I thought I loved nature until I (partially) read My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir. There’s a reason this guy started one of the foremost nature clubs in the world. He’s wild for nature. So wild, his passion occasionally branches into the ridiculous.
In the book, he’s routinely describing pine cones or a certain tree for an entire page, bursting with exclamations on nature’s beauty, talking in dismissive tones about his shepherd companion, or wishing he could stay awake all night to watch the stars. Don’t take my word for it, though. Here are some passages that I feel best demonstrate the heart of his book.
All quotes are exact and taken from My First Summer in the Sierra, which John Muir wrote while traveling in the Sierra Mountains one summer in the early 20th century.
His (low and slightly threatening) opinion of other mountain travelers:
“Somehow most of these travelers seem to care but little for the glorious objects about them, though enough to spend time and money and endure long rides to see the famous valley. And when they are fairly within the mighty walls of the temple and hear the psalms of the falls, they will forget themselves and become devout. Blessed, indeed, should be every pilgrim in these holy mountains.”
On what he’d do in the morning if he always followed his inclinations:
“Cooking is going on, appetites growing keener every day. No lowlander can appreciate the mountain appetite, and the facility with which heavy food called “grub” is disposed of. Eating, walking, resting, seem alike delightful, and one feels inclined to shout lustily on rising in the morning like a crowing cock.”
“Exhilarated with the mountain air, I feel like shouting this morning with excess of wild animal joy.”
On showing proper use of the word, “hark:”
“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality. Yonder rises another white skyland. How sharply the yellow pine spired and the palm-like crowns of the sugar pines are outlined on its smooth white domes. And hark! The grand thunder billows booming, rolling from ridge to ridge, followed by the faithful shower.”
On how to describe the sun’s transitions:
“And the dawns and sunrises and sundowns of these mountain days—the rose light creeping higher among the stars, changing to daffodil yellow, the level beams bursting forth, streaming across the ridges, touching pine after pine, awakening and warming all the mighty host to do gladly their shining day’s work. The great sun-gold noons, the alabaster cloud-mountains, the landscape beaming with consciousness like the face of a god. The sunsets, when the trees stood hushed awaiting their good-night blessings.”
On the night sky:
“Lying beneath the firs, it is glorious to see them dipping their spires in the starry sky, the sky one vast lily meadow in bloom! How can I close my eyes on so precious a night?”
If that doesn’t make you want to crow lustily at some alabaster skyscapes, I don’t know what will. Drugs, probably.
I know what he means about eating. I can really stuff my face when out in clean air and beautiful nature views. Not that I tear out bags of chips (which I then just toss aside), eat the berries off the trees, or wait by a riverside grabbing salmon. A sammich does fine.
Recently I went camping and did indeed “eat heartily.” I wolfed down two kielbasas like they were little smokies. I was lucky I didn’t lose a finger.
I am SO GLAD I am not the only one thought his obsessive descriptions of every single little thing were tedious at times! I had a difficult time trying to stay interested. Yes, it’s a pine cone. You think it’s the most gloriously lovely thing you’ve ever seen? Fantastic. Let me just skim through a page or two until you stop talking about it…
He never got over something. If he saw a pinecone and described it for two pages, the next day he might see another pinecone in slightly different light and also feel the need to describe that one. To him, everything was endlessly fascinating.
Em, love ya but I think you need a little history lesson. When Muir was heading West most of America was enamored with the world power that could be acquired through industrial might. Like Thoreau he sought to escape and he did. He got locked into the transcendental love of nature. He tramped around “discovering” nature. Yup, he fell in love with pine cones, trying to channel the original inhabitants. It would have been nice if he kept it to himself but he wrote about it. And people noticed. Muir got saddled with the “nature guru” tag he became a symbol for over-zealous tree huggers. It’s not bad to protect what’s left of our natural resources but people have got to get a grip. I almost went that way. I try to find a middle way and Muir can be real, real annoying. Learn but don’t let it take over your brain. Bye..
Nature is good for brain but it cannot take place of brain.
He sort of looks like he could be Charlie Manson’s father. Charlie was sort of verbose also. But HARK, I hear my wife calling.
Excellent use of the word hark. John would approve.