Category Archives: Literature

Some Words from John Muir, the Most Annoying Nature Lover in the World

John Muir

John Muir: Scotsman, nature lover, beard-grower

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.

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The Advice of Mr. Electrico: Live Forever

Mr. ElectricoLast week I read most of an interview with Ray Bradbury in The Paris Review. In it, he describes the altogether unbelievable but hopefully real friendship he had with Mr. Electrico, who might be familiar to you from either the novel or the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes.

According to his story, on the way back from the funeral of one of his favorite uncles, little Ray tells his dad to stop the car. When his dad complies with this ridiculous request (which my own father would have merely laughed at), Ray runs away to the carnival, where he suddenly finds himself face-to-face with Mr. Electrico.

Slightly intimidated, to break the ice, Ray gets a magic trick out of his pocket and asks Mr. Electrico for some expert advice. Seeing from Ray’s pocket inventory that they are of the same fold, Mr. Electrico takes kindly to the boy and shows him around the carnival. As the story gets even more surreal, Ray and Mr. Electrico wind up walking along the shore of Lake Michigan when this conversation happens:

Mr. Electrico says, ” I’m glad you’re back in my life. [Ray says], What do you mean? I don’t know you. [Mr. Electrico] said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.”

One on level, I’m incredibly touched by the sentiment of these statements, of how old friends can be channeled through new faces or even animals (I swear one time the spirit of a good friend communicated with me through an Italian golden retriever), and how there can be familiarity even among strangers. On another, slightly more objective level, this relationship is bizarre. Then again, what should you expect from these two.

That night, Ray goes back to see his new friend at the performance. He recalls the experience,”

Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly […] He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.

It’s impossible to know whether or not this relationship happened exactly how it’s been portrayed, or if Ray was merely spinning memories every which way out of his geriatric mind, but it doesn’t really matter. I was struck and am still struck by that last statement, “live forever.”

This is how I interpret it: living forever is a choice. It means knowing that the actions of your life can have repercussions far outside of your own existence, and that those repercussions can last longer than you imagine. It means that conventional wisdom is often just that: conventional, and that “You can’t live forever” is not a viable argument, but a blind negation of notion that can be scary. With those words, Mr. Electrico pushed the boundaries of the possible and revealed a bird’s eye view of what life could be.

Life is much more interesting than we make it out to be sometimes. Maybe I should go find my Mr. Electrico and get some weird advice that the Paris Review will want to hear.

What do you think of Mr. Electrico’s statement? Is he just a strange man with some wacky words, or is there something more? 

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