There was an interval of ten years during which Mr. Muir devoted himself with great energy and success to the development of the Alhambra fruit ranch. According to a fictitious story, still encountered in some quarters, he was penniless at the time of his marriage. On the contrary, he had several thousand dollars at interest and, according to a fragment of uncompleted memoirs, was receiving from one hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars for each of his magazine articles. “After my first article,” he wrote, “I was greatly surprised to find that everything else I offered was accepted and paid for. That I could earn money simply with written words seemed very strange.”
In the same memoirs Muir generalizes as follows on the decade between 1881 and 1891:
About a year before starting on the Arctic expedition I was married to Louie Strentzel, and for ten years I was engaged in fruit-raising in the Alhambra Valley, near Martinez, clearing land, planting vineyards and orchards, and selling the fruit, until I had more money than I thought I would ever need for my family or for all expenses of travel and study, however far or however long continued. But this farm work never seriously interrupted my studies. Every spring when the snow on the mountains had melted, until the approach of winter, my explorations were pushed farther and farther. Only in the early autumn, when the table grapes were gathered, and in winter and early spring, when the vineyards and orchards were pruned and cultivated, was my personal supervision given to the work. After these ten years I sold part of the farm and leased the balance, so as to devote the rest of my life, as carefree as possible, to travel and study. Thus, in 1891, I was again free from the farm and all bread winning cares.In the extant correspondence of the early eighties one gets only indirect and fugitive hints of Muir’s activities. Worthy of notice is the fact that during July, 1884, he took his wife to the Yosemite Valley, and their joint letters to the grandparents and the little daughter, left at home, afford amusing glimpses of a husband who has never played courier to a wife and of a wife who mistakes trout for catfish and suspects a bear behind every bush. It should be added that in Mrs. Muir’s letters there is a note of concern for her husband’s health, which had begun to suffer under the exacting cares of the ranch. “I am anxious about John,” she writes. “The journey was hard for him, and he looks thin and pale and tired. He must not leave the mountains until he is well and strong again.”
The arrival, in 1886, of a second daughter, believed to have been of frail health during her infant years, brought an increase of parental cares and anchored the family to the ranch more closely than ever. Mrs. Muir was naturally disinclined to travel, and both of them were full of misgivings regarding anything that might imperil the safety of the children. Under the circumstances Muir became more and more absorbed in the management of the ranch and care for his own.
Meanwhile time was working changes in the Wisconsin family circle from which John had gone out in 1867. Nearly eighteen years had gone by since he had seen his father and mother, brothers and sisters. His brother-in-law David Galloway died suddenly in September, 1884, his father and mother were growing infirm, the wife of his brother David was smitten with an incurable malady, and death was thinning the ranks of the friends of his youth. In view of these circumstances he began to feel more and more strongly the desire to revisit the scenes and friends of his boyhood. “I mean to see you all some time this happy new year ,” he wrote to his brother David at the close of December. “Seeing you after so long a journey in earth’s wildest wildernesses will make [the experience] indeed new to me. I could not come now without leaving the ranch to go to wreck, a score of workmen without a head, and no head to be found, though I have looked long for a foreman. Next spring after the grapes are pruned and sulphured, etc., and the cherry crop sold, I mean to pay off all but a half-dozen or so and leave things to take their course for a month or two. Can’t you send me some good steady fellow to learn this fruit business and take some of the personal supervision off my shoulders? Such a person could be sure of a job as long as he liked.”
It seems worth while to record, in this connection, an incident of dramatic and pathetic interest which occurred during the summer of 1885, just before Muir made his first return trip to his old Wisconsin home. Helen Hunt Jackson had come to San Francisco in June after months of illness, caused, as she thought, by defective sanitation in a Los Angeles boarding-house. Having recently been appointed Special Commissioner to inquire into the conditions surrounding the Mission Indians of California, she gave herself with devotion and ability to the righting of their wrongs. Among her particular friends was Mrs. Carr, at whose suburban Pasadena home, “Carmelita,” she had written a part of her Indian story “Ramona.” It was quite natural, therefore, that she should apply to John Muir for help in planning a convalesent’s itinerary in the mountains. “I know with the certainty of instinct,” she wrote, “that nothing except three months out of doors night and day will get this poison out of my veins. The doctors say that in six weeks I may be strong enough to be laid on a bed in a wagon and drawn about.”
It is easy to imagine the surprise and amusement of Muir when he read her statement of the conditions and equipment required for her comfort. She wished to be among trees where it was moist and cool, being unable to endure heat. She wanted to keep moving, but the altitudinal range must not exceed four thousand feet, and, above all, she must not get beyond easy reach of express and post-offices. Her outfit was to consist of eight horses, an ambulance, two camp-wagons for tents, and a phaeton buggy. The attendants were to comprise four servants, a maid, and a doctor.
"Now do you know any good itinerary,” she inquired, “for such a cumbrous caravan as this? How you would scorn such lumbering methods! I am too ill to wish any other. I shall do this as a gamester throws his last card!” In conclusion she stated that she had always cherished the hope of seeing him some time. “I believe,” she adds, “I know every word you have written. I never wished myself a man but once. That was when I read how it seemed to be rocked in the top of a pine tree in a gale!”
Muir’s reply to this request, according to the draft of a letter found
among his papers, was as follows:
To Helen Hunt JacksonMartinez, June 16th, 1885My Dear Mrs. Jackson:
Your letter of June 8th has shown me how sick you are, but also that your good angel is guiding you to the mountains, and therefore I feel sure that you will soon be well again.
When I came to California from the swamps of Florida, full of malarial poison, I crawled up the mountains over the snow into the blessed woods about Yosemite Valley, and the exquisite pleasure of convalescence and exuberant rebound to perfect health that came to me at once seem still as fresh and vivid after all these years as if enjoyed but yesterday.
The conditions you lay down for your itinerary seem to me desperately forbidding. No path accessible to your compound congregation can be traced across the range, maintaining anything like an elevation of four thousand feet, to say nothing of coolness and moisture, while along the range the topography is still less compliant to your plans. When I was tracing the Sequoia belt from the Calaveras to the Kern River I was compelled to make a descent of nine thousand feet in one continuous swoop in crossing the Kings River Valley, while the ups and downs from ridge to ridge throughout the whole course averaged nearly five thousand feet.
No considerable portion of the middle and southern Sierra is cool and moist at four thousand feet during late summer, for there you are only on the open margin of the main forest zone, which is sifted during the day by the dry warm winds that blow across the San Joaquin plains and foothills, though the night winds from the summit of the range make the nights delightfully cool and refreshing.
The northern Sierra is considerably cooler and moister at the same heights. From the end of the Oregon Railroad beyond Redding you might work up by a gentle grade of fifty miles or so to Strawberry Valley where the elevation is four thousand feet. There is abundance of everything, civilized as well as wild, and from thence circle away all summer around Mount Shasta where the circumference is about one hundred miles, and only a small portion of your way would lie much above or below the required elevation, and only the north side, in Shasta Valley, would you find rather dry and warm, perhaps, while you would reach an express station at every round or a good messenger could find you in a day from the station at any point in your orbit. And think how glorious a center you would have!—so glorious and inspiring that I would gladly revolve there, weary, afoot, and alone for all eternity.
The Kings River yosemite would be a delightful summer den for you, abounding in the best the mountains have to give. Its elevation is about five thousand feet, length nine miles, and it is reached by way of Visalia and Hyde’s Mills among the Sequoias of the Kaweah, but not quite accessible to your wheels and pans, I fear. Have you considered the redwood region of the Coast Range about Mendocino? There you would find coolness, moist air, and spicy woods at a moderate elevation.
If an elevation of six thousand feet were considered admissible, I would advise your going on direct to Truckee by rail, rather than to Dutch Flat, where the climate may be found too dry and hot. From Truckee by easy stages to Tahoe City and thence around the Lake and over the Lake all summer. This, as you must know, is a delightful region—cool and moist and leafy, with abundance of food and express stations, etc.
What an outfit you are to have—terrible as an army with banners! I scarce dare think of it. What will my poor Douglas squirrels say at the sight? They used to frisk across my feet, but I had only two feet, which seemed too many have a hundred, besides wooden spokes and spooks. Under ordinary circumstances they would probably frighten the maid and stare the doctor out of countenance, but every tail will be turned in haste and hidden at the bottom of the deepest knot-holes. And what shuffling and haste there will be in the chaparral when the bears are getting away! Even the winds might hold their breath, I fancy, “pause and die,” and the great pines groan aghast at the oncoming of so many shining cans and carriages and strange colors.
But go to the mountains where and how you will, you soon will be free from the effects of this confusion, and God’s sky will bend down about you as if made for you alone, and the pines will spread their healing arms above you and bless you and make you well again, and so delight the heart ofJohn Muir
"If nothing else comes of my camping air-castle,” she wrote from 1600 Taylor Street, San Francisco, two days after receiving Muir’s answer, “I have at least one pleasure from it—your kind and delightful letter. I have read it so many times I half know it. I wish Mrs. Carr were here that I might triumph over her. She wrote me that I might as well ask one of the angels of heaven as John Muir, ‘so entirely out of his line’ was the thing I proposed to do. I knew better, however, and I was right. You are the only man in California who could tell me just what I needed to know about ranges of climate, dryness, heat, etc., also roads.”
But the author of “Ramona” was never to have an opportunity to play her last card, for she was beyond even the healing of the mountains if she could have reached them. Indeed, one detects a presentiment of her doom in the closing lines of her letter to the man who had fired her imagination with his contagious faith in the restorative powers of nature. “If you could see me,” she writes, “you would only wonder that I have courage to even dream of such an expedition. I am not at all sure it is not of the madness which the gods are said to send on those whom they wish to destroy. They tell me Martinez is only twenty miles away: do you never come into town? The regret I should weakly feel at having you see the ‘remains’ (ghastly but inimitable word) of me would, I think, be small in comparison with the pleasure I should feel in seeing you. I am much too weak to see strangers—but it is long since you were a stranger.” Whether the state of his own health had permitted him to call on “H. H.,” as she was known among her friends, before he started East, in August, to see his parents, is not clear. Certain it is that by a singular coincidence he was ringing her door-bell almost at the moment when the brave spirit of this noble friend of the Indians was taking flight. “Mrs. Jackson may have gone away somewhere,” he remarked in writing to his wife the next day: “could get no response to my ringing—blinds down.”
The immediate occasion of his decision to go East is best told in some
further pages from unpublished memoirs under the title of “Mysterious Things.”
Though Muir’s boyhood was passed in communities where spooks, and ghosts,
and clairvoyance were firmly believed in, he was as a man singularly free
from faith in superstitions of this kind. But there were several occasions
when he acted upon sudden and mysterious impulses for which he knew no
explanation, and which he contents himself simply to record. One of these
relates to the final illness and death of his father and is told as follows:
In the year 1885, when father was living with his youngest daughter in Kansas City, another daughter, who was there on a visit, wrote me that father was not feeling as well as usual on account of not being able to take sufficient exercise. Eight or ten years before this, when he was about seventy years of age, he fell on an icy pavement and broke his leg at the hip joint, a difficult break to heal at any time, but in old age particularly so. The bone never knitted, and he had to go on crutches the balance of his life.
One morning, a month or two after receiving this word from my sister, I suddenly laid down my pen and said to my wife: “I am going East, because somehow I feel this morning that if I don’t go now I won’t see father again.” At this time I had not seen him for eighteen years. Accordingly I went on East, but, instead of going direct to Kansas City, I first went to Portage, where one of my brothers and my mother were living.
As soon as I arrived in Portage, I asked mother whether she thought she was able to take the journey to Kansas City to see father, for I felt pretty sure that if she didn’t go now she wouldn’t see him again alive. I said the same to my brother David. “Come on, David: if you don’t go to see father now, I think you will never see him again.” He seemed greatly surprised and said: “What has put that in your head? Although he is compelled to go around on crutches, he is, so far as I have heard, in ordinary health.” I told him that I had no definite news, but somehow felt that we should all make haste to cheer and comfort him and bid him a last good-bye. For this purpose I had come to gather our scattered family together. Mother, whose health had long been very frail, said she felt it would be impossible for her to stand the journey. David spoke of his business, but I bought him a railway ticket and compelled him to go.
On the way out to Kansas City I stopped at Lincoln, Nebraska, where my other brother, Daniel, a practicing physician, was living. I said, “Dan, come on to Kansas City and see father.” “Why?” he asked. “Because if you don’t see him now, you never will see him again. I think father will leave us in a few days.” “What makes you think so?” said he; “I have not heard anything in particular.” I said, “Well, I just kind of feel it. I have no reason.” “I cannot very well leave my patients, and I don’t see any necessity for the journey.” I said, “Surely you can turn over your patients to some brother physician. You will not probably have to be away more than four or five days, or a week, until after the funeral.” He said, “You seem to talk as though you knew everything about it.” I said, “I don’t know anything about it, but I have that feeling—that presentiment, if you like—nothing more.” I then bought him a ticket and said, “Now let’s go: we have no time to lose.” Then I sent the same word to two sisters living in Kearney and Crete, Nebraska, who arrived about as soon as we did.
Thus seven of the eight in our family assembled around father for the first time in more than twenty years. Father showed no sign of any particular illness, but simply was confined to his bed and spent his time reading the Bible. We had three or four precious days with him before the last farewell. He died just after we had had time to renew our acquaintance with him and make him a cheering, comforting visit. And after the last sad rites were over, we all scattered again to our widely separated homes.
The reader who recalls, from the opening chapters of this work, the paternal severity which embittered for John Muir the memory of the youthful years he spent on the farm, will be interested in a few additional details of this meeting of father and son after eighteen years. In spite of the causes which had estranged them so long ago, John had never withheld his admiration for the nobler traits of his father’s character, and he apparently cherished the hope that some day he might be able to sit down quietly with him and talk it all out. It seemed futile to do this so long as the old man was actively engaged in evangelistic work, which shut out from calm consideration anything that seemed to him to have been or to be an embarrassment of his calling. Now that he was laid low, John deemed that the proper time had arrived, but for this purpose he had come too late.
"Father is very feeble and helpless,” he wrote to his wife from the aged man’s bedside. “He does not know me, and I am very sorry. He looks at me and takes my hand and says, ‘Is this my dear John?’ and then sinks away on the pillow, exhausted, without being able to understand the answer. This morning when I went to see him and was talking broad Scotch to him, hoping to stir some of the old memories of Scotland before we came here, he said, ‘I don’t know much aboot it noo,’ and then added, ‘You’re a Scotchman, aren’t you?’ When I would repeat that I was his son John that went to California long ago and came back to see him, he would start and raise his head a little and gaze fixedly at me and say, ‘Oh, yes, my dear wanderer,’ and then lose all memory again. . . . I’m sorry I could not have been here two or three months earlier, though I suppose all may be as well, as it is.”
A few months earlier, when Daniel Muir was still in full possession
of his faculties, he had particularly mentioned to his daughter Joanna
some of the cruel things he had said and done to his “poor wandering son
John.” This wanderer, crossing the mountains and the plains, in response
to a mysterious summons, had gathered the scattered members of the former
Fountain Lake home to his dying father’s bedside, and, as the following
letter shows, was keeping solitary vigil there, when the hour of dissolution
To Mrs. Muir803 Wabash AvenueDear Louie:
Kansas City, Missouri
October 6th, 1885
You will know ere this that the end has come and father is at rest. He passed away in a full summer day evening peace, and with that peace beautifully expressed, and remaining on his countenance as he lies now, pure and clean like snow, on the bed that has borne him so long.
Last evening David and I made everybody go to bed and arranged with each other to keep watch through the night, promising the girls to give warning in time should the end draw near while they slept. David retired in an adjoining room at ten o’clock, while I watched alone, he to be called to take my place at two or three in the morning, should no marked change take place before that time.
About eleven o’clock his breathing became calm and slow, and his arms, which had been moved in a restless way at times, at length were folded on his breast. About twelve o’clock his breathing was still calmer, and slower, and his brow and lips were slightly cold and his eyes grew dim. At twelve-fifteen I called David and we decided to call up the girls, Mary, Anna, and Joanna, but they were so worn out with watching that we delayed a few minutes longer, and it was not until about one minute before the last breath that all were gathered together to kiss our weary affectionate father a last good-bye, as he passed away into the better land of light.
Few lives that I know were more restless and eventful than his—few more toilsome and full of enthusiastic endeavor onward towards light and truth and eternal love through the midst of the devils of terrestrial strife and darkness and faithless misunderstanding that well-nigh overpowered him at times and made bitter burdens for us all to bear.
But his last years as he lay broken in body and silent were full of calm divine light, and he oftentimes spoke to Joanna of the cruel mistakes he had made in his relations towards his children, and spoke particularly of me, wondering how I had borne my burdens so well and patiently, and warned Joanna to be watchful to govern her children by love alone. . . .
Seven of the eight children will surely be present [at the funeral]. We have also sent telegrams to mother and Sarah, though I fear neither will be able to endure the fatigues of the journey. . . . In case they should try to be present, David or I would meet them at Chicago. Then the entire family would be gathered once more, and how gladly we would bring that about, for in all our devious ways and wanderings we have loved one another.
In any case, we soon will be scattered again, and again gathered together. In a few days the snow will be falling on father’s grave and one by one we will join him in his last rest, all our separating wanderings done forever.
Love to all, Wanda, Grandma, and Grandpa. Ever yours, LouieJohn Muir
To Mrs. MuirPortage City, WisconsinDear Louie:
September 10th, 1885
I have just returned from a visit to the old people and old places about our first home in America, ten or twelve miles to the north of this place, and am glad to hear from you at last. Your two letters dated August 23d and 28th and the Doctor’s of September 1st have just been received, one of them having been forwarded from the Yellowstone, making altogether four letters from home besides Wanda’s neat little notes which read and look equally well whichever side is uppermost. Now I feel better, for I had begun to despair of hearing from you at all, and the weeks since leaving home, having been crowded with novel scenes and events, seemed about as long as years.
As for the old freedom I used to enjoy in the wilderness, that, like youth and its enthusiasms, is evidently a thing of the past, though I feel that I could still do some good scientific work if the necessary leisure could be secured. Your letters and the Doctor’s cheer and reassure me, as I felt that I was staying away too long and leaving my burdens for others to carry who had enough of their own, and though you encourage me to prolong my stay and reap all the benefit I can in the way of health and pleasure and knowledge, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the main vintage will soon be on and require my presence, to say nothing of your uncertain state of health. Therefore I mean to begin the return journey next Saturday morning by way of Chicago and Kansas City. . . .
Still another of your letters has just arrived, dated August 31st, by which I learn that Wanda is quite well and grandma getting stronger, while you are not well as you should be. I have tried to get you conscious of the necessity of the utmost care of your health—especially at present—and again remind you of it.
The Yellowstone period was, as you say, far too short, and it required bitter resolution to leave all. The trip, however, as a whole has been far from fruitless in any direction. I have gained telling glimpses of the Continent from the car windows, and have seen most of the old friends and neighbors of boyhood times, who without exception were almost oppressively kind, while a two weeks’ visit with mother and the family is a great satisfaction to us all, however much we might wish it extended. . . .
I saw nearly all of the old neighbors, the young folk, of course, grown out of memory and unrecognizable; but most of the old I found but little changed by the eighteen years since last I saw them, and the warmth of my welcome was in most instances excruciating. William Duncan, the old Scotch stone-mason who loaned me books when I was little and always declared that “Johnnie Moor will mak a name for himsel some day,” I found hale and hearty, eighty-one years of age, and not a gray hair in his curly, bushy locks—erect, firm of step, voice firm with a clear calm ring to it, memory as good as ever apparently, and his interest in all the current news of the world as fresh and as far-reaching. I stopped overnight with [him] and talked till midnight.
We were four days in making the round and had to make desperate efforts to get away. We climbed the Observatory that used to be the great cloud-capped mountain of our child’s imagination, but it dwindled now to a mere hill two hundred and fifty feet high, half the height of that vineyard hill opposite the house. The porphyry outcrop on the summit is very hard, and I was greatly interested in finding it grooved and polished by the ice-sheet. I began to get an appetite and feel quite well. Tell Wanda I’ll write her a letter soon. Everybody out in the country seemed disappointed not seeing you also. Love to all.
Ever yoursJohn Muir
Early in 1887 a letter from Janet Moores, one of the children who had visited Muir in his dark-room in Indianapolis many years ago, brought him news that she had arrived in Oakland. She was the daughter of his friend Mrs. Julia Merrill Moores, and a sister of Merrill Moores, who spent a season with John in Yosemite and in 1915 was elected a member of Congress from Indiana.
To Miss Janet Douglass MooresMartinez, CaliforniaMy dear Friend Janet:
February 23, 1887
Have you really turned into a woman, and have you really come to California, the land of the sun, and Yosemite and a’ that, through the whirl of all those years! Seas between us braid hae roared, my lassie, sin’ the auld lang syne, and many a storm has roared over broad mountains and plains since last we parted. Yet, however, we are but little changed in all that signifies, saved from many dangers that we know, and from many more that we never shall know—kept alive and well by a thousand, thousand miracles!
Twenty years! How long and how short a time that seems to-day! How many times the seas have ebbed—and flowed—with their breaking waves around the edges of the continents and islands in this score of years, how many times the sky has been light and dark, and the ground between us been shining with rain, and sun, and snow: and how many times the flowers have bloomed, but for a’ that and a’ that you seem just the same to me, and time and space and events hide you less than the thinnest veil. Marvelous indeed is the permanence of the impressions of those sunrise days, more enduring than granite mountains. Through all the landscapes I have looked into, with all their wealth of forests, rivers, lakes, and glaciers, and happy living faces, your face, Janet, is still seen as clear and keenly outlined as on the day I went away on my long walk.
Aye, the auld lang syne is indeed young. Time seems of no avail to make us old except in mere outer aspects. To-day you appear the same little fairy girl, following me in my walks with short steps as best you can, stopping now and then to gather buttercups, and anemones, and erigenias, sometimes taking my hand in climbing over a fallen tree, threading your way through tall grasses and ferns, and pushing through very small spaces in thickets of underbrush. Surely you must remember those holiday walks, and also your coming into my dark-room with light when I was blind! And what light has filled me since that time, I am sure you will be glad to know—the richest sun-gold flooding these California valleys, the spiritual alpenglow steeping the high peaks, silver light on the sea, the white glancing sunspangles on rivers and lakes, light on the myriad stars of the snow, light sifting through the angles of sun-beaten icebergs, light in glacier caves, irised spray wafting from white waterfalls, and the light of calm starry nights beheld from mountain-tops dipping deep into the clear air. Aye, my lassie, it is a blessed thing to go free in the light of this beautiful world, to see God playing upon everything, as a man would play on an instrument, His fingers upon the lightning and torrent, on every wave. of sea and sky, and every living thing, making all together sing and shine in sweet accord, the one love-harmony of the Universe. But what need to write so far and wide, now you are so near, and when I shall so soon see you face to face?
I only meant to tell you that you were not forgotten. You think I may not know you at first sight, nor will you be likely to recognize me. Every experience is recorded on our faces in characters of some sort, I suppose, and if at all telling, my face should be quite picturesque and marked enough to be readily known by anybody looking for me: but when I look in the glass, I see but little more than the marks of rough weather and fasting. Most people would see only a lot of hair, and two eyes, or one and a half, in the middle of it, like a hillside with small open spots, mostly overgrown with shaggy chaparral, as this portrait will show [drawing]. Wanda, peeping past my elbow, asks, “Is that you, Papa?” and then goes on to say that it is just like me, only the hair is not curly enough; also that the little ice and island sketches are just lovely, and that I must draw a lot just like them for her. I think that you will surely like her. She remarked the other day that she was well worth seeing now, having got a new gown or something that pleased her. She is six years old.
The ranch and the pasture hills hereabouts are not very interesting at this time of year. In bloom-time, now approaching, the orchards look gay and Dolly Vardenish, and the home garden does the best it can with rose bushes and so on, all good in a food and shelter way, but about as far from the forests and gardens of God’s wilderness as bran-dolls are from children. I should like to show you my wild lily and Cassiope and Bryanthus gardens, and homes not made with hands, with their daisy carpets and woods and streams and other fine furniture, and singers, not in cages; but the legs and ankles are immensely important on such visits. Unfortunately most girls are like flowers that have to stand and take what comes, or at best ride on iron rails around and away from what is worth seeing; then they are still something like flowers—flowers in pots carried by express.
I advised you not to come last Friday because the weather was broken, and the telephone was broken, and the roads were muddy, but the weather will soon shine again, and then you and Mary can come, with more comfort and safety. Remember me to Mary, and believe me,
Ever truly your friendJohn Muir
Muir’s literary unproductiveness during the eighties began to excite comment among his friends if one may judge by several surviving letters in which they inquire whether he has forsaken literature. His wife, also, was eager to have him continue to write, and it was, perhaps, due to this gentle pressure from several quarters that he accepted in 1887 a proposal from the J. Dewing Company to edit and contribute to an elaborately illustrated work entitled “Picturesque California.” As usual with such works, it was issued in parts, sold by subscription, and while it bears the publication date of 1888, it was not finished until a year or two later.
As some of the following letters show, Muir found it a hard grind to supply a steady stream of copy to the publishers and to supervise his corps of workmen on the ranch at the same time. I am all nerve-shaken and lean as a crow—loaded with care, work, and worry,” he wrote to his brother David after a serious illness of his daughter Helen in August, 1887. “The care and worry will soon wear away, I hope, but the work seems rather to increase. There certainly is more than enough of it to keep me out of mischief forever. Besides the ranch I have undertaken a big literary job, an illustrated work on California and Alaska, I have already written and sent in the two first numbers and the illustrations, I think, are nearly ready.”
The prosecution of this task involved various trips, and on some of them he was accompanied by his friend William Keith, the artist. Perhaps the longest was the one on which they started together early in July, 1888, traveling north as far as Vancouver and making many halts and side excursions, both going and coming. Muir was by no means a well man when he left home, but in a train letter to his wife he expressed confidence that he would “be well at Shasta beneath a pine tree.” The excursion took him to Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Snoqualmie and Spokane Falls, and Victoria, up the Columbia, and to many places of minor interest in the Puget Sound region. In spite of his persistent indisposition he made the ascent of Mount Rainier. “Did not mean to climb it,” he wrote to his wife, “but got excited and soon was on top.”
It did not escape the keen eyes of his devoted wife that the work of the ranch was in no small measure responsible for the failure of his health. “A ranch that needs and takes the sacrifice of a noble life,” she wrote to her husband on this trip, “ought to be flung away beyond all reach and power for harm. . . . The Alaska book and the Yosemite book, dear John, must be written, and you need to be your own self, well and strong, to make them worthy of you. There is nothing that has a right to be considered beside this except the welfare of our children.”
Muir’s health, however, improved during the following winter and summer,
notwithstanding the fact that the completion of “Picturesque California”
kept him under tension all the time. By taking refuge from the tasks of
the ranch at a hotel in San Francisco, during periods of intensive application,
he learned to escape at least the strain of conflicting responsibilities.
But even so he had to admit at times that he was “hard at work on the vineyards
and orchards while the publishers of ‘Picturesque California’ are screaming
for copy.” In letters written to his wife, during periods of seclusion
in San Francisco, Muir was accustomed to quote choice passages for comment
and approval. The fact is of interest because it reveals that he had in
her a stimulating and appreciative helper.
To Mrs. MuirGrand Hotel, San Francisco, Cal.Dear Louie:
July 4th, 1889
I’m pegging away and have invented a few good lines since coming here, but it is a hard subject and goes slow. However, I’ll get it done somehow and sometime. It was cold here last evening and I had to put on everything in my satchel at once. . . .
Last evening an innocent-looking “Examiner” reporter sent up his card, and I, really innocent, told the boy to let him come up. He began to speak of the Muir Glacier, but quickly changed the subject to horned toads, snakes, and Gila monsters. I asked him what made him change the subject so badly and what there was about the Muir Glacier to suggest such reprobate reptiles. He said snakes were his specialty and wanted to know if I had seen many, etc. I talked carelessly for a few minutes, and judge of my surprise in seeing this villainous article. “John Muir says they kill hogs and eat rabbits, but don’t eat hogs because too big, etc.” What poetry! It’s so perfectly ridiculous, I have at least had a good laugh out of it. “The toughness of the skin makes a difference,” etc.—should think it would!
The air has been sulphurous all day and noisy as a battlefield. Heard some band music, but kept my room and saw not the procession.
Hope your finger is not going to be seriously sore and that the babies are well. I feel nervous about them after reading about those geological snakes of John Muir. . . .
My room is better than the last, and I might at length feel at home with my Puget Sound scenery had I not seen and had nerves shaken with those Gila monsters. I hope I’ll survive, though the “Examiner” makes me say, “If the poison gets into them it takes no time at all to kill them” (the hogs), and my skin is not as thick. Remember me to Grandma, Grandpa, and the babies, and tell them not the sad story of the snakes of Fresno.
Ever yoursJohn Muir
To Mrs. MuirGrand Hotel, San Francisco Cal.Dear Louie:
July 5th, 1889
Here are more snakes that I found in the “Call” this morning! The curly, crooked things have fairly gained the papers and bid fair to crawl through them all, leaving a track never, I fear, to be obliterated. The “Chronicle’s” turn will come next, I fancy, and others will follow. I suppose I ought to write a good post-glacial snake history for the “Bulletin,” for just see how much better this lady’s snakes are than mine in the “Examiner!” “The biggest snake that ever waved a warning rattle"—almost poetry compared with “John Muir says they don’t eat sheep.” “Wriggling and rattling aborigines!” I’m ashamed of my ramshackle “Examiner” prose. The Indians “tree the game” and “hang up his snakeship” “beautifully cured” in “sweet fields arrayed in living green,” “and very beautiful they are,” etc., etc., etc. Oh, dear, how scrawny and lean and mean my snake composition seems! Worse in its brutal simplicity than Johnnie’s composition about “A Owl.” Well, it must be borne.
I’m pegging away. Saw Upham to-day. Dr. Vincent is at the Palace. Haven’t called on him; too busy. Love to all. Don’t tell anybody about my poor snakes, Kiss the babies.J. M.
To Mrs. MuirGrand Hotel, July 6, 1889Oh, dear Louie, here are more of “them snakes"—”whirled and whizzed like a wheel,” “big as my thigh, and head like my fist,” all of them, you see, better and bigger than John Muir’s.
And when, oh, when, is that fatal interview to end? How many more idiotic articles are to grow out of it? “Muir’s Strange Story,” “Elephants’ bones are sticking in the Yukon River, says geologist John Muir"! “Bering Straits may be bridged because Bering Sea is shallow!” Oh! Oh! if the Examiner would only examine its logic!!! Anyhow, I shall take fine cautious care that the critter will not examine me again.
Oh, dear Louie, here’s more, and were these letters not accompanied by the documentary evidence, you might almost think that these reptiles were bred and born in alcohol! “The Parson and the Snakes!” Think of that for Sunday reading! What is to become of this nation and the “Examiner"?
It’s Johnson, too. Who would have thought it? And think of Longfellow’s daughter being signed to such an article!
Well, I’m pegging away, but very slowly. Have got to the thirtieth page. Enough in four days for fie minutes’ reading. And yet I work hard, but the confounded subject has got so many arms and branches, and I am so cruelly severe on myself as to quality and honesty of work, that I can’t go fast. I just get tired in the head and lose all power of criticism—until I rest awhile.
It’s very noisy here, but I don’t notice it. I sleep well, and eat well, and my queer throat feeling has nearly vanished. The weather is very cool. Have to put my overcoat on the bed to reinforce the moderate cover. . . . Good-night. Love to babies and all.J. M.To Mrs. MuirGrand Hotel, San Francisco, Cal.Dear Louie:
July 11, 1889
I was very glad to get your letter to-day, for as if, instead of a week, I had been gone a year and had nothing but lonesome silence all the time.
You must see, surely, that I am getting literary, for I have just finished writing for the day and it is half-past twelve. Last evening I went to bed at this time and got up at six and have written twenty pages to-day, and feel proud that now I begin to see the end of this article that has so long been a black, growling cloud in my sky. Some of the twenty pages were pretty good, too, I think. I’ll copy a little bit for you to judge. Of course, you say, “go to bed.” Well, never mind a little writing more or less, for I’m literary now, and the fountains flow. Speaking of climate here, I say:The Sound region has a fine, fresh, clean climate, well washed, both winter and summer with copious rains, and swept with winds and clouds from the mountains and the sea. Every hidden nook in the depths of the woods is searched and refreshed, leaving no stagnant air. Beaver-meadows, lake-basins, and low, willowy bogs are kept wholesome and sweet, etc.Again:The outer sea margin is sublimely drenched and dashed with ocean brine, the spicy scud sweeping far inland in times of storm over the bending woods, the giant trees waving and chanting in hearty accord, as if surely enjoying it all.Here’s another bit: [Quotes what is now the concluding paragraph of Chapter XVII in “Steep Trails,” beginning “The most charming days here are days of perfect calm,” etc.].
Well, I may be dull to-morrow, and then too, I have to pay a visit to that charming, entertaining, interesting [dentist] “critter” of files and picks, called Cutlar. So much, I suppose, for cold wind in my jaw. Good-night.
Love to all,J. M.
To Mrs. MuirGrand Hotel, San FranciscoDear Louie:
July 12, 1889
Twelve and a half o’clock again, so that this letter should be dated the 13th. Was at the dentist’s an hour and a half. . . . Still, have done pretty well, seventeen pages now, eighty-six altogether. Dewing is telegraphing like mad from New York for Muir’s manuscript. He will get it ere long. Most of the day’s work was prosy, except the last page just now written. Here it is, Speaking of masts sent from Puget Sound, I write.Thus these trees, stripped of their leaves and branches, are raised again, transplanted and set firmly erect, given roots of iron, bare cross-poles for limbs, and a new foliage of flapping canvas, and then sent to sea, where they go merrily bowing and waving, meeting the same winds that rocked them when they stood at home in the woods. After standing in one place all their lives, they now, like sightseeing tourists, go round the world, meeting many a relative from the old home forest, some, like themselves, arrayed in broad canvas foliage, others planted close to shore, head downward in the mud, holding whares platforms aloft to receive the wares of all nations.Imaginative enough, but I don’t know what I’ll think of it in the sober morning. I see by the papers that [John] Swett is out of school, for which I am at once glad, sorry, and indignant, if not more.
Love to all. Good-nightJ. M.
To Mrs. MuirGrand Hotel, San FranciscoDear Louie:
July 14, 1889
It is late, but I will write very fast a part of to-day’s composition. Here is a bit you will like:The upper Snoqualmie Fall is about seventy-five feet high, with bouncing rapids at head and foot, set in a romantic dell thatched with dripping mosses, and ferns and embowered in dense evergreens and blooming bushes. The road to it leads through majestic woods with ferns ten feet long beneath the trees, and across a gravelly plain disforested by fire many years ago, where orange lilies abound and bright shiny mats of kinnikinick sprinkled with scarlet berries. From a place called “Hunt’s,” at the end of the wagon road, a trail leads through fresh dripping woods never dry—Merten, Menzies, and Douglas spruces and maple and Thuja. The ground is covered with the best moss-work of the moist cool woods of the north, made up chiefly of the various species of hypnum, with Marchantia jungermannia, etc., in broad sheets and bosses where never a dust particle floated, and where all the flowers, fresh with mist and spray, are wetter than water-lilies.Here’s another kind—starting for Mount Rainier:
In the pool at the foot of the fall there is good trout-fishing, and when I was there I saw some bright beauties taken. Never did angler stand in a spot more romantic, but strange it seemed that anyone could give attention to hooking in a place so surpassingly lovely to look at—the enthusiastic rush and song of the fall; the venerable trees over-head leaning forward over the brink like listeners eager to catch every word of their white refreshing waters; the delicate maidenhairs and aspleniums, with fronds outspread, gathering the rainbow spray, and the myriads of hooded mosses, every cup fresh and shining.The guide was well mounted, Keith had bones to ride, and so had small queer Joe, the camp boy, and I. The rest of the party traveled afoot. The distance to the mountain from Yelm in a straight line is about fifty miles. But by the Mule-and-Yellow Jacket trail, that we had to follow, it is one hundred miles. For, notwithstanding a part of the trail runs in the air where the wasps work hardest, it is far from being an air-line as commonly understood.At the Soda Springs near Rainier.Springs here and there bubble up from the margin of a level marsh, both hot and cold, and likely to tell in some way on all kinds of ailments. At least so we were assured by our kind buxom hostess, who advised us to drink without ceasing from all in turn because “every one of ‘em had medicine in it and [was] therefore sure to do good!” All our party were sick, perhaps from indulging too freely in “canned goods” of uncertain age. But whatever the poison might have been, these waters failed to wash it away though we applied them freely and faithfully internally and externally, and almost eternally as one of the party said.The dentist is still hovering like an angel or something over me. The writing will be finished to-morrow if all goes well. But punctuation and revision will take some time, and as there is now enough to fill two numbers, I suppose it will have to be cut down a little. Guess I’ll get home Thursday, but will try for Wednesday. Hoping all are well, I go to slumber.
Next morning all who had come through the ordeal of yellowjackets, ancient meats, and medicinal waters with sufficient strength, resumed the journey to Paradise Valley and Camp of the Clouds, and, strange to say, only two of the party were left behind in bed too sick to walk or ride. Fortunately at this distressing crisis, by the free application of remedies ordinary and extraordinary, such as brandy, paregoric, pain-killer, and Doctor some-body-or-other’s Golden Vegetable Wonder, they were both wonderfully relieved and joined us at the Cloud Camp next day, etc., etc., etc.
With loving wishes for all[John Muir]
To James Davis ButlerMartinez, September 1, 1889My dear old friend Professor Buttler:
You are not forgotten, but I am stupidly busy, too much so to be able to make good use of odd hours in writing. All the year I have from fifteen to forty men to look after on the ranch, besides the selling of the fruit, and the editing of “Picturesque California,” and the writing of half of the work or more. This fall I have to contribute some articles to the “Century Magazine,” so you will easily see that I am laden.
It is delightful to see you in your letters with your family and books and glorious surroundings. Every region of the world that has been recently glaciated is pure and wholesome and abounds in fine scenery, and such a region is your northern lake country. How gladly I would cross the mountains to join you all for a summer if I could get away! But much of my old freedom is now lost, though I run away right or wrong at times. Last summer I spent a few months in Washington Territory studying the grand forests of Puget Sound. I then climbed to the summit of Mount Rainier, about fifteen thousand feet high, over many miles of wildly shattered and crevassed glaciers. Some twenty glaciers flow down the flanks of this grand icy cone, most of them reaching the forests ere they melt and give place to roaring turbid torrents. This summer I made yet another visit to my old Yosemite home, and out over the mountains at the head of the Tuolumne River. I was accompanied by one of the editors of the “Century,” and had a delightful time. When we were passing the head of the Vernal Falls I told our thin, subtle, spiritual story to the editor.
In a year or two I hope to find a capable foreman to look after this ranch work, with its hundreds of tons of grapes, pears, cherries, etc., and find time for book-writing and old-time wanderings in the wilderness. I hope also to see you ere we part at the end of the day.
You want my manner of life. Well, in short, I get up about six o’clock and attend to the farm work, go to bed about nine and read until midnight. When I have a literary task I leave home, shut myself up in a room in a San Francisco hotel, go out only for meals, and peg away awkwardly and laboriously until the wee sma’ hours or thereabouts, working long and hard and accomplishing little. During meals at home my little girls make me tell stories, many of them very long, continued from day to day for a month or two. . . .
Will you be likely to come again to our side of the continent? How I should enjoy your visit! To think of little Henry an alderman! I am glad that you are all well and all together. Greek and ozone holds you in health. . . .
With love to Mrs. Butler and Henry, James, the girls, and thee, old friend, I am ever
Your friendJohn Muir
The event of greatest ultimate significance in the year 1889 was the meeting of Muir with Robert Underwood Johnson, the Century editor mentioned in the preceding letter. Muir had been a contributor to the magazine ever since 1878, when it still bore the name of “Scribner’s Monthly,” and therefore he was one of the men with whom Mr. Johnson made contact upon his arrival in San Francisco. Muir knew personally many of the early California pioneers and so was in a position to give valuable advice in organizing for the “Century” a series of articles under the general title of “Gold-Hunters.” This accomplished, it was arranged that Muir was to take Mr. Johnson into the Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. Beside a camp-fire in the Tuolumne Meadows, Mr. Johnson suggested to Muir that he initiate a project for the establishment of the Yosemite National Park. [For a very readable account of this eventful incident see Robert Underwood Johnson’s Remembered Yesterdays (1923).] In order to further the movement it was agreed that he contribute a series of articles to the “Century,” setting forth the beauties of the region. Armed with these articles and the public sentiment created by them, Johnson proposed to go before the House Committee on Public Lands to urge the establishment of a national park along the boundaries to be outlined by Muir.
Our country has cause for endless congratulation that the plan was carried
out with ability and success. In August and September, 1890, appeared Muir’s
articles “The Treasures of Yosemite” and “Features of the Proposed Yosemite
National Park,” both of which aroused strong public support for the project.
A bill introduced in Congress by General William Vandever embodied the
limits of the park as proposed by Mr. Muir, and on October 1, 1890 the
Yosemite National Park became an accomplished fact. The following letters
relate to the beginning and consummation of his far-sighted beneficial
To Mrs. MuirYosemite Valley, Cal.Dear Louie:
June 3, 1889
We arrived here about one o’clock after a fine glorious ride through the forests; not much dust, not very hot. The entire trip very delightful and restful and exhilarating. Johnson was charming all the way. I looked out as we passed Martinez about eleven o’clock, and it seemed strange I should ever go past that renowned town. I thought of you all as sleeping and safe. Whatever more of travel I am to do must be done soon, as it grows ever harder to leave my nest and young.
The foothills and all the woods of the Valley are flowery far beyond what I could have looked for, and the sugar pines seemed nobler than ever. Indeed, all seems so new I fancy I could take up the study of these mountain glories with fresh enthusiasm as if I were getting into a sort of second youth, or dotage, or something of that sort. Governor W——- was in our party, big, burly, and somewhat childishly jolly; also some other jolly fellows and fellowesses.
Saw Hill and his fine studio. He has one large Yosemite—very fine, but did not like it so well as the one you saw. He has another Yosemite about the size of the Glacier that I fancy you would all like. It is sold for five hundred dollars, but he would paint another if you wished.
Everybody is good to us. Frank Pixley is here and Ben Truman that wrote about Tropical California. I find old Galen Clark also. He looks well, and is earning a living by carrying passengers about the Valley. Leidig’s and Black’s old hotels are torn down, so that only Bernards’ and the new Stoneman House are left. This last is quite grand; still it has a silly look amid surroundings so massive and sublime. McAuley and the immortal twins still flounder and flourish in the ethereal sky of Glacier Point.
I mean to hire Indians, horses, or something and make a trip to the Lake Tenaya region or Big [Tuolumne] Meadows and Tuolumne Cañon. But how much we will be able to accomplish will depend upon the snow, the legs, and the resolution of the Century. Give my love to everybody at the two houses and kiss and keep the precious babies for me as for thee.
Will probably be home in about a week.Ever thine J. M.
To Robert Underwood JohnsonMartinez, March 4, 1890Dear Mr. Johnson:
. . . The love of Nature among Californians is desperately moderate; consuming enthusiasm almost wholly unknown. Long ago I gave up the floor of Yosemite as a garden, and looked only to the rough taluses and inaccessible or hidden benches and recesses of the walls. All the flowers are wallflowers now, not only in Yosemite, but to a great extent throughout the length and breadth of the Sierra. Still, the Sierra flora is not yet beyond redemption, and much may be done by the movement you are making.
As to the management, it should, I think, be taken wholly out of the Governor’s hands. The office changes too often and must always be more or less mixed with politics in its bearing upon appointments for the Valley. A commission consisting of the President of the University, the President of the State Board of Agriculture, and the President of the Mechanics Institute would, I think, be a vast improvement on the present commission. Perhaps one of the commissioners should be an army officer. Such changes would not be likely, as far as I can see, to provoke any formidable opposition on the part of Californians in general. Taking back the Valley on the part of the Government would probably be a troublesome job. . . . Everybody to whom I have spoken on the subject sees the necessity of a change, however, in the management, and would favor such a commission as I have suggested. For my part, I should rather see the Valley in the hands of the Federal Government. But how glorious a storm of growls and howls would rend our sunny skies, bursting forth from every paper in the state, at the outrage of the “Century” Editor snatching with unholy hands, etc., the diadem from California’s brow! Then where, oh, where would be the “supineness” of which you speak? These Californians now sleeping in apathy, caring only for what “pays,” would then blaze up as did the Devil when touched by Ithuriel’s spear. A man may not appreciate his wife, but let her daddie try to take her back!
. . . As to the extension of the grant, the more we can get into it the better. It should at least comprehend all the basins of the streams that pour into the Valley. No great opposition would be encountered in gaining this much, as few interests of an antagonistic character are involved. On the Upper Merced waters there are no mines or settlements of any sort, though some few land claims have been established. These could be easily extinguished by purchase. All the basins draining into Yosemite are really a part of the Valley, as their streams are a part of the Merced. Cut off from its branches, Yosemite is only a stump. However gnarly and picturesque, no tree that is beheaded looks well. But like ants creeping in the furrows of the bark, few of all the visitors to the Valley see more than the stump, and but little of that. To preserve the Valley and leave all its related rocks, waters, forests to fire and sheep and lumbermen is like keeping the grand hall of entrance of a palace for royalty, while all the other apartments from cellar to dome are given up to the common or uncommon use of industry—butcher-shops, vegetable-stalls, liquor-saloons, lumberyards, etc.
But even the one main hall has a hog-pen in the middle of the floor, and the whole concern seems hopeless as far as destruction and desecration can go. Some of that stink, I’m afraid, has got into the pores of the rocks even. Perhaps it was the oncoming shadow of this desecration that caused the great flood and earthquake—”Nature sighing through all her works giving sign of woe that all was lost.” Still something may be done after all. I have indicated the boundary line on the map in dotted line as proposed above. A yet greater extension I have marked on the same map, extending north and south between Lat. 38° and 37° 30’ and from the axis of the range westward about thirty-six or forty miles. This would include three groves of Big Trees, the Tuolumne Cañon, Tuolumne Meadows, and Hetch Hetchy Valley. So large an extension would, of course, meet more opposition. Its boundary lines would not be nearly so natural, while to the westward many claims would be encountered; a few also about Mounts Dana and Warren, where mines have been opened.
Come on out here and take another look at the Cañon. The earthquake taluses are all smooth now and the chaparral is buried, while the river still tosses its crystal arches aloft and the ouzel sings. We would be sure to see some fine avalanches. Come on. I’ll go if you will, leaving ranch, reservations, Congress bills, “Century” articles, and all other terrestrial cares and particles.
In the meantime I amCordially yours
To Robert Underwood JohnsonMartinez, April 19th, 1890My dear Mr. Johnson:
I hope you have not been put to trouble by the delay of that manuscript. I have been interrupted a thousand times, while writing, by coughs, grippe, business, etc. I suppose you will have to divide the article. I shall write a sketch of the Tuolumne Cañon and Kings River yosemite, also the charming yosemite of the Middle Fork of Kings River, all of which may, I think, be got into one article of ten thousand words or twenty. If you want more than is containied in the manuscript sent you on the peaks and glaciers to the east of Yosemite, let me know and I will try to give what is wanted with the Tuolumne Cañon.
The Yosemite “Century” leaven is working finely, even thus far, throughout California. I enclose a few clippings. The “Bulletin” printed the whole of Mack’s “Times” letter on our honest Governor. [Charles Howard] Shinn says that the “Overland” is going out into the battle henceforth in full armor. The “Evening Post” editorial, which I received last night and have just read, is a good one and I will try to have it reprinted. . . .
Mr. Olmsted’s paper was, I thought, a little soft in some places, but all the more telling, I suppose, in some directions. Kate, like fate, has been going for the Governor, and I fancy he must be dead or at least paralyzed ere this.
How fares the Bill Vandever? I hope you gained all the basin. If you have, then a thousand trees and flowers will rise up and call you blessed, besides the other mountain people and the usual “unborn generations,” etc,
In the meantime for what you have already done I send you a reasonable number of Yosemite thanks, and remain
Very truly your friendJohn Muir
To Mr. and Mrs. John BidwellMartinez, CaliforniaDear Mrs. Bidwell and General:
April 19th, 1890
I’ve been thinking of you every day since dear Parry [Charles C. Parry, 1823-90, Explored and collected on the Mexican boundary, in the Rocky Mountains, and in California. The other botanists mentioned are John Torrey, 1796-1873; Asa Gray, 1810-88; and Albert Kellogg, who died in 1887.] died. It seems as if all the good flower people, at once great and good, have died now that Parry has gone—Torrey, Gray, Kellogg, and Parry. Plenty more botanists left, but none we have like these. Men more amiable apart from their intellectual power I never knew, so perfectly clean and pure they were—pure as lilies, yet tough and unyielding in mental fibre as live-oaks. Oh, dear, it makes me feel lonesome, though many lovely souls remain. Never shall I forget the charming evenings I spent with Torrey in Yosemite, and with Gray, after the day’s rambles were over and they told stories of their lives, Torrey fondly telling all about Gray, Gray about Torrey, all in one summer; and then, too, they told me about Parry for the first time. And then how fine and how fruitful that trip to Shasta with you! Happy days, not to come again! Then more than a week with Parry around Lake Tahoe in a boat; had him all to myself—precious memories. It seems easy to die when such souls go before. And blessed it is to feel that they have indeed gone before to meet us in turn when our own day is done.
The Scotch have a proverb, “The evenin’ brings a’ hame.” And so, however separated, far or near, the evening of life brings all together at the last. Lovely souls embalmed in a thousand flowers, embalmed in the hearts of their friends, never for a moment does death seem to have had anything to do with them. They seem near, and are near, and as if in bodily sight I wave my hand to them in loving recognition.
Ever yoursJohn Muir
To Robert Underwood JohnsonMartinez, May 8th, 1890My dear Mr. Johnson:
. . . As I have urged over and over again, the Yosemite Reservation ought to include all the Yosemite fountains. They all lie in a compact mass of mountains that are glorious scenery, easily accessible from the grand Yosemite center, and are not valuable for any other use than the use of beauty. No other interests would suffer by this extension of the boundary. Only the summit peaks along the axis of the range are possibly gold-bearing, and not a single valuable mine has yet been discovered in them. Most of the basin is a mass of solid granite that will never be available for agriculture, while its forests ought to be preserved. The Big Tuolumne Meadows should also be included, since it forms the central camping-ground for the High Sierra adjacent to the Valley. The Tuolumne Cañon is so closely related to the Yosemite region it should also be included, but whether it is or not will not matter much, since it lies in rugged rocky security, as one of Nature’s own reservationis.
As to the lower boundary, it should, I think, be extended so far as to include the Big Tree groves below the Valley, thus bringing under Government protection a section of the forest containing specimens of all the principal trees of the Sierra, and which, if left unprotected, will vanish like snow in summer. Some private claims will have to be bought, but the cost will not be great.
Yours trulyJohn Muir
While traveling about with Keith in the Northwest during July, 1888, gathering materials for “Picturesque California,” Muir was one day watching at Victoria the departure of steamers for northern ports. Instantly he heard the call of the “red gods” of Alaska and began to long for the old adventurous days in the northern wildernesses. “Though it is now ten years since my last visit here,” he wrote to his wife in the evening, “Alaska comes back into near view, and if a steamer were to start now it would be hard indeed to keep myself from going aboard. I must spend one year more there at the least. The work I am now doing seems much less interesting and unimportant. . . . Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”
The longed-for opportunity came two years later. During the winter of
1890 he had suffered an attack of the grippe which brought on a severe
bronchial cough. He tried to wear it out at his desk, but it grew steadily
worse. He then, as he used to relate with a twinkle in his eye, decided
upon the novel experiment of trying to wear it out by going to Alaska and
exploring the upper tributaries of the Muir Glacier. In the following letter
we get a glimpse of him after two weeks of active exploration around Glacier
To Mrs. MuirGlacier BayDear Louie:
Camp near eastern end of ice wall
July 7th, 
The steamer Queen is in sight pushing up Muir Inlet through a grand crowd of bergs on which a clear sun is shining. I hope to get a letter from you to hear how you and the little ones and older ones are.
I have had a good instructive and exciting time since last I wrote you by the Elder a week ago. The weather has been fine and I have climbed two mountains that gave grand general views of the immense mountain fountains of the glacier and also of the noble St. Elias Range along the coast mountains, La Pérouse, Crillon, Lituya, and Fairweather. Have got some telling facts on the forest question that has so puzzled me these many years,, etc., etc. Have also been making preliminary observations on the motion of the glacier. Loumis and I get on well, and the Reid [Professor Harry Fielding Reid.] and Cushing party camped beside us are fine company and energetic workers. They are making a map of the Muir Glacier and Inlet, and intend to make careful and elaborate measurements of its rate of motion, size, etc. They are well supplied with instruments and will no doubt do good work.
I have yet to make a trip round Glacier Bay, to the edge of the forest and over the glacier as far as I can. Probably Reid and Cushing and their companions will go with me. If this weather holds, I shall not encounter serious trouble. Anyhow, I shall do the best I can. I mean to sew the bear skin into a bag, also a blanket and a canvas sheet for the outside. Then, like one of Wanda’s caterpillars, I can lie warm on the ice when night overtakes me, or storms rather, for here there is now no night. My cough has gone and my appetite has come, and I feel much better than when I left home. Love to each and all.
If I have time before the steamer leaves I will write to my dear Wanda and Helen. The crowd of visitors are gazing at the grand blue crystal wall, tinged with sunshine. Ever thineJ. M.
The crowning experience of this Alaska trip was the sled trip which he made across the upper reaches of the Muir Glacier between the 11th and the 21st of July. Setting out from his little cabin on the teriminal moraine, Muir pushed back on the east side of the glacier toward Howling Valley, fifteen miles to the northward, examined and sketched some of the lesser tributaries, then turned to the westward and crossed the glacier near the confluence of the main tributaries, and thence made his way down the west side to the front. No one was willing to share this adventure with him so he faced it, as usual, alone.
Chapter XVIII of “Travels in Alaska” gives, in journal form, an account
of Muir’s experiences and observations on this trip. To this may be added
his description of two incidents as related in fragments of unpublished
In the course of this trip I encountered a few adventures worth mention apart from the common dangers encountered in crossing crevasses. Large timber wolves were common around Howling Valley, feeding apparently on the wild goats of the adjacent mountains.
One evening before sundown I camped on the glacier about a mile above the head of the valley, and, sitting on my sled enjoying the wild scenery, I scanned the grassy mountain on the west side above the timber-line through my field glasses, expecting to see a good many wild goats in pastures so fine and wild. I discovered only two or three at the foot of a precipitous bluff, and as they appeared perfectly motionless, and were not lying down, I thought they must be held there by attacking wolves. Next morning, looking again, I found the goats still standing there in front of the cliff, and while eating my breakfast, preparatory to continuing my journey, I heard the dismal long-drawn out howl of a wolf, soon answered by another and another at greater distances and at short intervals coming nearer and nearer, indicating that they had discovered me and were coming down the mountain to observe me more closely, or perhaps to attack me, for I was told by my Indians while exploring in 1879 and 1880 that these wolves attack either in summer or winter, whether particularly hungry or not; and that no Indian hunter ever ventured far into the woods alone, declaring that wolves were much more dangerous than bears. The nearest wolf had evidently got down to the margin of the glacier, and although I had not yet been able to catch sight of any of them, I made haste to a large square from behind, in the same manner as the hunted goats. I had no firearms, but thought I could make a good fight with my Alpine ice axe. This, however, was only a threatened attack, and I went on my journey, though keeping a careful watch to see whether I was followed.
At noon, reaching the confluence of the eastmost of the great tributaries and observing that the ice to the westward was closely crevassed, I concluded to spend the rest of the day in ascending what is now called Snow Dome, a mountain about three thousand feet high, to scan the whole width of the glacier and choose the route that promised the fewest difficulties. The day was clear and I took the bearings of what seemed to be the best route and recorded them in my notebook so that in case I should be stopped by a blinding snowstorm, or impassable labyrinth of crevasses, I might be able to retrace my way by compass.
In descending the mountain to my sled camp on the ice I tried to shorten the way by sliding down a smooth steep fluting groove nicely lined with snow; but in looking carefully I discovered a bluish spot a few hundred feet below the head, which I feared indicated ice beneath the immediate surface of the snow; but inasmuch as there were no heavy boulders at the foot of the slope, but only a talus of small pieces an inch or two in diameter, derived from disintegrating metamorphic slates, lying at as steep an angle as they could rest, I felt confident that even if I should lose control of myself and be shot swiftly into them, there would be no risk of broken bones. I decided to encounter the adventure. Down I glided in a smooth comfortable swish until I struck the blue spot. There I suddenly lost control of myself and went rolling and bouncing like a boulder until stopped by plashing into the loose gravelly delta.
As soon as I found my legs and senses I was startled by a wild, piercing, exulting, demoniac yell, as if a pursuing assassin long on my trail were screaming: “I’ve got you at last.” I first imagined that the wretch might be an Indian, but could not believe that Indians, who are afraid of glaciers, could be tempted to venture so far into the icy solitude. The mystery was quickly solved when a raven descended like a thunderbolt from the sky and alighted on a jag of a rock within twenty or thirty feet of me. While soaring invisible in the sky, I presume that he had been watching me all day, and at the same time keeping an outlook for wild goats, which were sometimes driven over the cliffs by the wolves. Anyhow, no sooner had I fallen, though not a wing had been seen in all the clear mountain sky, than I had been seen by these black hunters who now were eagerly looking me over and seemed sure of a meal. The explanation was complete, and as they eyed me with a hungry longing stare I simply called to them: “Not yet!"
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