Map of Yosemite Valley, 1972.
From Samuel Kneeland’s Wonders of Yosemite (Boston, 1873).
(Not published in Life and letters).
Muir’s first excursion into the High Sierra ended in September, 1869. What he saw and experienced during that memorable summer is told vividly, and with infectious enthusiasm, in his journal, later published as My First Summer in the Sierra. Only one thing there was that marred his joy—the fearful destruction wrought in the forests by the “hoofed locusts” which he was set to guard. Though he did not realize it then, the time was coming when his direct observation of the devastating effect of sheeping in the High Sierra was to become an important factor in his campaign to expel the trampling, devouring hordes from the mountains. But the uppermost impression in his mind, when the summer ended, was after all the Edenic loveliness of the regions he had visited. “I have crossed the Range of Light,” so runs the concluding sentence of his journal, “surely the brightest and best of all the Lord has built; and rejoicing in its glory I gladly, gratefully hopefully pray I may see it again.”
The fulfillment of this desire was not to be long delayed, for the means of accomplishment were in his own power. After spending about eight weeks breaking horses for Pat Delaney, building fences, and running a gang-plough over his broad acres below French Bar, he set out on foot for Yosemite by way of Pino Blanco, Coulterville, and Harding’s Mill.
Meanwhile his Madison friends, the Carrs, had, during the summer of 1869, removed to California, where Professor Carr had been appointed to a Professorship in the University of California. They had not seen Muir since 1867 and were at this time urging him to pay them a visit in Oakland. “I thank you most heartily for the very kind invitation you send me,” he writes from Delaney’s ranch near La Grange under date of November 15th, 1869. “I could enjoy a blink of rest in your new home with a relish that only those can know who have suffered solitary banishment for so many years But I must return to the mountains—to Yosemite. I am told that the winter storms there will not be easily borne, but I am bewitched, enchanted, and tomorrow I must start for the great temple to listen to the winter songs and sermons preached and sung only there.”
Mrs. Carr, soon after her arrival in California, had visited Yosemite, but to her and Muir’s great disappointment the letter which was to call him down from the heights, to meet her in the Valley, failed to reach its destination. Muir at this time was still purposing to go on an exploratory trip to South America, a plan in which Mrs. Carr was warmly abetting him. So fully was his mind made up on this point that in a letter to his brother David he allowed himself only about six months more in California, and prospect of so early a departure to other lands made him determined spend these months in the mountains.
The proposed South American journey and the spell which the bee and grandeur of the Sierra Nevada were weaving about him form the subject of a paragraph in a letter written to his sister Sarah during this same summer while encamped “in a spruce grove near the upper end of Yosemite, two miles from the north wall.”Few persons at this time had braved the storms and isolation of Yosemite during the winder season. The first to do this was James C. Lamon, a Virginian, who came to California from Texas in 1851 and found his way into Yosemite Valley in 1857. Two years later he planted an orchard opposite Half Dome and in 1862 began to make the Valley his residence both in winder and in summer. In 1864 his example was followed by J. M. Hutchings who brought his wife with him and soon became a sort of valet de place. His frame house, situated directly opposite the Yosemite Fall, served also the purpose of a hotel for visitors, and Muir upon his arrival in the Valley naturally sought shelter there. The following letter reflects something of the elation with which he began to explore his new surroundings:
Just think [he writes] of the blessedness of my lot!—have been camped he, right in the midst of Yosemite rocks and waters for fifteen days, with nearly all of every day to myself to climb, sketch, write, meditate, and botanize! My foot has pressed no floor but that of the mountains for many a day. I am far from the ways and pursuits of man. I seldom even hear the bleating of our twenty-five hundred sheep. The manifold overwhelming sublimities of the Sierra are all in all. I am with Nature in the grandest, most divine of all her earthly dwelling places. . . .
A few months will call upon me to decide to what portion of God’s glorious star I will next turn. The sweets of home, the smooth waters of civilized life have attractions for me whose power is increased by time and constant rambling, but I am a captive, I am bound. Love of pure unblemished Nature seems to overmaster and blur out of sight all other objects and considerations. I know that I could under ordinary circumstances accumulate wealth and obtain a fair position in society, and I am arrived at an age that requires that I should choose some definite course for life. But I am sure that the mind of no truant schoolboy is more free and disengaged from all the grave plans and purposes and pursuits of ordinary orthodox life than mine. But I wonder what spirit is conjuring up such sober affairs at this time. I only meant to say a word by way of family greeting. Tomorrow I will be among the sublimities of Yosemite and forget that ever a thought of civilization or time-honored proprieties came among my pathless, lawless thoughts and wanderings.
To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrYosemiteDear Friend Mrs. Carr:
December 6th, 1869
I am feasting in the Lord’s mountain house, and what pen may write my blessings! I am going to dwell here all winter magnificently “snow-bound.” Just think of the grandeur of a mountain winter in Yosemite! Would that you could enjoy it also!
I read your word of pencil upon the bridge below the Nevada, and I thank you for it most devoutly. No one nor all of the Lord’s blessings can enable me to exist without friends, and I know that you are a friend indeed.
There is no snow in the Valley. The ground is covered with the brown and yellow leaves of the oak and maple, and their crisping and rustling make me think of the groves of Madison.
I have been wandering about among the falls and rapids studying the grand instruments of slopes and curves and echoing caves upon which those divine harmonies are played. Only a thin flossy veil sways and bends over Yosemite now, and Pohono, too, is a web of waving mist. New songs are sung, forming parts of the one grand anthem composed and written in “the beginning.”
Most of the flowers are dead. Only a few are blooming in summer nooks on the north side rocks. You remember that delightful fernery by the ladders. Well, I discovered a garden meeting of Adiantum far more delicate and luxuriant than those at the ladders. They are in a cove or covelette between the upper and lower Yosemite Falls. They are the most delicate and graceful plant creatures I ever beheld, waving themselves in lines of the most refined of heaven’s beauty to the music of the water. The motion of purple dulses in pools left by the tide on the sea coast of Scotland was the only memory that was stirred by these spiritual ferns.
You speak of dying and going to the woods. I am dead, and gone to heaven.
Indian [Tom] comes to the Valley once a month upon snowshoes. He brings the mail, and so I shall hope to hear from you. Address to Yosemite, via Big Oak Flat, care of Mr. Hutchings.[John Muir]
Sketch of John Muir’s cabin at the base of Yosemite Falls
A pleasing picture of his employment, his cabin, and the variety of his nature interests during the next two years is drawn in the following passage from unfinished memoirs:
I had the good fortune to obtain employment from Mr. Hutchings in building a sawmill to cut lumber for cottages, that he wished to build in the spring, from the fallen pines which had been blown down in a violent wind-storm a year or two before my arrival. Thus I secured employment for two years, during all of which time I watched the varying aspect of the glorious valley, arrayed in its winter robes; the descent from the heights of the booming, out-bounding avalanches like magnificent waterfalls; the coming and going of the noble storms; the varying songs of the falls; the growth of frost crystals on the rocks and leaves and snow; the sunshine sifting through them in rainbow colors; climbing every Sunday to the top of the walls for views of the mountains in glorious array along the summit of the range, etc.This all too brief account of Muir’s earlier Yosemite years we fortunately are able to supplement with the following letters:
I boarded with Mr. Hutchings’ family, but occupied a cabin that I built for myself near the Hutchings’ winter home. This cabin, I think, was the handsomest building in the Valley, and the most useful and convenient for a mountaineer. From the Yosemite Creek, near where it first gathers its beaten waters at the foot of the fall, I dug a small ditch and brought a stream into the cabin, entering at one end and flowing out the other with just current enough to allow it to sing and warble in low, sweet tones, delightful at night while I lay in bed. The floor was made of rough slabs, nicely joined and embedded in the ground. In the spring the common pteris ferns pushed up between the joints of the slabs, two of which, growing slender like climbing ferns on account of the subdued light, I trained on threads up the sides and over my window in front of my writing desk in an ornamental arch. Dainty little tree frogs occasionally climbed the ferns and made fine music in the night, and common frogs came in with the stream and helped to sing with the Hylas and the warbling, tinkling water. My bed was suspended from the rafters and lined with libocedrus plumes, altogether forming a delightful home in the glorious Valley at a cost of only three or four dollars, and I was loath to leave it.
To David Gilrye MuirYosemiteDear Brother David G.:
March 20th, 
Your last of January 6th reached me here in the rocks two weeks ago. I a very heartily glad to learn that your dear wife and wee ones have escaped from sickness to health. “Ten weeks of fever"—mercy, what intense significance these four words have for me after my Florida experience. We were taught to believe that Providence has special designs to accomplish by the agency of such afflictions. I cannot say that I have the requisite amount of faith to feel the truth of this, but one invariable result of suffering in love-knit family is to quicken all the powers that develop compact units from clusters of human souls.
I am sitting here in a little shanty made of sugar pine shingles this Sabbath evening. I have not been at church a single time since leaving home. Yet this glorious valley might well be called a church, for every lover of the great Creator who comes within the broad overwhelming influences of the place fails not to worship as he never did before. The glory of the Lord is upon all his works; it is written plainly upon all the fields of every clime, and upon every sky, but here in this place of surpassing glory the Lord has written in capitals. I hope that one day you will see and read with your own eyes.
The only sounds that strike me tonight are the ticking of the clock, the flickering of the fire and the love songs of a host of peaceful frogs that sing out in the meadow up to their throats in slush, and the deep waving roar of the falls like breakers on a rocky coast.
Your description of the sad quiet and deserted loneliness of home made me sorry, and I felt like returning to the old farm to take care of father and mother myself in their old days, but a little reflection served to show that of all the family, my views and habits and disposition make me the most incapable for the task.
You stirred a happy budget of memories in speaking of my work-shop and laboratory. The happiest days and scrap portions of my life were in that old slant-walled garret and among the smooth creeks that trickled among the sedges of Fountain Lake meadow.
In recalling the mechanical achievements of those early days I remember with satisfaction that the least successful one was that horrid guillotine of a thing for slicing off gophers’ heads.
. . . I have completed the sawmill here. It works extremely well. If not a “Kirk and a mill” I have at least made a house and a mill here. . . .
To Sarah Muir GallowayYosemite ValleyDear Sister:
March 24th, 1870
A grand event has occurred in our remote snowbound Valley. Indian Tom has come from the open lower world with the mail. . . .
I wrote you some weeks ago from this place. Tom leaves the Valley tomorrow I have four letters to write this evening, and it is nearly nine o’clock, so I will not try to write much, but will just say a few things in haste. First of all let me say that though my lot in these years is to wander in foreign lands, my heart is at home. I still feel you all as the chief wealth of my inmost soul and the most necessary elements of my life. What if many a river runs between us. Distance ought not to separate us. Comets that leave their sun for long irregular journeys through the fields of the sky acknowledge as constant and controlling a sympathy with its great center as the nearer, more civilized stars that travel the more proper roads of steady circles. No one reflection gives me so much comfort as the completeness and unity of our family. An apparently short column of years has made men and women of us all, and as I wrote to Daniel, we stand united like a family clump of trees—may the divine power of family love keep us one. And now do not consider me absent—lost. I have but gone out a little distance to look at the Lord’s gardens.
Remember me very warmly to Mrs. Galloway. Tell her that I sympathize very keenly with her in her great affliction. Tell her that my eyes open every day upon the noblest works of God and that I would gladly lend her my own eyes if I could. I think of her very often. I was telling my friend here about her a few nights ago in our little shanty. I do not live “near the Yosemite,” but in it—in the very grandest, warmest center of it. I wish you could hear the falls tonight—they speak a most glorious language, and I hear them easily through the thin walls of our cabin.
Of course I am glad to hear from you in this solitude, and I thank you for the daisy and the rose leaf and the old legend. I will tell you all about the Yosemite and many other places when I reach home. The surpassing glory of a place like this explains the beauty of that [which] is written in smaller characters, like that of your Mound hill. . . .
[Added later:]To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrYosemiteDear Mrs. Carr:
April 5th, 1870
I wish you were here to-day, for our rocks are again decked with deep snow. Two days ago a big gray cloud collared Barometer Dome,—the vast looming column of the upper falls was swayed like a shred of loose mist by broken pieces of storm that struck it suddenly, occasionally bending it backwards to the very top of the cliff, making it hang sometimes more than a minute like an inverted bow edged with comets. A cloud upon the Dome and these ever varying rockings and bendings of the falls are sure storm signs, but yesterday’s morning sky was clear, and the sun poured the usual quantity of the balmiest spring sunshine into the blue ether of our Valley gulf. But ere long ragged lumps of cloud began to appear all along the Valley rim, coming gradually into closer ranks, and rising higher like rock additions to the walls. From the top of the cloud-banks, fleecy fingers arched out from both sides and met over the middle of the meadows, gradually thickening and blackening until at night big confident snowflakes began to fall.
We thought that the last snow harvest had been withered and reaped long ago by the glowing sun, for the bluebirds and robins sang spring, and so also did the bland unsteady winds, and the brown meadow opposite the house was spotted here and there with blue violets. Carex spikes were shooting up through the dead leaves and the cherry and briar rose were unfolding their leaves; and besides these, spring wrote many a sweet mark and word that I cannot tell, but snow fell all the hours of to-day in cold winter earnest, and now at evening there rests upon rocks, trees, and weeds, as full and ripe a harvest of snow flowers as I ever beheld in the stormiest, most opaque days of mid-winter.
April 13th, About twelve inches of snow fell in that last snowstorm. It disappeared as suddenly as it came, snatched away hastily almost before it had time to melt, as if a mistake had been made in allowing it to come here at all. A week of spring days, bright in every hour, without a stain or thought of the storm, came in glorious colors, giving still greater pledges of happy life to every living creature of the spring, but a loud energetic snowstorm possessed every hour of yesterday. Every tree and broken weed bloomed yet once more. All summer distinctions were leveled off. All plants and the very rocks and streams were equally polypetalous.
This morning winter had everything in the Valley. The snow drifted about in the frosty wind like meal and the falls were muffled in thick cheeks of frozen spray. Thus do winter and spring leap into the Valley by turns, each remaining long enough to form a small season or climate of its own, or going and coming squarely in a single day. Whitney says that the bottom has fallen out of the rocks here—which I most devoutly disbelieve. Well, the bottom frequency falls out of these winter clouds and climates. It is seldom that any long transition slant exists between dark and bright days in this narrow world of rocks.
I know that you are enchanted with the April loveliness of your new home. You enjoy the most precious kind of sunshine, and by this time flower patches cover the hills about Oakland like colored clouds. I would like to visit chose broad outspread blotches of social flowers that are so characteristic of your hills, but far rather would I see and feel the flowers that are now at Fountain Lake, and the lakes of Madison.
Mrs. Hutchings thought of sending you a bulb of the California lily by mail, but found it too large. She wishes to be remembered to you. Your Squirrel [Florence Hutchings] is very happy. She is a rare creature.
I hope to see you and the Doctor soon in the Valley. I have a great deal to say to you which I will not try to write. Remember me most cordially to the Doctor and to Allie and all the boys. I am much obliged to you for those botanical notes, etc., and I am, Ever most cordially yoursJohn Muir
To David Gilrye MuirBalmy Sabbath Morning in YosemiteDear Brother:
April 10th, 
Your geographical, religious and commercial letter was handed me this morning by a little black-eyed witch of a girl [Florence Hutchings], the only one the Valley. I also received your note of February 8th in due time (that is any time) and I propose to answer them as one, thus accomplishing “twa at a blow”; but I am bewildered by the magnitude and number of the subjects of which they treat. I think that since my pen is perturbed by too big a quantum of levity for Sabbath writing I shall begin with baptism, hoping that my muddy ink and muddy thoughts will settle to the seriousness or anger that naturally belongs to the subject.
I do not like the doctrine of close communion as held by hard-shells, because the whole clumsy structure of the cling rests upon any foundation of coarse-grained dogmatism. Imperious, bolt-upright exclusiveness upon a subject is hateful, but it becomes absolutely hideous and impious in matters of religion, where all for men are equally interested. I have no patience at all the man who complacently wipes his pious lips and waves me away from a simple rite which commemorates the love and sacrifice of Christ, telling me, “Go out from us for you are not of us,” and all this not for want of Christian love on my part, or the practice of self-denying virtues in seeking to elevate myself, but simply because in his infallible judgment I am mistaken in the number of quarts of that common liquid we call water which should be made use of in baptism.
I think infant baptism by sprinkling or any other mode is a beautiful and impressive ordinance, and however the Scripture of the thing is interpreted no parent can be doing an unseemly or unchristian act in dedicating a child to God and taking upon him vows to lead his child in the path that all good people believe in. The baptism of an old sinner is apt to do but little good, but the baptism of an infant, in connection with the religious training which is supposed to follow it, is likely to do very much good.
I was baptised three times this morning. 1st (according to the old way of dividing the sermon), in balmy sunshine that penetrated to my very soul, warming all the faculties of spirit, as well as the joints and marrow of the body; 2nd, in the mysterious rays of beauty that emanate from plant corollas; and 3rd, in the spray of the lower Yosemite Falls. My 1st baptism was by immersion, the 2nd by pouring, and the 3rd by sprinkling. Consequently all Baptists are my brethering, and all will allow that I’ve “got religion.”[John Muir]
To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrYosemiteDear Friend Mrs. Carr:
May 17th, 
Our valley is just gushing, throbbing full of open, absorbable beauty, and I feel that I must tell you about it. I am lonely among my enjoyments; the valley is full of visitors, but I have no one to talk to.
The season that is with us now is about what corresponds to full-fledged spring in Wisconsin. The oaks are in full leaf and have shoots long enough to bend over and move in the wind. The good old bracken is waist high already, and almost all the rock ferns have their outermost fronds unrolled.
Spring is in full power and is steadily reaching higher like a shadow, and will soon reach the topmost horizon of rocks. The buds of the poplar opened on the 9th of last month, those of the oaks on the 24th.
May 1st was a fine, hopeful, healthful, cool, bright day, with plenty of the fragrance of new leaves and flowers and of the music of bugs and birds. From the 5th to the 14th was extremely warm, the thermometer averaging about 85° at noon in shade. Craggy banks of cumuli became common about Starr King and the Dome, flowers came in troops, the upper snows melted very fast, raising the falls to their highest pitch of glory. The waters of the Yosemite Fall no longer float softly and downily like hanks of spent rockets, but shoot at once to the bottom with tremendous energy. There is at least ten tunes the amount of water in the Valley that there was when you were here. In crossing the Valley we had to sail in the boat. The river paid but little attention to its banks, flowing over the meadow in great river-like sheets.
But last Sunday, 15th, was a dark day. The rich streams of heat and light were withheld. The thermometer fell suddenly to 35°, and down among the verdant banks of new leaves, and groves of half-open ferns, and thick settlements of confidant flowers came heavy snow in big blinding flakes, coming down with a steady gait and taking their places gracefully upon shrinking leaves and petals as if they were doing exactly right. The whole day was snowy and stormy like a piece of early winter. Snow fell also on the 16th. A good many of the ferns and delicate flowers are killed.
There are about fifty visitors in the Valley at present. When are you and the Doctor coming? Mr. Hutchings has not yet returned from Washington, so I will be here all summer. I have not heard from you since January.
I had a letter the other day from Professor Butler. He has been glancing and twinkling about among the towns of all the states at a most unsubstantial velocity. . . . Most cordially yours,John Muir
When Congress in 1864, by special Act, granted to the State of California the Yosemite Valley, together with a belt of rock and forest a mile in width around the rim, for recreational purposes, no account was taken of the possible claims of such settlers as J. C. Lamon and J. M. Hutchings. These two endeavored to make good what they regarded as preemption claims to a section of land in the Valley. Their action resulted in prolonged litigations but the issue was finally decided against the claimants both by the supreme Court of the State and the Federal Supreme Court. It was not, however until 1875 that the Commissioners appointed by the governor found themselves in undisputed control of the Valley. Muir’s references to Mr. Hutchings’ absences in Washington relate to this matter.
To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrYosemiteDear Friend:
Sunday May 29th, 
I received your “apology” two days ago and ran my eyes hastily over it three or four lines at a time to find the place that would say you were coming, but you “fear” that you cannot come at all, and only “hope” that the Doctor may! But I shall continue to look for you, nevertheless. The Chicago party you speak of were here and away again before your letter arrived. All sorts of human stuff is being poured into our Valley this year, and the blank, fleshly apathy with which most of it comes in contact with the rock and water spirits of the place, is most amazing. I do not wonder that the thought of such people being here makes you “mad”; but, after all, Mrs. Carr, they are about harmless. They climb sprawlingly to their saddles like overgrown frogs pulling themselves up a stream bank through the bent sedges, ride up the Valley with about as much emotion as the horses they ride upon—are comfortable when they have “done it all” and long for the safety and flatness of their proper homes.
In your first letter to the Valley you complain of the desecrating influences of the fashionable hordes about to visit here, and say that you mean to come only once more and “into the beyond.” I am pretty sure that you are wrong in saying and feeling so, for the tide of visitors will float slowly about the bottom of the Valley as a harmless scum collecting in hotel and saloon eddies, leaving the rocks and falls eloquent as ever and instinct with imperishable beauty and greatness; and recollect that the top of the Valley is more than half way to real heaven and the Lord has many mansions in the Sierra equal in power and glory to Yosemite, though not quite so open, and I venture to say that you will yet see the Valley many times both in and out of the body.
I am glad you are going to the Coast Mountains to sleep on Diablo—Angelo—ere this. I am sure that you will be lifted above all the effects of your material work. There is a precious natural charm in sleeping under the open starry sky. You will have a very perfect view of the Joaquin Valley, and the snowy pearly wall of the Sierra Nevada. I lay for weeks last summer upon a bed of pine leaves at the edge of a daisy gentian meadow in full view of Mt. Dana.
Mrs. Hutchings says that the lily bulbs were so far advanced in their growth, when she dug some to send you, that they could not be packed without being broken, but I am going to be here all summer and I know where the grandest plantation of these lilies grows, and I will box up as many of them as you wish, together with as many other Yosemite things as you may ask for, and send it out to you before the pack train makes its last trip. I know the Spirea you speak of—it is abundant all around the top of the Valley and the rocks at Lake Tenaya and reaches almost to the very summit about Mt. Dana. There is also a purple one very abundant on the fringe meadows of Yosemite Creek a mile or two back from the brink of the falls. Of course it will be a source of keen pleasure to me to procure you anything you may desire. I should like to see that grand Agave. I saw some in Cuba, but they did not exceed twenty-five or thirty feet in height.
I have thought of a walk in the wild gardens of Honolulu, and now that you speak of my going there it becomes very probable, as you seem to understand me better than I do myself. I have no square idea about the time shall I get myself away from here. I shall at least stay till you come. I fear that the Agave will be in the spirit world ere that time.
You say that I ought to have such a place as you saw in the gardens of that mile and half of climate. Well, I think those lemon and orange groves would do perhaps to make a living, but for a garden I should not have anything less than a piece of pure nature. I was reading Thoreau’s Maine Woods a short time ago. As described by him these woods are exactly like those of Canada West. How I long to meet Linnoea and Chiogenes hispidula once more! I would rather see these two children of the evergreen woods than all the twenty-seven species of palm that Agassiz met on the Amazon.
These summer days “go on” calmly and evenly. Scarce a mark of the frost and snow of the 15th is visible. The bracken are four or five feet high already. The earliest azaleas have opened and the whole crop of buds is ready to burst. The river does not overflow its banks now, but it is exactly brim full.
The thermometer averages about 75° at noon. We have sunshine every morning from a bright blue sky. Ranges of cumuli appear towards the summits with great regularity every day about eleven o’clock, making a splendid background for the South Dome. In a few hours these clouds disappear and give up the sky to sunny evening.
Mr. Hutchings arrived here from Washington a week ago. There are sixty or seventy visitors here at present. . . . Ever yours most cordiallyJ. Muir
Among Eastern tourists visiting Yosemite Valley in 1870 were Mark Hopkins, then President of Williams College, and Mrs. Robert C. Waterston, the accomplished daughter of Josiah Quincy. “His [Muir’s] letters,” wrote Mrs. Waterston to a friend, “are poems of great and exquisite beauty worthy to be written out of a heart whose close communion with nature springs to a perfect love.”
The meeting of John Muir and Joseph LeConte in August, 1870, was destined to have literary and scientific consequences not foreseen at the time. It appears clearly from the first of the following letters that Muir was already aware of the existence of living glaciers in the Sierra Nevada, a fact not then known to any one else and one which he regarded as having an important bearing upon his theory of Yosemite’s origin. Discussion of the broader issues involved we must postpone to the chapter on “Persons and Problems.”To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrYosemiteMy Dear Friend Mrs. Carr
July 29th, 
I am very, very blessed. The Valley is full of people, but they do not annoy me. I revolve in pathless places and in higher rocks than the world and his ribbony wife can reach. Had I not been blunted by hard work in the mill, an crazed by Sabbath raids among the high places of this heaven, I would have written you long since. I have spent every Sabbath for the last two months i the spirit world, screaming among the peaks and outside meadows like negro Methodist in revival time, and every intervening clump of week days in trying to fix down and assimilate my shapeless harvests of revealed glory into the spirit and into the common earth of my existence, and I am rich—rich beyond measure, not in rectangular blocks of sifted knowledge, or in thin sheets of beauty hung picture-like about “the walls of memory,” but in unselected atmospheres of terrestrial glory diffused evenly throughout my whole substance.
Your Brooksian letters I have read with a great deal of interest. They a so full of the spice and poetry of unmingled Nature, and in many places they express my own present feelings very fully. Quoting from your Forest Glen, “Without anxiety and without expectation all my days come and go mix. with such sweetness to every sense,” and again, “I don’t know anything time, and but little of space,” and “My whole being seemed to open to the sun.” All this I do most comprehensively appreciate, and am just beginning to know how fully congenial you are. Would that you could share my mountain enjoyments! In all my wanderings through Nature’s beauty, whether it is among the ferns at my cabin door, or in the high meadows and peaks, amid the spray and music of waterfalls, you are the first to meet me, and often speak to you as verily present in the flesh.
Last Sabbath I was baptised in the irised foam of the Vernal, and in the divine snow of Nevada, and you were there also and stood in real presence by the sheet of joyous rapids below the bridge.
I am glad to know that McClure and McChesney have told you of our night with upper Yosemite. Oh, what a world is there! I passed, no, I lived another night there two weeks ago, entering as far within the veil amid equal glory, together with Mr. Frank Shapleigh of Boston. Mr. Shapleigh is an artist and I like him. He has been here six weeks, and has just left for home. I told him to see you and to show you his paintings. He is acquainted with Charles Sanderson and Mrs. Waterston. Mrs. Waterston left the Valley before your letter reached me, but one morning about sunrise an old lady came to the mill and asked me if I was the man who was so fond of flowers, and we had a very earnest unceremonious that about the Valley and about “the beyond.” She is made of better stuff than most of the people of that heathen town of Boston, and so also is Shapleigh.
Mrs. Yelverton is here and is going to stop a good while. Mrs. Waterston told her to find me, and we are pretty well acquainted now. She told me other day that she was going to write a Yosemite novel!! and that “Squirrel” and I were going into it. I was glad to find that she knew you. I have seen Professor LeConte; perhaps he is stopping at one of the other hotels.
Has Mrs. Rapelye or Mr. Colby told you about our camping in the spruce woods on the south rim of the Valley, and of our walk at daybreak to the top of the Sentinel dome to see the sun rise out of the crown peaks of beyond?
About a week ago at daybreak I started up the mountain near Glacier point to see Pohono in its upper woods and to study the kind of life it lived up there. I had a glorious day, and reached my cabin at daylight, by walking all night. And, oh, what a night among those moon shadows! It was one o’clock A.M. when I reached the top of the Cathedral rocks, a most glorious twenty-four hours of life amid nameless peaks and meadows, and the upper cataracts of Pohono! Mr. Hutchings told me next morning that I had done two or three days’ climbing in one and that I was shortening my life, but I had a whole lifetime of enjoyment, and I care but little for the arithmetical length of my days. I can hardly realize that I have not yet seen you here. I thank you for sending me so many friends, but I am waiting for you.
I am going up the mountain soon to see your lily garden at the top of Indian Canyon. “Let the Pacific islands lie.” My love to Allie and all your boys and to the Doctor. Tell him that I have been tracing glaciers in all the principal canyons towards the summit.Ever thine
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr[August 7th, 1870][First part of letter missing.]. . . Tomorrow we set out for the Lyell Glacier in company with LeConte and his boys. We will be with them four or five days when they will go on Monoward for Tahoe. I mean to set some stakes in a dozen glaciers and gather some arithmetic for clothing my thoughts
I hope you will not allow old H[utchings] or his picture agent Houseworth to so gobble and bewool poor Agassiz that I will not see him. . .
I will return to the Valley in about a week, if I don’t get overdeep in a crevasse.
Later. Yours of Monday eve has just come. I am glad your boy is so soon to feel mother, home, and its blessings. I hope to meet [John] Torrey, although I will push leeward as before, but may get back in time. I will enjoy Agassiz, and Tyndall even more. I’m sorry for poor [Charles Warren] Stoddard; tell him to come. . . .Ever yours
The two following letters relate in part to an American colonization scheme promoted by a Mr. A. D. Piper, of San Francisco, who is said to have received from the Brazilian and Peruvian governments a concession for the navigation of the waters of the upper Amazon, together with a grant of millions of acres on the Purus in the Department of Beni. One of Mrs. Carr’s sons joined the expedition and she was anxious to have Muir go also, holding out to him the prospect of a cheap and comfortable passage to the heart of the Andes and the privilege of “locating” three hundred and twenty five acres of land anywhere within the grant. Muir was too canny to be inveigled into joining such an expedition. It speedily went to pieces in Brazil, whence Mrs. Carr’s son returned seriously broken in health.To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrYosemiteDear Friend Mrs. Carr:
August 20th, 
I have just returned from a ten days’ ramble [Described in Joseph LeConte’s privately printed Journal of Ramblings through the High Sierras of California by the University Excursion Party (1875). Muir’s theory of the glacial origin is mend several times in this rare booklet. Reprinted in the Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. III, no. I (1900).] with Professor LeConte and his students in the beyond, and, oh! we have had a most glorious season of terrestrial grace. I do wish I could ramble ten days of equal size in very heaven that I could compare its scenery with that of Bloody Canyon and the Tuolumne Meadows and Lake Tenaya and Mount Dana.
Our first camp after leaving the Valley was at Eagle Point, overlooking the Valley on the north side, from which a much better general view of the Valley and the high crest of the Sierra beyond is obtained than from inspiration Point. Here we watched the long shadows of sunset upon the living map at our feet and in the later darkness half silvered by the moon, went far out of human cares and human civilization.
Our next camp was at Lake Tenaya, one of the countless multitudes of starry gems that make this topmost mountain land to sparkle like a sky. After moonrise LeConte and I walked to the lake shore and climbed upon a big sofa-shaped rock that stood, islet-like, a little way out in the shallow water, and here we found another bounteous throne of earthly grace, and I doubt if John in Patmos saw grander visions than we. And you were remembered there and we cordially wished you with us.
Our next sweet home was upon the velvet gentian meadows of the South Tuolumne. Hare we feasted upon soda and burnt ashy cakes and stood an hour in a frigid rain with our limbs bent forward like Lombardy poplars in a gale, but ere sunset the black cloud departed, our spines were straightened a glowing fire, we forgot the cold and all about half raw mutton and alkaline cakes. The grossest of our earthly coils was shaken off, and ere the last slant sunbeams left the dripping meadow and the spirey mountain peaks we were again in the third alpine heaven and saw and heard things equal in glory to the purest and best of Yosemite itself.
Our next camp was beneath a big gray rock at the foot of Mount Dana. Here we had another rainstorm, which drove us beneath our rock where we lay in complicated confusion, our forty limbs woven into a knotty piece of tissue compact as felt.
Next day we worshiped upon high places on the brown cone of Dana, and returned to our rock. Next day walked among the flowers and cascades of Bloody Canyon, and camped at the lake. Rode next day to the volcanic cone nearest to the lake and bade farewell to the party and climbed to the highest crater in the whole range south of the Mono Lake. Well, I shall not try to tell you anything, as it is unnecessary. Professor LeConte, whose company I enjoyed exceedingly, will tell you about our camp meeting on the Tenaya rock.
I will send you a few choice mountain plant children by Mrs. Yelverton. If there is anything in particular that you want, let me know. Mrs. Yelverton will not leave the Valley for some weeks, and you have time to write.I am ever your friend
To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrTuolumne River, two miles below La GrangeDear Friend Mrs. Carr:
November 4th, 
Yours of October 2nd reached me a few days since. The Amazon and Andes have been in all my thoughts for many years, and I am sure that I shall meet them some day ere I die, or become settled and civilized and useful. I am obliged to you for all of this information. I have studied many paths and plans for the interior of South America, but none so easy and sure ever appeared as this of your letter.
I thought of landing at Guayaquil and crossing the mountains to the Amazon, float to Para, subsisting on berries and quinine, but to steam along the palmy shores with company and comforts is perhaps more practical, though not so pleasant. Hawthorne says that steam spiritualizes travel, but I think that it squarely degrades and materializes travel. However, flies and fevers have to be considered in this case.
I am glad that Ned has gone. The woods of the Purus will be a grand place for the growth of men. It must be that I am going soon, for you have shown me the way. People say that my wanderings are very many and methodless, but they are all known to you in some way before I think of them. You are a prophet in the concerns of my little outside life, and pray what says the spirit about my final escape from Yosemite? You saw me at these rock altars years ago, and I think I shall remain among them until you take me away.
I reached this place last month by following the Merced of the Valley and through all its canyons to the plains above Snelling—a most glorious walk. I intended returning to the Valley ere this, but Mr. Delaney, the man with whom I am stopping at present, would not allow me to leave before I had plowed his field, and so I will not be likely to see Yosemite again before January, when I shall have a grand journey over the snow.
Mrs. Yelverton told me before I started upon my river explorations that she would likely be in Oakland in two weeks, and so I made up a package for you of lily bulbs, cones, ferns, etc., but she wrote me a few days ago that she was still in the Valley.
I find that a portion of my specimens collected in the last two years and left at this place and Hopeton are not very well cared for, and I have concluded to send them to you. I will ship them in a few days by express, and I will be down myself, perhaps, in about a year. If there is anything in these specimens that the Doctor can make use of in his lectures tell him to do so freely, of course.
The purple of these plains and of this whole round sky is very impressively glorious after a year in the deep rocks.
People all throughout this section are beginning to hear of Dr. Carr H. accomplishes a wonderful amount of work. My love to Allie, and to the Doctor, and I am, Ever most cordially yours
To Mrs. Ezra S. CarrNear La Grange, CaliforniaDecember 22nd, Dear Mrs. Carr:
It is so long since I have heard from you that I begin to think you have sent a letter to Yosemite. I am feeling lonely again, and require a word from you.
Some time ago Mr. Hutchings wrote me saying that he would require my shingle cabin for his sister, and so I am homeless again. I expected to pas the winter there, writing, sketching, etc., and in making exploratory raid back over the mountains in the snow, but Mr. Hutchings’ jumping my nest after expressly promising to keep it for me, has broken my pleasant lot of plans, and I am at work making new ones. Were it not that Mr. Hutchings owes me money and that I have a lot of loose notes and outline sketches to work up I should set out for South America at once. As it is, I shall very likely remain where I am for a few months and return to the mountains in the spring. I wish in particular to trace some of the upper Yosemite streams farther and more carefully than I have yet done, and I shall dip yet once more into the fathomless grandeur of the Valley.
I am in comfortable quarters at present, within sight and hearing of the Tuolumne, on a smooth level once the bottom of a shallow lake-like expansion of the river where it leaves the slates.
Evening purple on the mountains seen through an ample gap up the Tuolunnne is of terrestrial beauty, the purest and best. The sheet gold of the plain compositae will soon be lighted in the sun days of spring, deepening and glowing yet brighter as it spreads away over the sphered and fluted rock-waves of this old ocean bed. You must not fail to see the April gold of the Joaquin.
I send herewith a letter to Mrs. Yelverton in your care, as you will be likely to know where she is. I have just received a letter which she left for me at Snelling, giving an account [Cf. Summer with a Countess,” by Mary Viola Lawrence in The Overland Monthly, November, 1871.] of her fearful perils in the snow. It seems strange to me that I should not have known and felt her anguish in that terrible night, even at this distance. She told me that I ought to wait and guide her out, and I feel a kind of guiltiness in not doing so.
Since writing the above yours of November 19th is received, directed to the “Tuolumne River, etc.” You are “glad that I am kindly disposed towards South America, but a year is a long time,” etc. But to me a Yosemite year is a very little measure of time, or rather, a measureless and formless mass of time which can in no manner be geometrically or arithmetically dealt with. But, Mrs. Carr, why do you wish to cut me from California and graft me among the groves of the Purus? Please write the reason. This Pacific sunshine is hard to leave. If souls are allowed to go a-rapping and visiting where they please I think that, unbodied, I will be found wallowing in California light.
If the bulbs were lost I will procure some more for you, if you do not send me up the Amazon before next fall.[John Muir]
to Chapter 6 |
to Chapter 8 |
of Contents ]