In a previous blog post, I expressed skepticism about John Muir’s message. Both nature and humanity are expressions of God’s love, he had written, but it was pretty clear he didn’t care for humanity’s towns, cities, factories, and social conventions. In some of his most famous quotations, he described nature as a place of “refuge” from the worries of everyday life, with the “healing power” to cure the wounds of society. The wilderness was a source of beauty that “cleans and soothes and warms” and a place for “repose,” “pure rest,” and “sleep.” As a runner, I had trouble relating to these metaphors and found the message a little preachy.
But then I read a comment by John Burroughs, America’s most popular nature-writer during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Burroughs lived in New York’s Catskill Mountains, on the other side of the country from Muir’s beloved Yosemite, but the two men had met during a trip to Alaska, and while their personalities were quite different, they shared many values, respected each other’s work, and became friends.
A unique character — greater talker than as a writer — he loved personal combat and shone in it. He hated writing and composed with difficulty, though his books have charm of style; but his talk came easily and showed him at his best.
— John Burroughs journal entry 1915
Based on this assessment, I needed to give Muir another chance. So I picked up a book called The Wild Muir: Twenty Two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures, which contained first-person accounts of some his most interesting exploits. And now that I was hearing him talk (so to speak) instead of preach, I got a much better sense of the man….
Continue reading “Warming up to John Muir”
If you don’t know the man, John Burroughs was America’s most popular nature writer in the late 19th and early 20th century. The other day I was flipping through one of his early essays and came across this commentary:
Occasionally on the sidewalk, amid the dapper, swiftly moving, high-heeled boots and gaiters, I catch a glimpse of the naked human foot. Nimbly it scuffs along, the toes spread, the sides flatten, the heel protrudes; it grasps the curbing, or bends to the form of the uneven surfaces,—a thing sensuous and alive, that seems to take cognizance of whatever it touches or passes. How primitive and uncivil it looks in such company,—a real barbarian in the parlor! We are so unused to the human anatomy, to simple, unadorned nature, that it looks a little repulsive; but it is beautiful for all that.
— John Burroughs, Winter Sunshine
Continue reading “Burroughs on Barefoot”
I fought the Sugar Dragon, grappled with it, stabbed it with a dagger in the heart, threw its body over a cliff and watched the corpse tumble down among the rocks, and then I left it for dead. But I knew it would come back.
Continue reading “Return of the Sugar Dragon”
Spring had arrived early, it was quiet at work, and so I made plans to take Friday off and head to the Catskills, with the goal of bagging two or maybe three more mountains in my quest to hike all thirty-five of the highest peaks barefoot. The forecast called for temperatures in the 50s, reports indicated that all the ice was gone, and the 90% chance of rain seemed only a minor consideration. How could a person not want to be in the woods on a day like this? And what about a dog? Feeling in good spirits Friday morning, I hopped out of bed, gave a shout for Odie the Labradoodle — and off we went, arriving in due course at the Seager trailhead deep in the western Catskills.
Continue reading “Seven Miles to Doubletop”