The Life and Letters of John Muir
by William Frederic Badè
From Indiana to California
A little more than a month after the destruction of the mill in
Trout's Hollow, John Muir had arrived at Indianapolis, Indiana, for early
in May, 1866, he writes from there to his sister Sarah as follows:
I never before felt so utterly homeless as now. I do
not feel sad, but I cannot find a good boarding place, to say nothing of
a home, and so I have not yet unpacked my trunk, and am at any moment as
ready to leave this house for a march as were the Israelites while eating
the passover. Much as I love the peace and quiet of retirement, I feel
something within, some restless fires that urge me on in a way very different
from my real wishes, and I suppose that I am doomed to live in some of
these noisy commercial centers.
Circumstances over which I have had no control almost compel me to abandon
the profession of my choice, and to take up the business of an inventor,
and now that I am among machines I begin to feel that I have some talent
that way, and so I almost think, unless things change soon, I shall turn
my whole mind into that channel.
But even at this time, if one may judge from another passage in
the same letter, the prospective physician or inventor had not nearly so
good a backing in his feelings as the naturalist. "The forest here," he
writes, "is almost in full leaf I have found wild flowers for more than
a month now. I gathered a handful about a mile and a half from town this
morning before breakfast. When I first entered the woods and stood among
the beautiful flowers and trees of God's own garden, so pure and chaste
and lovely, I could not help shedding tears of joy."
The considerations that influenced him to go to the capital of Indiana
are best told in his autobiographical narrative which is resumed at this
Looking over the map I saw that Indianapolis was an important
railroad center, and probably had manufactories of different sorts in which
I could find employment, with the advantage of being in the heart of one
of the very richest forests of deciduous hard wood trees on the continent.
Here I was successful in gaining employment in a carriage material factory,
full of circular saws and chucks and eccentric and concentric lathes, etc.
I first worked for ten dollars a week, without board of course. The second
wages were increased to eighteen a week, and later to about twenty-five
a week. I greatly enjoyed this mechanical work, began to invent and introduce
labor-saving improvements and was so successful that my botanical and
geological studies were in danger of being seriously interrupted.
One day a member of the firm asked me, "How long are you going to stay
with us?" "Not long," I said. "Just long enough to earn a few hundred dollars,
then I am going on with my studies in the woods." He said, "You are doing
very well, and if you will stop, we will give you the foremanship of the
shop," and held out hopes of a partnership interest in the money-making
business. To this I replied that although I liked the inventive work and
the earnest rush and roar and whirl of the factory, Nature's attractions
were stronger and I must soon get away.
A serious accident hurried me away sooner than I had planned. I had
put in a countershaft for a new circular saw and as the belt connecting
with the main shaft was new it stretched considerably after running a few
hours and had to he shortened. While I was unlacing it, making use of the
nail-like end of a file to draw out the stitches, it slipped and pierced
my right eye on the edge of the cornea. After the first shock was over
I closed my eye, and when I lifted the lid of the injured one the aqueous
humor dripped on my hand the sight gradually failed and in a few minutes
came perfect darkness. "My right eye is gone," I murmured, "closed forever
on all God's beauty." At first I felt no particular weakness. I walked
steadily enough to the house where I was boarding, but in a few hours the
shock sent me trembling to bed and very soon by sympathy the other eye
became blind, so that I was in total darkness and feared that I would become
When Professor Butler learned that I was in Indianapolis, he sent me
a letter of introduction to one of the best families there, and in some
way they heard of the accident and came to see me and brought an oculist,
who had studied abroad, to examine the pierced eye. He told me that on
account of the blunt point of the file having pushed aside the iris, it
would never again be perfect, but that if I should chance to lose my left
eye, the wounded one, though imperfect, would then be very precious. "You
are young and healthy," he said, "and the lost aqueous humor will be restored
and the sight also to some extent; and your left eye after the inflammation
has gone down and the nerve shock is overcome--you will be able to see
about as well as ever, and in two or three months bid your dark room good-bye."
So I was encouraged to believe that the world was still to be left open
to me. The lonely dark days of waiting were cheered by friends, many of
them little children. After sufficient light could be admitted they patiently
read for me, and brought great handfuls of the flowers I liked best.
As soon as I got out into Heaven's light I started on another long excursion,
making haste with all my heart to store my mind with the Lord's beauty
and thus be ready for any fate, light or dark. And it was from this time
that my long continuous wanderings may be said to have fairly commenced.
I bade adieu to all my mechanical inventions, determined to devote the
rest of my
life to the study of the inventions of God. I first went home to Wisconsin,
botanizing by the way, to take leave of my father and mother, brothers
and sisters, all of whom were still living near Portage. I also visited
the neighbors I had known as a boy, renewed my acquaintance with them after
an absence of several years, and bade each a formal good-bye. When they
asked where I was going, I said, "Oh! I don't know--just anywhere in
the wilderness southward. I have already had glorious glimpses of the Wisconsin,
Iowa, Michigan, Indiana and Canada wildernesses; now I propose to go south
and see something of the vegetation of the warm end of the country, and
if possible wander far enough into South America to see tropical vegetation
in all its palmy glory."
All the neighbors wished me well and advised me to be careful of my
health, reminding me that the swamps in the south were full of malaria.
I stopped overnight at the home of an old Scotch lady who had long been
my friend, and was now particularly motherly in good wishes and advice.
I told her that as I was sauntering along the road near sundown I heard
a little bird singing, "The day's gone, The day's done." "Weel, John, my
dear laddie," she replied, "your day will never be done. There is no end
to the kind of studies you are engaged in, and you are sure to go on and
on, but I want you to remember the fate of Hugh Miller." She was one of
the finest examples I ever knew of a kind, generous, great-hearted Scotchwoman.
After all the good wishes and good-byes were over, and I had visited
Fountain Lake and Hickory Hill and my first favorite gardens and ferneries,
I took a thousand-mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico from Louisville, across
Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
At this point Muir's memoirs pass in a few sentences over the entire period
between the beginning of this remarkable walk and his arrival in California.
His notes on the margin of the manuscript, however, show that he intended
to expand this portion of his autobiography considerably, probably by using
parts of the journal which he kept during his southward journey in 1867.
In the meantime this journal, published separately under the title
A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf,
has become accessible to all interested readers.
There are, however, some unpublished passages, crossed out by the author
during a revision in later life, that throw light upon the struggle with
himself in which he was engaged during his stay in Indianapolis.
Muir's more intimate friends like the Carrs, Butlers, and Merrills had
ere this observed in him a strange kind of restlessness, an inward compulsion
which at times caused him to forsake his tools and his occupation for the
beauteous ways of those middle western wildernesses that still were pressing
close upon the edge of towns. Mrs. Carr, indeed, used to speak of Muir's
"good demon" to whose behests he paid heed as did Socrates to his invisible
mentor A letter written to her but two days before he started on his southward
journey reveals him under the spell of his good genius. "I wish I knew
where I was going," he writes. "Doomed to be 'carried of the spirit
into the wilderness,' I suppose. I wish I could be more moderate in my
desires, but cannot, and so there is no rest."
The opening sentences of his journal, also, no less than the cover inscription
"John Muir, Earth-planet, Universe,"
contain significant bits of self-revelation.
"Few bodies," he wrote, "are inhabited by so satisfied a soul as to allowed
exemption from extraordinary exertion through a whole life. The sea, the
sky, the rivers have their ebbs and floods, and the earth itself throbs
and pulses from calms to earthquakes. So also there are tides and floods
in the affairs of men, which in some are slight and may be kept within
bounds, but in others they overmaster everything. " He was one of the
The farewell visit to Fountain Lake and Hickory Hill had a much deep
significance for him than one would infer from the brief reference to it
in his memoirs. Twenty-seven years later, in an address on "National Parks
and Forest Reservations," delivered at a meeting of the Sierra Club in
San Francisco, he related the plans and hopes he had entertained with regard
The preservation of specimen sections of natural flora--bits
of pure wildness--was a fond, favorite notion of mine long before I heard
of national parks. When my father came from Scotland, he settled in a fine
wild region in Wisconsin, beside a small glacier lake bordered with white
pond-lilies. And on the north side of the lake, just below our house, there
was a carex meadow full of charming flowers--cypripediums, pogonias, calopogons,
asters, goldenrods, etc.--and around the margin of the meadow many nooks
rich in flowering ferns and heathworts. And when I was about to wander away
on my long rambles, I was sorry to leave that precious meadow unprotected;
therefore, I said to my brother-in-law, who then owned it, "Sell me the
forty acres of lake meadow, and keep it fenced, and never allow cattle
or hogs to break into it, and I will gladly pay you whatever you say. I
want to keep it untrampled for the sake of its ferns and flowers; and even
if I should never see it again, the beauty of its lilies and orchids is
so pressed into my mind I shall always enjoy looking back at them in imagination,
even across seas and continents, and perhaps after I am dead."
But he regarded my plan as a sentimental dream wholly impracticable.
The fence he said would surely be broken down sooner or later, and all
the work would be in vain. Eighteen years later I found the deep-water
pond lilies in fresh bloom, but the delicate garden-sod of the meadow was
broken I up and trampled into black mire. On the same Wisconsin farm there
was a small flowery, ferny bog that I also tried to save. It was less than
half an acre in area, and I said, "Surely you can at least keep for me
this little bog." Yes, he would try. And when I had left home, and kept
writing about it, he would
say in reply, "Let your mind rest, my dear John; the mud hole is safe,
and the frogs in it are singing right merrily." But in less than twenty
years the beauty of this little glacier-bog also was trampled away.
From a letter to his friend Catherine Merrill, written immediately after
his visit to Muir's Lake, or Fountain Lake, as he was later accustomed
to call it, we excerpt a more than usually detailed and appreciative description.
He had started from Indianapolis about the middle of June, taking with
him his young friend Merrill Moores. Eager to see the flora of the Illinois
prairies in June, he went to Decatur near the center of the state and then
northward by way of Rockford and Janesville. A week was spent in botanizing
on the prairie seven miles southwest of Pecatonica, and from there they
made their way to his old home in Wisconsin.
We have had our last communion with Muir's Lake [he writes
from there on the 12th of August]. It was glassy, calm, and full of shadows
in the twilight. I have said farewell to nearly all my friends, too, and
will soon leave home once more for I know not where.
You would enjoy a visit to that rocky hill we have spoken of so often,
though a mere pimple, I suppose, to the Alps you have enjoyed. The most
of Wisconsin is not more than two hundred and fifty or three hundred feet
above Lake Michigan, or about one thousand feet above the sea. The Blue
Mounds, a few miles west of Madison, are only one thousand six hundred
and seventy feet above the sea--the highest land in Wisconsin
in Marathon county, 1940 feet, is now regarded as the highest point.].
Our Observatory is perhaps one hundred and fifty or one hundred and eighty
feet above the plain. It is a broad hill with long sloping sides, and with
a great pile of whinstone blocks cast upon the top. It is not quite bare
in any part, for its sides are clothed richly in white and black oaks,
and the rocky summit has gray cedars and rock ferns. A great many ravines
run up against the rocks on every side; these have the Desmodiums and the
harebells and many precious ferns and rare peculiar plants of their own.
One of these ravines has evidently been scooped out for a fern garden.
One hundred and twenty thousand of my favorite Osmundas live there, all
regularly planted at equal distances.
The highest point commands a landscape circle of about one thousand
square miles, composed of ten or twelve miles of the Fox River, Lake Puckawa
and five or six nameless little lakes--marsh and woodland exquisitely
arranged and joined--and about two hundred hills, and some prairie. Ah!
these are the gardens for me! There is landscape gardening! While we were
there, clouds of every texture and size were held above its flowers and
moved about as needed, now increasing, now diminishing, lighter and deeper
shadow and full sunshine in small and greater pieces, side by side as each
portion of the great garden required. A shower, too, was guided over some
miles that required watering. The streams and the lakes and dens and rains
and clouds in the hand of God weighed and measured myriads of plants daily
coming into life, every leaf receiving its daily bread--the infinite work
done in calm effortless omnipotence.
But now, Miss Merrill, we must leave our garden, and I am sure I do
it with more pain than I should ever feel in leaving all the
jardins des plantes
in the world, where poor exiled flowers from all countries are mixed and
huddled in royal pens.
After a botanical week spent as the guest of his Madison friends, the
Butlers and the Carrs, he returned to Indianapolis with the overmastering
impulse strong within him, and started from there by rail for Louisville,
Kentucky, on the first of September. "I steered through the big city by
compass without speaking a word to any one," he wrote in his journal. "Beyond
the city I found a road running southward, and after passing a scatterment
of suburban cabins and cottages I reached the green woods and spread out
my pocket map to rough-hew a plan for my journey."
He was now fairly started on the longest and most adventurous of his
many rambles. His general plan was to push southward by the leafiest, wildest,
and least trodden ways. This he apparently succeeded in doing, for only
about twenty-two towns and cities are mentioned in his journal, a very small
number when one considers the distance he covered. He carried with him
nothing but a small rubber bag which held a change of underclothing, comb,
towel, brush, and three small books--a New Testament, Milton's Paradise
Lost, and Burns's Poems.
At night he sought the shelter of farmhouses
and country taverns and when this resource failed him he would lie down,
as near Elizabethtown, Kentucky, "in the bushes by guess," enter a schoolhouse
and sleep "on the softest-looking of the benches."
Indeed, there were stretches
in his walk, in the sparsely populated Cumberland mountain region, where
he often had "to sleep with the trees in the one great bedroom of the open
When he reached Savannah, Georgia, his money was all but gone and the
new supply, which he had directed his brother to send thither, either had
not arrived or was being withheld by the express agent. He was unable to
find work and his impecunious condition did not permit him to live at an inn.
It is characteristic of Muir's shrewdness and freedom from ordinary prejudices
and superstitions that under these circumstances he sought out the beautiful
Bonaventure Cemetery, four miles east of Savannah. There he felt secure
from night-prowlers, and his scientific interest was gratified by "one
of the most impressive assemblages of animal and plant creatures" he had
ever seen. He built himself a shelter of rushes in a thicket of sparkle-berry
bushes and lodged there for a week until the money arrived. Meanwhile he
had ample time to reflect on the significance of his surroundings, the
place of death in the order of nature, and to describe the Tillandsia-draped
oaks of Bonaventure. One of the most beautiful passages in all his writings
is the account of this graveyard experience published under the title "Camping
Among the Tombs" in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf.
The journal of this walk is especially interesting because it shows
how his ideas upon certain subjects were maturing at this time. The conception
of death which he had inherited with his religious training was bound to
yield to a better understanding of Nature's processes. He is convinced
now that "on no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on
death. Instead of the friendly sympathy, the union of life and death so
apparent in Nature, we are taught that death is an accident, a deplorable
punishment for the oldest sin, the 'arch-enemy' of life, etc. And upon
these primary, never-to-be-questioned dogmas, these time-honored bones
of doctrine, our experiences are founded, tissue after tissue in hideous
development, until they form the grimmest body to be found in the whole
catalog of civilized Christian manufactures."
He thinks it especially unfortunate that town children, generation after
generation of them, should be steeped in "this morbid death orthodoxy.
" In the country observation of Nature's on-goings is apt to interpose
a corrective, whereas in towns the morbidity of burial customs makes an
overpowering impression. "But let a child walk with Nature," he writes,
"let him behold the beautiful bleedings and communions of death and life,
their joyous inseparable unity as taught in woods and meadows, plains and
mountains 'and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death
is stingless indeed, and has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine
These excerpts show that he had entirely abandoned the historicity of
the early chapters of Genesis as well as the Pauline conception of death
based upon them. It was inevitable that the anthropocentric nature philosophy
of his day, which held that man was the principal object of creation and
that all things existed only for his good, should also fall under his condemnation.
In spite of the long letters in which his father urged this theological
view of Nature upon him as orthodox Biblical doctrine, he broke away from
it radically as contrary to reason and evidence, though without being apparently
disturbed in his own strong religious convictions.
The world, we are told [he confides to his journal], was made
especially for man--a presumption not supported by all the facts. A numerous
class of men are painfully astonished whenever they find anything, living
or dead, in all God's universe, which they cannot eat or render in some
way what they call useful to themselves. They have precise dogmatic insight
of the intentions of the Creator, and it is hardly possible to be guilty
of irreverence in speaking of their God any more than of heathen idols.
He is regarded as a civilized, law-abiding gentleman in favor either of
a republican form of government or of a limited monarchy; believes in the
literature and language of England, is a warm supporter of the English
constitution and Sunday schools and missionary societies; and is purely
a manufactured article as any puppet of a half-penny theatre.
With such views of the Creator it is, of course, not surprising that
erroneous views should be entertained of the creation. To such properly
trimmed people, the sheep, for example, is an easy problem--food and clothing
"for us," eating grass and daisies white by divine appointment for this
purpose, on perceiving the demand for wool that would be occasioned
by the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden.
In the same pleasant plan, whales are storehouses of oil for us, to
help out the stars in lighting our dark ways until the discovery of the
Pennsylvania oil wells. Among plants, hemp, to say nothing of the cereals,
is a case of evident destination for ships' rigging, wrapping packages,
and hanging the wicked. Cotton is another plain case of clothing. Iron
was made for hammers and ploughs, and lead for bullets; all intended for
us. And so of other small handfuls of insignificant things.
In satirical mood he then asks these "profound expositors of God's
intentions" whether the logic of their reasoning does not indicate also
that man is the divinely intended prey of lions, tigers, alligators, and
the myriads of noxious insects that plague and destroy him. To say that
these maladjustments are "unresolvable difficulties connected with Eden's
apple and the devil" is mere evasion. "It never seems to occur to these
far-seeing teachers," he writes, "that Nature's object in making animals
and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them,
not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value
himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And
what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential
to the completeness of that unit--the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete
without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful
eyes and knowledge."
He is convinced that the origin of man is bound up inextricably with
the origin of every other creature and that therefore the animal world
stands to him in a relation quite different from that which is assigned to
it by the religious thought of his day. It arouses his indignation to think
that "the fearfully good, the orthodox, of this laborious patchwork of
modern civilization cry 'Heresy' on every one whose sympathies reach a single
hair's breadth beyond the boundary epidermis of our own species." Nor is he
able to accept the "closest researches of clergy" according to whom the
world is to be cleansed and renewed by a "universal planetary combustion."
Finding that whole kingdoms of creatures have enjoyed existence and returned
to dust ere man appeared, he apprehends that human beings also, when they
have "played their part in Creation's plan, may disappear without a general
burning or extraordinary commotion whatever."
It was the middle of October when Muir reached Florida by a little
coastwise steamer, Sylvan Shore,
then plying between Savannah and Fernandina.
The latter town, with its fine harbor, was not only a principal port of
entry for marine commerce, but was also the Atlantic terminus of a railroad,
opened in 1861, that crossed Florida to Cedar Keys on the Gulf, a distance
of one hundred and fifty-five miles. Along this railroad Muir footed his
way leisurely across the flowery peninsula, though not without many side
excursions into the swamps and pine-barrens wherever new plants
beckoned to him. His enthusiasm over the novel flora, even at that time
of the year, was unbounded. Several notebook drawings of the palmetto in
all stages of growth and maturity testify to his rapture over this new
plant acquaintance which, as often under such circumstances, took on a
spiritual significance to him. "This palm was indescribably impressive,"
he writes, "and told me grander things than I ever got from human priest."
It will have occurred to the reader that Muir's habit of sleeping out
in the open occasionally when night overtook him, without protection from
mosquitoes, was especially dangerous in the South. In the Florida pine
barrens where one shelterless night he plashed and groped about until he
found a place dry enough to lie down, he observed marked evidences of malaria
in the people whom he met. It is not surprising, therefore, that he was
taken severely ill soon after he reached Cedar Keys.
In this remote and moribund little town Muir passed one of the most
serious crises of his life. Had it not been for a family by the name of
Hodgson, who took him into their home and nursed him back to health, he
would have filled a nameless grave there soon after his arrival. Mr. Hodgson
was the owner of a sawmill which he was operating on a spit of land about
two miles from town. Having ascertained that schooners, freighted with
lumber, sailed at irregular intervals from Cedar Keys to Galveston, Texas
Muir decided to apply for work at the mill and to await the coming of one
of these schooners. His mechanical skill had scarcely secured him the desired
employment when he was seized with an attack of fever so violent that he
lay unconscious for days.
Exactly half a century after these events my wife and I followed Muir's
old trail to Cedar Keys. We had some difficulty even in finding, two miles
north of the town, the knoll on which had stood the Hodgson residence in
which Muir was nursed back to health, and where he wrote charming descriptions
of his surroundings. Amid some picturesque old Tillandsia-draped live-oaks,
clearly the same which he had sketched in his journal fifty years earlier,
we found evidence of a former habitation--remnants of foundations, of garden-beds
bordered by conch shells all overgrown with cactus and underbrush. From
here, during days of convalescence, he sketched Lime Key with its fringe
of palmettos and yuccas, and watched the water-birds feeding when the tide
went out. The snowy egret was no longer to be seen, but here and there
a pelican flapped along on solemn wing, gulls made patches of gleaming
white upon the water, and blue herons stalked along the reedy margin of
the shore. They settled down at times in the treetops and looked out gravely
from umbrageous caves. Seaward, through openings among the trees, one caught
glimpses of distant islands--Keys--that floated like giant birds upon the
purplish-blue waters, or faded into the opalescent haze, visible only as
supports for the plumey palmetto crowns that waved on slender trunks above
It was amusing to see how the jaws of the natives dropped under a facial
expanse of blank astonishment whenever I made inquiries about things
as they were in Cedar Keys fifty years ago. The longest memory was that
of a old negro by the name of Jack Cloud, who was introduced as "McLeod."
"You certainly are not a Scotchman," I said; "how do you come by that name?
"Both he and the benchful of black cronies in front of the store broke
into laughter. "No, sah," he said, "my name is Jack Cloud, sah, but ebberybody
done calls me 'McLeod." "Were you born here?" "Oh, Lawd, no; I wuz bawn
in Georgia, sah! Aftah de wah, I come down heah to start a cotton plantation
for a man. Dat wuz in 1865.
Yes, sah, de railroad wuz heah, but so delapurdated,
it done took a train a week to get heah from Femandina. De ties and piles
wuz all rotten." He told how all the business then went over a strait to
the neighboring Key of Atsena Otie where the first settlement had been
begun. He remembered Hodgson's sawmill and had assisted in dismantling
what was left of it many decades ago.
But neither he nor any one else had any recollection of "sharp-visaged"
Captain Parsons and his schooner Island Belle which Muir, in January 1868,
saw threading her way along the tortuous channel that leads into the harbor
of Cedar Keys. Fifty years had swallowed up all memory of him and his ship;
of John Muir and his sojourn; of his friends and their home.
In this unlettered corner of the South, where decay in league with warmth and
sun and rain obliterates
the works of man more speedily than anywhere else, oblivion had swallowed
up with equal haste the records of human memories.
Muir still was a convalescent when he boarded the Island Belle and sailed
away to Cuba. For a month he made his home on the vessel, at anchor in the
harbor of Havana, and spent his days botanizing on the outskirts of the
city. The captain and the sailors were accustomed to gather about him when
he returned in the evening in order to be entertained with a recital of the
day's adventures and discoveries. He was consumed with a desire to explore
the central mountain range of Cuba through the whole length of the island
and then embark for South America. "My plan," he writes, "was to go ashore
anywhere on the north end of the continent, push on southward through the
wilderness around the headwaters of the Orinoco, until I reached a tributary
of the Amazon, and float down on a raft or skiff the whole length of the
great river to its mouth." It seems strange that such a trip should ever
have entered the dreams of any person, however enthusiastic and full of
daring, particularly under the disadvantages of poor health, of funds less
than a hundred dollars, and of the insalubrity of the Amazon valley.
His weakened physical condition forced him to admit that the plan to explore
the mountainous wildernesses of Cuba was impossible. After visiting all
the shipping agencies in a vain search for a vessel bound for South America
this rash enterprise was abandoned also, or rather postponed,
as he was accustomed to say.
It was then that his mind turned to California, whose wonders had
engaged his fancy for many a year. Upon consulting
Captain Parsons concerning a passage to New York, the latter pointed
out to him a trim little fruit schooner loaded with oranges and ready to
weigh anchor. With his usual promptness in making decisions he was aboard
the little fruiter and bound for New York within twenty-four hours.
Muir's enthusiastic description of this trip in one of the chapters
of A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf shows that he took almost as
much delight in the scenes of the ocean as in those on land. But New York
bewildered him by its size, throngs, and noise. By permission of the captain
the schooner remained his home while he made arrangements for his passage
to Panama. His walks about the city of New York, he says, "extended but
little beyond sight of my little schooner home. . . . Often I thought I would
like to explore the city if, like a lot of wild hills and valleys, it was
clear of inhabitants."
The North American Company at this time had ordered from New York a
new steamship for its Pacific Coast traffic. This was the Nebraska, and
she had sailed early m January, 1868, on her long maiden voyage around
Cape Horn. Muir found that the Santiago de Cuba was scheduled to sail for
Aspinwall on the 6th of March, and that her passengers would connect with
the northward-bound Nebraska on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Panama
in about ten days. The records show that the Santiago de Cuba, not a large
boat, carried on this trip four hundred passengers and five hundred and
forty-two tons of freight. So overcrowded was the vessel that many passengers
had to sleep on the decks. Nevertheless Muir engaged steerage passage on
this boat and made connections with the Nebraska.
Over his experiences on shipboard, both to Panama and from there to
California, Muir has drawn the veil of oblivion. He rarely referred to them,
even in the circle of his own family, and then only to indicate that they
were such as one would have to forget in order to retain one's faith in
But of the trip across the Isthmus he wrote, "Never shall I forget
the glorious flora, especially for the first fifteen or twenty miles along
the Chagres River. The riotous exuberance of great forest trees, glowing
in purple, red, and yellow flowers, far surpassed anything I had ever seen,
especially of flowering trees, either in Florida or Cuba. I gazed from
the car platform enchanted. I fairly cried for joy and hoped that sometime
I should be able to return and enjoy and study this most glorious of forests
to my heart's content."
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