My four-week southwestern pilgrimage is drawing to a close, and what stands between my current location in Mammoth Lakes and the San Francisco airport is. . . . Yosemite National Park, John Muir’s temple of the wilderness, in which “every rock seems to glow with life.”
This is sacred ground, with 4.3 million visitors last year. This year, having just reopened after a month’s closure due to forest fires, no doubt the park will be thronged. What’s needed is a thoughtful plan: an infiltration route from a remote trailhead to a suitable vantage point overlooking the valley, sparing me the crowds below. A chance encounter with a friendly trail volunteer supplies me with exactly this: a 16-mile route from Porcupine Creek Trailhead to North Dome and the top of Yosemite Falls.
Continue reading “Setting Foot in Yosemite (for the very first time)”
One day I stood in the Shawangunks and stared at the Catskills. It was a cold winter day, and the distant mountains seemed carved out of blue crystal and white diamond. I remember feeling a surge of adrenaline, as if I could at that moment head off and run the thirty miles from here to there, although the icy wind dissuaded me.
This experience made me think of John Muir’s famous line in an 1873 letter to his sister, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” He used similar expressions in his account of his first summer in the Sierras, when during 1869 he accompanied a sheep herd into the mountains. For example, when he first got high enough up in the foothills to look deep into the Merced Valley, he perceived “a glorious wilderness that seemed to be calling with a thousand songful voices.” Similarly, his diary entry from July 8 of that year notes: “Many still, small voices, as well as the noon thunder, are calling, ‘Come higher.'” In fact, every aspect of the natural wilderness called to him:
How interesting everything is! Every rock, mountain, stream, plant, lake, lawn, forest, garden, bird, beast, insect seems to call and invite us to come and learn something of its history and relationship.
Continue reading “The Mountains are Calling, and We Must Run”
The other day the idea occurred to me to total up the numbers in my training log. The calculation showed that I’d recently completed my 1,000th mile barefoot. I reflected on the odyssey that had led to this unexpected milestone, and an account seemed in order.
Continue reading “1,000 Miles Barefoot”
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”
In his prime, John Burroughs (1837-1921) was one of the most popular writers in America, with a huge following of readers and relationships with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and railroad tycoon E. F. Harriman. His passion was the birds, forests, rivers, and mountains of his native Catskills, and his writings reveal a scientist’s powers of observation and a nature-lover’s emotional connection to the land. In 1919, at age 82 he appeared in a short film, shown leading a trio of young children around his Catskill farm. He points out butterfly, chipmunk, grasshopper, and then the following words appear on the screen:
I am an old man now and have come to the summit of my years. But in my heart is the joy of youth for I have learned that the essentials of life are near at hand and happiness is his who but opens his eyes to the beauty which lies before him.
Today, these words are remembered by a dedicated group of Burroughs enthusiasts. But despite his enormous popularity, his hasn’t become a household name like other American naturalists such as Henry David Thoreau or John Muir. I wondered, why?
Continue reading “Accepting the Universe”
I read a biography of John Muir, and his passion for nature inspired me to follow his footsteps into the mountains. But I hesitated. According to the bio, Muir believed that nature was love, goodness, an expression of God, and never evil, and he was often frustrated by his peers, whom he found materialistic, conformist, and indifferent to nature. But it seemed to me that logically, if humans are part of nature, then everything we do must be an expression of love and goodness, regardless of our attitude toward the wilderness.
Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love.
— John Muir
Continue reading “Losing Muir”