John Muir Summering in the Sierra

edited by Robert Engberg


( from the book's dust jacket )


John Muir Summering in the Sierra
edited by Robert Engberg
1984
University of Wisconsin Press. Madison

During the year 1874 and 1875 John Muir wrote a series of articles, commissioned by the San Francisco Evening Bulletin , about his travels in California's mountains. Unavailable to the general reading public since their original publication, those articles have now been assembled and reprinted in their entirety, accompanied by Robert Engberg's historical introduction and notes. The result is an important contribution to our understanding of the early conservation movement in America and a significant biographical key to Muir himself, revealed here at the critical turning point from solitary wanderer to social leader and at his vivid best as a wilderness journalist. Conservationists, students of Muir, and all who are interested in America's natural heritage will welcome this lost classic.

Like all of Muir's writing, these fifteen "letters" from the wild can be enjoyed purely for their descriptive grace and power. Traveling to Mount Shasta, Kings Canyon, Mount Whitney, Mono Lake, and back again to his own beloved Yosemite, Muir reveals his ecstatic joy in discovery and his profound appreciation of nature. His innovative style of "Wilderness Journalism" complements that appreciation. Composed in the mountains and sent directly to his publisher without revision or redrafting, these articles represent some of Muir's most spontaneous, direct, and lyrical writing. They are an invitation to his readers, an exhortation to "climb the mountains and get their good tidings."

Yet underlying Muir's joyous invitation is a warning. If the wanderer reveled in the beauty of our natural heritage during his California odyssey, he also grew increasingly aware of the threats to that heritage. The fires deliberately set by sheepmen, the overgrazing by mountain flocks, and the clear-cut logging techniques employed by the timber companies all posed an immediate danger to the Sierra's meadows and forests. A new voice, triggered by this perception of danger and calling for a radically altered relationship between Americans and their natural resources, informs the California "letters." Ultimately they become an important historical document--as much the dramatic story of Muir's own conservationist awakening and his transformation into wilderness advocate as a simple celebration of the wild.