The Life and Letters of John Muir
by William Frederic Badè
Yosemite, Emerson, and the Sequoias
When the early winter storms of 1870 stopped Muir's rambles among the peaks
he was able to take refuge in his snug den near the foot of the lower Yosemite
Fall. Though dispossessed for a time by Mr. Hutchings, as indicated in
his December letter from La Grange, he probably passed the greater part
of the winter, as well as the following spring and summer, in his friend
attractive sugar pine cabin. There, as the letter of a reminiscent friend
reveals, he might of an evening be found under the lamp, beside his cozy
fireplace, reading the writings of Alexander von Humboldt, Sir Charles
Lyell, John Tyndall, Charles Darwin, and the latest botanical works on
trees. Thus the "harvests of revealed glory," gathered on the mountains
during the summer months, were further enriched by wide-ranging study during
the long winter evenings. "I think of you as far too blessed" writes Mrs.
Carr at this time, "to need words from the lower world, and yet I meant
to send many and oft repeated greetings to your winter quarters. I think
with delight of how the winter home looks, of little brown 'Squirrel' in
the glow of firelight, of the long walks, and readings, and thinkings--the
morning tintings of the rocks, the comforting warmth of the pines and firs."
But the approach of the winter of 1871 found him homeless in dead earnest.
There is reason for thinking that Muir's employer, Mr. Hutchings, did not
look with favor upon the young Scotch man's growing fame and popularity
as an interpreter of the Valley. It was a function which he himself had
exercised so long that he had come to regard it as peculiarly his own.
What could have been more natural under the circumstances than that Hutchings,
having no scientific competence to formulate independent ideas on the origin
of the Valley, should make a combination of other men's views and preach
it to all comers in opposition to Muir? The latter, too, had found the
work of a sawmill operator increasingly irksome. In any case, he left the
employ of Hutchings during the summer of 1871, and after the close of the
tourist season we find him busy removing his chattels from Hutchings' to
Black's Hotel, then the newest of the three hostelries in the Valley. Like
Leidig's Hotel, still farther down the stream, it was situated on the south
bank of the Merced almost opposite Sentinel Rock.
With this habitational background of John Muir in mind, let us resume
the thread of his correspondence after his return to Yosemite from La Grange.
The first letter, bearing no date, probably was written toward the end
of February, or the beginning of March, 1871, for his statement that many
storms had swept over the mountains since he returned to the Valley shows
that he had been there for some time.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
My Dear Friend Mrs. Carr:
February or March, 1871]
"The Spirit" has again led me into the wilderness, in opposition to
all counter attractions, and I am once more in the glory of Yosemite.
Your very cordial invitation to your home reached me as I was preparing
to ascend, and when my whole being was possessed with visions of snowy
forests of the pine and spruce, and of mountain spires beyond, pearly and
half transparent, reaching into heaven's blue, not purer than themselves.
In company with another young fellow whom I persuaded to walk, I left
the plains just as the first gold sheets were being outspread. My first
plan was to follow the Tuolumne upward as I had followed the Merced downward,
after reaching Hetch Hetchy Valley, which has about the same altitude as
Yosemite, and spending a week or so in sketching and exploring its falls
and rocks, crossing the high mountains past the west end of the Hoffmann
range and going down into Yosemite by Indian Canyon, passing thus a glorious
month with the mountains, with all their snows and crystal brightness,
and all the nameless glories of their magnificent winter. But my plan went
agley. I lost a week's sleep by the pain of a sore hand, and I became unconfident
in my strength when measured against weeks of wading in snow up to the
neck. Therefore I reluctantly concluded to push directly for the Valley
by Crane's Flat and Tamarack.
Our journey was just a week in length, including one day of rest in
the Crane's Flat cabin. Some of our nights were cold, and we were hungry
once or twice. We crossed the snow line on the flank of Pilot Peak ridge
six or eight miles below Crane's Flat.
From Crane's Flat to the brim of the Valley the snow was about five
feet in depth, and as it was not frozen or compacted in any way we of course
had a splendid season of wading.
I wish that you could have seen the edge of the snow-cloud which hovered,
oh, so soothingly, down to the grand Pilot Peak brows, discharging its
heaven-begotten snows with such unmistakable gentleness and moving, perhaps
with conscious love from pine to pine as if bestowing separate and independent
blessings upon each. In a few hours we climbed under and into this glorious
storm-cloud. What a harvest of crystal flowers, and what wind songs were
gathered from the spirey firs and the long fringy arms of the Lambert pine.
We could not see far before us in the storm, which lasted until some time
in the night, but as I was familiar with the general map of the mountain
we had no difficulty in finding our way.
Crane's Flat cabin was buried, and we had to grope about for the door.
After making a fire with some cedar rails I went out to watch the coming
on of the darkness, which was most impressively sublime. Next morning was
every way the purest creation I ever beheld. The little Flat, spot-like
in the massive spiring woods, was in splendid vesture of universal white,
upon which the grand forest-edge was minutely repeated and covered with
a close sheet of snow flowers.
Some mosses grow luxuriantly upon the dead generations of their own
species. The common snow flowers belong to the sky and in storms are blown
about like ripe petals in an orchard. They settle on the ground--the bottom
of the atmospheric sea--like mud or leaves in a lake, and upon this soil,
this field of broken sky flowers, grows a luxuriant carpet of crystal vegetation
complete and ripe in a single night.
I never before knew that these mountain snow plants were so variable
and abundant, forming such bushy clumps and thickets and palmy, ferny groves.
Wading waist-deep I had fine opportunities for observing them, but they
shrink from human breath--not the only flowers which do so. Evidently not
made for man!--neither the flowers composing the snow which came drifting
down to us broken and dead, nor the more beautiful crystals which vegetate
A great many storms have come to the mountains since I passed them,
and there can hardly be less than ten feet at the altitude of Tamarack
and toward the summit still more.
The weather here is balmy now, and the falls are glorious. Three weeks
ago the thermometer at sunrise stood at 12°. I have repaired the mill
and dam, and the stream is in no danger of drying up and is more dammed
To-day has been cloudy and rainy. Tissiack and Starr King are grandly
dipped in white cloud. I sent you my plants by express. I am sorry that
my Yosemite specimens were not with the others. I left a few notes with
Mrs. Yelverton when I left the Valley in the fall. I wish that you would
ask her, if you should see her, where she left it, as Mrs. Hutchings does
not know. . . .
I have been nearly blind since I crossed the snow. Give my kindest regards
to all your homeful, and to my friends. I am
Always yours most cordially J. M.
The following letter is of special interest because it contains a brief
description of the "hang-nest" attached to the west-end gable of the sawmill.
The included sketch is the only surviving pictorial record both of the
mill and of his retreat. The adventure of which he hesitated to tell his
sister had already been described in a letter to Mrs. Carr, but follows
here more logically the one to his sister. Both are striking revelations
of his nature enthusiasms at this time.
To Sarah Muir Galloway
In the Sawmill, Yosemite Valley
Dear Sister Sarah:
April 5th, 1871
This is one of the most surpassingly glorious of Yosemite days, and
I have suddenly thought to write you. We have rain and storm. The vast
column of the upper Yosemite Falls is swaying with wonderful ever-changing
forms of beauty, and all our mountain walls are wreathed in splendid clouds.
In some places a strip of muffy white cloud reaches almost from the bottom
of the wall to the top, and just across the meadow the summit of a pine-crested
mountain is peering above the clouds like an island in the sky--thus:
It is hard to write here, as the mill jars so much by the stroke of
the saw and the rain drips from the roof, and I have to set the log every
few minutes. I am operating this same mill that I made last winter. I like
the piney fragrance of the fresh-sawn boards, and I am in constant view
of the grandest of all the falls. I sleep in the mill for the sake of hearing
the murmuring hush of the water beneath me, and I have a small box-like
home fastened beneath the gable of the mill, looking westward down the
Valley, where I keep my notes, etc. People call it the hang-nest, because
it seems unsupported, thus:
Fortunately, the only people that I dislike are afraid to enter it.
The hole in the roof is to command a view of the glorious South Dome, five
thousand feet high. There is a corresponding skylight on the other side
of the roof which commands a full view of the upper Yosemite Falls, and
the window in the end has a view sweeping down the Valley among the pines
and cedars and silver firs. The window in the mill roof to the right is
above my head, and I have to look at the stars on calm nights.
Two evenings ago I climbed the mountain to the foot of the upper Yosemite
Falls, carrying a piece of bread and a pair of blankets so that I could
spend the night on the rock and enjoy the glorious waters, but I got drenched
and had to go home, reaching the house at two o'clock in the morning. My
wetting was received in a way that I scarcely care to tell. The adventure
nearly cost all. I mean to go tomorrow night, but I will not venture behind
the column again.
Here are the outlines of a grand old pine and gnarly mossy oak that stand
a few steps from the mill. You liked the flowers. Well, I will get you
a violet from the side of the mill-race, as I go up to shut off the water.
Goodnight, with a brother's warmest love.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Oh, Mrs. Carr, that you could be here to mingle in this night-noon glory!
am in the upper Yosemite Falls and can hardly calm to write, but from my
first baptism hours ago, you have been so present that I must try to fix
you written thought.
April 3rd, 1871]
In the afternoon I came up the mountain here with a blanket and a piece
of bread to spend the night in prayer among the spouts of this fall. But
what can I say more than wish again that you might expose your soul to
the rays of this heaven?
Silver from the moon illumines this glorious creation which we term
"falls," and has laid a magnificent double prismatic bow at its base. The
tissue of the fall is delicately filmed on the outside like the substance
of spent clouds, and the stars shine dimly through it. In the solid shafted
body of the falls is a vast number of passing caves, black and deep, with
close white convolving spray for sills and shooting comet sheaves above
and down their sides, like lime crystals in a cave. And every atom of the
magnificent being from the thin silvery crest that does not dim the stars
to the inner arrowy hardened shafts that strike onward like thunderbolts
in sound and energy, all is life and spirit: every bolt and spray feels
the hand of God. Oh, the music that is blessing me now! The sun of last
week has given the grandest notes of all the yearly anthem. I said that
I was going to stop here until morning and pray a whole blessed night with
the falls and the moon, but I am too wet and must go down. An hour or two
ago I went out somehow on a little seam that extends along the wall behind
the falls. I suppose I was in a trance, but I can positively say that I
was in the body, for it is sorely battered and wetted. As I was gazing
past the thin edge of the fall and away beneath the column to the brow
of the rock, some heavy splashes of water struck me, driven hard against
the wall. Suddenly I was darkened, down came a section of the outside tissue
composed of spent comets. I crouched low, holding my breath, and anchored
to some angular fakes of rock, took my baptism with moderately good faith.
When I dared to look up after the swaying column admitted light, I pounced
behind a piece of ice and the wall which was wedging tight, and I no longer
feared being washed off, and steady moonbeams slanting past the arching
meteors gave me confidence to escape to this snug place where McChesney
and I slept one night, where I have a fire to dry my socks. This rock shelf,
extending behind the falls, is about five hundred feet above the base of
the fall on the perpendicular rock face.
How little do we know of ourselves, of our profoundest attractions and
repulsions, of our spiritual affinities! How interesting does man become
considered in his relations to the spirit of this rock and water! How significant
does every atom of our world become amid the influences of those beings
unseen, spiritual, angelic mountaineers that so throng these pure mansions
of crystal foam and purple granite.
I cannot refrain from speaking to this little bush at my side and to
the spray drops that come to my paper and to the individual sands of the
slopelet I am sitting upon. Ruskin says that the idea of foulness is essentially
connected with what he calls dead unorganized matter. How cordially I disbelieve
him tonight, and were he to dwell a while among the powers of these mountains
he would forget all dictionary differences betwixt the clean and the unclean,
and he would lose all memory and meaning of the diabolical sin-begotten
Well, I must go down. I am disregarding all of the doctors' physiology
in sitting here in this universal moisture. Farewell to you, and to all
the beings about us. I shall have a glorious walk down the mountain in
this thin white light, over the open brows grayed with Selaginella and
through the thick black shadow caves in the live oaks, all stuck full of
snowy lances of moonlight.
One of the most memorable experiences of John Muir was the coming of Ralph
Waldo Emerson to Yosemite Valley, on May 5th, 1871. Muir was Muir was thirty
three years old and Emerson sixty eight, but the disparity of their years
proved no obstacle to the immediate beginning of a warm friendship. The
best account of their meeting is contained in a memorandum of after-dinner
remarks made by Muir twenty five years later when Harvard University Conferred
upon him an honorary M. A. degree.
I was fortunate [he said] in meeting some of the choicest of
your Harvard men, and at once recognized them as the best of God's nobles.
Emerson, Agassiz, Gray--these men influenced me more than any others. Yes,
the most of my years were spent on the wild side of the continent, invisible,
in the forests and mountains. These men were the first to find me and hail
me as a brother. First of all, and greatest of all, came Emerson. I was
then living in Yosemite Valley as a convenient and grand vestibule of the
Sierra from which I could make excursions into the adjacent mountains.
I had not much money and was then running a mill that I had built to saw
fallen timber for cottages.
When he came into the Valley I heard the hotel people saying with solemn
emphasis, "Emerson is here." I was excited as I had never been excited
before, and my heart throbbed as if an angel direct from heaven had alighted
on the Sierran rocks. But so great was my awe and reverence, I did not
dare to go to him or speak to him. I hovered on the outside of the crowd
of people that were pressing forward to be introduced to him and shaking
hands with him. Then I heard that in three or four days he was going away,
and in the course of sheer desperation I wrote him a note and carried it
to his hotel telling him that E1 Capitan and Tissiack demanded him to stay
The next day he inquired for the writer and was directed to the little
sawmill. He came to the mill on horseback attended by Mr. Thayer[James
Bradley Thayer, a member of Emerson's party, who, in 1884, published a
little volume of reminiscences under the title of A Western Journey
with Mr. Emerson.]
and inquired for me. I stepped out and said,
"I am Mr. Muir." "Then Mr. Muir must have brought his own letter," said
Mr. Thayer and Emerson said, "Why did you not make yourself known last
evening? I should have been very glad to have seen you." Then he dismounted
and came into the mill. I had a study attached to the gable of the mill,
overhanging the stream, into which I invited him, but it was not easy of
access, being reached only by a series of sloping planks roughened by slats
like a hen ladder; but he bravely climbed up and I showed him my collection
of plants and sketches drawn from the surrounding mountains which seemed
to interest him greatly, and he asked many questions, pumping unconscionably.
He came again and again, and I saw him every day while he remained in
the valley, and on leaving I was invited to accompany him as far as the
Mariposa Grove of Big Trees. I said, "I'll go, Mr. Emerson, if you will
promise to camp with me in the Grove. I'll build a glorious campfire, and
the great brown boles of the giant Sequoias will be most impressively lighted
up, and the night will be glorious." At this he became enthusiastic like
a boy, his sweet perennial smile became still deeper and sweeter, and he
said, "Yes, yes, we will camp out, camp out"; and so next day we left Yosemite
and rode twenty five miles through the Sierra forests, the noblest on the
face of the earth, and he kept me talking all the time, but said little
himself. The colossal silver firs, Douglas spruce, Libocedrus and sugar
pine, the kings and priests of the conifers of the earth, filled him with
awe and delight. When we stopped to eat luncheon he called on different
members of the party to tell stories or recite poems, etc., and spoke,
as he reclined on the carpet of pine needles, of his student days at Harvard.
But when in the afternoon we came to the Wawona Tavern . . . .
There the memorandum ends, but the continuation is found in his volume
at the conclusion of the chapter on "The Forests of
Early in the afternoon, when we reached Clark's Station, I
was surprised to see the party dismount And when I asked if we were not
going up into the grove to camp they said: "No; it would never do to lie
out in the night air. Mr. Emerson might take cold; and you know, Mr. Muir,
that would be a dreadful thing." In vain I urged, that only in homes and
hotels were colds caught, that nobody ever was known to take cold camping
in these woods, that there was not a single cough or sneeze in all the
Sierra. Then I pictured the big climate changing, inspiring fire I would
make, praised the beauty and fragrance of Sequoia flame, told how the great
trees would stand about us transfigured in purple light, while the stars
looked between the great domes; ending by urging them to come on and make
an immortal Emerson night of it. But the house habit was not to be overcome,
nor the strange dread of pure night air, though it is only cooled day air
with a little dew in it. So the carpet dust and unknowable reeks were preferred.
And to think of this being a Boston choice. Sad commentary on culture and
the glorious transcendentalism.
Accustomed to reach whatever place I started for, I was going up the
mountain alone to camp, and wait the coming of the party next day. But
since Emerson was so soon to vanish, I concluded to stop with him. He hardly
spoke a word all evening, yet it was a great pleasure simply to be with
him, warming in the light of his face as at a fire. In the morning we rode
up the trail through a noble forest of pine and fir into the famous Mariposa
Grove, and stayed an hour or two, mostly in ordinary tourist fashion,--looking
at the biggest giants, measuring them with a tape line, riding through
prostrate fire-bored trunks etc., though Mr. Emerson was alone occasionally,
sauntering about as if under a spell. As we walked through a fine group,
he quoted, "There were giants in those days," recognizing the antiquity
of the race. To commemorate his visit, Mr. Galen Clark, the guardian of
the grove, selected the finest of the unnamed trees and requested him to
give it a name. He named it Samoset, after the New England sachem, as the
best that occurred to him.
The poor bit of measured time was soon spent, and while the saddles
were being adjusted I again urged Emerson to stay. "You are yourself a
Sequoia," I said. "Stop and get acquainted with your big brethren." But
he was past his prime, and was now a child in the hands of his affectionate
but sadly civilized friends, who seemed as full of old-fashioned conformity
as of bold intellectual independence. It was the afternoon of the day and
the afternoon of his life, and his course was now westward down all the
mountains into the sunset. The party mounted and rode away in wondrous
contentment apparently, tracing the trail through ceanothus and dogwood
bushes, around the bases of the big trees, up the slope of the sequoia
basin, and over the divide. I followed to the edge of the grove. Emerson
lingered in the rear of the train, and when he reached the top of the ridge,
after all the rest of the party were over and out of sight, he turned his
horse, took off his hat and waved me a last good-bye. I felt lonely, so
sure had I been that Emerson of all men would be the quickest to see the
mountains and sing them. Gazing awhile on the spot where he vanished, I
sauntered back into the heart of the grove, made a bed of sequoia plumes
and ferns by the side of the stream, gathered a store of firewood, and
then walked about until sundown. The birds, robins, thrushes, warblers,
etc., that had kept out of sight, came about me, now that all was quiet,
and made cheer. After sundown I built a great fire, and as usual had it
all to myself. And though lonesome for the first time in these forests,
I quickly took heart again--the trees had not gone to Boston, nor the birds;
and as I sat by the fire, Emerson was still with me in spiry, though I
never again saw him in the flesh.
A few days later there occurred a little incident in Oakland which is worth
telling, for it reveals through Emerson's appreciativeness the impression
which Muir had made upon him. The Carrs, then living in a cottage in Oakland,
heard one evening during a dense fog a commotion at their back door. Upon
investigation they found Ralph Waldo Emerson standing there, with his cloak
wrapped closely about him. He had lost his way in the fog and had come
up to the back door in his confusion. Urged to come in, he declined, saying
that he must at once follow his wife and daughter who had already gone
across the ferry to San Francisco. "But I," he added, "could not go through
Oakland without coming up here to thank you for that letter to John Muir."
Though now in the closing decade of his life and growing infirm, Emerson,
sent him an occasional package of books accompanied with words of good
cheer, while Muir wrote him enthusiastic letters, and sent fragrant reminders
of his Yosemite surroundings. One of his winter recreations was to climb
an Incense Cedar, abloom amid the snows of January, gather some of the
golden sprays of staminate blossoms, and mail them to his friends. The
delicate attention of such an aromatic gift sent to Emerson drew from him
Was it the "incense" quality of this cedar which, combined with some
playful allusion in Muir's letter, made the flowers "significant" to the
From Ralph Waldo Emerson
My Dear Muir:
5th February, 1872
Here lie your significant cedar flowers on my table, and in another
letter; and I will procrastinate no longer. That singular disease of deferring,
which kills all my designs, has left a pair of books brought home to send
to you months and months ago, still covering their inches on my cabinet,
and the letter and letters which should have accompanied, to utter my thanks
and lively remembrance, are either unwritten or lost, so I will send this
peccavi, as a sign of remorse.
I have been far from unthankful--I have everywhere testified to my friends
who should also be yours, my happiness in fading--the right man in the
right place--in your mountain tabernacle, and have expected when your guardian
angel would pronounce that your probation and sequestration in the solitudes
and snows had reached their term, and you were to bring your ripe fruits
so rare and precious into waiting society.
I trust you have also had, ere this, your own signals from the upper
powers. I know that society in the lump, admired at a distance, shrinks
and dissolves, when approached, into impracticable or uninteresting individuals,
but always with a reserve of a few unspoiled good men, who really give
it its halo in the distance. And there are drawbacks also to solitude,
who is a sublime mistress, but an intolerable wife. So I pray you to bring
to an early close your absolute contracts with any yet unvisited glaciers
or volcanoes, roll up your drawings, herbariums and poems, and come to
the Atlantic Coast. Here in Cambridge Dr. Gray is at home, and Agassiz
will doubtless be, after a month or two, returned from Terra del Fuego
perhaps through San Francisco--or you can come with him. At all events,
on your arrival, which I assume as certain, you must find your way to this
village, and my house. And when you are tired of our dwarf surroundings,
I will show you better people.
With kindest regards Yours
R. W. Emerson
[P. S.] I send two volumes of collected essays by book-post.
In an undated fragment of a letter to Mrs. Carr, Muir refers to this letter
He [Emerson] judges me and my loose drifting voyages as kindly
as yourself. The compliments of you two are enough to spoil one, but I
fancy that he, like you, considers that I am so mountain-tanned and storm-beaten
I may bear it. I owe all of my best friends to you. A prophecy in this
letter of Emerson's recalled one of yours sent me when growing at the bottom
of a mossy maple hollow in the Canada woods, that I would one day be with
you, Doctor, and Priest in Yosemite. Emerson prophesies in similar dialect
that I will one day go to him and ``better men" in New England, or something
to that effect. I feel like objecting in popular slang that I "can't see
it." I shall indeed go gladly to the "Atlantic Coast" as he prophesies,
but only to see him and the Glacier ghosts of the North. Runkle wants to
make a teacher of me, but I have been too long wild, too befogged to burn
well in their patent, high-heated, educational furnaces.
Neither Emerson's nor Muir's anticipations were to be realized. "There
remained many a forest to wander through," writes Muir, "many a mountain
and glacier to cross, before I was to see his Wachusett and Monadnock,
Boston and Concord. It was seventeen years after our parting on the Wawona
ridge that I stood beside his grave under a pine tree on the hill above
Sleepy Hollow. He had gone to higher Sierras, and, as I fancied, was again
waving his hand in friendly recognition."
Notes of travel made by Sarah Jane Lippincott in 1871-72, under the
pen-name of Grace Greenwood, afford a fleeting contemporary glimpse of
John Muir as he appeared at this time to a discerning observer in Yosemite.
Among our visitors in the evening [she writes] was Mr. Muir,
the young Scottish mountaineer, student, and enthusiast, who has taken
sanctuary in the Yosemite, who stays by the variable Valley with marvellous
constancy, who adores her alike in her fast, gay summer life and solemn
autumn glories, in her winter cold and stillness, and in the passion of
her spring floods and tempests. Not profoundest snows can chill his ardour,
not earthquakes can shake his allegiance. Mr. Muir talks with a quiet,
quaint humor, and a simple eloquence which are quite delightful. He has
a clear blue eye, a firm, free step, and marvelous nerve and endurance.
He has the serious air and unconventional ways of a man who has been much
with Nature in her grand, solitary places. That tourist is fortunate who
can have John Muir for a guide in and about the Valley.
Among the fortunate ones who had in June come to John Muir with a note
of introduction from Mrs. Carr was Henry Edwards, by profession an actor,
but by avocation an entomologist. "In our lower world Mr. Edwards, who
brings you this note," said Mrs. Carr, "is accounted one of Nature's truest
and most devoted disciples. You will take pleasure in introducing him to
your heavenly bugs and butterflies, and the winged dragons that hover over
those hot springs in 'the beyond.' I do not know how long he proposes to
sojourn there, but make the most of the time, for he has the keys to the
Mr. Edwards, familiarly known as "Harry" Edwards among his San Francisco
friends, was a rather remarkable man. A finished artist in his profession,
he was at the same time the gatherer and possessor of what was then regarded
as one of the finest private collections of butterflies and beetles in
the world. It was to be expected that such an enthusiast would find a kindred
spirit in John Muir, who was prevailed upon to collect some high Sierran
butterflies for him, with interesting scientific results.
Your kind letter [he wrote to Muir on August 25th, 1871], found me confined
to my bed. To-day for the first time in nearly two weeks I was sitting
for a little while in my butterfly room when our dear friend Mrs. Carr
walked in and brought me your box of butterflies. The sight of them has
done me good, and I hope in a day or two I will be quite restored. Do not
again ever think that you cannot collect, or that what you do find will
be valueless. In the small box which you sent me are
four species new
to my collection, and
two[There is no further
confirmation of this statement in records left by Edwards. But Mr. Frank
E. Watson, of the American Museum of Natural History, which now owns the
Edwards Collection, calls my attention to the fact that in 1881 the butterfly
Thecla Muiri was named by Henry Edwards after John Muir. In Papilio,
vol. 1, p. 54 (1881), Edwards writes, "I have named this exquisite little
species after my friend John Muir, so well known for his researches into
the geology of the Sierra Nevada, who frequently added rare and interesting
species to my collection."]of these are new to science. I
cannot, if I wrote for a week, tell you how interesting they are to me.
All the specimens are rare, and are different from those found in the Valley.
The two new species are the bright crimson copper one from Cathedral Peak,
and one of the small bluish butterflies. There is a pair of greenish yellow
ones, very rare and interesting. The species was described from a pair
only which were taken by the Geological Survey at the head waters of the
Tuolumne River, and strange to say, no others have turned up until you
found it now. . . . It is really very singular that the remove of a few
miles from the Yosemite should produce species so very different from those
of the Valley itself, and at the same time so characteristic in their forms.
It is another of the beautiful fields for thought which your wonderful
region opens up, and which render your lovely mountains so enchanting to
a worshipper of Nature. I hope you will go on to find your truest and best
enjoyment among such scenes, and that in the end your labors may meet the
reward they deserve, not from your own self-gratification alone, but from
the spontaneous recognition of kindred minds.
This Edwards letter is only one of many that might be quoted to show
how profitably Muir was at this time studying the multiformity of his natural
environment. In the absence of authoritative treatises on the plants, insects,
and wild life of the region he had to send specimens to classifying specialists
for identification, or appeal to his friends about San Francisco Bay, particularly
J. B. McChesney, to secure the desired information for him. Most of them
thought that he was adhering much too closely to his Sierran wildernesses,
and even Mrs. Carr labored to dislodge him from his mountain solitudes
and to bring him into what Emerson called "waiting society."
But so intense was his preoccupation with his tasks, so much were they
a part of his deepest enjoyments, that her pleadings fell on deaf ears.
If anything her remonstrances only served to kindle into flame the poetic
fire of his soul. For there was nothing like the provocation of a little
aspersion against the worthiness of the objects he was pursuing to bring
him to the full stature of his ability as a writer--a vindicator of the
objects of his devotion. A letter written under such stimulus is the following:
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Dear Mrs. Carr:
December 11th, 
We are snowbound, and your letter of November 1st came two days ago.
I sympathize with you for the loss of your brown Japanese, but I am glad
to know that you found so much of pure human goodness in the life of your
scholar. The whole world is enriched, beautified by a stratum--an atmosphere--of
Godlike souls, and it is ignorance alone that banks human love into narrow
gutter channels and stagnant pools, making it selfish and impure when it
should be boundless as air and light, blending with all the world, keeping
sight of our impartial Father who is the fountain sun of all the love that
is rayed down to earth.
But glaciers, dear friend--ice is only another form of terrestrial love.
I am astonished to hear you speak so unbelievingly of God's glorious crystal
glaciers. "They are only pests," and you think them wrong in temperature,
and they lived in "horrible times" and you don't care to hear about them
"only that they made instruments of Yosemite music." You speak heresy for
once, and deserve a dip in Methodist Tophet, or Vesuvius at least.
I have just been sending ice to LeConte and snow to McChesney and I
have nothing left but hailstones for you, but I don't know how to send
them to speak them. You confuse me. You have taught me here and encouraged
me to read the mountains. Now you will not listen; next summer you will
be converted--you will be iced then.
I have been up Nevada to the top of Lyell and found a living glacier,
but you don't want that; and I have been in Hetch Hetchy and the canyon
above, and I was going to tell you the beauty there; but it is all ice-born
beauty, and too cold for you; and I was going to tell about the making
of the South Dome, but ice did that too; and about the hundred lakes that
I found, but the ice made them, every one; and I had some groves to speak
about--groves of surpassing loveliness in new pathless Yosemites,
but they all grew upon glacial drift--and I have nothing to send but what
is frozen or freezable.
You like the music instruments that glaciers made, but no songs were
so grand as those of the glaciers themselves, no falls so lofty as those
which poured from brows, and chasmed mountains of pure dark ice. Glaciers
the mountains and ground corn for all the flowers, and the forests of silver
fir, made smooth paths for human feet until the sacred Sierras have become
the most approachable of mountains. Glaciers came down from heaven, and
they were angels with folded wings, white wings of snowy bloom. Locked
hand in hand the little spirits did nobly; the primary mountain waves,
unvital granite, were soon carved to beauty. They bared the lordly domes
and fashioned the clustering spires; smoothed godlike mountain brows, and
shaped lake cups for crystal waters; wove myriads of mazy canyons, and
spread them out like lace. They remembered the loudsonged rivers and every
tinkling rill. The busy snowflakes saw all the coming flowers, and the
grand predestined forests. They said, "We will crack this rock for Cassiope
where she may sway her tiny urns. Here we'll smooth a plat for green mosses,
and round a bank for bryanthus bells." Thus labored the willing flake-souls
linked in close congregations of ice, breaking rock food for the pines,
as a bird crumbles bread for her young, spiced with dust of garnets and
zircons and many a nameless gem; and when food was gathered for the forests
and all their elected life, when every rock form was finished, every monument
raised, the willing messengers, unwearied, unwasted, heard God's "well
done" from heaven calling them back to their homes in the sky.
The following was added later on the same sheet:
January 8th, 1872
We are gloriously snowbound. One storm has filled half of last month,
and it is snowing again. Would that you could behold its beauty! I half
expected another glacial period, but I will not say anything about ice
until you become wiser, though I send you a cascade jubilee which you will
relish more than anybody else. I have tried to put it in form for publication,
and if you can rasp off the rougher angles and wedge in a few slippery
words between bad splices, perhaps it may be sufficiently civilized for
Atlantic But I always felt a chill come over my fingers when
a calm place in the storm allowed me to think of it. Also I have been sorry
for one of our bears, and I think you will sympathize with me. At least
I confide my dead friend to your keeping, and you may print what you like.
Heavens! if you only had been here in the flood!
The same note of triumphant apology for his choice of the wilderness instead
of the city is found in the following unique letter about the Sequoias.
They were deepest in his affections, and under his playful prose-poetry
it is not difficult to discover the Muir who in a few years was to arouse
the whole nation to the importance of preserving for future generations
these greatest and most ancient of all living things. His love for them
had in it something personal, and there are those who have overheard him
talking to them as to human beings. The original of this letter, written
with Sequoia sap, still shines purple after more than half a century. Although
it lacks a definite date, internal evidence clearly refers it to his earliest
years in Yosemite, perhaps 1870.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Squirrelville, Sequoia Co. Nut Time
Dear Mrs. Carr
Do behold the King in his glory, King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! seems
all I can say Some time ago I left all for Sequoia and have been and am
at his feet; fasting and praying for light, for is he not the greatest
light in the woods, in the world? Where are such columns of sunshine, tangible,
accessible, terrestrialised? Well may I fast, not from bread, but from
business, book-making, duty-going, and other trifles, and great is my reward
already for tbe manly, freely sacrifice. What giant truths since coming
to Gigantea, what magnificent clusters of Sequoiac becauses.
here I cannot recite you one, for you are down a thousand fathoms deep
in dark political quagg, not a burr-length less. But I'm in the woods,
woods, woods, and they are in me-ee-ee. The King tree and I have
sworn eternal love--sworn it without swearing, and I've taken the sacrament
with Douglas squirrel, drunk Sequoia wine, Sequoia blood, and with its
rosy purple drops I am writing this woody gospel letter.
I never before knew the virtue of Sequoia juice. Seen with sunbeams
in it, its color is the most royal of all royal purples. No wonder the
Indians instinctively drink it for they know not what. I wish I were so
drunk and Sequoical that I could preach the green brown woods to all the
juiceless world, descending from this divine wilderness like a John the
Baptist, eating Douglas squirrels and wild honey or wild anything, crying,
Repent, for the Kingdom of Sequoia is at hand!
There is balm in these leafy Gileads--pungent burrs and living King-juice
for all defrauded civilization; for sick grangers and politicians; no need
of Salt rivers. Sick or successful, come suck Sequoia and be saved.
Douglas squirrel is so pervaded with rosin and burr juice his flesh
can scarce be eaten even by mountaineers. No wonder he is so charged with
magnetism! One of the little lions ran across my feet the other day as
I lay resting under a fir, and the effect was a thrill like a battery shock.
I would eat him no matter how rosiny for the lightning he holds. I wish
I could eat wilder things. Think of the grouse with balsam-scented crop
stored with spruce buds, the wild sheep full of glacier meadow grass and
daisies azure, and the bear burly and brown as Sequoia, eating pine-burrs
and wasps' stings and all; then think of the soft lightningless poultice-like
pap reeking upon town tables. No wonder cheeks and legs become flabby and
fungoid! I wish I were wilder, and so, bless Sequoia, I will be. There
is at least a punky spark in my heart and it may blaze in this autumn gold,
fanned by the King. Some of my grandfathers must have been born on a muirland
for there heather in me, and tinctures of bog juices, that send me to Cassiope,
and oozing through all my veins impel me unhaltingly through endless glacier
meadows, seemingly the deeper and danker the better.
See Sequoia aspiring in the upper skies, every summit modeled in fine
cycloidal curves as if pressed into unseen moulds, every bole warm in the
mellow amber sun. How truly godful in mien! I was talking the other day
with a duchess
[This may be a playful allusion to Thérèse
Yelverton who, still claiming her disputed marriage rights, was supposed
to have become a Viscountess when her husband succeeded his father as fourth
Viscount of Avomnore in October, l870.] and was struck with the
grand bow with which she bade me good-bye and thanked me for the glaciers
I gave her, but this forenoon King Sequoia bowed to me down in the grove
as I stood gazing, and the high bred gestures of the lady seemed rude by
There goes Squirrel Douglas, the master spirit of the tree-top. It has
just occurred to me how his belly is buffy brown and his back silver gray
Ever since the first Adam of his race saw trees and burrs, his belly has
been rubbing upon buff bark, and his back has been combed with silver needles.
Would that some of you, wise--terribly wise--social scientists, might discover
some method of living as true to nature as the buff people of the woods,
running as free as the winds and waters among the burrs and filbert thickets
of these leafy, mothery woods.
The sun is set and the star candles are being lighted to show me and
Douglas squirrel to bed. Therefore, my Carr, goodnight. You say, "When
are you coming down?" Ask the Lord--Lord Sequoia.
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