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The Writings of John Muir
Volume 10 - Life and Letters of John Muir, Volume 2
Chapter XI. On Widening Currents, 1873-1875

THE ten months' interval of Muir's Oakland sojourn made a complete break in his accustomed activities. It was a storm and stress period to which he refers afterward as "the strange Oakland epoch," and we are left to infer that the strangeness consisted chiefly in the fact that he was housebound by his own choice, to be sure, but nevertheless shut away from the free life of the mountains. It is not surprising, perhaps, that this period is marked by an almost complete stoppage of his correspondence, though he never was more continuously busy with his pen than during these months.

Easily the foremost literary journal of the Pacific Coast at that time was the "Overland Monthly." It had been founded in 1868, and Bret Harte was the man to whom it owed both its beginning and the fame it achieved under his editorship. The magazine, however, was not a profit-yielding enterprise, for John H. Carmany, its owner, professed to have lost thirty thousand dollars in his endeavor to make it pay. In a sheaf of reminiscences written years afterward, he reveals the double reason why the magazine proved expensive and why so many distinguished names, such as those of Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, Ambrose Bierce, Edward Rowland Sill, Bret Harte, and John Muir, appear on its roll of contributors. "They have reason to remember me," he wrote, "for never have such prices been paid for poems, stories, and articles as I paid to the writers of the old 'Overland.'"

Bret Harte, balking at a contract designed to correct his dilatory literary habits, left the magazine in 1871, and, after several unsatisfactory attempts to supply his place, Benjamin P. Avery became editor of the "Overland." In March, 1874, he wrote a letter acknowledging the first number of Muir's notable series of "Studies in the Sierra," thereby disclosing what the latter had been doing during the winter months. "I am delighted," he tells Muir, "with your very original and clearly written paper on 'Mountain Sculpture' which reveals the law beneath the beauty of mountain and rock forms." This article, accompanied by numerous illustrative line drawings, appeared as the leading contribution in May and was followed in monthly succession by six others, in the order given in an earlier chapter.

Not many weeks after the receipt of this initial article, Mr. Avery accepted an appointment as Minister to China. "Not ambition for honors," he wrote to Muir, "but the compulsion of broken health made me risk a foreign appointment, and I especially regret that the opportunity to share in the publication of your valuable papers, and to know you most intimately, is to be lost to me." To the deep regret of his friends, Avery died in China the following year. Mr. Carmany, despairing of the "Overland" as a financial venture, let it come to an end in 1875, and Muir, when his current engagements were discharged, formed new literary connections.

There can be no doubt that during the closing years of the magazine, 1874-75, Muir's articles constituted by far the most significant contribution. It was in good measure due to Mrs. Carr that he was finally induced to write this series of "Sierra Studies." She had even suggested suspension of correspondence in order to enable him to accomplish the task. "You told me I ought to abandon letter writing," he wrote to her on Christmas day, 1872, "and I see plainly enough that you are right in this, because my correspondence has gone on increasing year by year and has become far too bulky and miscellaneous in its character, and consumes too much of my time. Therefore I mean to take your advice and allow broad acres of silence to spread between my letters, however much of self-denial may be demanded."

In the same letter, which a strange combination of circumstances has just brought to light again after fifty-two years, he expresses pungently that distaste for the mechanics of writing which undoubtedly accounts in part for the relative smallness of his formal literary output.

Book-making frightens me [he declares], because it demands so much artificialness and retrograding. Somehow, up here in these fountain skies [of Yosemite] 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 for the gift, 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 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.

There was another aspect of writing that Muir found irksome and that was its solitariness. Being a fluent and vivid conversationalist, accustomed to the excitation of eager hearers, he missed the give-and-take of conversation when he sat down with no company but that of his pen. Even the writing of a letter to a friend had something of the conversational about it. But to write between four walls for the "Babylonish mobs" that hived past his window was another matter. Fresh from Cassiope, the heather of the High Sierra, aglow with enthusiasm for the beauty that had burned itself into his soul, he could but wonder and grow indignant at the stolid self-sufficiency of "the metallic, money-clinking crowds," among whom he felt himself as alien as any Hebrew psalmist or prophet by the waters of Babylon.

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that this first sojourn in the San Francisco Bay region was for Muir a kind of exile under which he evidently chafed a good deal. His human environment was so unblushingly materialistic that, in spite of a few sympathetic friends, it seemed to him well-nigh impossible to obtain a hearing on behalf of Nature from any other standpoint than that of commercial utility. On this point he differed trenchantly with his contemporaries and doubtless engaged in a good many arguments, for his frankness and downright sincerity did not permit him to compromise the supremacy of values which by his own standard far exceeded those of commercialism. It is by reference to such verbal passages of arms that we must explain his allusion, in the following letter, to "all the morbidness that has been hooted at me."

The issue was one which, in his own mind, he had settled fundamentally on his thousand- mile walk to the Gulf, but which challenged him again at every street corner in Oakland, and he was not the man to retire from combat in such a cause. He was, in fact, an eager and formidable opponent. "No one who did not know Muir in those days," remarked one of his old friends to me, "can have any conception of Muir's brilliance as a conversational antagonist in an argument." The world made especially for the uses of man? "Certainly not," said Muir. "No dogma taught by the present civilization forms so insuperable an obstacle to a right understanding of the relations which human culture sustains to wildness. Every animal, plant, and crystal controverts it in the plainest terms. Yet it is taught from century to century as something ever new and precious, and in the resulting darkness the enormous conceit is allowed to go unchallenged!"

Though grilling in his very blood over this huckster appraisement of Nature, Muir labored hard and continuously with his pen throughout the winter and the following spring and summer. When autumn came he had completed not only his seven "Studies in the Sierra," but had also written a paper entitled "Studies in the Formation of Mountains in the Sierra Nevada" for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and articles on "Wild Sheep of California" and "Byways of Yosemite Travel." About this time his health had begun to suffer from excessive confinement and irregular diet at restaurants, so, yielding with sudden resolution to an overpowering longing for the mountains, he set out again for Yosemite. The following letter in which his correspondence with Mrs. Carr reaches its highest level and, in a sense, its conclusion, celebrates his escape from an uncongenial environment.

To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

YOSEMITE VALLEY, [September, 1874]


Here again are pine trees, and the wind, and living rock and water! I've met two of my ouzels on one of the pebble ripples of the river where I used to be with them. Most of the meadow gardens are disenchanted and dead, yet I found a few mint spikes and asters and brave, sunful goldenrods and a patch of the tiny Mimulus that has two spots on each lip. The fragrance and the color and the form, and the whole spiritual expression of goldenrods are hopeful and strength-giving beyond any other flowers that I know. A single spike is sufficient to heal unbelief and melancholy.

On leaving Oakland I was so excited over my escape that, of course, I forgot and left all the accounts I was to collect. No wonder, and no matter. I'm beneath that grand old pine that I have heard so often in storms both at night and in the day. It sings grandly now, every needle sun-thrilled and shining and responding tunefully to the azure wind.

When I left I was in a dreamy exhausted daze. Yet from mere habit or instinct I tried to observe and study. From the car window I watched the gradual transitions from muddy water, spongy tule, marsh and level field as we shot up the San Jose Valley, and marked as best I could the forms of the stream canons as they opened to the plain and the outlines of the undulating hillocks and headlands between. Interest increased at every mile, until it seemed unbearable to be thrust so flyingly onward even towards the blessed Sierras. I will study them yet, free from time and wheels. When we turned suddenly and dashed into the narrow mouth of the Livermore pass I was looking out of the right side of the car. The window was closed on account of the cinders and smoke from the locomotive. All at once my eyes clasped a big hard rock not a hundred yards away, every line of which is as strictly and outspokenly glacial as any of the most alphabetic of the high and young Sierra. That one sure glacial word thrilled and overjoyed me more than you will ever believe. Town smokes and shadows had not dimmed my vision, for I had passed this glacial rock twice before without reading its meaning.

As we proceeded, the general glacialness of the range became more and more apparent, until we reached Pleasanton where once there was a grand mer de glace. Here the red sun went down in a cloudless glow and I leaned back, happy and weary and possessed with a lifeful of noble problems.

At Lathrop we suppered and changed cars. The last of the daylight had long faded and I sauntered away from the din while the baggage was being transferred. The young moon hung like a sickle above the shorn wheat fields, Ursa Major pictured the northern sky, the Milky Way curved sublimely through the broadcast stars like some grand celestial moraine with planets for boulders, and the whole night shone resplendent, adorned with that calm imperishable beauty which it has worn unchanged from the beginning.

I slept at Turlock and next morning faced the Sierra and set out through the sand afoot. The freedom I felt was exhilarating, and the burning heat and thirst and faintness could not make it less. Before I had walked ten miles I was wearied and footsore, but it was real earnest work and I liked it. Any kind of simple natural destruction is preferable to the numb, dumb, apathetic deaths of a town.

Before I was out of sight of Turlock I found • handful of the glorious Hemizonia tirgata and • few of the patient, steadfast eriogonums that I learned to love around the slopes of Twenty- Hill Hollow. While I stood with these old dear friends we were joined by a lark, and in a few seconds more Harry Edwards1 came flapping by with spotted wings. Just think of the completeness of that reunion! - Twenty-Hill Hollow, Hemizonia, Eriogonum, Lark, Butterfly, and I, and lavish outflows of genuine Twenty- Hill Hollow sun gold. I threw down my coat and one shirt in the sand, forgetting Hopeton and heedless that the sun was becoming hotter every minute. I was wild once more and let my watch warn and point as it pleased.

Heavy wagon loads of wheat had been hauled along the road and the wheels had sunk deep and left smooth beveled furrows in the sand. Upon the smooth slopes of these sand furrows I soon observed a most beautiful and varied embroidery, evidently tracks of some kind. At first I thought of mice, but soon saw they were too light and delicate for mice. Then a tiny lizard darted into the stubble ahead of me, and I carefully examined the track he made, but it was entirely unlike the fine print embroidery I was studying. However I knew that he might make very different tracks if walking leisurely. Therefore I determined to catch one and experiment. I found out in Florida that lizards, however swift, are short- winded, so I gave chase and soon captured a tiny gray fellow and carried him to a smooth sand-bed where he could embroider without getting away into grass tufts or holes. He was so wearied that he couldn't skim and was compelled to walk, and I was excited with delight in seeing an exquisitely beautiful strip of embroidery about five-eighths of an inch wide, drawn out in flowing curves behind him as from a loom. The riddle was solved. I knew that mountain boulders moved in music; so also do lizards, and their written music, printed by their feet, moved so swiftly as to be invisible, covers the hot sands with beauty wherever they go.

But my sand embroidery lesson was by no means done. I speedily discovered a yet more delicate pattern on the sands, woven into that of the lizard. I examined the strange combination of bars and dots. No five-toed lizard had printed that music. I watched narrowly down on my knees, following the strange and beautiful pattern along the wheel furrows and out into the stubble. Occasionally the pattern would suddenly end in a shallow pit half an inch across and an eighth of an inch deep. I was fairly puzzled, picked up my bundle, and trudged discontentedly away, but my eyes were hungrily awake and I watched all the ground. At length a gray grasshopper rattled and flew up, and the truth flashed upon me that he was the complementary embroiderer of the lizard. Then followed long careful observation, but I never could see the grasshopper until he jumped, and after he alighted he invariably stood watching me with his legs set ready for another jump in case of danger. Nevertheless I soon made sure that he was my man, for I found that in jumping be made the shallow pits I had observed at the termination of the pattern I was studying. But no matter how patiently I waited he wouldn't walk while I was sufficiently near to observe. They are so nearly the color of the sand. I therefore caught one and lifted his wing covers and cut off about half of each wing with my penknife, and carried him to a favorable place on the sand. At first he did nothing but jump and make dimples, but soon became weary and walked in common rhythm with all his six legs, and my interest you may guess while I watched the embroidery - the written music laid down in a beautiful ribbon-like strip behind. I glowed with wild joy as if I had found a new glacier - copied specimens of the precious fabric into my notebook, and strode away with my own feet sinking with a dull craunch, craunch, craunch in the hot gray sand, glad to believe that the dark and cloudy vicissitudes of the Oakland period had not dimmed my vision in the least. Surely Mother Nature pitied the poor boy and showed him pictures.

Happen what would, fever, thirst, or sunstroke, my joy for that day was complete. Yet I was to receive still more. A train of curving tracks with a line in the middle next fixed my attention, and almost before I had time to make a guess concerning their author, a small hawk came shooting down vertically out of the sky a few steps ahead of me and picked up something in his talons. After rising thirty or forty feet overhead, he dropped it by the roadside as if to show me what it was. I ran forward and found a little bunchy field mouse and at once suspected him of being embroiderer number three. After an exciting chase through stubble heaps and weed thickets I wearied and captured him without being bitten and turned him free to make his mark in a favorable sand bed. He also embroidered better than he knew, and at once claimed the authorship of the new track work.

I soon learned to distinguish the pretty sparrow track from that of the magpie and lark with their three delicate branches and the straight scratch behind made by the back- curving claw, dragged loosely like a spur of a Mexican vaquero. The cushioned elastic feet of the hare frequently were seen mixed with the pattering scratchy prints of the squirrels. I was now wholly trackful. I fancied I could see the air whirling in dimpled eddies from sparrow and lark wings. Earthquake boulders descending in a song of curves, snowflakes glinting songfully hither and thither. "The water in music the oar forsakes." The air in music the wing forsakes. All things move in music and write it. The mouse, lizard, and grasshopper sing together on the Turlock sands, sing with the morning stars.

Scarce had I begun to catch the eternal harmonies of Nature when I heard the hearty god- damning din of the mule driver, dust whirled in the sun gold, and I could see the sweltering mules leaning forward, dragging the heavily piled wheat wagons, deep sunk in the sand. My embroidery perished by the mile, but grasshoppers never wearied nor the gray lizards nor the larks, and the coarse confusion of man was speedily healed.

About noon I found a family of grangers feeding, and remembering your admonitions anent my health requested leave to join them. My head ached with fever and sunshine, and I couldn't dare the ancient brown bacon, nor the beans and cakes, but water and splendid buttermilk came in perfect affinity, and made me strong.

Towards evening, after passing through miles of blooming Hemizonia, I reached Hope- ton on the edge of the oak fringe of the Merced. Here all were yellow and woebegone with malarious fever. I rested one day, spending the time in examining the remarkably flat water- eroded valley of the Merced and the geological sections which it offers. In going across to the river I had a suggestive time breaking my way through tangles of blackberry and brier-rose and willow. I admire delicate plants that are well prickled and therefore took my scratched face and hands patiently. I bathed in the sacred stream, seeming to catch all its mountain tones while it softly mumbled and rippled over the shallows of brown pebbles. The whole river back to its icy sources seemed to rise in clear vision, with its countless cascades and falls and blooming meadows and gardens. Its pine groves, too, and the winds that play them, all appeared and sounded.

In the cool of the evening I caught Browny and cantered across to the Tuolumne, the whole way being fragrant and golden with Hemizonia. A breeze swept in from your Golden Gate regions over the passes and across the plains, fanning the hot ground and drooping plants and refreshing every beast and tired and weary, plodding man.

It was dark ere I reached my old friend Delaney, but was instantly recognized by my voice, and welcomed in the old good uncivilized way, not to be misunderstood.

All the region adjacent to the Tuolumne River where it sweeps out into the plain after its long eventful journey in the mountains, is exceedingly picturesque. Round terraced hills, brown and yellow with grasses and composita and adorned with open groves of darkly foliaged live oak are grouped in a most open tranquil manner and laid upon a smooth level base of purple plain, while the river bank is lined with nooks of great beauty and variety in which the river has swept and curled, shifting from side to side, retreating and returning, as determined by floods and the gradual erosion and removal of drift beds formerly laid down. A few miles above here at the village of La Grange the wild river has made some astonishing deposits in its young days, through which it now flows with the manners of stately old age, apparently disclaiming all knowledge of them. But a thousand, thousand boulders gathered from many a moraine, swashed and ground in pot-holes, record their history and tell of white floods of a grandeur not easily conceived. Noble sections nearly a hundred feet deep are laid bare, like a book, by the mining company. Water is drawn from the river several miles above and conducted by ditches and pipes and made to play upon these deposits for the gold they contain. Thus the Tuolumne of to-day is compelled to unravel and lay bare its own ancient history which is a thousandfold more important than the handfuls of gold sand it chances to contain.

I mean to return to these magnificent records in a week or two and turn the gold disease of the La Grangers to account in learning the grand old story of the Sierra flood period. If these hundred laborious hydraulickers were under my employ they could not do me better service, and all along the Sierra flank thousands of strong arms are working for me, incited by the small golden bait. Who shall say that I am not rich?

Tip through the purple foothills to Coulteryule, where I met many hearty, shaggy mountaineers glad to see me. Strange to say the "Overland" studies have been read and discussed in the most unlikely places. Some numbers have found their way through the Bloody Caņon pass to Mono.

In the evening Black and I rode together up into the sugar pine forests and on to his old ranch in the moonlight. The grand priest-like pines held their arms above us in blessing. The wind sang songs of welcome. The cool glaciers and the running crystal fountains were in it. I was no longer on but in the mountains - home again, and my pulses were filled. On and on in white moonlight-spangles on the streams, shadows in rock hollows and briery ravines, tree architecture on the sky more divine than ever stars in their spires, leafy mosaic in meadow and bank. Never had the Sierra seemed so inexhaustible - mile on mile onward in the forest through groves old and young, pine tassels overarching and brushing both cheeks at once. The chirping of crickets only deepened the stillness.

About eight o'clock a strange mass of tones came surging and waving through the pines. "That's the death song," said Black, as he reined up his horse to listen. "Some Indian is dead." Soon two glaring watch-fires shone red through the forest, marking the place of congregation. The fire glare and the wild wailing came with indescribable impressiveness through the still dark woods. I listened eagerly as the weird curves of woe swelled and cadenced, now rising steep like glacial precipices, now swooping low in polished slopes. Falling boulders and rushing streams and wind tones caught from rock and tree were in it. As we at length rode away and the heaviest notes were lost in distance, I wondered that so much of mountain nature should well out from such a source. Miles away we met Indian groups slipping through the shadows on their way to join the death wail.

Farther on, a harsh granting and growling seemed to come from the opposite bank of a hazelly brook along which we rode. "What? Hush! That's a bear," ejaculated Black in a gruff bearish undertone. "Yes," said [I], "some rough old bruin is sauntering this fine night, seeking some wayside sheep lost from migrating flocks." Of course all night-sounds otherwise unaccountable are accredited to bears. On ascending a sloping hillock less than a mile from the first we heard another grunting bear, but whether or no daylight would transform our bears to pigs may well be counted into the story.

Past Bower Cave and along a narrow winding trail in deep shadow - so dark, had to throw the reins on Browny's neck and trust to his skill, for I could not see the ground and the hillside was steep. A fine, bright tributary of the Merced sang far beneath us as we climbed higher, higher through the hazels and dogwoods that fringed the rough black boles of spruces and pines. We were now nearing the old camping ground of the Pilot Peak region where I learned to know the large nodding lilies (L. pardalinum) so abundant along these streams, and the groups of alder-shaded cataracts so characteristic of the North Merced Fork. Moonlight whitened all the long fluted slopes of the opposite bank, but we rode in continuous shadow. The rush and gurgle and prolonged Aaaaaah of the stream coming up, sifting into the wind, was very solemnly impressive. It was here that you first seemed to join me. I reached up as Browny carried me underneath a big Douglas spruce and plucked one of its long plumy sprays, which brought you from the Oakland dead in a moment. You are more spruce than pine, though I never definitely knew it till now.

Miles and miles of tree scripture along the sky, a bible that will one day be read! The beauty of its letters and sentences have burned me like fire through all these Sierra seasons. Yet I cannot interpret their hidden thoughts. They are terrestrial expressions of the sun, pure as water and snow. Heavens! listen to the wind song! I'm still writing beneath that grand old pine in Black's yard and that other companion, scarcely less noble, back of which I sheltered during the earthquake, is just a few yards beyond. The shadows of their boles lie like charred logs on the gray sand, while half the yard is embroidered with their branches and leaves. There goes a woodpecker with an acorn to drive into its thick bark for winter, and well it may gather its stores, for I can myself detect winter in the wind.

Few nights of my mountain life have been more eventful than that of my ride in the woods from Coulterville, where I made my reunion with the winds and pines. It was eleven o'clock when we reached Black's ranch. I was weary and soon died in sleep. How cool and vital and recreative was the hale young mountain air. On higher, higher up into the holy of holies of the woods! Pure white lustrous clouds overshadowed the massive congregations of silver fir and pine. We entered, and a thousand living arms were waved in solemn blessing. An infinity of mountain life. How complete is the absorption of one's life into the spirit of mountain woods. No one can love or hate an enemy here, for no one can conceive of such a creature as an enemy. Nor can one have any distinctive love of friends. The dearest and best of you all seemed of no special account, mere trifles.

Hazel Green water, famous among mountaineers, distilled from the pores of an ancient moraine, spiced and toned in a maze of fragrant roots, winter nor summer warm or cool it! Shadows over shadows keep its fountains ever cool. Moss and felted leaves guard from spring and autumn frosts, while a woolly robe of snow protects from the intenser cold of winter. Bears, deer, birds, and Indians love the water and nuts of Hazel Green alike, while the pine squirrel reigns supreme and haunts its incomparable groves like a spirit. Here a grand old glacier swept over from the Tuolumne ice fountains into the basin of the Merced, leaving the Hazel Green moraine for the food of her coming trees and fountains of her predestined waters.

Along the Merced divide to the ancient glacial lake-bowl of Crane's Flat, was ever fir or pine more perfect? What groves! What combinations of green and silver gray and glowing white of glinting sunbeams. Where is leaf or limb awanting, and is this the upshot of the so-called "mountain glooms" and mountain storms? If so, is Sierra forestry aught beside an outflow of Divine Love? These round- bottomed grooves sweeping across the divide, and down whose sides our horses canter with accelerated speed, are the pathways of ancient ice-currents, and it is just where these crushing glaciers have borne down most heavily that the greatest loveliness of grove and forest appears.

A deep caņon filled with blue air now comes in view on the right. That is the valley of the Merced, and the highest rocks visible through the trees belong to the Yosemite Valley. More miles of glorious forest, then out into free light and down, down, down into the groves and meadows of Yosemite. Sierra sculpture in its entirety without the same study on the spot. No one of the rocks seems to call me now, nor any of the distant mountains. Surely this Merced and Tuolumne chapter of my life is done.

I have been out on the river bank with your letters. How good and wise they seem to be! You wrote better than you knew. Altogether they form a precious volume whose sentences are more intimately connected with my mountain work than any one will ever be able to appreciate. An ouzel came as I sat reading, alighting in the water with a delicate and graceful glint on his bosom. How pure is the morning light on the great gray wall, and how marvelous the subdued lights of the moon! The nights are wholly enchanting.

I will not try [to] tell the Valley. Yet I feel that I am a stranger here. I have been gathering you a handful of leaves. Show them to dear Keith and give some to Mrs. McChesney. They are probably the last of Yosemite that I will ever give you. I will go out in a day or so. Farewell! I seem to be more really leaving you here than there. Keep these long pages, for they are a kind of memorandum of my walk after the strange Oakland epoch, and I may want to copy some of them when I have leisure.

Remember me to my friends. I trust you are not now so sorely overladen. Good-night. Keep the goldenrod and yarrow. They are auld lang syne.

Ever lovingly yours


To take leave of Yosemite was harder than he anticipated. Days grew into weeks as in leisurely succession he visited his favorite haunts - places to which during the preceding summer he had taken on a camping trip a group of his closest friends, including Emily Pelton and Mrs. Carr. It was on this outing that bears raided the provisions cached by the party during an excursion into the Tuolumne Caņon and Muir saved his companions from hardship by fetching a new supply of food from Yosemite, making the arduous trip of forty miles without pause and in an amazingly short time.

YOSEMITE VALLEY, October 7th, 1874


I expected to have been among the foothill drift long ago, but the mountains fairly seized me, and ore I knew I was up the Merced Caņon where we were last year, past Shadow and Merced Lakes and our Soda Springs. I returned last night. Had a glorious storm, and a thousand sacred beauties that seemed yet more and more divine. I camped four nights at Shadow Lake at the old place in the pine thicket. I have ouzel tales to tell. I was alone and during the whole excursion, or period rather, was in a kind of calm incurable ecstasy. I am hopelessly and forever a mountaineer.

How glorious my studies seem, and how simple. I found out a noble truth concerning the Merced moraines that escaped me hitherto. Civilization and fever and all the morbidness that has been hooted at me have not dimmed my glacial eye, and I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness. My own special self is nothing. My feet have recovered their cunning. I feel myself again.

Tell Keith the colors are coming to the groves. I leave Yosemite for over the mountains to Mono and Lake Tahoe. Will be in Tahoe in a week, thence anywhere Shastaward, etc. I think I may be at Brownsville, Yuba County, where I may get a letter from you. I promised to call on Emily Pelton there. Mrs. Black has fairly mothered me. She will be down in a few weeks. Farewell.


Having worked the Yosemite problem out of his blood lie was faced with the question of the next step in his career. Apparently while debating with others the character of the relation which Nature should sustain to man he had found his calling, one in which his glacial studies in Yosemite formed only an incident, though a large one. Hereafter his supreme purpose in life must be "to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness" - understandingly, of course.

In the seventies, before lumber companies, fires, and the fumes from copper smelters had laid a blight upon the Shasta landscapes, the environs of the great mountain were a veritable garden of the Lord. Its famous mineral springs and abundant fish and game, no less than its snowy grandeur, attracted a steady stream of visitors. Clarence King had discovered glaciers on its flanks and many parts of the mountain were still imperfectly explored. The year was waning into late October when Muir, seeking new treasuries of Nature's loveliness, turned his face Shastaward.

In going to Mount Shasta, Muir walked along the main Oregon and California stage- road from Redding to Sisson's. Unable to find any one willing to make the ascent of the mountain with him so late in the season, he secured the aid of Jerome Fay, a local resident, to take blankets and a week's supply of food as far as a pack-horse could break through the snow. Selecting a sheltered spot for a camp in the upper edge of the timber belt, he made his adventurous ascent alone from there on the 2d of November, and returned to his camp before dark. Realizing that a storm was brewing, he hastily made a "storm-nest" and snugged himself in with firewood to enjoy the novel sensation of a Shasta storm at an altitude of nine thousand feet. The elements broke loose violently the next morning, and continued for nearly a week, while Muir, his trusty notebook in hand, watched the deposition of snow upon the trees, studied the individual crystals with a lens, observed a squirrel finding her stores under the drifts, and made friends with wild sheep that sought shelter near his camp. He was much disappointed when Mr. Sisson, concerned for his safety, sent two horses through the blinding snowstorm and brought him down on the fifth day from the timber-line to his house. The following letter was written just before he began the first stage of the ascent:

To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

SISSON'S STATION, November 1st, 1874


Here is icy Shasta fifteen miles away, yet at the very door. It is all close-wrapt in clean young snow down to the very base - one mass of white from the dense black forest-girdle at an elevation of five or six thousand feet to the very summit. The extent of its individuality is perfectly wonderful. When I first caught sight of it over the braided folds of the Sacramento Valley I was fifty miles away and afoot, alone and weary. Yet all my blood turned to wine, and I have not been weary since.

Stone was to have accompanied me, but has failed of course. The last storm was severe and all the mountaineers shake their heads and say impossible, etc., but you know that I will meet all its icy snows lovingly.

I set out in a few minutes for the edge of the timber-line. Then upwards, if unstormy, in the early morning. If the snow proves to be mealy and loose it is barely possible that I may be unable to urge my way through so many upward miles, as there is no intermediate camping ground. Yet I am feverless and strong now, and can spend two days with their intermediate night in one deliberate unstrained effort.

I am the more eager to ascend to study the mechanical conditions of the fresh snow at so great an elevation; also to obtain clear views of the comparative quantities of lava denudation northward and southward; also general views of the channels of the ancient Shasta glaciers, and many other lesser problems besides - the fountains of the rivers here, and the living glaciers. I would like to remain a week or two, and may have to return next year in summer.

I wrote a short letter [Salmon Breeding on the McCloud River," San Francisco Evening Bulletin, Oct. 29, 1874.] a few days ago which was printed in the Evening Bulletin, and I suppose you have seen it. I wonder how you all are faring in your wildernesses, educational, departmental, institutional, etc. Write me a line here in care of Sisson. I think it will reach me on my return from icy Shasta. Love to all - Keith and the boys and the McChesneys. Don't forward any letters from the Oakland office. I want only mountains until my return to civilization. Farewell.

Ever cordially yours


One of Muir's endearing traits was his genuine fondness for children, who rewarded his sympathy with touching confidence and devotion. The following letter, written to his admiring little chum' in the McChesney household, sheds additional light upon his Shasta rambles and the mood, so different from mere adventure-seeking, in which he went questing for knowledge of Nature.

To Alice McChesney

November 8th, 1874


It is a stormy day here at the foot of the big snowy Shasta and so I am in Sisson's house where it is cozy and warm. There are four lassies here - one is bonnie, one is bonnier, and one is far bonniest, but I don't know them yet and I am a little lonesome and wish Alice McChesney were here. I can never help thinking that you were a little unkind in sending me off to the mountains without a kiss and you must make that up when I get back.

I was up on the top of Mount Shasta, and it is very high and all deep-buried in snow, and I am tired with the hard climbing and wading and wallowing. When I was coming up here on purpose to climb Mount Shasta people would often say to me, "Where are you going?" and I would say, "To Shasta," and they would say, "Shasta City?" and I would say, "Oh, no, I mean Mount Shasta!" Then they would laugh and say, "Mount Shasta!! Why man, you can't go on Mount Shasta now. You're two months too late. The snow is ten feet deep on it, and you would be all buried up in the snow, and freeze to death." And then I would say, "But I like snow, and I like frost and ice, and I'm used to climbing and wallowing in it." And they would say, "Oh, that's all right enough to talk about or sing about, but I'm a mountaineer myself, and know all about that Shasta Butte and you just can't go noway and nohow." But I did go, because I loved snow and mountains better than they did. Some places I had to creep, and some places to slide, and some places to scramble, but most places I had to climb, climb, climb deep in the frosty snow.

I started at half-past two in the morning, all alone, and it stormed wildly and beautifully before I got back here and they thought that poor, crazy mountain climber must be frozen solid and lost below the drifts, but I found a place at the foot of a low bunch of trees and made a hollow and gathered wood and built a cheery fire and soon was warm; and though the wind and the snow swept wildly past, I was snug-bug-rug, and in three days I came down here. But I liked the storm and wanted to stay longer.

The weather is stormy yet, and most of the robins are getting ready to go away to a warmer place, and so they are gathering into big flocks. I saw them getting their breakfast this morning on cherries. Some hunters are here and so we get plenty of wild venison to eat, and they killed two bears and nailed their skins on the side of the barn to dry. There are lots of both bears and deer on Shasta, and three kinds of squirrels.

Shasta snowflakes are very beautiful, and I saw them finely under my magnifying glass. Here are some bonnie Cratagus leaves I gathered for you. Fare ye well, my lassie. I'm going to-morrow with some hunters to see if I can find out something more about bears or wild sheep.

Give my love to your mother and father and Carrie, and tell your mother to keep my letters until I come back, for I don't want to know anything just now except mountains. But I want your papa to write to me, for I will be up here, hanging about the snowy skirts of Shasta, for one or two or three weeks.

It is a dark, wild night, and the Shasta squirrels are curled up cozily in their nests, and the grouse have feather pantlets on and are all roosting under the broad, shaggy branches of the fir trees. Good-night, my lassie, and may you nest well and sleep well - as the Shasta squirrels and grouse.


During the following weeks he circled the base of the mountain, visited the Black Butte and the foot of the 'Whitney Glacier, as well as Rhett and Klamath lakes, and gathered into his notebook a rich harvest of observations to be made into magazine articles later. Some of the material, however, he utilized at once in a series of letters to the "Evening Bulletin" of San Francisco.

In explanation of various allusions in some of the following letters to Mrs. Carr, it should be added that she and her husband had in view, and later acquired, a tract of land in what was then the outskirts of Pasadena. Both had been very active in organizing the farmers of California into a State Grange in 1873. Two years later Dr. Carr was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and during his incumbency Mrs. Carr served as deputy Superintendent, discharging most of the routine work of the office in Sacramento, besides lecturing before granges and teachers' institutes throughout the State. There were many quarreling political factions in California, and the Grangers' movement and the Department of Public Instruction were never far from the center of the political storms.

To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

SISSON's STATION, December 9th, 1874


Coming in for a sleep and rest I was glad to receive your card. I seem to be more than married to icy Shasta. One yellow, mellow morning six days ago, when Shasta's snows were looming and blooming, I stepped outside the door to gaze, and was instantly drawn up over the meadows, over the forests to the main Shasta glacier in one rushing, cometic whiz, then, swooping to Shasta Valley, whirled off around the base like a satellite of the grand icy sun. I have just completed my first revolution. Length of orbit, one hundred miles; time, one Shasta day.

For two days and a half I had nothing in the way of food, yet suffered nothing, and was finely nerved for the most delicate work of mountaineering, both among crevasses and lava cliffs. Now I am sleeping and eating. I found some geological facts that are perfectly glorious, and botanical ones, too.

I wish I could make the public be kind to Keith and his paint.

And so you contemplate vines and oranges among the warm California angels! I wish you would all go a-granging among oranges and bananas and all such blazing red-hot fruits, for you are a species of Hindoo sun fruit yourself. For me, I like better the huckleberries of cool glacial bogs, and acid currants, and benevolent, rosy, beaming apples, and common Indian summer pumpkins.

I wish you could see the holy morning alpenglow of Shasta.

Farewell. I'll be down into gray Oakland some time. I am glad you are essentially independent of those commonplace plotters that have so marred your peace. Eat oranges and hear the larks and wait on the sun.

Ever cordially


To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

SISSON's STATION, December 21st, 1874


I have just returned from a fourth Shasta excursion, and find your [letter] of the 17th. I wish you could have been with me on Shasta's shoulder last eve in the sun-glow. I was over on the head-waters of the McCloud, and what a head! Think of a spring giving rise to a river! I fairly quiver with joyous exultation when I think of it. The infinity of Nature's glory in rock, cloud, and water! As soon as I beheld the McCloud upon its lower course I knew there must be something extraordinary in its alpine fountains, and I shouted, "0 where, my glorious river, do you come from?" Think of a spring fifty yards wide at the mouth, issuing from the base of a lava bluff with wild songs - not gloomily from a dark cavey mouth, but from a world of ferns and mosses gold and green! I broke my way through chaparral and all kinds of river-bank tangle in eager vigor, utterly unweariable.

The dark blue stream sang solemnly with a deep voice, pooling and boulder-dashing and aha-a-a-ing in white flashing rapids, when suddenly I heard water notes I never had heard before. They came from that mysterious spring; and then the Elk forest, and the alpine-glow, and the sunset! Poor pen cannot tell it.
The sun this morning is at work with its blessings as if it had never blessed before. He never wearies of revealing himself on Shasta. But in a few hours I leave this altar and all its - Well, to my Father I say thank you, and go willingly.

I go by stage and rail to Brownsville to see Emily [Pelton] and the rocks there and the Yuba. Then perhaps a few days among the auriferous drifts on the Tuolumne, and then to Oakland and that book, walking across the Coast Range on the way, either through one of the passes or over Mount Diablo. I feel a sort of nervous fear of another period of town dark, but I don't want to be silly about it. The sun glow will all fade out of me, and I will be deathly as Shasta in the dark. But mornings will come, dawnings of some kind, and if not, I have lived more than a common eternity already.

Farewell. Don't overwork - that is not the work your Father wants. I wish you could come a-beeing in the Shasta honey lands. Love to the boys.


On one of the excursions to which he refers in the preceding letter, Muir accompanied four hunters, three of them Scotchmen, [Among these Scots was G. Buchanan Hepburn, of Haddingdonshire, on one of whose letters Muir made the memorandum, "Lord Hepburn, killed in Mexico or Lower California." Twenty years later, during his visit to Scotland, Muir was by chance enabled to communicate the details of the man's unhappy fate to his relatives.] who were in search of wild sheep. The party went to Sheep Rock, twenty miles north of Sisson's, and from there fifty miles farther to Mount Bremer, then one of the most noted strongholds of wild game in the Shasta region. This expedition afforded Muir a new opportunity to study wild sheep and his observations were charmingly utilized in the little essay "Wild Wool," one of his last contributions to the "Overland" in 1875, republished afterwards in "Steep Trails."

A week after writing the above letter he was at Knoxville, also known as Brownsville, on the divide between the Yuba and Feather Rivers. It was a mild, but tempestuous, December, and during a gale that sprang up while he was exploring a valley tributary to the Yuba, he climbed a Douglas spruce in order to be able to enjoy the better the wild music of the storm. The experience afterwards bore fruit in one of his finest descriptions - an article entitled "A Wind Storm in the Forests of the Yuba," which appeared in "Scribner's Monthly" in November, 1878, and later as a chapter in "The Mountains of California." With the possible exception of his dog story, "Stickeen," no article drew more enthusiastic comments from readers who felt moved to write their appreciation.

From his earliest youth Muir had derived keen enjoyment from storms, but he had never tried to give a reason for the joy that was in him. The reaction he got from the reading public showed that they regarded his enthusiasm for storms as admirable, but also as singular. The latter was a surprise to Muir, who regarded all the manifestations of Nature as coming within the range of his interest, and saw no reason why men should fear storms. Reflecting upon the fact, he reached the conclusion that such fear is due to a wrong attitude toward nature, to imaginary or grossly exaggerated notions of danger, or, in short, to a "lack of faith in the Scriptures of Nature," as, he averred, was the case with Ruskin. As for himself, a great storm was nothing but "a cordial outpouring of Nature's love."

By what he regarded as a fortunate coincidence, he was still on the headwaters of the Feather and the Yuba rivers on the date of the memorable Marysville flood, January 19, 1875. A driving warm rainstorm suddenly melted the heavy snows that filled the drainage basins of these rivers and sent an unprecedented flood down into the lowlands, submerging many homesteads and a good part of Marysville. One can almost sense the haste with which he dashed off the lines of the following letter on the morning of the day of the flood - impatient to heed the call of the storm.

To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr

January 19th, 1875


Here are some of the dearest and bonniest of our Father's bairns - the little ones that so few care to see. I never saw such enthusiasm in the care and breeding of mosses as Nature manifests among these northern Sierras. I have studied a big fruitful week among the caflons and ridges of the Feather and another among the Yuba rivers, living and dead.

I have seen a dead river - a sight worth going round the world to see. The dead rivers and dead gravels wherein lies the gold form magnificent problems, and I feel wild and unmanageable with the intense interest they excite, but I will choke myself off and finish my glacial work and that little book of studies. I have been spending a few fine social days with Emily [Pelton], but now work.

How gloriously it storms! The pines are in ecstasy, and I feel it and must go out to them. I must borrow a big coat and mingle in the storm and make some studies. Farewell. Love to all.


P.S. How are Ned and Keith? I wish Keith had been with me these Shasta and Feather River days. I have gained a thousandfold more than I hoped. Heaven send you Light and the good blessings of wildness. How the rains plash and roar, and how the pines wave and pray!

Tradition still tells of his return to the Knox House after the storm, dripping and bedraggled; of the pity and solicitude of his friends over his condition, and their surprise when he in turn pitied them for having missed "a storm of exalted beauty and riches." The account of his experience was his final contribution to the "Overland Monthly" in June, 1875, under the title, "A Flood-Storm in the Sierra." Nowhere has he revealed his fervid enjoyment of storms more unreservedly than in this article. [It was incorporated in part only as the chapter on "The River Floods" in The Mountains of California. The omitted portions are important to a student of Muir's personality.] "How terribly downright," he observes, "must be the utterances of storms and earthquakes to those accustomed to the soft hypocrisies of society. Man's control is being extended over the forces of nature, but it is well, at least for the present, that storms can still make themselves heard through our thickest walls. Some were made to think."

There was a new note in his discourses, written and spoken, when he emerged from the forests of the Yuba. Fear and utilitarianism, he was convinced, are a crippling equipment for one who wishes to understand and appreciate the beauty of the world about him. But meanness of soul is even worse. Herded in cities, where the struggle for gain sweeps along with the crowd even the exceptional individual, men rarely come in sight of their better selves. There is more hope for those who live in the country. But instead of listening to the earnest and varied voices of nature, the country resident, also, is too often of the shepherd type who can only hear "baa." "Even the howls and ki-yis of coyotes might be blessings if well heard, but he hears them only through a blur of mutton and wool, and they do him no good."

Despite these abnormalities, Muir insisted, we must live in close contact with nature if we are to keep fresh and clean the fountains of moral sanity. "The world needs the woods and is beginning to come to them," he asserts in his flood-storm article. "But it is not yet ready for storms.. . . Nevertheless the world moves onward, and 'it is coming yet, for a' that,' that the beauty of storms will be as visible as that of calms."

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