into the house.” He was turning to go back to his shop, when his wife added, “But he says he has n’t any change to pay. He has nothing smaller than a five-dollar bill.” Hesitating only a moment, he turned on his heel and said, “Tell him to go into the house. A man that comes right out like that beforehand is welcome to eat my bread.”
When he came in after his hard day’s work and sat down to dinner, he solemnly asked a blessing on the frugal meal, consisting solely of corn bread and bacon. Then, looking across the table at me, he said, “Young man, what are you doing down here?” I replied that I was looking at plants. “Plants? What kind of plants?” I said, “Oh, all kinds; grass, weeds, flowers, trees, mosses, ferns, — almost everything that grows is interesting to me.”
“Well, young man,” he queried, “you mean to say that you are not employed by the Government on some private business?” “No,” I said, “I am not employed by any one except just myself. I love all kinds of plants, and I came down here to these Southern States to get acquainted with as many of them as possible.” “You look like a strong-minded man,” he replied, “and surely you are able to do something better than wander over the country and look at weeds and blossoms. These are hard times, and real work is required of every man that is able. Picking up blossoms does n’t seem to be a man’s work at all in any kind of times.” To this I replied, “You are a believer in the Bible, are you not?” “Oh, yes.” “Well, you know Solomon was a strong-minded man, and he is generally believed to have been the very wisest man the world ever saw, and yet he considered it was worth while to study plants; not only to go and pick them up as I am doing, but to study them; and you know we are told that he wrote a book about plants, not only of the great cedars of Lebanon, but of little bits of things growing in the cracks of the walls. Therefore, you see that Solomon differed very much more from you than from me in this matter. I’ll warrant you he had many a long ramble in the mountains of Judea, and had he been a Yankee he would likely have visited every weed in the land. And again, do you not remember that Christ told his disciples to ‘consider the lilies how they grow,’ and compared their beauty with Solomon in all his glory? Now, whose advice am I to take, yours or Christ’s? Christ says, ‘Consider the lilies.’ You say, ‘Don’t consider them. It is n’t worth while for any strong-minded man."’
This evidently satisfied him, and he acknowledged that he had never thought of blossoms in that way before. He repeated again and again that I must be a very strong-minded man, and admitted that no doubt I was fully justified in picking up blossoms. He then told me that although the war was over, walking across the Cumberland Mountains still was far from safe on account of small bands of guerrillas who were in hiding along the roads, and earnestly entreated me to turn back and not to think of walking so far as the Gulf of Mexico until the country became quiet and orderly once more.
I replied that I had no fear, that I had but very little to lose, and that nobody was likely to think it worth while to rob me; that, anyhow, I always had good luck. In the morning he repeated the warning and entreated me to turn back, which never for a moment interfered with my resolution to pursue my glorious walk.
September 11. . . Houses are far apart and uninhabited, orchards and fences in ruins — sad marks of war. About noon my road became dim and at last vanished among desolate fields. Lost and hungry, I knew my direction but could not keep it on account of the briers. My path was indeed strewn with flowers, but as thorny, also, as mortal ever trod. In trying to force a way through these cat-plants one is not simply clawed and pricked through all one’s clothing, but caught and held fast. The toothed arching branches come down over and above you like cruel living arms, and the more you struggle the more desperately you are entangled, and your wounds deepened and multiplied. The South has plant fly-catchers. It also has plant man-catchers.
. . . Towards sundown, as I was walking rapidly along a straight stretch in the road, I suddenly came in sight of ten mounted men riding abreast. They undoubtedly had seen me before I discovered them, for they had stopped their horses and were evidently watching me. I saw at once that it was useless to attempt to avoid them, for the ground thereabout was quite open. I knew that there was nothing for it but to face them fearlessly, without showing the slightest suspicion of foul play. Therefore, without halting even for a moment, I advanced rapidly with long strides as though I intended to walk through the midst of them. When I got within a rod or so I looked up in their faces and smilingly bade them “Howdy.” Stopping never an instant, I turned to one side and walked around them to get on the road again, and kept on without venturing to look back or to betray the slightest fear of being robbed.
After I had gone about one hundred or one hundred and fifty yards, I ventured a quick glance back, without stopping, and saw in this flash of an eye that all the ten had turned their horses toward me and were evidently talking about me; supposedly, with reference to what my object was, where I was going, and whether it would be worth while to rob me. They all were mounted on rather scrawny horses, and all wore long hair hanging down on their shoulders. Evidently they belonged to the most irreclaimable of the guerrilla bands who, long accustomed to plunder, deplored the coming of peace. I was not followed, however, probably because the plants projecting from my plant press made them believe that I was a poor herb doctors a common occupation in these mountain regions.
About dark I discovered, a little off the road, another house, inhabited by negroes, where I succeeded in obtaining a much needed meal of string beans, buttermilk, and corn bread. At the table I was seated in a bottomless chair, and as I became sore and heavy, I sank deeper and deeper, pressing my knees against my breast, and my mouth settled to the level of my plate. But wild hunger cares for none of these things . . .
September 15. Most glorious billowy mountain scenery. Made many a halt at open places to take breath and to admire. . . . Reached a house before night, and asked leave to stop. “Well, you’re welcome to stop,” said the mountaineer, “if you think you can live till morning on what I have to live on all the time.” Found the old gentleman very communicative . . . and in the morning was pressed to stay a day or two. “I will take you,” said he, “to the highest ridge in the country, where you can see both ways. you will have a view of all the world on one side of the mountains and all creation on the other. Besides, you, who are traveling for curiosity and wonder, ought to see our gold mines." I agreed to stay and went to the mines. Gold is found in small quantities throughout the Alleghanies, and many farmers work at mining a few weeks or months every year when their time is not more valuable for other pursuits. . .
All the machines of Kentucky and Tennessee are far behind the age. There is scarce a trace of that restless spirit of speculation and invention so characteristic of the North. But one way of doing things obtains here, as if laws had been passed making attempts at improvement a crime. Spinning and weaving are done in every one of these mountain cabins wherever the least pretensions are made to thrift and economy. The practice of these ancient arts they deem marks of advancement rather than of backwardness. . . . This is the most primitive county I have seen, primitive in everything. The remotest hidden parts of Wisconsin are far in advance of the mountain regions of Tennessee and North Carolina. But my host speaks of the “old-fashioned unenlightened times,” like a philosopher in the best light of civilization. “I believe in Providence,” said he. “Our fathers came into these valleys, got the richest of them, and skimmed off the cream of the soil. The worn-out ground won’t yield no roastin’ ears now. But the Lord foresaw this state of affairs, and prepared something else for us. And what is it? Why, He meant us to bust open these copper mines and gold mines, so that we may have money to buy the corn that we cannot raise.” A most profound observation. . .
September 19. Received another solemn warning of dangers on my way through the mountains. Was told by my worthy entertainer of a wondrous gap in the mountains which he advised me to see. . . . As I was leaving, he repeated the warnings of danger ahead, saying that there were a good many people living like wild beasts on whatever they could steal, and that murders were sometimes committed for four or five dollars, and even less. While stopping with him I noticed that a man came regularly after dark to the house for his supper. He was armed with a gun, a pistol, and a long knife. My host told me that this man was at feud with one of his neighbors, and that they were prepared to shoot one another at sight. That neither of them could do any regular work or sleep in the same place two nights in succession. That they visited houses only for food, and as soon as the one that I saw had got his supper he went out and slept in the woods, without of course making a fire. His enemy did the same. My entertainer told me that he was trying to make peace between these two men, because they both were good men, and if they would agree to stop their quarrel, they could then both go to work. Most of the food in this house was coffee without sugar, corn bread, and sometimes bacon. But the coffee was the greatest luxury which these people knew. . . .
In Murphy [North Carolina] I was hailed by the sheriff who could not
determine by my colors and rigging to what country or craft I belonged. Since the war, every other stranger in these lonely parts is supposed to be a criminal, and all are objects of curiosity or apprehensive concern. After a few minutes’ conversation with this chief man of Murphy I was pronounced harmless, and invited to his house, where for the first time since leaving home I found a house decked with flowers and vines, clean within and without, and stamped with the comforts of culture and refinement in all its arrangements. Striking contrast to the uncouth transitionist establishments from the wigwams of savages to the clumsy but clean log castle of the thrifty pioneer. . .
County Courthouse, Murphy, North Carolina
October 2. Met a young African with whom I had a long talk. was amused with his eloquent narrative of coon hunting, alligators, and many superstitions. He showed me a place where a railroad train had run off the track, and assured me that the ghosts of the killed may be seen every dark night. Had a long walk after sundown. At last was received at the house of Dr. Perkins. . . . Heard long recitals of war happenings, discussion of the slave question, and Northern politics; a thoroughly characteristic Southern family, refined in manners and kind, but immovably prejudiced on everything connected with slavery. The family table was unlike any I ever saw before. It was circular, and the central part of it revolved. When any one wished to be helped, he placed his plate on the revolving part, which was whirled around to the host, and then whirled back with its new load. Thus every plate was revolved into place, without the assistance of any of the family.
October 3. . . . Toward evening I arrived at the home of Mr. Cameron, a wealthy planter, who had large bands of slaves at work in his cotton fields. They still call him "Massa." He tells me that labor costs him less now than it did before the emancipation of the negroes. When I arrived I found him busily engaged in scouring the rust off some cotton-gin saws which had been lying for months at the bottom of his mill-pond to prevent Sherman’s "bummers" from destroying them. The most valuable parts of the grist-mill and cotton-press were hidden in the same way. "If Bill Sherman," he said, "should come down now without his army, he would never go back."
When I asked him if he could give me food and lodging for the night he said, "No, no, we have no accommodations for travelers." I said, "But I am traveling as a botanist and either have to find lodgings when night overtakes me or lie outdoors, which I often have had to do in my long walk from Indiana. But you see that the country here is very swampy; if you will at least sell me a piece of bread, and give me a drink at your well, I shall have to look around for a dry spot to lie down on." Then, asking me a few questions, and narrowly examining me, he said, "Well, it is barely possible that we may find a place for you, and if you will come to the house I will ask my wife." Evidently he was cautious to get his wife’s opinion of the kind of creature I was before committing himself to hospitality. He halted me at the door and called out his wife, a fine-looking woman, who also questioned me narrowly as to my object in coming so far down through the South, so soon after the war. She said to her husband that she thought they could, perhaps, give me a place to sleep.
After supper, as we sat by the fire talking on my favorite subject of botany, I described the country I had passed through, its botanical character, etc. Then, evidently, all doubt as to my being a decent man vanished, and they both said that they would n’t for anything have turned me away; but I must excuse their caution, for perhaps fewer than one in a hundred, who passed through this unfrequented part of the country, were to be relied upon. "Only a short time ago we entertained a man who was well spoken and well dressed, and he vanished some time during the night with some valuable silverware." Mr. Cameron told me that when I arrived he tried me for a Mason, and finding that I was not a Mason he wondered still more that I would venture into the country without being able to gain the assistance of brother Masons in these troublous times.
"Young man," he said, after hearing my talks on botany, "I see that your hobby is botany. My hobby is e-lec-tricity. I believe that the time is coming, though we may not live to see it, when that mysterious power or force, used now only for telegraphy, will eventually supply the power for running railroad trains and steamships, for lighting, and, in a word, electricity will do all the work of the world."
Many times since then I have thought of the wonderfully correct vision of this Georgia planter, so far in advance of almost everybody else in the world. Already nearly all that he foresaw has been accomplished, and the use of electricity is being extended more and more every year.
Part of the grounds was cultivated and planted with live-oak, about a hundred years ago, by a wealthy gentleman who had his country residence here But much the greater part is undisturbed. Even those spots which are disordered by art, Nature is ever at work to reclaim, and to make them look as if the foot of man had never known them. Only a small plot of ground is occupied with graves and the old mansion is in ruins. The most conspicuous glory of Bonaventure is its noble avenue of live-oaks. They are the most magnificent planted trees I have ever seen, about fifty feet high and perhaps three or four feet in diameter, with broad spreading leafy heads. The main branches reach out horizontally until they come together over the driveway, embowering it throughout its entire length, while each branch is adorned like a garden with ferns, flowers, grasses, and dwarf palmettos.
But of all the plants of these curious tree-gardens the most striking and characteristic is the so-called Long Moss. It drapes all the branches from top to bottom, hanging in long silvery-gray skeins, reaching a length of not less than eight or ten feet, and when slowly waving in the wind they produce a solemn funereal effect singularly impressive. There are also thousands of smaller trees and clustered bushes, covered almost from sight in the glorious brightness of their own light. The place is half surrounded by the salt marshes and islands of the river, their reeds and sedges making a delightful fringe. Many bald eagles roost among the trees along the side of the marsh. Their screams are heard every morning, joined with the noise of crows and the songs of countless warblers, hidden deep in their dwellings of leafy bowers. Large flocks of butterflies, flies, all kinds of happy insects, seem to be in a perfect fever of joy and sportive gladness.
The whole place seems like a center of life. The dead do not reign there alone. Bonaventure to me is one of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures I ever met. I was fresh from the Western prairies, the garden-like openings of Wisconsin, the beech and maple and oak woods of Indiana and Kentucky, the dark mysterious Savannah cypress forests; but never since I was allowed to walk the woods have I found so impressive a company of trees as the oaks of Bonaventure.
I gazed awe-stricken as one new-arrived from another world. Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light."
. . . When I awoke, the sun was up and all Nature was rejoicing. Some birds had discovered me as an intruder, and were making a great ado in interesting language and gestures. I heard the screaming of the bald eagles, and of some strange waders in the rushes. I heard the hum of Savannah with the long jarring hallos of negroes far away. On rising I found that my head had been resting on a grave, and though my sleep had not been quite so sound as that of the person below, I arose refreshed, and looking about me, the morning sunbeams pouring through the oaks and gardens dripping with dew, the beauty displayed was so glorious and exhilarating that hunger and care seemed only a dream. . .
Muir's drawing of himself sleeping on a grave
Next day I returned to the town and was disappointed as usual in obtaining money. So after spending the day looking at the plants in the gardens of the fine residences and town squares, I returned to my graveyard home. That I might not be observed and suspected of hiding, as if I had committed a crime, I always went home after dark, and one night, as I lay down in my moss nest, I felt some cold-blooded creature in it; whether a snake or simply a frog or toad I do not know, but instinctively, instead of drawing back my hand, I grasped the poor creature and threw it over the tops of the bushes. That was the only significant disturbance or fright that I got.
In the morning everything seemed divine. Only squirrels, sunbeams, and birds came about me. I was awakened every morning by these little singers after they discovered my nest. Instead of serenely singing their morning songs they at first came within two or three feet of the hut, and, looking in at me through the leaves, chattered and scolded in half-angry, half-wondering tones. The crowd constantly increased, attracted by the disturbance. Thus I began to get acquainted with my bird neighbors in this blessed wilderness, and after they learned that I meant them no ill they scolded less and sang more.
. . . By this time I was becoming faint, and in making the journey to the town was alarmed to find myself growing staggery and giddy. The ground ahead seemed to be rising up in front of me, and the little streams in the ditches on the sides of the road seemed to be flowing up hill. Then I realized that I was becoming dangerously hungry and became more than ever anxious to receive that money package.
To my delight this fifth or sixth morning, when I inquired if the money package had come, the clerk replied that it had, but that he could not deliver it without my being identified. I said, "Well, here! read my brother’s letter," handing it to him. "It states the amount in the package, where it came from, the day it was put into the office at Portage City, and I should think that would be enough." He said, "No, that is not enough. How do I know that this letter is yours? You may have stolen it. How do I know that you are John Muir?"
I said, "Well, don’t you see that this letter indicates that I am a botanist? For in it my brother says, 'I hope you are having a good time and finding many new plants.' Now, you say that I might have stolen this letter from John Muir, and in that way have become aware of there being a money package to arrive from Portage for him. But the letter proves that John Muir must be a botanist, and though, as you say, his letter might have been stolen, it would hardly be likely that the robber would be able to steal John Muir’s knowledge of botany. Now I suppose, of course, that you have been to school and know something of botany. Examine me and see if I know any thing about it."
At this he laughed good-naturedly, evidently feeling the force of my argument, and, perhaps, pitying me on account of looking pale and hungry, he turned and rapped at the door of a private office—probably the Manager’s—called him out and said, "Mr. So and So, here is a man who has inquired every day for the last week or so for a money package from Portage, Wisconsin. He is a stranger in the city with no one to identify him. He states correctly the amount and the name of the sender. He has shown me a letter which indicates that Mr. Muir is a botanist, and that although a traveling companion may have stolen Mr. Muir’s letter, he could not have stolen his botany, and requests us to examine him." The head official smiled, took a good stare into my face, waved his hand, and said, "Let him have it."
Gladly I pocketed my money, and had not gone along the street more than a few rods before I met a very large negro woman with a tray of gingerbread, in which I immediately invested some of my new wealth, and walked rejoicingly, munching along the street, making no attempt to conceal the pleasure I had in eating. Then, still hunting for more food, I found a sort of eating-place in a market and had a large regular meal on top of the gingerbread! Thus my "marching through Georgia" terminated handsomely in a jubilee of bread.
. . . The same day on which the money arrived I took passage on the steamship Sylvan Shore for Fernandina, Florida. The daylight part of this sail along the coast of Florida was full of novelty, and by association awakened memories of my Scottish days at Dunbar on the Firth of Forth. . .
October 15. To-day, at last, I reached Florida, the so-called “Land of Flowers,” that I had so long waited for, wondering if after all my longings and prayers would be in vain, and I should die without a glimpse of the flowery Canaan. But here it is, at the distance of a few yards!—a flat, watery, reedy coast, with clumps of mangrove and forests of moss-dressed, strange trees appearing low in the distance. The steamer finds her way among the reedy islands like a duck, and I step on a rickety wharf. A few steps more take me to a rickety town, Fernandina. I discover a baker, buy some bread, and without asking a single question, make for the shady, gloomy groves. . . . We were all discharged by the captain of the steamer without breakfast, and, after meeting and examining the new plants that crowded about me, I threw down my press and little bag beneath a thicket, where there was a dry spot on some broken heaps of grass and roots, something like a deserted muskrat house, and applied myself to my bread breakfast. Everything in earth and sky had an impression of strangeness; not a mark of friendly recognition, not a breath, not a spirit whisper of sympathy came from anything about me, and of course I was lonely. I lay on my elbow eating my bread, gazing, and listening to the profound strangeness.
While thus engaged I was startled from these gatherings of melancholy by a rustling sound in the rushes behind me. Had my mind been in health, and my body not starved, I should only have turned calmly to the noise. But in this half-starved, unfriended condition I could have no healthy thought, and I at once believed that the sound came from an alligator. I fancied I could feel the stroke of his long notched tail and could see his big jaws and rows of teeth, closing with a springy snap on me, as I had seen in pictures.
Well, I don’t know the exact measure of my fright either in time or pain, but when I did come to a knowledge of the truth, my man-eating alligator became a tall white crane, hand-some as a minister from spirit land — “only that.” I was ashamed and tried to excuse myself on account of Bonaventure anxiety and hunger.
Florida is so watery and vine-tied that pathless wanderings are not easily possible in any erection. I started to cross the State by a gap hewn for the locomotive, walking sometimes between the rails, stepping from tie to tie, or walking on the strip of sand at the sides, gazing into the mysterious forest, Nature’s own. . . . But the grandest discovery of this great wild day was the palmetto. I was meeting so many strange plants that I was much excited, making many stops to get specimens. But I could not force my way far through the swampy forest, although so tempting and full of promise. Regardless of water snakes or insects, I endeavored repeatedly to force a way through the tough vine-tangles, but seldom succeeded in getting farther than a few hundred yards.
. . . I caught sight of the first palmetto in a grassy place, standing almost alone.
A few magnolias were near it, and bald cypresses, but it was not shaded by them.
Muir's drawing of the palmetto and himself
They tell us that plants are perishable, soulless creatures, that only man is immortal, etc.; but this, I think, is something that we know very nearly nothing about.
Anyhow, this palm was indescribably impressive and told me grander things than I ever got from human priest.
. . . Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread. The antipathies existing in the Lord’s great animal family must be wisely planned, like balanced repulsion and attraction in the mineral kingdom. How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! how blind to the rights of all the rest of creation! With what dismal irreverence we speak of our fellow mortals! Though alligators, snakes, etc., naturally repel us, they are not mysterious evils. They dwell happily in these flowery wilds, are part of God’s family, unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.
I think that most of the antipathies which haunt and terrify us are morbid productions of ignorance and weakness. I have better thoughts of those alligators now that I have seen them at home. Honorable representatives of the great saurians of an older creation, may you long enjoy your lilies and rushes, and be blessed now and then with a mouthful of terror-stricken man by way of dainty!
The world, we are told, was made especially for man a presumption not supported by all the facts.
A numerous class of men are painfully astonished whenever they find anything, living or dead, in all God’s universe, which they cannot eat or render in some way what they call useful to themselves. They have precise dogmatic insight of the intentions of the Creator, and it is hardly possible to be guilty of irreverence in speaking of their God any more than of heathen idols. He is regarded as a civilized, law-abiding gentleman in favor either of a republican form of government or of a limited monarchy; believes in the literature and language of England; is a warm supporter of the English constitution and Sunday schools and missionary societies; and is as purely a manufactured article as any puppet of a half-penny theater.
. . . To such properly trimmed people, the sheep, for example, is an easy problem — food and clothing “for us,” eating grass and daisies white by divine appointment for this predestined purpose, on perceiving the demand for wool that would be occasioned by the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden.
In the same pleasant plan, whales are storehouses of oil for us, to help out the stars in lighting our dark ways until the discovery of the Pennsylvania oil wells. Among plants, hemp, to say nothing of the cereals, is a case of evident destination for ships’ rigging, wrapping packages, and hanging the wicked. Cotton is another other plain case of clothing. Iron was made for hammers and ploughs, and lead for bullets all intended for us. And so of other small handfuls of insignificant things.
But if we should ask these profound expositors of God’s intentions, How about those man-eating animals — lions, tigers, alligators — which smack their lips over raw man? Or about those myriads of noxious insects that destroy labor and drink his blood? Doubtless man was intended for food and drink for all these? Oh, no! Not at all! These are unresolvable difficulties connected with Eden’s apple and the Devil.
Why does water drown its lord? Why do so many minerals poison him? Why are so many plants and fishes deadly enemies? Why is the lord of creation subjected to the same laws of life as his subjects? Oh, all these things are satanic, or in some way connected with the first garden.
Now, it never seems to occur to these far-seeing teachers that Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit — the cosmos?
The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.
. . . The fearfully good, the orthodox, of this laborious patch-work of modern civilization cry “Heresy” on every one whose sympathies reach a single hair’s breadth beyond the boundary epidermis of our own species. Not content with taking all of earth, they also claim the celestial country as the only ones who possess the kind of souls for which that imponderable empire was planned.
This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them.
After human beings have also played their part in Creation’s plan, they too may disappear without any general burning or extraordinary commotion whatever.
Plants are credited with but dim and uncertain sensation, and minerals with positively none at all. But why may not even a mineral arrangement of matter be endowed with sensation of a kind that we in our blind exclusive perfection can have no manner of communication with?Muir continued to suffer from the heat and lingering effects of his illness. In Cuba, an announcement in a New York newspaper was a turning point in his life: there was a ship leaving for California.
We are apt to look out on the great ocean and regard it as but a half-blank part of our globe — a sort of desert, “a waste of water.” But, land animals though we be, land is about as unknown to us as the sea, for the turbid glances we gain of the ocean in general through commercial eyes are comparatively worthless. Now that science is making comprehensive surveys of the life of the sea, and the forms of its basins, and similar surveys are being made into the land deserts, hot and cold, we may at length discover that the sea is as full of life as the land. None can tell how far man’s knowledge may yet reach.
On the first of April, 1868, I set out afoot for Yosemite. It was the bloom-time of the year over the lowlands and coast ranges the landscapes of the Santa Clara Valley were fairly drenched with sunshine, all the air was quivering with the songs of the meadow-larks, and the hills were so covered with flowers that they seemed to be painted.
. . . From the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city. Along the top and extending a good way down, was a rich pearl-gray belt of snow; below it a belt of blue and lark purple, marking the extension of the forests; and stretching long the base of the range a broad belt of rose-purple; all these colors, from the blue sky to the yellow valley smoothly blending as they do in a rainbow, making a wall of light ineffably fine. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light . . .
The most famous and accessible of these cañon valleys, and also the one that
presents their most striking and sublime features on the grandest scale, is the Yosemite, situated in the basin of the Merced River at an elevation of 4000 feet above the level of the sea. It is about seven miles long, half a mile to a mile wide, and nearly a mile deep in the solid granite flank of the range. The walls are made up of rocks, mountains in size, partly separated from each other by side cañons, and they are so sheer in front, and so compactly and harmoniously arranged on a level floor, that the Valley, comprehensively seen, looks like an immense hall or temple lighted from above.
Merced River in Yosemite
But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life. Some lean back in majestic repose; others, absolutely sheer or nearly so for thousands of feet, advance beyond their companions in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike, seemingly aware, yet heedless, of everything going on about them.
Galen Clark was the best mountaineer I ever met, and one or the kindest and most amiable of all my mountain friends. I first met him at his Wawona ranch forty-three years ago on my first visit to Yosemite. I had entered the Valley with one companion by way of Coulterville, and returned by what was then known as the Mariposa trail. Both trails were buried in deep snow where the elevation was from 5000 to 7000 feet above sea level in the sugar pine and silver fir regions. We had no great difficulty, however, in finding our way by the trends of the main features of the topography. Botanizing by the way, we made slow, plodding progress, and were again about out of provisions when we reached Clark’s hospitable cabin at Wawona. He kindly furnished us with flour and a little sugar and tea, and my companion, who complained of the be-numbing poverty of a strictly vegetarian diet, gladly accepted Mr. Clark’s offer of a piece of a bear that had just been killed. After a short talk about bears and the forests and the way to the Big Trees, we pushed on up through the Wawona firs and sugar pines, and camped in the now-famous Mariposa grove. Later, after making my home in the Yosemite Valley, I became well acquainted with Mr. Clark, while he was guardian. He was elected again and again to this important office by different Boards of Commissioners on account of his efficiency and his real love of the Valley. . . . His kindness to all Yosemite visitors and mountaineers was marvelously constant and uniform. . . Mr. Clark was truly and literally a gentle-man. I never heard him utter a hasty, angry, fault-finding word. His voice was uniformly pitched at a rather low tone, perfectly even, although lances of his eyes and slight intonations of his voice often indicated that something funny or mildly sarcastic was coming, but upon the whole he was serious and industrious, and, however deep and fun-provoking a story might be, he never indulged in boisterous laughter.
Galen Clark at Glacier Point
He was very fond of scenery and once told me after I became acquainted with him that he liked "nothing in the world better than climbing to the top of a high ridge or mountain and looking off." He preferred the mountain ridges and domes in the Yosemite regions on account of the wealth and beauty of the forests. Often times he would take his rifle, a few pounds of bacon, a few pounds of flour, and a single blanket and go off hunting, for no other reason than to explore and get acquainted with the most beautiful points of view within a journey of a week or two from his Wawona home. On these trips he was always alone and could indulge in tranquil enjoyment of Nature to his heart’s content. He said that on those trips, when he was a sufficient distance from home in a neighborhood where he wished to linger, he always shot a deer, sometimes a grouse, and occasionally a bear. After diminishing the weight of a deer or bear by eating part of it, he carried as much as possible of the best of the meat to Wawona, and from his hospitable well-supplied cabin no weary wanderer ever went away hungry or unrested.
The value of the mountain air in prolonging life is well exemplified in Mr. Clark’s case. While working in the mines he contracted a severe cold that settled on his lungs and finally caused severe inflammation and bleeding, and none of his friends thought he would ever recover. The physicians told him he had but a short time to live. It was then that he repaired to the beautiful sugar pine woods at Wawona and took up a claim, including the fine meadows there, and building his cabin, began his life of wandering and exploring in the glorious mountains about him, usually going bare-headed. In a remarkably short time his lungs were healed.In June 1869, Muir took a job as a shepherd, and herded a flock of 2,000 sheep to Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra. He wrote about this period in his book First Summer in the Sierra, which was published in 1911. Muir came to despise his "hoofed locusts" for tearing up the grass and devouring wildflowers, but he discovered a dazzling new world.
While I was anxiously brooding on the bread problem, so troublesome to wanderers, and trying to believe that I might learn to live like the wild animals, gleaning nourishment here and there from seeds, berries, etc., sauntering and climbing in joyful independence of money or baggage, Mr. Delaney, a sheep-owner, for whom I had worked a few weeks, called on me, and offered to engage me to go with his shepherd and flock to the headwaters of the Merced and Tuolumne rivers, —the very region I had most in mind. I was in the mood to accept work of any kind that would take me into the mountains whose treasures I had tasted last summer in the Yosemite region. The flock, he explained, would be moved gradually higher through the successive forest belts as the snow melted, stopping for a few weeks at the best places we came to. These I thought would be good centres of observation from which I might be able to make many telling excursions within a radius of eight or ten miles of the camps to learn something of the plants, animals, and rocks; for he assured me that I should be left perfectly free to follow my studies. I judged, however, that I was in no way the right man for the place, and freely explained my shortcomings, confessing that I was wholly unacquainted with the topography of the upper mountains, the streams that would have to be crossed, and the wild sheep-eating animals, etc.; in short that, what with bears, coyotes, rivers, cañons, and thorny, bewildering chaparral, I feared that half or more of his flock would be lost. Fortunately these shortcomings seemed insignificant to Mr. Delaney. The main thing, he said, was to have a man about the camp whom he could trust to see that the shepherd did his duty, and he assured me that the difficulties that seemed so formidable at a distance would vanish as we went on; encouraging me further by saying that the shepherd would do all the herding, that I could study plants and rocks and scenery as much as I liked, and that he would himself accompany us to the first main camp and make occasional visits to our higher ones to replenish our store of provisions and see how we prospered. Therefore I concluded to go, though still fearing, when I saw the silly sheep bouncing one by one through the narrow gate of the home corral to be counted, that of the two thousand and fifty many would never return.
I was fortunate in getting a fine St. Bernard dog for a companion. His master, a hunter with whom I was slightly acquainted, came to me as soon as he heard that I was going to spend the summer in the Sierra and begged me to take his favorite dog, Carlo, with me, for he feared that if he were compelled to stay all summer on the plains the fierce heat might be the death of him. “I think I can trust you to be kind to him,” he said, “and I am sure he will be good to you. He knows all about the mountain animals, will guard the camp, assist in managing the sheep, and in every way be found able and faithful.” Carlo knew we were talking about him, watched our faces, and listened so attentively that I fancied he understood us. Calling him by name, I asked him if he was willing to go with me. He looked me in the face with eyes expressing wonderful intelligence, then turned to his master, and after permission was given by a wave of the hand toward me and a farewell patting caress, he quietly followed me as if he perfectly understood all that had been said and had known me always.
. . . We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun, —a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal. Just now I can hardly conceive of any bodily condition dependent on food or breath any more than the ground or the sky. How glorious a conversion, so complete and wholesome it is, scarce memory enough of old bondage days left as a standpoint to view it from!
. . . The air is distinctly fragrant with balsam and resin and mint, —every breath of it a gift we may well thank God for. Who could ever guess that so rough a wilderness should yet be so fine, so full of good things. One seems to be in a majestic domed pavilion in which a grand play is being acted with scenery and music and and incense, —all the furniture and action so interesting we are in no danger of being called on to endure one dull moment.
God himself seems to be always doing his best here, working like a man in a glow of enthusiasm. . . .
I like to watch the squirrels. There are two species here, the large California
gray and the Douglas. The latter is the brightest of all the squirrels I have ever seen, a hot spark of life, making every tree tingle with his prickly toes, a condensed nugget of fresh mountain vigor and valor, as free from disease as a sunbeam. One cannot think of such an animal ever being weary or sick. He seems to think the mountains belong to him, and at first tried to drive away the whole flock of sheep as well as the shepherd and dogs. How he scolds, and what faces he makes, all eyes, teeth, and whiskers! If not so comically small, he would indeed be a dreadful fellow. I should like to know more about his bringing up, his life in the home knot-hole, as well as in the tree-tops, throughout all seasons.
"Douglas Squirrel observing brother man" - Muir's 1869 drawing
. . . Followed the Mono Trail up the eastern rim of the basin nearly to its summit, then turned off southward to a small shallow valley that extends to the edge of the Yosemite, which we reached about noon, and encamped. After luncheon I made haste to high ground, and from the top of the ridge on the west side of Indian Cañon gained the noblest view of the summit peaks I have ever yet enjoyed. Nearly all the upper basin of the Merced was displayed, with its sublime domes and cañons, dark upsweeping forests, and glorious array of white peaks deep in the sky, every feature glowing, radiating beauty that pours into our flesh and bones like heat rays from fire. Sunshine over all; no breath of wind to stir the brooding calm. Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boundless an affluence of sublime mountain beauty. The most extravagant description I might give of this view to any one who has not seen similar landscapes with his own eyes would not so much as hint its grandeur and the spiritual glow that covered it. I shouted and gesticulated in a wild burst of ecstasy, much to the astonishment of St. Bernard Carlo, who came running up to me, manifesting in his intelligent eyes a puzzled concern that was very ludicrous, which had the effect of bringing me to my senses. A brown bear, too, it would seem, had been a spectator of the show I had made of myself, for I had gone but a few yards when I started one from a thicket of brush. He evidently considered me dangerous, for he ran away very fast, tumbling over the tops of the tangled manzanita bushes in his haste. Carlo drew back, with his ears depressed as if afraid, and kept looking me in the face, as if expecting me to pursue and shoot, for he had seen many a bear battle in his day . . .
September 9. . . Mr. Delaney has hardly had time to ask me how I enjoyed my trip, though he has facilitated and encouraged my plans all summer, and declares I’ll be famous some day, a kind guess that seems strange and incredible to a wandering wilderness-lover with never a thought or dream of fame while humbly trying to trace and learn and enjoy Nature’s lessons . . .
Here ends my forever memorable first High Sierra excursion. I have crossed the Range of Light, surely the brightest and best of all the Lord has built; and rejoicing in its glory, I gladly, gratefully, hopefully pray I may see it again.
|Hutchings House Hotel|
Muir and Carr continued corresponding. She sent many of her friends to Yosemite to meet Muir and "to hear him preach the gospel of the mountains." She also tried to promote Muir's writings by submitting his letters to a monthly magazine for publication.
William Frederic Badè, who later wrote The Life and Letters of John Muir, referred to Thérèse Yelverton's novel for her description of Muir at this time:
There can be little doubt that we have in the pages of this novel a fairly accurate description of Muir’s personal appearance in 1870, however distortedly she may have reproduced his views and conversation. While to her mind “his garments had the tatterdemalion style of a Mad Tom,” she “soon divined that his refinement was innate, and his education collegiate.” . . . It is of interest to find her noting Muir’s “glorious auburn hair,” “his open blue eyes of honest questioning,” and “his bright intelligent face, shining with a pure and holy enthusiasm.” She saw his “lithe figure. . . skipping over the rough boulders, poising with the balance of an athlete, or skirting a shelf of rock with the cautious activity of a goat, never losing for a moment the rhythmic motion of his flexile form. . . . His figure was about five feet nine, well knit, and bespoke that active grace which only trained muscles can assume.” This new acquaintance, the like of whom, by her own confession, she had never met in all her travels, proved a tempting hero for her tale of Yosemite.
|Ralph Waldo Emerson|
In July 1871, Muir wrote to his friend, Catherine Merrill:
Yosemite Valley, July 12th
Dear Friend: Your sister’s note which came with the little plants tells that you are about to escape from the frightful tendencies of a “Christian” school to the smooth shelter of home. I glanced at the regulations, order, etc., in the catalogue which you sent, and the grizzly thorny ranks of cold enslaving “musts” made me shudder as I fancy I should had I looked into a dungeon of the olden times full of rings and thumbscrews and iron chains. . . . I suppose that you were moved to go among those flint Christians by the same motives of philanthropy which urged you amongst other forms of human depravity.
From my page I hold my bosom to our purple rocks and snowy waters and think of the divine repose which enwraps them all together with the tuned flies, and birds, and plants which inhabit them, and I thank God for this tranquil freedom, this glorious mountain Yosemite barbarism.
I have been with you and your apostolic friends these fifteen minutes and I feel a kind of choking and sinking as though I were smothering in nightmare. Come to Yosemite! Change the subject.
Last Sabbath week I read one of the most magnificent of God’s own mountain manuscripts. During my rambles of the last two years in the basin of Yosemite Creek north of the Valley, I had gathered many faint hints from what I read as glacial footprints in the rocks worn by the storms and blotting chemistry of ages. Now there is a deep canyon in the top of the Valley wall near the upper Yosemite Falls which has engaged my attention for more than a year, and I could not account for its formation in any other way than by a theory which involved the supposition that a glacier formerly filled the basin of the stream above. Suddenly the big truth came to the birth. I ran up the mountain, ‘round to the top of the falls, said my prayers, received baptism in the irised spray and ran northward toward the head of the basin, full of faith, confident that there was a writing for me somewhere on the rock, and I had not drifted four miles before I found all that I had so long sought in a narrow hollow where the ice had been compelled to wedge through under great pressure, thus deeply grooving and hardening the granite and making it less susceptible of decomposition. I continued up the stream to its source in the snows of Mt. Hoffmann, and everywhere discovered strips of meadow and sandy levels formed from the matter of moraine sand and bouldery accumulations of all kinds, smoothed and leveled by overflowing waters.Pursuit of his love of science, especially geology, occupied his free time. Muir soon became convinced that glaciers had sculpted many of the features of the Yosemite Valley and surrounding area. This notion was in stark contradiction to the accepted contemporary theory, promulgated by Josiah Whitney, head of the California Geological Survey, which attributed the formation of the valley to a catastrophic earthquake. Whitney tried to discredit Muir by branding him as an amateur. But Louis Agassiz, the premier geologist of the day, saw merit in Muir's ideas, and lauded him as "the first man I have ever found who has any adequate conception of glacial action."
In 1871, Muir discovered an active alpine glacier below Merced Peak, which helped his theories gain acceptance. In September 1871, he sent off his first essay on the subject, Yosemite Glaciers, which was published in Horace Greeley's New York Daily Tribune, Muir's first appearance as an author in print.
In September 1871 he wrote to Jeanne Carr:
Yosemite September 8th, 1871
Dear Friend: I am sorry that King made you uneasy about me. He does not understand me as you do, and you must not heed him so much. He thinks that I am melancholy, and above all that I require polishing. I feel sure that if you were here to see how happy I am, and how ardently I am seeking a knowledge of the rocks you could not call me away, but would gladly let me go with only God and his written rocks to guide me. You would not think of calling me to make machines or a home, or of rubbing me against other minds, or of setting me up for measurement. No, dear friend, you would say, “Keep your mind untrammeled and pure. Go unfrictioned, unmeasured, and God give you the true meaning and interpretation of his mountains.”
You know that for the last three years I have been ploddingly making observations about this Valley and the high mountain region to the East of it, drifting broodingly about and taking in every natural lesson that I was fitted to absorb. In particular the great Valley has always kept a place in my mind.
How did the Lord make it? What tools did He use? How did He apply them and when?
I considered the sky above it and all of its opening canyons, and studied the forces that came in by every door that I saw standing open, but I could get no light. Then I said, “You are attempting what is not possible for you to accomplish. Yosemite is the end of a grand chapter. If you would learn to read it go commence at the beginning.” Then I went above to the alphabet valleys of the summits, comparing canyon with canyon with all their varieties of rock structure and cleavage, and the comparative size and slope of the glaciers and waters which they contained. Also the grand congregation of rock creations were present to me, and I studied their forms and sculpture. I soon had a key to every Yosemite rock and perpendicular and sloping wall. The grandeur of these forces and their glorious results overpower me, and inhabit my whole being. Waking or sleeping I have no rest. In dreams I read blurred sheets of glacial writing or follow lines of cleavage or struggle with the difficulties of some extraordinary rock form. Now it is clear that woe is me if I do not drown this tendency toward nervous prostration by constant labor in working up the details of this whole question. I have been down from the upper rocks only three days and am hungry for exercise already.
. . . I have settled with Hutchings and have no dealings with him now. I think that next spring I will have to guide a month or two for pocket money, although I do not like the work. I suppose I might live for one or two seasons without work. I have five hundred dollars here, and I have been sending home money to my sisters and brothers—perhaps about twelve or fifteen hundred, and a man in Canada owes me three or four hundred dollars more which I suppose I could get if I was in need; but you know that the Scotch do not like to spend their last dollar. Some of my friends are badgering me to write for some of the magazines, and I am almost tempted to try it, only I
afraid that this would distract my mind from my main work more than the distasteful and depressing labor of the mill or of guiding. What do you think about it?
. . . Perhaps you will ask, “What plan are you going to pursue in your work?” Well, here it is—the only book I ever have invented. First, I will describe each glacier with its tributaries separately, then describe the rocks and hills and mountains over which they have flowed or past which they have flowed, endeavoring to prove that all of the various forms which those rocks now have is the necessary result of the ice action in connection with their structure and cleavage, etc.—also the different kinds of canyons and lake basins and meadows which they have made. Then, armed with these data, I will come down to Yosemite, where all of my ice has come, and prove that each dome and brow and wall, and every grace and spire and brother is the necessary result of the delicately balanced blows of well directed and combined glaciers against the parent rocks which contained them, only thinly carved and moulded in some instances by the subsequent action of water, etc.
Lake Nevada, My Heaven.
October, 1871. Night.
|Lake Washburn, also known as Lake Nevada or Shadow Lake|
I went alone, my outfit consisting of a pair of blankets and a quantity of bread and coffee. There is a weird charm in carrying out such a free and pathless plan as I had projected; passing through untrodden forests, from canyon to canyon, from mountain to mountain; constantly coming upon new beauties and new truths. . . . As I drifted over the dome-paved basin of Yosemite Creek. . . sunset found me only three miles back fromHe descended into the canyon by what he at first supposed to be a trail laid out by Indians, but soon discovered that it was a bear-path leading to harvests of brown acorns in black oak groves and to thickets of berry-laden manzanita.
the brow of El Capitan, near the head of a round smooth gap—the deepest groove in the El Capitan ridge. Here I lay down and thought of the time when the groove in which I rested was being ground away at the bottom of a vast ice-sheet that flowed over all the Sierra like a slow wind. . . . My huge camp fire glowed like a sun. . . . A happy brook sang confidingly, and by its side I made my bed of rich, spicy boughs, elastic and warm. Upon so luxurious a couch, in such a forest, and by such a fire and brook, sleep is gentle and pure. Wildwood sleep is always refreshing; and to those who receive the mountains into their souls, as well as into their sight—living with them clean and free—sleep is a beautiful death, from which we arise every dawn into a new-created world, to begin a new life in a new body.
The sandy ground was covered with bear-tracks; but that gave me no anxiety. because I knew that bears never eat men where berries and acorns abound. Night came in most impressive stillness. My blazing fire illumined the brown columns of my guardian trees, and from between their bulging roots a few withered breckans and golden-rods leaned forward, as if eager to drink the light. Here and there a star glinted through the shadowy foliage overhead, and in front I could see a portion of the mighty canyon walls massed in darkness against the sky; making me feel as if at the bottom of the sea. The near, soothing hush of the river joined faint, broken songs of cascades. I became drowsy, and, on the incense-like breath of my green pillow, I floated away into sleep.
|Hetch Hetchy Valley|
During the first night, a few inches of snow fell, but I slept safely beneath a cedar-log, and pursued my journey next day, charmed with the universal snow-bloom that was upon every tree, bush, and weed, and upon all the ground, in lavish beauty. I reached home the next day, rejoicing in having added to my mountain wealth one more Yosemite Valley.
The following summer he wrote a letter to Catharine Merrill:
|Muir in 1872|
Yosemite Valley, June 9th, 1872
My Dear Friend
I am very happy to hear your hand language once more, but in some places I am black and blue with your hurricane of scolding. . . The sea will do you good; bathe in it and bask in sunshine and allow the pure and generous currents of universal uncolleged beauty to blow about your bones and about all the overworked wheels of your mind. I know very well how you toil and toil, striving against lassitude and the cloudy weather of discouraging cares with a brave heart, your efforts toned by the blessedness of doing good; but do not, I pray you, destroy your health. The Lord understands his business and has plenty of tools, and does not require over-exertion of any kind.
I wish you could come here and rest a year in the simple unmingled Love fountains of God. You would then return to your scholars with fresh truth gathered and absorbed from pines and waters and deep singing winds, and you would find that they all sang of fountain Love just as did Jesus Christ and all of pure God manifest in whatever form. You say that good men are “nearer to the heart of God than are woods and fields, rocks and waters” Such distinctions and measurements seem strange to me. Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are men.
We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love. God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.
|William Keith's painting of Yosemite Valley|
When we got to Mount Lyell, it was the grandest thing I ever saw. It was late in October, and at an elevation of 10,000 feet. The frost had changed the grasses and a kind of willow to the most brilliant yellows and reds; these contrasting with the two-leafed pine and Williamson spruce, the cold gray rocks, the colder snow, made a glorious sight.Muir reported the outing rather differently, writing that when they rounded a corner and Mt. Lyell came into view, "Keith dashed forward, shouting and gesticulating and waving his arms like a madman."
Muir made what is thought to be the first ascent of 13,300 ft. Mount Ritter:
I succeeded in gaining the foot of the cliff on the eastern extremity of the glacier, and there discovered the mouth of a narrow avalanche gully, through which I began to climb, intending to follow it as far as possible, and at least obtain some fine wild views for my pains. Its general course is oblique to the plane of the mountain-face, and the metamorphic slates of which the mountain is built are cut by cleavage planes in such a way that they weather off in angular blocks, giving rise to irregular steps that greatly facilitate climbing on the sheer places.
I thus made my way into a wilderness of crumbling spires and battlements, built together in bewildering combinations, and glazed in many places with a thin coating of ice, which I had to hammer off with stones. The situation was becoming gradually more perilous; but, having passed several dangerous spots, I dared not think of descending; for, so steep was the entire ascent, one would inevitably fall to the glacier in case a single misstep were made.
Knowing, therefore, the tried danger beneath, I became all the more anxious concerning the developments to be made above, and began to be conscious of a vague foreboding of what actually befell; not that I was given to fear, but rather because my instincts, usually so positive and true, seemed vitiated in some way, and were leading me astray.
At length, after attaining an elevation of about 12,800 feet, I found myself at the foot of a sheer drop in the bed of the avalanche channel I was tracing, which seemed absolutely to bar further progress. It was only about forty-five or fifty feet high, and somewhat roughened by fissures and projections; but these seemed so slight and insecure, as footholds, that I tried hard to avoid the precipice altogether, by scaling the wall of the channel on either side. But, though less steep, the walls were smoother than the obstructing rock, and repeated efforts only showed that I must either go right ahead or turn back. . . . I began to scale it, picking my holds with intense caution.
After gaining a point about halfway to the top, I was suddenly brought to a dead stop, with arms outspread, clinging close to the face of the rock, unable to move hand or foot either up or down. My doom appeared fixed. I must fall. There would be a moment of bewilderment, and then a lifeless rumble down the one general precipice to the glacier below.
When this final danger flashed upon me, I became nerve-shaken for the first time since setting foot on the mountains, and my mind seemed to fill with a stifling smoke.
But this terrible eclipse lasted only a moment, when life blazed forth again with preternatural clearness. I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense. The other self, bygone experiences, Instinct, or Guardian Angel,—call it what you will,—came forward and assumed control. Then my trembling muscles became firm again, every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as through a microscope, and my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do. Had I been borne aloft upon wings, my deliverance could not have been more complete.
Above this memorable spot, the face of the mountain is still more savagely hacked and torn. It is a maze of yawning chasms and gullies, in the angles of which rise beetling crags and piles of detached boulders that seem to have been gotten ready to be launched below. But the strange influx of strength I had received seemed inexhaustible. I found a way without effort, and soon stood upon the topmost crag in the blessed light.
How truly glorious the landscape circled around this noble summit!—giant mountains, valleys innumerable, glaciers and meadows, rivers and lakes, with the wide blue sky bent tenderly over them all. But in my first hour of freedom from that terrible shadow, the sunlight in which I was laving seemed all in all.On Christmas day, 1872, Muir wrote a letter to Jeanne Carr:
Book-making frightens me, because it demands so much artificialness and retrograding. Somehow, up here in these fountain skies I feel like a flake of glass through which light passes, but which, conscious of the inexhaustibleness of its sun fountain, cares not whether its passing light coins itself into other forms or goes unchanged—neither charcoaled nor diamonded!
Moreover, I find that though I have a few thoughts entangled in the fibres of my mind, I possess no words into which I can shape them. You tell me that I must be patient and reach out and grope in lexicon granaries for the words I want. But if some loquacious angel were to touch my lips with literary fire, bestowing every word of Webster, I would scarce thank him . . . because most of the words of the English language are made of mud, for muddy purposes, while those invented to contain spiritual matter are doubtful and unfixed in capacity and form, as wind-ridden mist-rags.
These mountain fires that glow in one’s blood are free to all, but I cannot find the chemistry that may press them unimpaired into booksellers’ bricks. True, with that august instrument, the English language, in the manufacture of which so many brains have been broken, I can proclaim to you that moonshine shine is glorious, and sunshine more glorious, that winds rage, and waters roar, and that in ‘terrible times’ glaciers guttered the mountains with their hard cold snouts. This is about the limit of what I feel capable of doing for the public—the moiling, squirming, fog-breathing public. But for my few friends I can do more because they already know the mountain harmonies and can catch the tones I gather for them, though written in a few harsh and gravelly sentences.
Instead of narrowing my attention to book making out of material I have already eaten and drunken, I would rather stand in what all the world would call an idle manner, literally gaping with all the mouths of soul and body, demanding nothing, fearing nothing, but hoping and enjoying enormously. So-called sentimental, transcendental dreaming seems the only sensible and substantial business one can engage in.In a letter to his sister, Margaret:
Yosemite Valley, March 1st, 1873.
My dear Maggie Lauder;
I am told that you placed all the world under still greater obligation by giving it another baby. And David and Katie, too, and Dan’s. Jupiter! What an irrepressible onset of babies.
Here you interrupt my exclamations by demanding the measure of progress made by myself as a lover of the world' s welfare in a similar way. I must answer, "Very little, for 'my love is but a lassie yet', -- only five years old. "Only that." Yet I might have been more advanced, for not to mention many matrimonial possibilities, I was actually offered "a lass wi1 a tocker (dowery). But I must draw my pen out of that subject.
I hope to return to your midst after my mountain wanderings are past, to behold all of the old faces and the new. I am sure that you and John must feel amazingly wealthy by this time. I trust that all your widening circle of little ones and big ones may be blessed of heaven, and be made to feel how glorious is the gift of life in this beauty-filled world.
Do you ever hope, My Maggie, to come hither? Some of the words of our Heavenly Father are more distinctly seen in these grand characters of mountains and waterfalls than in any others. Yet whatever we can read in all the world is contained in that sentence of boundless meaning, "God is Love." This is the sum and substance of all that the sunshine utters, and all that is spoken by the calms and storms of the mountains, and by what we call terrible earthquakes and furious torrents, and wild beating tones of the ocean.All these manifestations are but forms of that one bible utterance, "God is Love."
I would like to take you and Sarah husbandless and babyless away back into the mountains to stroll free and alone as when we used to make excursions around "The Lake." What a world of wonders every individual day would be. For hours and hours you would forget your homes and husbands and children, and in rare times regard them as trifles. I am sure of that, my lassie. It seems too bad that every year I should guide strangers to the dearest sanctuaries of the Sierras, and not one of my own kin. But who knows what paths our feet may yet travel.
I am comfortable with books and a warm nook and abundance of bread. The greatest of the Falls ever before me in front of my window where I sit in writing or reading. My scythe ticks on the table, and my bed in the corner, clean and sweet-smelling, made of sugar pine, tips me out in good time in the morning.
Goodbye, my Maggie, for my sheet is full. This makes six full letters I have written today, and I have one or two more to write before retiring. You are all dear to me. Give my love to all. I am alwaysMuir believed that his father's religious fervor reached a point where it was necessary to ask his brother and his brother-in-law to interfere in the interest of their mother and sisters:.
To David Gilrye Muir
March 1st, 1873
I answer your letter at once because I want to urge you to do what you can in breaking up that wild caprice of father’s of going to Bristol and Lord Muller. You and David Galloway are the only reliable common-sense heads in our tribe, and it is important, when the radical welfare of our parents and sisters is at stake, that we should do all that is in our power.
I expected a morbid and semi-fanatical outbreak of this kind as soon as I heard of his breaking free from the wholesome cares of the farm. Yet I hoped that he would find ballast in your town of some Sabbath-school or missionary kind that would save him from any violent crisis like the present. That thick matted sod of Bristol orphans, which is a sort of necessary evil induced by other evils, is all right enough for Muller in England, but all wrong for Muir in America
The lives of Anna and Joanna, accustomed to the free wild Nature of our woods, if transplanted to artificial fields and dingy towns of England, would wilt and shrivel to mere husks, even if they were not to make their life work amid those pinched and blinking orphans.
Father, in his present feeble-minded condition, is sick and requires the most considerate treatment from all who have access to his thoughts, and his moral disease is by no means contemptible, for it is only those who are endowed with poetic and enthusiastic brains that are subject to it. Most people who are born into the world remain babies all their lives, their development being arrested like sun-dried seeds. Father is a magnificent baby, who, instead of dozing contentedly like most of his neighbors, suffers growing pains that are ready to usher in the dawn of a higher life.
But to come to our work, can you not induce father to engage in some tract or mission or Sabbath-school enterprise that will satisfy his demands for bodily and spiritual exercise? Can you not find him some thicket of destitution worthy of his benevolence? Can you not convince him that the whole world is full of work for the kind and willing heart? Or, if you cannot urge him to undertake any independent charity, can you not place him in correspondence with some Milwaukee or Chicago society where he would find elbow room for all his importance. An earnest man like father, who also has a little money, is a valuable acquisition to many societies of a philanthropic kind, and I feel sure that if once fairly afloat from this shoal of indolence upon which he now chafes, he would sail calmly the years now remaining to him.
At all events, tell mother and the girls, that whether this side the sea or that, they need take no uneasiness concerning bread . . . .John Muir
John Muir continued to explore and write in his journal:
All the animals were apparently ready to own me as a friend and brother today. At noon I slung down my heavy bundle . . . and sat down to cool and take breath . . . After resting a moment I began to sketch a view . . . and soon became wholly absorbed. After I had been working ten or fifteen minutes . . . a chipmunk came whisking beneath my upcurved arm and sat, evidently astonished, upon the middle of my sketch, then whistled and sprung off to a tree . . . and stood looking over at me, the very picture of puzzlement.
|General Grant Sequoia|
The girth of "General Grant" is one hundred and six feet near the ground. . . The "General Grant" is burned near the ground on the east side . . . The grand old tree has been barbarously destroyed by visitors hacking off chips and engraving their names in all styles. Men residing in the grove, shingle-making, say that in the last six weeks as many as fifty visitors have been in the grove. It is easy of access by a wagon-road. . .
I took some provisions and my horse to make an excursion to Mount Whitney [now called Mount Langley}, while the rest of the party when to Independence. . .I set out for the summit afoot. Soon I gained the top of old Mount Whitney, about fourteen thousand feet high. . . . I leveled to another summit, five or six miles north . . . and set out to climb it also. The way was very rough, up and down canyons. I reached the base of the highest peak near sunset at the edge of a small lake. No wood was within four or five miles. Therefore, though tired, I made up my mind to spend the night climbing, as I could not sleep. I took bearings by the stars. By midnight I was among the summit needles. There I had to dance all night to keep from freezing, and was feeble and starving next morning.
William Frederic Badè wrote in The Life and Letters of John Muir:
On the first of November Muir had reached Lake Tahoe and in two weeks he was in Yosemite again. The Yosemite chapter of his life was about to close and it cost him a severe struggle to separate himself from the beloved Valley.
But he had engaged himself to bring to paper his mountain studies during the winter, a task that involved at least a temporary sojourn in a place within easy reach of San Francisco. “I suppose I must go into society this winter,” he wrote to his sister Sarah on November 14th, 1873. “I would rather go back in some undiscoverable comer beneath the rafters of an old garret with my notes and books and listen to the winter rapping and blowing on the roof. May start for Oakland in a day or two. Will probably live in Professor Carr’s family. ”
He departed as the first snowflakes began to whirl over the Valley which thereafter was to know him as a resident no more. When he reached Oakland, the Carr household was in deep mourning over the tragic death of the eldest son, so he accepted the offer of a room in the home of his friends Mr. and Mrs. J. B. McChesney.Muir found living in the San Francisco area unsatisfactory; he wrote in September 1874:
Once I was let down into a deep well into which choke-damp had settled, and nearly lost my life. The deeper I was immersed in the invisible poison, the less capable I became of willing measures of escape from it. And in just this condition are those who toil or dawdle or dissipate in crowded towns, in the sinks of commerce pleasure.
When Muir was nervous about a public lecture in Sacramento, William Keith loaned him one
When I first came down to the city from my mountain home, I began to wither, and wish instinctively for the vital woods and high sky. Yet I lingered month after month, plodding at "duty." At length I chanced to see a lovely goldenrod in bloom in a weedy spot alongside one of the less frequented sidewalks here. Suddenly I was aware of the ending of summer and fled. Then, once away, I saw how shrunken and lean I was, and how glad I was I had gone. . . .
San Francisco in the 1870s
|William Keith's Headwaters of the Merced|
Jeanne Carr introduced Muir to the woman who would become his wife, Louisa "Louie" Wanda Strenzel. She was the daughter of Louisiana Irwin Strentzel and Dr. John Theophil Strentzel, a prosperous Polish immigrant who owned a large fruit farm near Martinez, California.
|Louisa "Louie" Strenzel|
Louie first met John Muir on September 15, 1874 at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Carr in Oakland. On June 17, 1879 they became engaged, just before Muir's first trip to Alaska. They kept their engagement a secret.
|Muir in 1879|
Letter To Louie Wanda Strentzel from Mary Swett:
San Francisco, April 8, 1880
My Dear Miss Strentzel:
When Mr. Muir made his appearance the other night I thought he had a sheepish twinkle in his eye . . Judge then of the sensation when he exploded his bombshell! At first laughing incredulity—it was April. We were on our guard against being taken in, but the mention of Dr. Dwinell’s name and a date settled it, and I have hunted up a pen to write you a letter of congratulation. For John and I are jubilant over the match. It gratifies completely our sense of fitness, for you both have a fair foundation of the essentials of good health, good looks, good temper, etc. Then you both have culture, and to crown all you have “prospects” and he has talent and distinction.
But I hope you are good at a hair-splitting argument. You will need to be to hold your own with him. Five times to-day has he vanquished me. Not that I admitted it to him—no, never! He not only excels in argument, but always takes the highest ground—is always on the right side.
He told Colonel Boyce the other night that his position was that of champion for a mean, brutal policy. It was with regard to Indian extermination, and that he (Boyce) would be ashamed to carry it with one Indian in personal conflict. I thought the Colonel would be mad, but they walked off arm in arm. Further, he is so truthful that he not only will never embellish sketch or word-picture by any imaginary addition, but even retains every unsightly feature lest his picture should not be true.
There, I have said all I can in his favor, and as an offset I must tell you that I have been trying all day to soften his hard heart of an old animosity and he won’t yield an inch. It is sometimes impossible to please him. . . .
With hearty regard, I am Yours very truly Mary Louise Swett
It was fitting, perhaps, that one who loved Nature in her wildest moods, should have his wedding day distinguished by a roaring rainstorm through which he drove Dr. I. E. Dwinell, the officiating clergyman, back to the Martinez station in a manner described by the latter as “like the rush of a torrent down the cañon.”Muir went into partnership with his father-in-law, Dr. John Strentzel, and for ten years directed most of his energy into managing this large fruit ranch. He did take some wilderness trips, including another voyage to Alaska later in 1880.
|Alaska Voyages of Muir|
1879 & 1880
Sitka on board the California
August 10th, 1880
10.30 P.M. of your time
My Own Dear Louie:I’m now about as far from you as I will be this year—only this wee sail to the North and then to thee, my lassie. And I’m not away at all, you know, for only they who do not love may ever be apart. There is no true separation for those whose hearts and souls are together.
. . . We sailed smoothly through the thousand evergreen isles, and arrived at Fort Wrangell at 4.30 A.M. on the 8th. Left Wrangell at noon of the same day and arrived here on the 9th at 6 A.M. Spent the day in friendly greetings and saunterings.
. . . And now for my future plans. The California sails to-morrow afternoon some time for Fort Wrangell, and I mean to return on her and from there set out on my canoe trip. I do not expect to be detained at Wrangell, inasmuch as I saw Mr. Young, who promised to have a canoe and crew ready. I mean to keep close along the mainland, exploring the deep inlets in turn, at least as far north as the Taku, then push across to Cross Sound and follow the northern shore, examining the glaciers that crowd into the deep inlet that puts back northward from near the south extremity of the Sound, where I was last year. Thence I mean to return eastward along the southern shore of the Sound to Chatham Strait, turn southward down the west shore of the Strait to Peril Strait, and follow this strait to Sitka, where I shall take the California. Possibly, however, I may, should I not be pushed for time return to Wrangell. . . . .
This is a bright, soft, balmy day. How you would enjoy it! You must come here some day when you are strong enough. . . . Everybody inquires first on seeing me, “Have you brought your wife?” and then “Have you a photograph?” and then pass condemnation for coming alone!. . .The mail is about to close, and I must write to mother. Affectionately, your husband, John Muir
|Muir's "Scribble Den" in Martinez|
Muir's letter to Louie:
August 16th, 1881
My Beloved Wife: Heaven only knows my joy this night in hearing that you were well. Old as the letter is and great as the number of days and nights that have passed since your love was written, it yet seems as if I had once more been upstairs and held you and Wanda in my arms.
Ah, you little know the long icy days, so strangely nightless, that I have longed and longed for one word from you. The dangers, great as they were, while groping and grinding among the vast immeasurable ice-fields about that mysterious Wrangell Land would have seemed as nothing before I knew you.
. . . I am coming home by the middle of October. No thought of wintering now and attempting to cross the frozen ocean from Siberia. We will take no more risks. All is well with our stanch little ship. She is scarce at all injured by the pounding and grinding she has undergone, and sailing home seems nothing more than crossing San Francisco Bay. We have added a large territory to the domain of the United States and amassed a grand lot of knowledge of one sort and another. . . .
Good-bye, love. I shall soon be home. Love to all. My wee lass-love—she seems already in my arms. Not in dreams this time!
From father and husband and lover.
|Muir's daughters, Wanda & Helen|
It is not now so easy a matter to wing hither and thither like a bird, for here is a wife and a baby and a home, together with the old press of field studies and literary work, which I by no means intend to lose sight of even in the bright bewitching smiles of my wee bonnie lassie. Speaking of brightness, I have been busy, for a week or two just past letting more light into the house by means of dormer windows, and in making two more open brick fireplaces.
Dormer-windows, open wood-fires, and perfectly happy babies make any home glow with warm sunny brightness and bring out the best that there is in us.
Few lives were more restless and eventful than his, few more steadily toilsome and full of enthusiastic endeavor, ever fighting his way onward unwearied toward light and truth and eternal love.
But his last years as he lay broken in body waiting for rest were full of calm divine light. Faith in God and charity to all became the end of all his teachings, and he often times spoke of the mistakes he had made in his relation toward his family and neighbors, urging those about him to be on their guard and see to it that love alone was made the guide and rule of every action.
. . . He was an enthusiastic believer and upholder of the gospel and it is this vivid burning belief that forms the groundwork of his character and explains its apparent contradictions. He belonged to almost every protestant denomination in turn, going from one to another, not in search of a better creed, but ever in search of a warmer and more active zeal among its members with whom he could contribute his time and money to the spread of the gospel. . . .
At length he passed on into the land of light, dying like a summer day in deep peace, surrounded by his children.
|Robert Underwood Johnson|
On September 30, 1890, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that essentially followed recommendations that Muir had suggested in two Century articles, The Treasure of the Yosemite and Features of the Proposed National Park, both published in 1890. But to Muir's dismay, the bill left Yosemite Valley under state control, as it had been since the 1860s.
|Dr. Strentzel on the Martinez ranch|
|Muir Home in Martinez|
From The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, November 1891:
This spring (1891) I made my fourth visit to the valley, to see what damage had been done, and to inspect the forests. . . . I left San Francisco on the 28th of May, accompanied by Mr. Robinson, the artist.
At the new King's River Mills we found that the sequoia giants, as well as the pines and firs, were being ruthlessly turned into lumber. Sixteen years ago I saw five mills on or near the sequoia belt, all of which were cutting more or less of "big-tree" lumber. Now, as I am told, the number of mills along the belt in the basins of the King's, Kaweah, and Tule rivers is doubled, and the capacity more than doubled.
As if fearing restriction of some kind, particular attention is being devoted to the destruction of the sequoia groves owned by the mill companies, with the view to get them made into lumber and money before steps can be taken to save them.
Sequoia cut down to make shingles
Trees which compared with mature specimens are mere saplings are being cut down, as well as the giants, up to at least twelve to fifteen feet in diameter. Scaffolds are built around the great brown shafts above the swell of the base, and several men armed with long saws and axes gnaw and wedge them down with damnable industry. The logs found to be too large are blasted to manageable dimensions with powder.
It seems incredible that Government should have abandoned so much of the forest cover of the mountains to destruction.
As well sell the rain-clouds, and the snow, and the rivers, to be cut up and carried away if that were possible. Surely it is high time that something be done to stop the extension of the present barbarous, indiscriminating method of harvesting the lumber crop.
|Sierra Club Members|
One of his speeches to the Sierra Club was titled The National Parks and Forest
|Muir ca. 1890|
The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it. ... So we must count on watching and striving for these trees, and should always be glad to find anything so surely good and noble to strive for.Early in 1893, Muir left home to travel east for a long trip; one of his first stops was a visit to the Columbia World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois:
Chicago, May 29, 1893, 9 A.M.
Dear Louie:I leave for New York this evening at five o’clock and arrive there to-morrow evening at seven, when I expect to find a letter from you. . .
I have been at the Fair every day, and have seen the best of it, though months would be required to see it all. You know I called it a “cosmopolitan rat’s nest,” containing much rubbish and commonplace stuff as well as things novel and precious. Well, now that I have seen it, it seems just such a rat’s nest still, and what, do you think, was the first thing I saw when I entered the nearest of the huge buildings? A high rat’s nest in a glass case about eight feet square, with stuffed wood rats looking out from the mass of sticks and leaves, etc., natural as life? So you see, as usual, I am “always right.”
I most enjoyed the art galleries. There are about eighteen acres of paintings by every nation under the sun, and I wandered and gazed until I was ready to fall down with utter exhaustion.
. . . The outside view of the buildings is grand and also beautiful. For the best architects have done their best in building them, while Frederick Law Olmsted laid out the grounds. Last night the buildings and terraces and fountains along the canals were illuminated by tens of thousands of electric lights arranged along miles of lines of gables, domes, and cornices, with glorious effect. It was all fairyland on a colossal scale and would have made the Queen of Sheba and poor Solomon in all their glory feel sick with helpless envy. I wished a hundred times that you and the children and Grandma could have seen it all, and only the feeling that Helen would have been made sick with excitement prevented me from sending for you. I hope Helen is well and then all will be well. . . . Tell the children I’ll write them from New York to-morrow or next day. Love to all. Good-bye. Ever yours, John MuirOn the East Coast, he stayed with friends in New York, as well as taking trips to Massachusetts:
New York, June 13
Dear Louie:I was suddenly interrupted by a whole lot of new people, visits, dinners, champagne, etc., and have just got back to New York by a night boat by way of Fall River. . . .
I dined in grand style at Mr. Pinchot’s, whose son is studying forestry. The home is at Gramercy Park, New York. Here and at many other places I had to tell the story of the minister’s dog. Everybody seems to think it wonderful for the views it gives of the terrible crevasses of the glaciers as well as for the recognition of danger and the fear and joy of the dog, I must have told it at least twelve times at the request of Johnson or others who had previously heard it. I told Johnson I meant to write it out for “St. Nicholas,” but he says it is too good for “St. Nick,” and he wants it for the “Century” as a separate article. When I am telling it at the dinner-tables, it is curious to see how eagerly the liveried servants listen from behind screens, half-closed doors, etc.
Almost every day in town here I have been called out to lunch and dinner at the clubs and soon have a crowd of notables about me. I had no idea I was so well known, considering how little I have written. The trip up the Hudson was delightful. Went as far as West Point, to Castle Crags, the residence of the Osborns. Charming drives in the green flowery woods, and, strange to say, all the views, are familiar, for the landscapes are all freshly glacial. Not a line in any of the scenery that is not a glacial line. The same is true of all the region hereabouts. I found glacial scoring on the rocks of Central Park even.
Last Wednesday evening Johnson and I started for Boston, and we got back this morning, making the trip both ways in the night to economize time. After looking at the famous buildings, parks, monuments, etc., we took the train for Concord, wandered through the famous Emerson village, dined with Emerson’s son, visited the Concord Bridge, where the first blood of the Revolution was shed, and where “the shot was fired heard round the world.”
Went through lovely, ferny, flowery woods and meadows to the hill cemetery and laid flowers on Thoreau’s and Emerson’s graves. I think it is the most beautiful graveyard I ever saw. It is on a hill perhaps one hundred and fifty feet high in the woods of pine, oak, beech, maple, etc., and all the ground is flowery. Thoreau lies with his father, mother, and brother not far from Emerson and Hawthorne. Emerson lies between two white pine trees, one at his head, the other at his feet, and instead of a mere tombstone or monument there is a mass of white quartz rugged and angular, wholly uncut, just as it was blasted from the ledge. I don’t know where it was obtained. There is not a single letter or word on this grand natural monument. It seems to have been dropped there by a glacier, and the soil he sleeps in is glacial drift almost wholly unchanged since first this country saw the light at the close of the glacial period. There are many other graves here, though it is not one of the old cemeteries. Not one of them is raised above ground. Sweet kindly Mother Earth has taken them back to her bosom whence they came. I did not imagine I would be so moved at sight of the resting places of these grand men as I found I was. . . .
After leaving Thoreau and Emerson, we walked through the woods to Walden Pond. It is a beautiful lake about half a mile long, fairly embosomed like a bright dark eye in wooded hills of smooth moraine gravel and sand, and with a rich leafy undergrowth of huckleberry, willow, and young oak bushes. etc. and grass and flowers in rich variety. No wonder Thoreau lived here two years. I could have enjoyed living here two hundred years or two thousand. It is only about one and a half or two miles from Concord, a mere saunter, and how people should regard Thoreau as a hermit on account of his little delightful stay here I cannot guess. We visited also Emerson’s home and were shown through the house. It is just as he left it, his study, books, chair, bed, etc., and all the paintings and engravings gathered in his foreign travels. Also saw Thoreau’s village residence and Hawthorne’s old manse and other home near Emerson’s.
At six o’clock we got back from Walden to young Emerson’s father-in-law’s place in Concord and dined with the family and Edward Waldo Emerson. The latter is very like his father—rather tall, slender, and with his father’s sweet perennial smile. Nothing could be more cordial and loving than his reception of me. When we called at the house, one of the interesting old colonial ones, he was not in, and we were received by his father-in-law, a college mate of Thoreau, who knew Thoreau all his life. The old man was sitting on the porch when we called. Johnson introduced himself, and asked if this was Judge Keyes, etc. The old gentleman kept his seat and seemed, I thought, a little cold and careless in his manner. But when Johnson said “This is Mr. Muir,” he jumped up and said excitedly, “John Muir! Is this John Muir?” and seized me as if I were a long-lost son. He declared he had known me always, and that my name was a household word. Then he took us into the house, gave us refreshments, cider, etc., introduced us to his wife, a charming old fashioned lady, who also took me for a son. Then we were guided about the town and shown all the famous homes and places.
But I must hurry on or I will be making a book of it. We went back to Boston that night on a late train, though they wanted to keep us, and next day went to Professor Sargent’s grand place, where we had a perfectly wonderful time for several days. This is the finest mansion and grounds I ever saw. The house is about two hundred feet long with immense verandas trimmed with huge flowers and vines, standing in the midst of fifty acres of lawns, groves, wild woods of pine, hemlock, maple, beech, hickory, etc., and all kinds of underbrush and wild flowers and cultivated flowers—acres of rhododendrons twelve feet high in full bloom, and a pond covered with lilies, etc., all the ground waving, hill and dale, and clad in the full summer dress of the region, trimmed with exquisite taste. The servants are in livery, and everything is fine about the house and in it, but Mr. and Mrs. Sargent are the most cordial and unaffected people imaginable, and in a few minutes I was at my ease and at home, sauntering where I liked, doing what I liked, and making the house my own. Here we had grand dinners, formal and informal, and here I told my dog story, I don’t know how often, and described glaciers and their works. Here, the last day, I dined with Dana, of the New York “Sun,” and Styles, of the “Forest and Stream,” Parsons, the Superintendent of Central Park, and Matthews, Mayor of Boston.
. . . Must stop. Love to all. How glad I was to get Wanda’s long good letter this morning, dated June 2! All letters in Johnson’s care will find me wherever I go, here or in Europe.
In 1894 he published his first book, The Mountains of California:
Unfortunately, man is in the woods, and waste and pure destruction are making rapid headway.
If the importance of forests were at all understood, even from an economic standpoint, their preservation would call forth the most watchful attention of government.
Only of late years by means of forest reservations has the simplest groundwork for available legislation been laid, while in many of the finest groves every species of destruction is still moving on with accelerated speed. In the course of my explorations I found no fewer than five mills located on or near the lower edge of the Sequoia belt, all of which were cutting considerable quantities of Big Tree lumber. . . . In these milling operations waste far exceeds use, for after the choice young manageable trees on any given spot have been felled, the woods are fired to clear the ground of limbs and refuse with reference to further operations, and, of course, most of the seedlings and saplings are destroyed.
These mill ravages, however, are small as compared with the comprehensive destruction caused by “sheepmen.” Incredible numbers of sheep are driven to the mountain pastures every summer, and their course is ever marked by desolation. Every wild garden is trodden down, the shrubs are stripped of leaves as if devoured by locusts, and the woods are burned. Running fires are set everywhere, with a view to clearing the ground of prostrate trunks, to facilitate the movements of the flocks and improve the pastures. The entire forest belt is thus swept and devastated from one extremity of the range to the other, and, with the exception of the resinous Pinus contorta , Sequoia suffers most of all.
. . . It appears, therefore, that notwithstanding our forest king might live on gloriously in Nature’s keeping, it is rapidly vanishing before the fire and steel of man; and unless protective measures be speedily invented and applied, in a few decads, at the farthest, all that will be left of Sequoia gigantea will be a few hacked and scarred monuments.
In 1896, the National Academy of Sciences formed the National Forest Commission. Pinchot was the only non-Academy member. Pinchot was the first head of the United States Forest Service and a leading spokesman for the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of the people. His views eventually clashed with Muir's and highlighted two diverging views of the use of the country's natural resources. Pinchot saw conservation as a means of managing the nation's natural resources for long-term sustainable commercial use. As a professional forester, his view was that "forestry is tree farming," without destroying the long-term viability of the forests. Muir valued nature for its spiritual and transcendental qualities. Both men opposed reckless exploitation of natural resources, including clear-cutting of forests. Muir acknowledged the need for timber and the forests to provide it, but Pinchot's view of wilderness management was more resource-oriented.
According to Donald Worster in his Muir biography, A Passion for Nature:
Pinchot's notion of "wise use" was more a slogan than a well-grounded philosophy, one loose enough to allow ambitious politicians to gain control over natural resources while satisfying the business community that they were not anti-business. Often the doctrine focused on determining not what "the people" wanted but on what the most powerful people wanted, or would support. "Wise use" may have hinted at some principled interference with free-market forces, the tempering of exploitation with wisdom, but in practice that interference was nonsystematick and nonadversarial, and was advanced as a way to achieve a more "business-like" outcome.
Muir, whose life had long demonstrated considerable prudence and economic rationality, had never opposed "wise use" as part of conservation, including the selective harvesting of trees, the damming of waterways for irrigation, and even the destruction of wildlife habitat for economic development. . . . But the creation of a national park, in his view, was not about using natural resources more efficiently or protecting consumers from monopoly prices, but of consecrating a small part of nature, through liberal democratic processes, to higher ends.Muir wrote an article, The American Forests, in the August 1897 issue of The Atlantic:
The forests of America, however slighted by man, must have been a great delight to God; for they were the best he ever planted.
The whole continent was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed to be favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe. . . . Broad, exuberant, mantling forests, with the largest, most varied, most fruitful, and most beautiful trees in the world. . . . Lakes and rivers shone through all the vast forests and openings, and happy birds and beasts gave delightful animation. Everywhere, everywhere over all the blessed continent, there were beauty, and melody, and kindly, wholesome, foodful abundance. These forests were composed of about five hundred species of trees, all of them in some way useful to man, ranging in size from twenty-five feet in height and less than one foot in diameter at the ground to four hundred feet in height and more than twenty feet in diameter,—lordly monarchs proclaiming the gospel of beauty like apostles.
For many a century after the ice-ploughs were melted, nature fed them and dressed them every day; working like a man, a loving, devoted, painstaking gardener; fingering every leaf and flower and mossy furrowed bole; bending, trimming, modeling, balancing, painting them with the loveliest colors; bringing over them now clouds with cooling shadows and showers, now sunshine; fanning them with gentle winds and rustling their leaves; exercising them in every fibre with storms, and pruning them; loading them with flowers and fruit, loading them with snow, and ever making them more beautiful as the years rolled by. Wide-branching oak and elm in endless variety, walnut and maple, chestnut and beech, ilex and locust, touching limb to limb, spread a leafy translucent canopy along the coast of the Atlantic over the wrinkled folds and ridges of the Alleghanies,—a green billowy sea in summer, golden and purple in autumn, pearly gray like a steadfast frozen mist of interlacing branches and sprays in leafless, restful winter.
General Grant Sequoia
. . . So they appeared a few centuries ago when they were rejoicing in wildness. The Indians with stone axes could do them no more harm than could gnawing beavers and browsing moose. Even the fires of the Indians and the fierce shattering lightning seemed to work together only for good in clearing spots here and there for smooth garden prairies, and openings for sunflowers seeking the light.
But when the steel axe of the white man rang out in the startled air their doom was sealed. . . .In the settlement and civilization of the country, bread more than timber or beauty was wanted; and in the blindness of hunger, the early settlers, claiming Heaven as their guide, regarded God's trees as only a larger kind of pernicious weeds, extremely hard to get rid of.
Accordingly, with no eye to the future, these pious destroyers waged interminable forest wars; chips flew thick and fast; trees in their beauty fell crashing by millions, smashed to confusion, and the smoke of their burning has been rising to heaven more than two hundred years.
After the Atlantic coast from Maine to Georgia had been mostly cleared and scorched into melancholy ruins, the overflowing multitude of bread and money seekers poured over the Alleghanies into the fertile middle West, spreading ruthless devastation ever wider and farther over the rich valley of the Mississippi and the vast shadowy pine region about the Great Lakes. Thence still westward the invading horde of destroyers called settlers made its fiery way over the broad Rocky Mountains, felling and burning more fiercely than ever, until at last it has reached the wild side of the continent, and entered the last of the great aboriginal forests on the shores of the Pacific.
Surely, then, it should not be wondered at that lovers of their country, bewailing its baldness, are now crying aloud, "Save what is left of the forests!"In 1898 he visited “Four Brook Farm,” R. W. Gilder’s country place in the Berkshire Hills; he wrote to his daughter Wanda: “Tell mamma that I have enjoyed Mr. and Mrs. Gilder ever so much. On the way here, on the car, I was introduced to Joseph Choate, the great lawyer, and on Sunday Mr. Gilder and I drove over to his fine residence at Stockbridge to dinner, and I had a long talk with him about forests as well as glaciers. To-day we all go back to New York. This evening I dine with Johnson, and to-morrow I go up the Hudson to the Osborns’.”
Letter to Helen Muir:
November 4, 1898
My darling Helen: This is a fine calm thoughtful morning, bracing and sparkling, just the least touch of hoar-frost, quickly melting where the sunbeams, streaming through between the trees, fall in yellow plashes and lances on the lawns. Every now and then a red or yellow leaf comes swirling down, though there is not the slightest breeze. Most of the hickories are leafless now, but the big buds on the ends of the twigs are full of baby leaves and flowers that are already planning and thinking about next summer. Many of the maples, too, and the dogwoods are showing leafless branches; but many along the sheltered ravines are still rejoicing in all their glory of color, and look like gigantic goldenrods. God’s forests, my dear, are among the grandest of terrestrial things that you may look forward to. . . .
I am enjoying a fine rest, I have “the blue room” in this charming home, and it has the daintiest linen and embroidery I ever saw. The bed is so soft and fine I like to lie awake to enjoy it, instead of sleeping. A servant brings in a cup of coffee before I rise. This morning when I was sipping coffee in bed, a red squirrel looked in the window at me from a branch of a big tulip-tree, and seemed to be saying as he watched me. “Oh, John Muir! camping, tramping, tree-climbing scrambler! Churr, churr I why have you left us? Chip churr, who would have thought it?"
|Edward Henry Harriman|
Letter from Muir to his family:
Unalaska, July 8, 1899
My dear Wanda and Helen and Mama:
We arrived here this cloudy, rainy, foggy morning after a glorious sail from Sand Harbor on Unga Island, one of the Shumagin group, all the way along the volcano-dotted coast of the Alaska Peninsula and Unimak Island. The volcanoes are about as thick as haycocks on our alfalfa field in a wet year, and the highest of them are smoking and steaming in grand style. Shishaldin is the handsomest volcanic cone I ever saw and it looked like this last evening.
I’ll show you a better sketch in my notebook when I get home. About nine thousand feet high, snow and ice on its slopes, hot and bare at the top. A few miles from Shishaldin there is a wild rugged old giant of a volcano that blew or burst its own head off a few years ago, and covered the sea with ashes and cinders and killed fish and raised a tidal wave that lashed the shores of San Francisco—and even Martinez. There is a ship, the Loredo, that is to sail in an hour, so Pin in a hurry, as usual. We are going to the Seal Islands and St. Lawrence Island from here, and a point or two on the Siberian coast—then home. We are taking on coal, and will leave in three or four hours. I hope fondly that you are all well. . . . I’ll soon be back, my darlings. God bless you.
The Muir family home on the ranch in Martinez
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
The tendency nowadays to wander in wildernesses is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.
. . . This is fine and natural and full of promise. So also is the growing interest in the care and preservation of forests and wild places in general, and in the half wild parks and gardens of towns. Even the scenery habit in its most artificial forms, mixed with spectacles, silliness, and kodaks; its devotees arrayed more gorgeously than scarlet tanagers, frightening the wild game with red umbrellas,—even this is encouraging, and may well be regarded as a hopeful sign of the times.In the same year, the city of San Francisco began a campaign to build a reservoir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
|William Keith's painting of Sentinel|
|"President Roosevelt and his distinguished Party"|
|Roosevelt and Muir at Glacier Point|
|"Wanda on the mule", Arizona 1905|
“Get out among the mountains and the trees, friend, as soon as you can,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt. “They will do more for you than either man or woman could.” But the health of his daughter kept them in the Arizona desert for varying periods of time. There he discovered remnants of a petrified forest, which he studied. He urged that it be preserved as a national monument, and it was set aside by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 under the name of the Petrified Forest National Monument.
From Theodore Roosevelt's Seventh Annual Message to Congress, December 1907:
The conservation of our natural resources and their proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life. Unless we maintain an adequate material basis for our civilization, we can not maintain the institutions in which we take so great and so just a pride, and to waste and destroy our natural resources means to undermine these material bases.
. . . As a nation we not only enjoy a wonderful measure of present prosperity, but if this prosperity is used aright it is an earnest of future success such as no other nation will have. . . . But there must be the look ahead, there must be a realization of the fact that to waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.
Muir in 1907
For the last few years, through several agencies, the government has been endeavoring to get our people to look ahead and to substitute a planned and orderly development of our resources in place of a haphazard striving for immediate profit.
. . . Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.
The mineral wealth of the country, the coal, iron, oil, gas, and the like, does not reproduce itself, and therefore is certain to be exhausted ultimately; and wastefulness in dealing with it today means that our descendants will feel the exhaustion a generation or two before they otherwise would.
But there are certain other forms of waste which could be entirely stopped - the waste of soil by washing, for instance, which is among the most dangerous of all wastes now in progress in the United States, is easily preventable, so that this present enormous loss of fertility is entirely unnecessary.In 1907, The Sierra Club had submitted a resolution to the Secretary of the Interior
|William Keith's painting of Hetch Hetchy|
|Outdoors is the place to store up spiritual influences. However aimless our walks appear to be, some particular object consciously guides our steps, while we are alert and wide-awake to find what Nature has in store for us.|
~ John Muir
|Muir's photograph of Victoria Falls in Africa|
In August 1911, at the age of seventy-three and traveling alone, Muir embarked on an eight-month, 40,000-mile voyage to South America and Africa. The 1911-12 journals and correspondence described his travel up the great Amazon River, into the jungles of southern Brazil, to the snowline in the Andes,and then through southern and central Africa to the headwaters of the Nile. He crossed six oceans and seas in order to reach the rare forests he had so long wished to study. Muir considered it among the most important journeys of his life and the fulfillment of a decades-long dream.
In November of 1911 he traveled by horseback into the high mountains of Chile with a small party of native guides, and there found to his delight the Monkey Puzzle tree that he had been searching so long to find. Despite his age, he climbed to the top of a 1,000 foot high ridge so he could walk among the trees for which he had been searching. He described the sight of this rare
|Muir's drawing of a Monkey Puzzle Tree|
A glorious and novel sight, beyond all I had hoped for. Yet I had so long dreamed of it, it seemed familiar.
|In Africa he found the Baobab and declared it |
"One of the Great tree days of my lucky life."
Letter To Anna R. Dickey:
Martinez, May 1, 1912
Dear cheery, exhilarating Mrs. Dickey:Your fine lost letter has reached me at last. I found it in the big talus heap awaiting me here. The bright, shining, faithful, hopeful way you bear your crushing burdens is purely divine, out of darkness cheering everybody else with noble godlike sympathy. I’m so glad you have a home with the birds in the evergreen oaks—the feathered folk singing for you and every leaf shining, reflecting God’s love. Donald, too, is so brave and happy. With youth on his side and joyful work, he is sure to grow stronger and under every disadvantage do more as a naturalist than thousands of others with every resource of health and wealth and special training.
I’m in my old library den, the house desolate, nobody living in it save a hungry mouse or two. . . . [I hold] dearly cherished memories about it and the fine garden grounds full of trees and bushes and flowers that my wife and father-in-law and I planted—fine things from every land.
But there’s no good bread hereabouts and no housekeeper, so I may never be able to make it a home, fated, perhaps, to wander until sundown.
Anyhow, I’ve had a glorious life, and I’ll never have the heart to complain. The roses now are overrunning all bounds in glory of full bloom, and the Lebanon and Himalaya cedars, and the palms and Australian trees and shrubs, and the oaks on the valley hills seem happier and more exuberant than ever. The Chelan trip would be according to my own heart, but whether or no I can go I dinna ken. Only lots of hard pen work seems certain. Anywhere, anyhow, with love to Donald, I am,
Ever faithfully, affectionately yours, John Muir
|Muir writing in a journal|
Yosemite is so wonderful that we are apt to regard it as an exceptional creation, the only valley of its kind in the world; but Nature is not so poor as to have only one of anything. Several other yosemites have been discovered in the Sierra that occupy the same relative positions on the Range and were formed by the same forces in the same kind of granite.
One of these, the Hetch Hetchy Valley, is in the Yosemite National Park about twenty miles from Yosemite and is easily accessible to all sorts of travelers by a road and trail that leaves the Big Oak Flat road at Bronson Meadows a few miles below Crane Flat, and to mountaineers by way of Yosemite Creek basin and the head of the middle fork of the Tuolumne.
. . . After my first visit to it in the autumn of 1871, I have always called it the “Tuolumne Yosemite,” for it is a wonderfully exact counterpart of the Merced Yosemite, not only in its sublime rocks and waterfalls but in the gardens, groves and meadows of its flowery park-like floor. . . .The walls of both are of gray granite, rise abruptly from the floor, are sculptured in the same style and in both every rock is a glacier monument. . .
Sad to say, this most precious and sublime feature of the Yosemite National Park, one of the greatest of all our natural resources for the uplifting joy and peace and health of the people, is in danger of being dammed and made into a reservoir to help supply San Francisco with water and light, thus flooding it from wall to wall and burying its gardens and groves one or two hundred feet deep. This grossly destructive commercial scheme has long been planned and urged (though water as pure and abundant can be got from outside of the people’s park, in a dozen different places), because of the comparative cheapness of the dam and of the territory which it is sought to divert from the great uses to which it was dedicated in the Act of 1890 establishing the Yosemite National Park.
. . . Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks—the Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, etc.—Nature’s sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.
Muir with ladies on a Sierra Club outing
Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from the very beginning, however well guarded, they have always been subject to attack by despoiling gainseekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, shamiously crying, “Conservation, conservation, panutilization,” that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great. Thus long ago a few enterprising merchants utilized the Jerusalem temple as a place of business instead of a place of prayer, changing money, buying and selling cattle and sheep and doves; and earlier still, the first forest reservation, including only one tree, was likewise despoiled.
Ever since the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed.
. . . One of my later visits to the Valley was made in the autumn of 1907 with the late William Keith, the artist. The leaf-colors were then ripe, and the great godlike rocks in repose seemed to glow with life. The artist, under their spell, wandered day after day along the river and through the groves and gardens, studying the wonderful scenery; and, after making about forty sketches, declared with enthusiasm that although its walls were less sublime in height, in picturesque beauty and charm Hetch Hetchy surpassed even Yosemite.
. . . These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.
Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.
|Cabin in Mariposa Grove|
Between the heavy pine and silver fir zones towers the Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea), the king of all the conifers in the world, “the noblest of the noble race.” The groves nearest Yosemite Valley are about twenty miles to the westward and southward and are called the Tuolumne, Merced and Mariposa groves. It extends, a widely interrupted belt, from a very small grove on the middle fork of the American River to the head of Deer Creek, a distance of about 260 miles, its northern limit being near the thirty-ninth parallel, the southern a little below the thirty-sixth. The elevation of the belt above the sea varies from about 5000 to 8000 feet. From the American River to Kings River the species occurs only in small isolated groups so sparsely distributed along the belt that three of the gaps in it are from forty to sixty miles wide. But from Kings River south-ward the sequoia is not restricted to mere groves but extends across the wide rugged basins of the Kaweah and Tule Rivers in noble forests, a distance of nearly seventy miles, the continuity of this part of the belt being broken only by the main cañons.
. . . The very largest that I have yet met in the course of my explorations is a majestic old fire-scarred monument in the Kings River forest. It is thirty-five feet and eight inches in diameter inside the bark, four feet above the ground. It is burned half through, and I spent a day in clearing away the charred surface with a sharp ax and counting the annual wood-rings with the aid of a pocket lens. I succeeded in laying bare a section all the way from the outside to the heart and counted a little over four thousand rings, showing that this tree was in its prime about twenty-seven feet in diameter at the beginning of the Christian era. No other tree in the world, as far as I know, has looked down on so many centuries as the sequoia or opens so many impressive and suggestive views into history. Under the most favorable conditions these giants probably live 5000 years or more though few of even the larger trees are half as old.
The age of one that was felled in Calaveras grove, for the sake of having its stump for a dancing-floor, was about 1300 years, and its diameter measured across the stump twenty-four feet inside the bark. Another that was felled in the Kings River forest was about the same size but nearly a thousand years older (2200 years), though not a very old-looking tree. . .
The great trunks of the sequoia last for centuries after they fall. I have a specimen block of sequoia wood, cut from a fallen tree, which is hardly distinguishable from a similar section cut from a living tree, although the one cut from the fallen trunk has certainly lain on the damp forest floor more than 380 years, probably thrice as long. The time-measure in the case is simply this: When the ponderous trunk to which the old vestige belonged fell, it sunk itself into the ground, thus making a long, straight ditch, and in the middle of this ditch a silver fir four feet in diameter and 380 years old was growing, as I determined by cutting it half through and counting the rings, thus demonstrating that the remnant of the trunk that made the ditch has lain on the ground more than 380 years. For it is evident that, to find the whole time, we must add to the 380 years the time that the vanished portion of the trunk lay in the ditch before being burned out of the way, plus the time that passed before the seed from which the monumental fir sprang fell into the prepared soil and took root. Now, because sequoia trunks are never wholly consumed in one forest fire, and those fires recur only at considerable intervals, and because sequoia ditches after being cleared are often left unplanted for centuries, it becomes evident that the trunk-remnant in question may probably have lain a thousand years or more. And this instance is by no means a late one.
. . . There is no absolute limit to the existence of any tree. Death is due to accidents, not, as that of animals, to the wearing out of organs. Only the leaves die of old age. Their fall is foretold in their structure; but the leaves are renewed every year, and so also are the essential organs wood, roots, bark, buds. Most of the Sierra trees die of disease, insects, fungi, etc., but nothing hurts the big tree. I never saw one that was sick or showed the slightest sign of decay. Barring accidents, it seems to be immortal.
It is a curious fact that all the very old sequoias had lost their heads by lightning strokes. “All things come to him who waits.” But of all living things, sequoia is perhaps the only one able to wait long enough to make sure of being struck by lightning.
So far as I am able to see at present only fire and the ax threaten the existence of these noblest of God’s trees. In Nature’s keeping they are safe, but through the agency of man destruction is making rapid progress, while in the work of protection only a good beginning has been made.
The Fresno grove, the Tuolumne, Merced and Mariposa groves are under the protection of the Federal Government in the Yosemite National Park. So are the General Grant and Sequoia National Parks; the latter, established twenty-one years ago, has an area of 240 square miles and is efficiently guarded by a troop of cavalry under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior; so also are the small General Grant National Park, established at the same time with an area of four square miles, and the Mariposa grove, about the same size and the small Merced and Tuolumne group.
Perhaps more than half of all the big trees have been thoughtlessly sold and are now in the hands of speculators and mill men. It appears, therefore, that far the largest and important section of protected big trees is in the great Sequoia National Park, now easily accessible by rail to Lemon Cove and thence by a good stage road into the giant forest of the Kaweah and thence by rail to other parts of the park; but large as it is it should be made much larger. Its natural eastern boundary is the High Sierra and the northern and southern boundaries are the Kings and Kern Rivers. Thus could be included the sublime scenery on the headwaters of these rivers and perhaps nine-tenths of all the big trees in existence. All private claims within these bounds should be gradually extinguished by purchase by the Government.
The big tree, leaving all its higher uses out of the count, is a tree of life to the dwellers of the plain dependent on irrigation, a never-failing spring, sending living waters to the lowland. For every grove cut down a stream is dried up. Therefore all California is crying, “Save the trees of the fountains.” Nor, judging by the signs of the times, is it likely that the cry will cease until the salvation of all that is left of Sequoia gigantea is made sure.
With the exception of a few spires and pinnacles, the South Dome is the only rock about the Valley that is strictly inaccessible without artificial means, and its inaccessibility is expressed in severe terms. Nevertheless many a mountaineer, gazing admiringly, tried hard to invent a way to the top of its noble crown—all in vain, until in the year 1875, George Anderson, an indomitable Scotchman, undertook the adventure. The side facing Tenaya Cañon is an absolutely vertical precipice from the summit to a depth of about 1600 feet, and on the opposite side it is nearly vertical for about as great a depth. The southwest side presents a very steep and finely drawn curve from the top down a thousand feet or more, while on the northeast, where it is united with the Clouds’ Rest Ridge, one may easily reach a point called the Saddle, about seven hundred feet below the summit. From the Saddle the Dome rises in a graceful curve a few degrees too steep for unaided climbing, besides being defended by overleaning ends of the concentric dome layers of the granite.
View of Half Dome from Glacier Point
"South Dome is the barometer of our valley, perhaps the grandest in the world." ~ John Muir (South Dome is now known as Half Dome; Tissiack, the Indian name, was also frequently used by Muir)
A year or two before Anderson gained the summit, John Conway, the master trail-builder of the Valley, and his little sons, who climbed smooth rocks like lizards, made a bold effort to reach the top by climbing barefooted up the grand curve with a rope which they fastened at irregular intervals by means of eye-bolts driven into joints of the rock. But finding that the upper part would require laborious drilling, they abandoned the attempt, glad to escape from the dangerous position they had reached, some 300 feet above the Saddle. Anderson began with Conway’s old rope, which had been left in place, and resolutely drilled his way to the top, inserting eye-bolts five to six feet apart, and making his rope fast to each in succession, resting his feet on the last bolt while he drilled a hole for the next above. Occasionally some irregularity in the curve, or slight foothold, would enable him to climb a few feet without a rope, which he would pass and begin drilling again, and thus the whole work was accomplished in a few days. From this slender beginning he proposed to construct a substantial stairway which he hoped to complete in time for the next year’s travel, but while busy getting out timber for his stairway and dreaming of the wealth he hoped to gain from tolls, he was taken sick and died all alone in his little cabin.
On the 10th of November, after returning from a visit to Mount Shasta, a
month or two after Anderson had gained the summit, I made haste to the Dome, not only for the pleasure of climbing, but to see what I might learn. The first winter storm-clouds had blossomed and the mountains and all the high points about the Valley were mantled in fresh snow. I was, therefore, a little apprehensive of danger from the slipperiness of the rope and the rock. Anderson himself tried to prevent me from making the attempt, refusing to believe that any one could climb his rope in the now-muffled condition in which it then was. Moreover, the sky was overcast and solemn snow-clouds began to curl around the summit, and my late experiences on icy Shasta came to mind. But reflecting that I had matches in my pocket, and that a little firewood might be found, I concluded that in case of a storm the night could be spent on the Dome without suffering anything worth minding, no matter what the clouds might bring forth. I therefore pushed on and gained the top.
It was one of those brooding, changeful days that come between Indian summer and winter, when the leaf colors have grown dim and the clouds come and go among the cliffs like living creatures looking for work: now hovering aloft, now caressing rugged rock-brows with great gentleness, or, wandering afar over the tops of the forests, touching the spires of fir and pine with their soft silken fringes as if trying to tell the glad news of the coming of snow. The first view was perfectly glorious. A massive cloud of pure pearl luster, apparently as fixed and calm as the meadows and groves in the shadow beneath it, was arched across the Valley from wall to wall, one end resting on the grand abutment of El Capitan, the other on Cathedral Rock. A little later, as I stood on the tremendous verge overlooking Mirror Lake, a flock of smaller clouds, white as snow, came from the north, trailing their downy skirts over the dark forests, and entered the Valley with solemn god-like gestures through Indian Cañon and over the North Dome and Royal Arches, moving swiftly, yet with majestic deliberation. On they came, nearer and nearer, gathering and massing beneath my feet and filling the Tenaya Cañon. Then the sun shone free, lighting the pearly gray surface of the cloud-like sea and making it glow. Gazing, admiring, I was startled to see for the first time the rare optical phenomenon of the “Specter of the Brocken.” My shadow, clearly outlined, about half a mile long, lay upon this glorious white surface with startling effect. I walked back and forth, waved my arms and struck all sorts of attitudes, to see every slightest movement enormously exaggerated. Considering that I have looked down so many times from mountain tops on seas of all sorts of clouds, it seems strange that I should have seen the “Brocken Specter” only this once. A grander surface and a grander stand-point, however, could hardly have been found in all the Sierra.
Notwithstanding the enthusiastic eagerness of tourists to reach the crown of
the Dome, the views of the Valley from this lofty standpoint are less striking than from many other points comparatively low, chiefly on account of the foreshortening effect produced by looking down from so great a height. The North Dome is dwarfed almost beyond recognition, the grand sculpture of the Royal Arches is scarcely noticeable, and the whole range of walls on both sides seem comparatively low, especially when the Valley is flooded with noon sunshine; while the Dome itself, the most sublime feature of all the Yosemite views, is out of sight beneath one’s feet.
Tourists on Glacier Point
. . . No one has attempted to carry out Anderson’s plan of making the Dome accessible. For my part I should prefer leaving it in pure wildness, though, after all, no great damage could be done by tramping over it. The surface would be strewn with tin cans and bottles, but the winter gales would blow the rubbish away. Avalanches might strip off any sort of stairway or ladder that might be built. Blue jays and Clark’s crows have trodden the Dome for many a day, and so have beetles and chipmunks, and Tissiack would hardly be more “conquered” or spoiled should man be added to her list of visitors. His louder scream and heavier scrambling would not stir a line of her countenance. . . . Its entire surface is still covered with glacial hieroglyphics whose interpretation is the reward of all who devoutly study them. . .
If I were so time-poor as to have only one day to spend in Yosemite, I should
start at daybreak, say at three o’clock in midsummer, with a pocketful of any sort of dry breakfast stuff, for Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, the head of Illilouette Fall, Nevada Fall, the top of Liberty Cap, Vernal Fall and the wild boulder-choked River Cañon.
The trail leaves the Valley at the base of the Sentinel Rock, and as you slowly saunter from point to point along its many accommodating zigzags nearly all the Valley rocks and falls are seen in striking, ever-changing combinations. At an elevation of about five hundred feet a particularly fine, wide-sweeping view down the Valley is obtained, past the sheer face of the Sentinel and between the Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan. At a height of about 1500 feet the great Half Dome comes full in sight, overshadowing every other feature of the Valley to the eastward. From Glacier Point you look down 3000 feet over the edge of its sheer face to the meadows and groves and innumerable yellow pine spires, with the meandering river sparkling and spangling through the midst of them. Across the Valley a great telling view is presented of the Royal Arches, North Dome, Indian Cañon, Three Brothers and El Capitan, with the dome-paved basin of Yosemite Creek and Mount Hoffman in the background. To the eastward, the Half Dome close beside you looking higher and more wonderful than ever; southeastward the Starr King, girdled with silver firs, and the spacious garden-like basin of the Illilouette and its deeply sculptured fountain-peaks, called “The Merced Group”; and beyond all, marshaled along the eastern horizon, the icy summits on the axis of the Range and broad swaths of forests
growing on ancient moraines, while the Nevada, Vernal and Yosemite Falls are not only full in sight but are distinctly heard as if one were standing beside them in their spray.
. . . From Glacier Point go down the trail into the lower end of the Illilouette basin, cross Illilouette Creek and follow it to the Fall where from an outjutting rock at its head you will get a fine view of its rejoicing waters and wild cañon and the Half Dome. Thence returning to the trail, follow it to the head of the Nevada Fall. Linger here an hour or two, for not only have you glorious views of the wonderful fall, but of its wild, leaping, exulting rapids and, greater than all, the stupendous scenery into the heart of which the white passionate river goes wildly thundering, surpassing everything of its kind in the world.
After an unmeasured hour or so of this glory, all your body aglow, nerve currents flashing through you never before felt, go to the top of the Liberty Cap, only a glad saunter now that your legs as well as head and heart are awake and rejoicing with everything.Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft, suspended the Interior Department's approval for the Hetch Hetchy right-of-way. After years of national debate, Taft's successor , Woodrow Wilson, signed the bill authorizing the dam into law on December 19, 1913. Muir felt a great loss from the destruction of the valley, his last major battle. He wrote to his friend Vernon Kellogg, "As to the loss of the Sierra Park Valley [Hetch Hetchy] it's hard to bear. The destruction of the charming groves and gardens, the finest in all California, goes to my heart."
|Hetch Hetchy before being flooded|
Martinez, California May 31, 1913
Dear Mina Merrill: I am more delighted with your letter than I can tell—to see your handwriting once more and know that you still love me. For through all life’s wanderings you have held a warm place in my heart, and I have never ceased to thank God for giving me the blessed Merrill family as lifelong friends. As to the Scotch way of bringing up children, to which you refer, I think it is often too severe or even cruel. And as I hate cruelty, I called attention to it in the boyhood book while at the same time pointing out the value of sound religious training with steady work and restraint.
I’m now at work on an Alaska book, and as soon as it is off my hands I mean to continue the autobiography from leaving the University to botanical excursions in the northern woods, around Indianapolis, and thence to Florida, Cuba, and California. This will be volume number two.
It is now seven years since my beloved wife vanished in the land of the leal. Both of my girls are happily married and have homes and children of their own. Wanda has three lively boys, Helen has two and is living at Daggett, California. Wanda is living on the ranch in the old adobe, while I am alone in my library den in the big house on the hill where you and sister Kate found me on your memorable visit long ago.
As the shadows lengthen in life’s afternoon, we cling all the more fondly to the friends of our youth. And it is with the warmest gratitude that I recall the kindness of all your family when I was lying in darkness. That Heaven may ever bless you, dear Mina, is the heart prayer of your—Affectionate friend, John Muir
Muir was, of course, devastated and exhausted by the long ordeal. To the Kelloggs at Stanford he confessed, "It is hard to bear" the loss of the valley - "it goes to my very heart. But in spite of Satan & Co. some sort of compensation must surely come out of even this dark damn-dam-damnation."
The friends responded with a note of condolence and yet of congratulation: "The work you have done has had a big moral effect on the nation." Without his inspiration and leadership there would have been little debate or struggle over a remote valley that hardly anyone ever visited. However compromised, his passion for nature had ignited a conservation movement across the country that was political, religious, aesthetic, and moral in scope, one that would fight against the hydra-headed developed for generations to come.
"I have done my best," Muir wrote to Helen . . . and that effort, however outgunned at Hetch Hetchy, would endure as long as any of his science or books.
Martinez, January 4, 1914
Dear Friends Osborns: With all my heart I wish you a happy New Year. How hard you have fought in the good fight to save the Tuolumne Yosemite I well know. The battle has lasted twelve years, from Pinchot and Company to President Wilson, and the wrong has prevailed over the best aroused sentiment of the whole country.
That a lane lined with lies could be forced through the middle of the U.S. Congress is truly wonderful even in these confused political days—a devil’s masterpiece of logrolling road-making. But the approval of such a job by scholarly, virtuous, Princeton Wilson is the greatest wonder of all!
Fortunately wrong cannot last; soon or late it must fall back home to Hades, while some compensating good must surely follow.
With the new year to new work right gladly we will go—you to your studies of God’s lang-syne people in their magnificent Wyoming-Idaho mausoleums, I to crystal ice. So devoutly prays your grateful admiring friendJohn Muir
His life ended on Christmas Eve. Spread about him on the bed were manuscript sheets of his last book, Travels in Alaska. He was 76 years old. Muir was buried in the Strenzel family cemetery in Martinez. John Muir was survived by two daughters and ten grandchildren.
In 1916, his journal from 1867 was published as A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf:
The world, we are told, was made especially for man - a presumption not supported by all the facts.
A numerous class of men are painfully astonished whenever they find anything, living or dead, in all God’s universe, which they cannot eat or render in some way what they call useful to themselves. They have precise dogmatic insight into the intentions of the Creator, and it is hardly possible to be guilty of irreverence in speaking of their God any more than of heathen idols. He is regarded as a civilized, law-abiding gentlemen in favor either of a republican form of government or of a limited monarchy; believes in the literature and language of England; is a warm supporter of the English constitution and Sunday schools and missionary societies; and is as purely a manufactured article as any puppet at a half- penny theater.
With such views of the Creator it is, of course, not surprising that erroneous views should be entertained of the creation. To such properly trimmed people, the sheep, for example, is an easy problem - food and clothing “for us,” eating grass and daisies white by divine appointment for this predestined purpose, on perceiving the demand for wool that would be occasioned by the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden.
In the same pleasant plan, whales are storehouses of oil for us, to help out the stars in lighting our dark ways until the discovery of the Pennsylvania oil wells. Among plants, hemp, to say nothing of the cereals, is a case of evident destination for ships’ rigging, wrapping packages, and hanging the wicked.
. . . But if we should ask these profound expositors of God’s intentions, How about those man-eating animals - lions, tigers, alligators - which smack their lips over raw man? Or about those myriads of noxious insects that destroy labor and drink his blood? Doubtless man was intended for food and drink for all these? Oh no! Not at all!
These are unresolvable difficulties connected with Eden’s apple and the Devil. Why does water drown its lord? Why do so many minerals poison him? Why are so many plants and fishes deadly enemies? Why is the lord of creation subjected to the same laws of life as his subjects? Oh, all these things are satanic, or in some way connected with the first garden.
Now, it never seems to occur to these far- seeing teachers that Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit - the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge.
. . . This star, our own good earth, made many a successful journey around the heavens ere man was made, and whole kingdoms of creatures enjoyed existence and returned to dust ere man appeared to claim them. After human beings have also played their part in Creation’s plan, they too may disappear without any general burning or extraordinary commotion whatever.In 2009, documentary film maker Ken Burn's six-episode television series, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, featured John Muir. Ken Burns said,
Plants are credited with but dim and uncertain sensation, and minerals with positively none at all. But why may not even a mineral arrangement of matter be endowed with sensation of a kind that we in our blind exclusive perfection can have no manner of communication with?
As we got to know him... he [John Muir] ascended to the pantheon of the highest individuals in our country; I'm talking about the level of Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, and Thomas Jefferson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jackie Robinson -- people who have had a transformational effect on who we are.
Donald Worster, author of A Passion For Nature: The Life of John Muir, wrote:
|A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir|
I am impressed by the extent to which Muir’s way of thinking has spread through American society and the parks have become part of the nation’s religious life. The Ken Burns series promotes this success. It suggests again and again that we should come to these places in a spirit of awe and respect for something grander, more transcendent, more beautiful than we could ever create. Here are places to make us proud but also make us humble. They are the result of immense forces working over immense periods of time, and the outcome is goodness and beauty beyond our capacity to improve. This is a view that has gathered power in our culture. I am convinced that democratic societies are especially open to the religion of nature, for it takes faith out of the hands of priests and gives it back to the people. As long as Americans hunger for religion and as long as they pursue democracy, the national parks will likely be treasured as places where the people can go to worship as they see fit.
|"No trace of pessimism or despondency, even in the defeat of his most deeply cherished hopes, ever darkened his beautiful philosophy . . . "|
~ Marion Randall Parsons
I know not a single word fine enough for light.
Its currents pour, but it is a heavy material word not applicable to holy, beamless, bodiless, inaudible floods of Light.
~ John Muir