Camping with Burroughs and Muir
by Clara Barrus
Excerpted from Our Friend John Burroughs by Clara Barrus (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1914),
In February, 1909, I was one of a small party which set out with
Mr. Burroughs for the Pacific Coast and the Hawaiian Islands. The
lure held out to him by the friend who arranged his trip was that
John Muir would start from his home at Martinez, California, and
await him at the Petrified Forests in Arizona; conduct him through,
that weirdly picturesque region, and in and around the Grand Cañon
of the Colorado; camp and tramp with him in the Mojave Desert;
tarry awhile in Southern California; then visit Yosemite before
embarking on the Pacific preparatory to lotus-eating in Hawaii.
The lure held out to the more obscure members of the party was
all that has been enumerated, plus that of having these two great,
simple men for traveling companions. To see the wonders of the
Southwest is in itself great good fortune, but to see them in
company with these two students of nature, and to study the
students while the students were studying the wonders, was an
It frightens me now when I think on what a slight chance hung our
opportunity for this unique Journey; for Mr. Burroughs, though at
first deciding to go, had later given it up, declaring himself to
be too much of a tenderfoot to go so far from home alone at his age.
"Why should I go gadding about to see the strange and the
extraordinary?" he wrote me, when trying to argue himself into
abandoning the trip. "The whole gospel of my books (if they have
any gospel) is 'Stay at home; see the wonderful and the beautiful in
the simple things all about you; make the most of the common and the
near at hand.' When I have gone abroad, I have carried this spirit
with me, and have tested what I have seen by the nature revealed to
me at my own doorstep. Well, I am glad I have triumphed at last; I
feel much better and like writing again, now that this incubus is
off my shoulders." But the incubus soon rested on him again, for
the next mail carried a letter begging him to reconsider and let
two of his women friends accompany him. So it all came about in
a few days, and we were off.
We wondered how Mr. Muir would relish two women being in the party,
but assured Mr. Burroughs we should not hamper them, and should be
ready to do whatever they were.
"Have no fears on that score," he said; "Muir will be friendly
if you are good listeners; and he is well worth listening to. He
is very entertaining, but he sometimes talks when I want to be let
alone; at least he did up in Alaska."
"But you won't be crusty to him, will you?"
"Oh, no, I shan't dare to be--he is too likely to get the best of
one; he is a born tease."
The long journey across the Western States (by the Santa Fe route)
was full of interest at every point. Even the monotony of the
Middle West was not wearisome, while the scenery and scenes in
New Mexico and Arizona were fascinating in the extreme.
Mr. Burroughs had been to the Far West by a northern route, but this
was all fresh territory to him, and he brought to it his usual keen
appetite for new phases of nature, made still keener by a recently
awakened interest in geological subjects. It enhanced the pleasure
and profit of the trip a hundredfold to get his first impressions of
the moving panorama, as I did when he dictated notes to me from his
diary, or descriptive letters to his wife and son. The impression
one gets out there of earth sculpture in process is one of the chief
attractions of the region, and Mr. Burroughs never tired of studying
the physiognomy of the land, and the overwhelming evidences of time
and change, and of contrasting these with our still older, maturer
landscapes in the East.
In passing through Kansas he commented on the monotonous level
expanse of country as being unbearable from any point of view
except as good farm land. Used to hills and mountains, inviting
brooks and winding roads, he turned away from this unpicturesque
land, saying if it was a good place to make money, it was also a
place to lose one's own soul--he was already homesick for the
beauty and diversity of our more winsome country.
Two days' journey from Chicago and we reached the desert town of
Adamana. As the train stopped near the little inn, a voice called
out in the darkness, "Hello, Johnnie, is that you?"
"Yes, John Muir"; and there under the big dipper, on the great
Arizona desert, the two friends met after a lapse of ten years.
"Muir, aren't you surprised to find me with two women in my wake?"
asked Mr. Burroughs, introducing us.
"Yes; surprised that there are only two, Johnnie." Then to us, "Up
in Alaska there were a dozen or two following him around, tucking
him up in steamer rugs, putting pillows to his head, running to
him with a flower, or a description of a bird--Oh, two is a very
moderate number, Johnnie, but we'll manage to worry through with
them, somehow." And picking up part of our luggage, the tall,
grizzly Scot led the way to the inn.
The next day we drove nine miles over the rolling desert to
visit one of the petrified forests, of which there are five in
that vicinity. Blended with the unwonted scenes--the gray sands
dotted with sagebrush and greasewood, the leaping jack rabbits,
the frightened bands of half-wild horses, the distant buttes and
mesas, and the brilliant blue of the Arizona sky--is the memory
of that talk of Mr. Muir's during the long drive, a talk which
for range and raciness I have never heard equaled. He often uses
the broad dialect of the Scot, translating as he goes along. His
forte is in monologue. He is a most engaging talker,--discursive,
grave and gay,--mingling thrilling adventures, side-splitting
anecdotes, choice quotations, apt characterizations, scientific
data, enthusiastic descriptions, sarcastic comments, scornful
denunciations, inimitable mimicry.
Mr. Burroughs, on the contrary, is not a ready talker; he gives
of his best in his books. He establishes intimate relations with
his reader, Mr. Muir with his listener. He is more fond of an
interchange of ideas than is Mr. Muir; is not the least inclined
to banter or to get the better of one; is so averse to witnessing
discomfiture that even when forced into an argument, he is loath to
push it to the bitter end. Yet when he does engage in argument, he
drives things home with very telling force, especially when writing
on debatable points.
As we drove along the desert, Mr. Muir pointed to a lofty plateau
toward which we were tending,--"Robbers' Roost,"--where
sheep-stealers hie themselves, commanding the view for hundreds of
miles in every direction. I wish I could make vivid the panorama
we saw from this vantage-ground--the desert in the foreground, and
far away against the sky the curiously carved pink and purple and
lilac mountains, while immediately below us lay the dry river-bed
over which a gaunt raven flew and croaked ominously, and a little
beyond rose the various buttes, mauve and terra-cotta colored,
from whose sides and at whose bases projected the petrified trees.
There lay the giant trees, straight and tapering--no branching as
in our trees of to-day. The trunks are often flattened, as though
they had been under great pressure, often the very bark seemed to
be on them (though it was petrified bark), and on some we saw marks
of insect tracery like those made by the borers of to-day. Some of
the trunks were more than one hundred and fifty feet long, and five
to seven feet in diameter, prostrate but intact, looking as though
uprooted where they lay. Others were broken at regular intervals,
as though sawed into stove lengths. In places the ground looks
like a chip-yard, the chips dry and white as though bleached by
the sun. The eye is deceived; chips these surely are, you think,
but the ear corrects this impression, for as your feet strike
the fragments, the clinking sound proves that they are stone.
In some of the other forests, visited later, the chips and larger
fragments, and the interior of the trunks, are gorgeously colored,
so that we walked on a natural mosaic of jasper, chalcedony, onyx,
and agate. In many fragments the cell-structure of the wood is
still visible, but in others nature has carried the process
further, and crystallization has transformed the wood of these
old, old trees into the brilliant fragments we can have for the
carrying--"beautiful wood replaced by beautiful stone," as Mr.
Muir was fond of saying.
With what wonder and incredulity we roamed about witnessing the
strange spectacle!--the prostrate monarchs with hearts of jasper
and chalcedony, now silent and rigid in this desolate region where
they basked in the sunlight and swayed in the winds millions of
years ago. Only a small part of the old forest is as yet exposed;
these trees, buried for ages beneath the early seas, becoming
petrified as they lay, are, after ages more, gradually being
unearthed as the softer parts of the soil covering them wears away.
The scenic aspects of the place, the powerful appeal it made to
the imagination, the evidences of infinite time, the wonderful
metamorphosis from vegetable life to these petrified remains which
copy so faithfully the form and structure of the living trees,
were powerfully enhanced by the sight of these two men wandering
amid these ruins of Carboniferous time, sometimes in earnest
conversation, oftener in silence; again in serious question from
the one and perhaps bantering answer from the other; for although
Mr. Burroughs was intensely interested in this spectacle, and full
of cogitations and questions as to the cause and explanation of it
all, Mr. Muir was not disposed to treat questions seriously.
"Oh, get a primer of geology, Johnnie," he would say when the
earnest Eastern student would ask for a solution of some of the
puzzles arising in his mind--a perversity that was especially
annoying, since the Scot had carefully explored these regions,
and was doubtless well equipped to adduce reasonable explanations
had he been so minded. That very forest to which we went on that
first day, and where we ate our luncheon from the trunk of a great
petrified Sigillaria, had been discovered by Mr. Muir and his
daughter a few years before as they were riding over the sandy
plateau. He told us how excited he was that night--he could not
sleep, but lay awake trying to restore the living forest in
imagination, for, from the petrified remains, he could tell to
what order these giants belonged.
When others congregate to eat, the Scot seems specially impelled
to talk. With a fine disregard for food, he sat and crumbled dry
bread, occasionally putting a bit in his mouth, talking while
the eating was going on. He is likewise independent of sleep.
"Sleep!" he would exclaim, when the rest of us, after a long day of
sight-seeing, would have to yield to our sense of fatigue, "why,
you can sleep when you get back home, or, at least, in the grave."
Mr. Burroughs, on the contrary, is specially dependent upon sleep
and food in order to do his work or to enjoy anything. On our
arrival at the Grand Cañon in the morning, after a night of travel
and fasting, all the rest of us felt the need of refreshing
ourselves and taking breakfast before we would even take a peep at
the great rose-purple abyss out there a few steps from the hotel,
but the teasing Scot jeered at us for thinking of eating when there
was that sublime spectacle to be seen. When we did go out to the
rim, Mr. Muir preceded us, and, as we approached, waved toward the
great abyss and said: "There! Empty your heads of all vanity, and
look!" And we did look, overwhelmed by what must be the most truly
sublime spectacle this earth has to offer--a veritable terrestrial
Book of Revelation, as Mr. Burroughs said.
We followed a little path along the rim, led by Mr. Muir, to where
we could escape from the other sight-seers, and there we sat on
the rocks, though the snow lay in patches on the ground that bright
February day. Mr. Burroughs made a fire of Juniper brush, and as
the fragrant incense rose on the air, with that wondrous spectacle
before our eyes, we listened to Mr. Muir reciting some lines from
Milton--almost the only poet one would think of quoting in the
presence of such solemn, awful beauty.
Mr. Muir tried to dissuade us the next day from going down into
the Cañon: "Don't straddle a mule and poke your noses down to
the ground, and plunge down that dangerous icy trail, imagining,
because you get a few shivers down your backs, you are seeing the
glories of the Cañon, or getting any conception of the noble river
that made it. You must climb, climb, to see the glories, always."
But when Mr. Burroughs would ask him where we could climb to, to
see the Cañon, since under his guidance we had been brought to the
very edge on the top, he did not deign to explain, but continued to
deride the project of the descent into the depths--a way the dear
man has of meeting an argument that is a bit annoying at times.
We did go down into the Cañon on mule-back,--down, down, over four
thousand feet,--and the jeering Scot went with us, sitting his
mule uncompromisingly, and indulging in many a jest at the expense
of the terrified women who felt, when too late to retreat, that
it would have been better to heed his advice. Still, after the
descent, and then the ascent, were safely accomplished, we were
glad we had not let him dissuade us. None of us can ever forget
that day, with its rich and varied experiences, the mingled fear
and awe and exultation, the overpowering emotions felt at each
new revelation of the stupendous spectacle, often relieved by
the lively sallies of Mr. Muir. We ate our luncheon on the old
Cambrian plateau, the mighty Colorado, still a thousand feet below
us, looking entirely inadequate to have accomplished the tremendous
results we were witnessing.
One day at the Cañon, feeling acutely aware of our incalculable
privilege, I said, "To think of having the Grand Cañon, and John
Burroughs and John Muir thrown in!"
"I wish Muir /was/ thrown in, sometimes," retorted Mr. Burroughs,
with a twinkle in his eye, "when he gets between me and the Cañon."
In contrast to Mr. Muir, the Wanderer, is Mr. Burroughs, the
Home-lover, one who is under the spell of the near and the
familiar. The scenes of his boyhood in the Catskills, the woods
he wandered in about Washington during the years he dwelt there,
his later tramping-ground along the Hudson--these are the scenes
he has made his readers love because he has loved them so much
himself; and however we may enjoy his journeyings in "Mellow
England," in "Green Alaska," in Jamaica, or his philosophical
or speculative essays, we find his stay-at-home things the best.
And he likes the familiar scenes and things the best, much as he
enjoyed the wonders that the great West offered. The robins in
Yosemite Valley and the skylarks in the Hawaiian Islands, because
these were a part of his earlier associations, did more to endear
these places to him than did the wonders themselves. On Hawaii,
where we saw the world's greatest active volcano throwing up
its fountains of molten lava sixty or more feet high, the masses
falling with a roar like that of the "husky-voiced sea," Mr.
Burroughs found it difficult to understand why some of us were so
fascinated that we wanted to stay all night, willing to endure the
discomforts of a resting-place on lava rocks, occasional stifling
gusts of sulphur fumes, dripping rain, and heat that scorched our
veiled faces, so long as we could gaze on that boiling, tumbling,
heaving, ever-changing lake of fire. Such wild, terrible,
unfamiliar beauty could not long hold him under its spell.
[Illustration: John Muir and John Burroughs, Pasadena, California.
From a photograph by George R. King]
A veritable homesickness came over him amid unfamiliar scenes. One
day in early March, after journeying all day over the strange region
of the California desert, with its giant cacti, its lava-beds, its
volcanic cones, its rugged, barren mountains, its deep gorges and
Cañons, its snow-capped peaks, on reaching San Bernardino, so green
and fresh and smiling in the late afternoon sun, and riding through
miles and miles of orange groves to Riverside, this return to a
winsome nature (though unlike his own), after so much of the
forbidding aspect had been before us, was to Mr. Burroughs
like water brooks to the thirsty hart.
His abiding love for early friends, too, crops out on all
occasions. Twice while away on this trip be received the proffer
of honorary degrees from two of our American universities. Loath
to accept such honors at any time, he was especially so now, and
declined, defending himself by saying that the acceptance would
have necessitated his hurrying straight home across the States to
have the degrees conferred upon him, when he was planning to tarry
in Iowa and see an old schoolmate.
"I didn't want to do it," he said petulantly; "I wanted to stop and
see Sandy Smith"--his tone being not unlike what he would have used
when as a boy he doubtless coaxed to "go out and play with Sandy."
Mr. Burroughs is too much a follower of the genuinely simple life
to be long contented in hotels, however genial the hospitality.
He declared the elegant suite at the Mission Inn at Riverside,
which was tendered to him and his party in the most cordial,
unobtrusive way, was too luxurious for a "Slabsider" like him.
It was positively painful to him to be asked, as he was frequently
on the Western and Hawaiian tour, to address audiences, or "just to
come and meet the students" at various schools and colleges. Such
meetings usually meant being "roped in" to making a speech, often
in spite of assurances to the contrary. I have known him to slip
away from a men's club early in the evening, before dinner was
announced, and return to our little cottage in Pasadena, where he
would munch contentedly an uncooked wafer, drink a cup of hot water,
read a little geology, and go to bed at the seasonable hour of nine,
the next morning awakening with a keen appetite for the new day,
for his breakfast, and for his forenoon of work, whereas, had he
stayed out till eleven or twelve, eaten a hearty dinner, and been
stimulated and excited by much talk, he would have awakened without
the joy in the morning which he has managed to carry through his
seventy-six years, and which his readers, who rejoice in the
freshness and tranquillity of his pages, hope he will keep till
he reaches the end of the Long Road.
Mr. Muir is as averse to speaking in public as is Mr. Burroughs,
much as he likes to talk. They both dislike the noise and
confusion of cities, and what we ordinarily mean by social life.
Mr. Burroughs is less an alien in cities than is Mr. Muir, yet,
on the whole, he is more of a solitaire, more of a recluse. He
avoids men where the other seeks them. He cannot deal or dicker
with men, but the canny Scot can do this, if need be, and even
enjoy it. Circumstances seem to have made Mr. Muir spend most
of his years apart from his fellows, although by nature he is
decidedly gregarious; circumstances seem to have decreed that Mr.
Burroughs spend the greater part of his life among his fellow-men,
though there is much of the hermit in his make-up.
Mr. Muir gets lost in cities--this man who can find his way on the
trackless desert, the untrodden glaciers, and in the most remote
and inaccessible mountain heights. He will never admit that his
wanderings were lonely: "You can always have the best part of your
friends with you," he said; "it is only when people cease to love
that they are separated."
One Sunday in Pasadena we had planned to have a picnic up one of the
Cañons, but the rain decreed otherwise. So, discarding tables and
other appurtenances of life within doors, we picnicked on the floor
of our sitting-room, making merry there with the luncheon we had
prepared for the jaunt. While passing back and forth through the
room in our preparations, we heard the men of the party talk in
fragments, and amusing fragments they were. Once when Mr. Browne,
the editor of the "Dial," was discussing some point in connection
with the Spanish-American War, I heard Mr. Muir say, with a sigh of
relief, "I was getting flowers up on the Tuolumne meadows then, and
didn't have to bother about those questions." When another friend
was criticizing Mr. Roosevelt for the reputed slaughter of so many
animals in Africa, and Mr. Burroughs declared he did not credit half
the things the papers said the hunter was doing, Mr. Muir said, half
chidingly, half tolerantly, "Roosevelt, the muggins, I am afraid he
is having a good time putting bullets through those friends of his."
Now I had heard him call Mr. Burroughs "You muggins" in the same
winning, endearing way he said "Johnnie"; I had heard him speak of
a petrified tree in the Sigillaria forest as a "muggins"; of a bear
that trespassed on his flowery domains in the Sierra meadows as a
"muggins" that he tried to look out of countenance and failed; of
a "comical little muggins of a daisy" that some one had named
after him; and one day he had rejoiced my heart by dubbing me "You
muggins, you"; and behold! here he was now applying the elastic term
to our many-sided (I did not say "strenuous") ex-President! Later
I heard him apply it to a Yosemite waterfall, and by then should not
have been surprised to hear him speak of a mighty glacier, or a
giant sequoia, as a "muggins."
"Stickeen," Mr. Muir's incomparable dog story, came out in book form
while we were in Pasadena. I sent a copy to my brother, who wrote
later asking me to inquire of Mr. Muir why he did not keep Stickeen
after their perilous adventures together. So I put the question to
him one day. "Keep him!" he ejaculated, as he straightened his
back, and the derisive wrinkles appeared on one side of his nose;
"keep him! he wasn't mine--I'm Scotch, I never steal." Then he
explained that Stickeen's real master was attached to him; that he
could not take him from him; and besides, the dog was accustomed
to a cold climate, and would have been very unhappy in California.
"Oh, no, I couldn't keep Stickeen," he said wistfully, but one felt
that he /had/ kept Stickeen, the best part of him, by immortalizing
him in that story.
While we were housekeeping in Pasadena, Mr. Burroughs began writing
on the Grand Cañon. One morning, after having disposed of several
untimely callers, he had finally settled down to work. We sat
around the big table writing or reading. Mr. Burroughs was there in
the body, but in spirit we could see he was at the "Divine Abyss,"
as he called the Cañon. Once he read us a few sentences which were
so good that I resolved we must try harder to prevent interruptions,
that he might keep all his writing up to that standard. But while
engaged in letter-writing, some point arose, and, forgetting my
laudable resolution, I put a question to him. Answering me
abstractedly, he went on with his writing. Then I realized how
inexcusable it was to intrude my trivialities at such a time.
Castigating myself and resolving anew, I wrote on in contrite
silence. After a little Mr. Burroughs paused and lifted his head;
his expression was puzzled, as though wrestling with some profound
thought, or weighing some nicety of expression; I saw he was about
to speak--perhaps to utter his latest impression concerning the
glories of the Cañon. As he opened his lips this is what we heard:
"/Couldn't we warm up those Saratoga chips for luncheon?/" Whereupon
it will be seen that the abyss he was then cogitating about was in
the epigastric region, instead of in Arizona.
Mr. Muir likes a laugh at his own expense. He told us of a
school-teacher in the vicinity of his home instructing her pupils
about Alaska and the glaciers; and on telling them that the great
Muir Glacier was named after their neighbor, who discovered it,
one little boy piped up with, "What, not that old man that drives
around in a buggy!"
I may as well offset this with one of our Hawaiian experiences.
When we were in Honolulu, we heard that one of the teachers there,
thinking to make a special impression upon her pupils, told them
the main facts about Mr. Burroughs's writings, their scope and
influence, what he stood for as a nature writer, his place in
literature, and then described his appearance, and said, "And
this noted man, this great nature lover, is right here--a guest
in our city!" A little lad broke in with, "I know--I saw him
yesterday--he was in our yard stealing mangoes."
One day, while still in Pasadena, I told Mr. Muir that on April 3d
a few of us wished to celebrate Mr. Burroughs's birthday, his
seventy-second, by a picnic up one of the Mount Lowe Cañons. He
said it would be impossible for him to be with us on that day, as he
had to go up to San Francisco. On my expressing keen disappointment
he teasingly said:--"Why, you will have Johnnie, and Mr. Browne, and
the mountains--what more do you want?"
"But we want /you/ ," I protested, assuring him that this was not a
case where one could say,--
"How happy could I be with either,
Were t'other dear Johnnie away!"
"Well, then, why can't you have it some other day?"
"Because he wasn't born some other day."
"But why must you be tied to the calendar? Can't you celebrate
Johnnie's birthday a few days later just as well? Such a stickler
for the exact date as you are, I never saw."
Thus he bantered, but when he had to leave us, we knew he was as
disappointed as we all were that he could not be with us on that
How he did enjoy hectoring us for our absurd mistake in not reading
our long tickets through, consequently getting on the Santa Fe
train to go up to San Francisco when a little coupon stated that
the ticket took us by the Coast line. We were bound to let the
Scot know of our mistake, and our necessary transfer to the other
road (as we had arranged to meet him at a certain point on the
Santa Fe), else, I suppose, we never should have given him that
chance to jeer at us. He made us tell him all about it when we
met, and shaking with laughter at all the complications the mistake
entailed, he declared, "Oh, but that's a bully story!"
"It'll put an inch of fat on Muir's ribs," retorted "Oom John,"
who was not without chagrin at the fiasco.
"Johnnie, when you sail for Honolulu, I expect, unless you're
narrowly watched, you'll get on the wrong ship and go off to
Vancouver," teased the fun-loving Scot.
In Yosemite, Mr. Muir told us about the great trees he used to
saw into timber during his early years in the valley, showing us
the site of his old mill, and bragging that he built it and kept
it in repair at a cost of less than twenty-five cents a year. It
seemed strange that he, a tree-lover, could have cut down those
noble spruces and firs, and I whispered this to Mr. Burroughs.
"Ask him about it," said the latter, "ask him." So I did.
"Bless you, I never cut down the trees--I only sawed those the
Lord had felled."
The storms that swept down the mountains had laid these monarchs
low, and the thrifty Scot had merely taken advantage of the ill
winds, at the same time helping nature to get rid of the debris.
"How does this compare with Esopus Valley, Johnnie?" Mr. Muir was
fond of asking Mr. Burroughs, when he saw the latter gazing in
admiration at mighty El Capitan, or the thundering Yosemite
Falls. Or he would say, "How is that for a piece of glacial work,
Johnnie?" as he pointed to Half Dome and told how the glacier had
worn off at least half a mile from its top, and then had sawed
right down through the valley.
"O Lord! that's too much, Muir," answered Mr. Burroughs. He
declared that it stuck in his crop--this theory that ice alone
accounts for this great valley cut out of the solid rocks. When
the Scot would get to riding his ice-hobby too hard, Mr. Burroughs
would query, "But, Muir, the million years before the ice age--what
was going on here then?'
"Oh, God knows," said Mr. Muir, but vouchsafed no further explanation.
[Illustration: John Burroughs and John Muir in the Yosemite. From
a photograph by F. P. Clatworthy]
"With my itch for geology," said Mr. Burroughs, "I want it scratched
all the time, and Muir doesn't want to scratch it." So he dropped
his questions, which elicited only bantering answers from the
mountaineer, and gave himself up to sheer admiration of the glories
and beauties of the region, declaring that of all the elemental
scenes he had beheld, Yosemite beat them all--"The perpetual thunder
peal of the waters dashing like mad over gigantic cliffs, the
elemental granite rocks--it is a veritable 'wreck of matter and
crush of worlds' that we see here."
Mr. Burroughs urged Mr. Muir again and again to reclaim his early
studies in the Sierra which were printed in the "Overland Monthly"
years ago, and give them to the public now with the digested
information which he alone can supply, and which is as yet
inaccessible in his voluminous notes and sketches of the region.
At Mr. Muir's home we saw literally barrels of these notes. He
admitted that he had always been dilatory about writing, but not
about studying or note-taking; often making notes at night when
fatigued from climbing and from two and three days' fasting; but
the putting of them into literature is irksome to him. Yet, much
as he dislikes the labor of writing, he will shut himself away from
the air and sunshine for weeks at a time, if need arises, and write
vigorously in behalf of the preservation of our forests. He did
this back in the late seventies, and in more recent years has been
tireless in his efforts to secure protection to our noble forests
when danger has threatened them.
Mr. Muir's knowledge of the physiognomy and botany of most of the
countries of the globe is extensive, and he has recently added
South America and South Africa to his list; there is probably no
man living, and but few who have lived, so thoroughly conversant
with the effects of glaciation as is he; yet, unless he puts his
observations into writing, much of his intimate knowledge of these
things must be lost when he passes on. And, as Mr. Burroughs says,
"The world wants this knowledge seasoned with John Muir, not his
mere facts. He could accumulate enough notes to fill Yosemite,
yet that would be worth little. He has spent years studying and
sketching the rocks, and noting facts about them, but you can't
reconstruct beauty and sublimity out of mere notes and sketches.
He must work his harvest into bread." But concerning this writing
Mr. Muir confesses he feels the hopelessness of giving his readers
anything but crumbs from the great table God has spread: "I can
write only hints to incite good wanderers to come to the feast."
Here we see the marked contrast between these two nature students:
Mr. Muir talks because he can't help it, and his talk is good
literature; he writes only because he has to, on occasion; while
Mr. Burroughs writes because he can't help it, and talks when he
can't get out of it. Mr. Muir, the Wanderer, needs a continent
to roam in; while Mr. Burroughs, the Saunterer, needs only a
neighborhood or a farm. The Wanderer is content to scale mountains;
the Saunterer really climbs the mountain after he gets home, as he
makes it truly his own only by dreaming over it and writing about it.
The Wanderer finds writing irksome; the Saunterer is never so well
or so happy as when he can write; his food nourishes him better,
the atmosphere is sweeter, the days are brighter. The Wanderer has
gathered his harvest from wide fields, just for the gathering; he has
not threshed it out and put it into the bread of literature--only
a few loaves; the Saunterer has gathered his harvest from a rather
circumscribed field, but has threshed it out to the last sheaf; has
made many loaves; and it is because he himself so enjoys writing that
his readers find such joy and morning freshness in his books, his own
joy being communicated to his reader, as Mr. Muir's own enthusiasm
is communicated to his hearer. With Mr. Burroughs, if his field of
observation is closely gleaned, he turns aside into subjective fields
and philosophizes--a thing which Mr. Muir never does.
One of the striking things about Mr. Muir is his generosity; and
though so poor in his youth and early adult life, he has now the
wherewithal to be generous. His years of frugality have, strange
to say, made him feel a certain contempt for money. At El Tovar
he asked, "What boy brought up my bags?" Whereupon a string of
bell-boys promptly appeared for their fees, and Mr. Muir handed
out tips to all the waiting lads, saying in a droll way, "I didn't
know I had so many bags." When we tried to reimburse him for the
Yosemite trip, he would have none of it, saying, almost peevishly,
"Now don't annoy me about that." Yet, if he thinks one is trying
to get the best of him, he can look after the shekels as well as
any one. One day in Yosemite when we were to go for an all day's
tramp and wished a luncheon prepared at the hotel, on learning of
the price they were to charge, he turned his back on the landlord
and dispatched one of us to the little store, where, for little
more than the hotel would have charged for one person, a luncheon
for five was procured, and then he really chuckled that he had been
able to snap his fingers at mine host, who had thought he had us
at his mercy.
I see I have kept Mr. Muir close to the footlights most of the
time, allowing Mr. Burroughs to hover in the background where
he blends with the neutral tones; but so it was in all the
thrilling scenes in the Western drama--Mr. Muir and the desert,
Mr. Muir and the petrified trees, Mr. Muir and the Cañon, Mr.
Muir and Yosemite; while with "Oom John," it was a blending with
the scene, a quiet, brooding absorption that made him seem a part
of them--the desert, the petrified trees, the Grand Cañon, Yosemite,
and Mr. Burroughs inseparably linked with them, but seldom standing
out in sharp contrast to them, as the "Beloved Egotist" stood out
on all occasions.
Perhaps the most idyllic of all our days of camping and tramping
with John of Birds and John of Mountains was the day in Yosemite
when we tramped to Nevada and Vernal Falls, a distance of fourteen
miles, returning to Camp Ahwahnee at night, weary almost to
exhaustion, but strangely uplifted by the beauty and sublimity
n which we had lived and moved and had our being. Our brown tents
stood hospitably open, and out in the great open space in front we
sat around the campfire under the noble spruces and firs, the Merced
flowing softly on our right, mighty Yosemite Falls thundering away
in the distance, while the moon rose over Sentinel Rock, lending
a touch of ineffable beauty to the scene, and a voice, that is now
forever silenced, lent to the rhymes of the poets its richness of
varied emotion, as it chanted choicest selections from the Golden
Poems of all time. We lingered long after the other campers had
gone to rest, loath to bring to its close a day so replete with
sublimity and beauty. Mr. Burroughs summed it up as he said
good-night: "A day with the gods of eld--a holy day in the
temple of the gods."
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