1996 UOP John Muir Conference

Panel Presentation

offered on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE)


Chair: Michael Branch, University of Nevada, Reno

Presenters: Mark Schlenz, University of California, Santa Barbara Daniel Duane, University of California, Santa Cruz Barbara "Barney" Nelson, Sul Ross State University Michael Branch, University of Nevada, Reno

Paper #1

Savagism in the Sierra: Native Americans in My First Summer in the Sierra and Mary Austin's The Land of Little Rain

Mark Schlenz University of California, Santa Barbara

"Nothing truly wild is unclean": John Muir's oft-quoted articulation of a wilderness aesthetic attempts sanctification of the natural through a problematically ethnocentric contrast with the "uncleanliness" of the Paiutes he meets and describes in Bloody Canyon and on the shores of Mono Lake. This paper examines the negative stereotyping of Muir's representations of Native Americans and their culture in My First Summer in the Sierra through contrast with the sympathetic portrayals of Indian characters in the work of his less-recognized contemporary, Mary Austin. In The Land of Little Rain Austin develops a wilderness aesthetic and an ethics of human-nature interaction derived from her studied observation and deep appreciation of native cultures. This paper develops a study of contrasting representations of Native Americans in the nature writing of Muir and Austin as a critical context to consider social, political, cultural, and multicultural implications of their respective environmental aesthetics and ethics.

Mark Schlenz teaches American literature and environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he completed his Ph.D. in English in 1994. A member of the Executive Council of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, he is the author of a number of books about Muir's home territory, including Exploring the Eastern Sierra: California and Nevada (Companion Press, 1990) and Mono Lake: Mirror of Imagination (Companion Press, forthcoming 1996).

Paper #2

"I Found Myself Fairly Adrift": A Reflection on John Muir's Vision of Water and Wind"

Daniel Duane University of California, Santa Cruz

"I Found Myself Fairly Adrift" is a creative reflection on wind and water and on John Muir's remarkable sensitivity to both. The author, in the waters off Northern California, watches pigeon guillemots diving for fish and thinks of Muir's celebrated water ouzel, sees surf rolling toward evergreen forested hillsides and remembers Muir's remarkable wave metaphors in "The Description of a Wind Storm." Combining personal reflections on the natural world with a scholarly appreciation for Muir's descriptions of wind and water, this paper braids examination of natural patterns with consideration of the texts in which Muir celebrates such patterns.

Daniel Duane is a Ph.D. candidate in American literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he teaches nature writing and American literature. An experienced creative writer and mountaineer whose climbing expeditions often take him to Yosemite, Dan is the author of Lighting Out: A Vision of California and the Mountains (Gray Wolf Press, 1994) and Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast (North Point Press, forthcoming 1996).

Paper #3

Hoofed Locusts: John Muir and Mary Austin's Opposing Views of Sheep

Barbara "Barney" Nelson Sul Ross State University

This paper is an ecocritical comparison of representations of sheep and shepherding in the work of John Muir and Mary Austin. Using Muir's unpublished "Twenty Hill Hollow" journal, his correspondence, and My First Summer in the Sierra, the author compares Muir's early descriptions of sheep behavior, written while he was a shepherd in Yosemite, with comparable accounts written many years later. The author argues that the disparaging descriptions of sheep in My First Summer in the Sierra were prompted by Austin's The Flock (1906), which presents sheep and shepherding as beneficial and romantic. In his own writing, Muir counters Austin's views point for point. During the time both books were published, Yosemite was embroiled in a bitter struggle between those who wanted to preserve the area as a "pleasure ground" and those who wanted to preserve the area as home and range.

Barbara "Barney" Nelson is a scholar, creative writer, and rancher who teaches environmental literature and the literature of the American west at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. She is the author of a number of books on the west, including The Last Campfire (Texas A&M University Press, 1984) and Voices and Visions of the American West (Texas Monthly Press, 1986).

Paper #4

Self, Salvation, and Story: Writing Rescues on Glenora Peak and the Taylor Glacier

Michael Branch University of Nevada, Reno

This paper examines John Muir's construction and presentation of self in two narratives of perilous climbing adventures in Alaska. The author compares Alaska missionary Hall Young's romantic image of Muir as a heroic mountaineer with the self-effacing persona of Muir's own books and with the decentered or "transparent" style of Muir's mountaineering narratives. Muir's willingness to celebrate his own prowess as a mountaineer was always predicated upon making nature--in the form of a wild sheep, a flower, a glacier, or a dog--the "hero" of his story. Although Muir became the romantic hero of Hall Young's Alaska stories, his own work projects the romantic sensibility onto the landscape, thereby decentering the human subject.

Michael Branch is Assistant Professor of Literature and Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he teaches 18th and 19th century American nature writing and environmental literature. He is president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, co-editor of The Height of Our Mountains: Nature Writing from Virginia's Blue Ridge and Shenandoah Valley (Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming 1996), and author of several articles and conference papers on John Muir.


1996 John Muir Conference

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