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On the Trail of John Muir

by Cherry Good

Book Cover of On the Trail of John Muir by Cherry Good On the Trail of John Muir
by Cherry Good

Published by Luath Press Limited
Price: UK 7.99, US $14.95, Canada $19.95
ISBN 0 9464 87 626

Release Dates:
UK: January 17, 2000
US: April 21, 2000

Publisher's Press Release
Posted January 17, 2000

On the Trail of John Muir offers refreshing new insights into the character and achievements of the young Scotsman who left his native town of Dunbar in 1849 at the age of eleven to make a new life in the United States. Drawing on Muir's own notes and published work, it charts Muir's growth from early childhood in Scotland, through his teenage years on the family farm in Wisconsin, to his acceptance as an internationally recognised mountaineer, conservationist, founder of the Sierra Club, and advisor to American presidents.

But this is not just another biography. Each stage of Muir's life and development is set within the context of the places that were special, magical to him - the Canadian forests, the glaciers of Alaska, Arizona's Grand Canyon, and most important of all, the High Sierra of California, where the John Muir Trail now runs for over two hundred miles from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney. By following the directions and maps included in On the Trail, readers are able to participate in Muir's adventures on both sides of the Atlantic, to feel a part of Muir's world as they too experience the beauty of the wilderness and the need to preserve it.

The author, Cherry Good, was born and raised in the settled districts of England, and has been striving ever since to contradict her upbringing by exploring the wild places of the earth. On the Trail of John Muir, she was chased by aggressive ostriches on the Ningaloo Reef of Western Australia, had close encounters of the uncomfortable kind with rattlesnakes in the Mojave Desert, and had her supper eaten by black bears in the Californian High Sierra.

Like John Muir, Cherry Good is more interested in being out there experiencing it than in reading theoretical studies. She left an academic career and a cosy country cottage for the wide open spaces and hasn't regretted it for a moment. Her comprehensive knowledge of Muir's life and work and her heartfelt admiration for the man himself - his enthusiasm for the wild places of the earth - mean she is amply qualified to follow his trail, by road and rail and air, but most of all on foot, walking in Muir's beloved Yosemite, in the Arizona desert, in Canada and Scotland.

Her need for wilderness is equalled only by her fondness for chocolate labradors, freshly caught fish cooked over an open fire, her three daughters laughing together, and the scent of the high desert after rain - preferably all at the same time. When she tears herself away periodically from a close acquaintance with the world's mosquito population, she comes back to the Scottish Highlands or to her Devon roots, where she still manages to lose her way on Dartmoor.

This is what she says about writing On the Trail of John Muir:

I wrote this book on the road, as I followed John Muir's trail from Scotland to the American Midwest, through the inland waters and forests of Canada and the lush humidity of America's Deep South to the glacial meadows and crystal lakes of California's High Sierra.

It wasn't easy. In my attempt to get as close as I could to the places which John Muir loved, I stayed in no hotels, slept in no comfortable beds. Each night, whether it rained or snowed or blew sand, I camped and wrote. In the Californian and Arizona deserts I slept on the bare earth without a tent, worried about rattlesnakes, and came into close contact with a tarantula. On my first visit to the High Sierra I fretted constantly about black bears. In the New Zealand autumn I relinquished any hope of ever being dry again, and in Australia I forded rising creeks and was chased by aggressive ostriches - don't laugh, those powerful feet pack a helluva wallop, enough to break your leg and associated body parts.

But the bane of my life was - and still is - the mosquito. This insignificant-looking little monster with its harpoon inhabits many of the areas through which I travelled: Yosemite in springtime, the sand country of Wisconsin, the bogs and lakes and woods of Ontario, the southern states of the US. I yell and clutch and swat, then swell and scratch, becoming irrational with mosquito-hate. My admiration for John Muir and his apparent unconcern about mosquito bites reaches unprecedented heights, as I debate the rival merits of sleeping under the stars with the harpooneers versus locking myself into the truck.

When it comes down to the essentials, none of these inconveniences really matter. Even with the mosquitoes it's worth it, the privilege of being out there, seeing the desert bloom in springtime, Yosemite Falls shooting its snow-thawed torrents in rocketing cascades to the valley floor below, the yip-yip-yip of the coyote at dusk, the heat and buzz of high summer, the pristine stillness of deep winter in the mountains.

John Muir knew that each of us in our own way needs the wilderness, even when it frightens or discomforts us, and that each of us needs to find it for ourselves. On the Trail of John Muir provides an opportunity to do just that, following in the footsteps of a Scottish boy with no influence and little schooling who loved wild things and became determined to protect them. Use the book as your passport to his world - just watch out for those mosquitoes.

John Muir wrote "I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature's loveliness." If On the Trail of John Muir has this affect, Cherry Good will be very happy.

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