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Book Review: The Yosemite by John Muir

Reviewed by Marion Randall Parsons


A new book by Mr. Muir brings to his Sierra Club friends much of that feeling of joyful anticipation with which we enter upon an outing into the High Sierra. From its pages we are sure to gain a sense of actual contact with the mountain world. We are sure to find in it passages that with a few simple words will bring some forgotten mountain picture flashing back to memory with all its first glory renewed. This is particularly true of his recent volume, "The Yosemite." It is a treasure-house of wonderful pictures of all the changing phases of the Yosemite year -- of flood-time, with "rejoicing flood waterfalls chanting together in jubilee dress;" of Indian summer, and the "brooding, changeful days" that come between it and winter, "when the leaf colors have grown dim and the clouds come and go among the cliffs like living creatures looking for work;" of "the sunbeams streaming through the snowy High Sierra passes;" of "the sublime darkness of storm nights, when all the lights are out."

Mr. Muir's ten years' residence in the valley brought him many remarkable experiences. He witnessed the effects of the successive shocks of the great Inyo earthquake, and confirmed the theory he had formed as to the origin of earthquake taluses by the actual formation of one before his eyes. He saw the valley in flood, when more than a hundred new waterfalls poured over the cliffs. He crept behind Yosemite Fall when its waters were blown out from the cliff by the wind, only to be caught there by a returning gust and pelted with "a dash of spent comets,thin and harmless-looking in the distance, but feeling desperately solid and stony when they struck my shoulders."

A chapter of particular interest, and one which abounds in passages of uncommon beauty is that devoted to "Ancient Yosemite Glaciers:: "Water rivers work openly where people dwell, and so does the rain, and the sea, thundering on all the shores of the world; and the universal ocean of air, though invisible, speaks aloud in a thousand voices and explains its modes of working and its power. But glaciers, back in their white solitudes, work apart from men, exerting their tremendous energies in silence and darkness." Scientists we have in abundance, and poets in lesser measure, but it is a rare faculty indeed that can make a chapter on geology read like the noblest poetry.

The book is the fruit of long experience and loving, earnest, unwearying study. We who belong to a "time-poor" generation that counts its mountain experience in days instead of years, must indeed be thankful that the "long, bright-day and bright-night walks...when like river and ocean currents time flowed undivided, uncounted," were the portion of one who had so wonderful a power to make their glory live.


Source: Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. VIII. No. 4, June, 1912.


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