by William Frederic Badè
"John Muir, Earth-planet, Universe."
-- These words are written
on the inside cover of the notebook from which the contents of this volume
have been taken. They reflect the mood in which the late author and explorer
undertook his thousand-mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico a half-century ago.
No less does this refreshingly cosmopolitan address, which might have startled
any finder of the book, reveal the temper and the comprehensiveness of
Mr. Muir's mind. He never was and never could be a parochial student of
nature. Even at the early age of twenty-nine his eager interest in every
aspect of the natural world had made him a citizen of the universe.
While this was by far the longest botanical excursion which Mr. Muir
made in his earlier years, it was by no means the only one. He had botanized
around the Great Lakes, in Ontario, and through parts of Wisconsin,
Indiana, and Illinois. On these expeditions he had disciplined himself
to endure hardship, for his notebooks disclose the fact that he often went
hungry and slept in the woods, or on the open prairies, with no cover except
the clothes he wore.
"Oftentimes," he writes in some unpublished biographical notes,
"I had to sleep out without blankets, and also without supper or
breakfast. But usually I had no great difficulty in finding a loaf of bread
in the widely scattered clearings of the farmers. With one of these big
backwoods loaves I was able to wander many a long, wild mile, free as the
winds in the glorious forests and bogs, gathering plants and feeding on
God's abounding, inexhaustible spiritual beauty bread. Only once in my
long Canada wanderings was the deep peace of the wilderness savagely broken.
It happened in the maple woods about midnight, when I was cold and my fire
was low. I was awakened by the awfully dismal howling of the wolves, and
got up in haste to replenish the fire."
It was not, therefore, a new species of adventure upon which Mr. Muir
embarked when he started on his Southern foot-tour. It was only a new response
to the lure of those favorite studies which he had already pursued over
uncounted miles of virgin Western forests and prairies. Indeed, had it
not been for the accidental injury to his right eye in the month of March,
1867, he probably would have started somewhat earlier than he did. In a
letter written to Indianapolis friends on the day after the accident,
he refers mournfully to the interruption of a long-cherished plan. "For
weeks," he writes, "I have daily consulted maps in locating a
route through the Southern States, the West Indies, South America, and
-- a botanical journey studied for years. And so my mind has long
been in a glow with visions of the glories of a tropical flora; but, alas,
I am half blind. My right eye, trained to minute analysis, is lost and
I have scarce heart to open the other. Had this journey been accomplished,
the stock of varied beauty acquired would have
made me willing to
shrink into any corner of the world, however obscure and however remote."
The injury to his eye proved to be less serious than he had at first
supposed. In June he was writing to a friend: "I have been reading
and botanizing for some weeks, and find that for such work I am not very
much disabled. I leave this city [Indianapolis] for home to-morrow, accompanied
by Merrill Moores, a little friend of mine. We will go to Decatur, Illinois,
thence northward through the wide prairies, botanizing a few weeks by the
way. . . . I hope to go South towards the end of the summer, and as this will
be a journey that I know very little about, I hope to profit by your counsel
before setting out."
In an account written after the excursion he says: "I was eager
to see Illinois prairies on my way home, so we went to Decatur, near the
center of the State, thence north [to Portage] by Rockford and Janesville.
I botanized one week on the prairie about seven miles southwest
Pecatonica. . . . To me all plants are more precious than before. My poor
eye is not better, nor worse. A cloud is over it, but in gazing over the
widest landscapes, I am not always sensible of its presence."
By the end of August Mr. Muir was back again in Indianapolis. He had
found it convenient to spend a "botanical week" among his University
friends in Madison. So keen was his interest in plants at this time that
an interval of five hours spent in Chicago was promptly turned to account
in a search for them. "I did not find many plants in her tumultuous
streets," he complains; "only a few grassy plants of wheat, and
two or three species of weeds,
-- amaranth, purslane, carpet-weed, etc.,
weeds, I suppose, for man to walk upon, the wheat to feed him I saw some
green algae, but no mosses. Some of the latter I expected to see on wet
walls, and in seams on the pavements. But I suppose that the manufacturers'
smoke and the terrible noise are too great for the hardiest of them. I
wish I knew
where I was going. Doomed to be 'carried of the spirit
into the wilderness,' I suppose. I wish I could be more moderate in my
desires, but I cannot, and so there is no rest."
The letter noted above was written only two days before he started on
his long walk to Florida. If the concluding sentences still reflect indecision,
they also convey a hint of the overmastering impulse under which he was
acting. The opening sentences of his journal, afterwards crossed out, witness
to this sense of inward compulsion which he felt. "Few bodies,"
he wrote, "are inhabited by so satisfied a soul that they are allowed
exemption from extraordinary exertion through a whole life." After
reciting illustrations of nature's periodicity, of the ebbs and flows of
tides, and the pulsation of other forces, visible and invisible, he observes
that "so also there are tides not only in the affairs of men, but
in the primal thing of life itself. In some persons the impulse, being
slight, is easily obeyed or overcome. But in others it is constant and
cumulative in action until its
power is sufficient to overmaster
all impediments, and to accomplish the full measure of its demands. For
many a year I have been impelled toward the Lord's tropic gardens of the
South. Many influences have tended to blunt or bury this constant longing,
but it has out-lived and overpowered them all."
Muir's love of nature was so largely a part of his religion that he
naturally chose Biblical phraseology when he sought a vehicle for his feelings.
No prophet of old could have taken his call more seriously, or have entered
upon his mission more frevently. During the long days of his confinement
in a dark room he had opportunity for much reflection. He concluded that
life was too brief and uncertain, and time too precious, to waste upon
belts and saws; that while he was pottering in a wagon factory, God was
making a world; and he determined that, if his eyesight was spared, he
would devote the remainder of his life to a study of the process. Thus
the previous bent of his habits and studies, and the sobering thoughts
induced by one of the
bitterest experiences of his life, combined
to send him on the long journey recorded in these pages.
Some autobiographical notes found among his papers furnish interesting
additional details about the period between his release from the dark
room and his departure for the South. "As soon as I got out into heaven's
light," he says, "I started on another long excursion, making haste
with all my heart to store my mind with the Lord's beauty, and thus be
ready for any fate, light or dark. And it was from this time that my long,
continuous wanderings may be said to have fairly commenced. I bade adieu
to mechanical inventions, determined to devote the rest of my life to the
study of the inventions of God. I first went home to Wisconsin, botanizing
by the way, to take leave of my father and mother, brothers and sisters,
all of whom were still living near Portage. I also visited the neighbors
I had known as a boy, renewed my acquaintance with them after an absence
of several years, and bade each a formal
good-bye. When they asked
where I was going I said, 'Oh! I don't know
-- just anywhere in the wilderness,
southward. I have already had glorious glimpses of the Wisconsin, Iowa,
Michigan, Indiana, and Canada wildernesses; now I propose to go South and
see something of the vegetation of the warm end of the country, and if
possible to wander far enough into South America to see tropical vegetation
in all its palmy glory.'
"The neighbors wished me well, advised me to be careful of my health,
me that the swamps in the South were full of malaria. I stopped overnight
at the home of an old Scotch lady who had long been my friend and was now
particularly motherly in good wishes and advice. I told her that as I was
sauntering along the road, just as the sun was going down, I heard a darling
speckled-breast sparrow singing, 'The day's done, the day's done.' Wheel,
John, my dear laddie,' she replied, 'your day will never be done. There
is no end to the kind of studies you like so well,
but there's an
end to mortals' strength of body and mind, to all that mortals can accomplish.
You are sure to go on and on, but I want you to remember the fate of Hugh
Miller.' She was one of the finest examples I ever knew of a kind, generous,
The formal leave-taking from family and neighbors indicates his belief
that he was parting from home and friends for a long time. On Sunday, the
1st of September, 1867, Mr. Muir said good-bye also to his Indianapolis
friends, and went by rail to Jeffersonville, where he spent the night.
The next morning he crossed the river, walked through Louisville, and struck
southward through the State of Kentucky. A letter written a week later
"among the hills of Bear Creek, seven miles southeast of Burkesville,
Kentucky," shows that he had covered about twenty-five miles a day.
"I walked from Louisville," he says, "a distance of one
hundred and seventy miles, and my feet are sore. But, oh! I am paid for
all my toil a thousand times over. I am in the woods on a
with my back against a moss-clad log. I wish you could see my last evenings
bed-room. The sun has been among the tree-tops for more than an hour; the
dew is nearly all taken back, and the shade in these hill basins is creeping
away into the unbroken strongholds of the grand old forests.
"I have enjoyed the trees and scenery of Kentucky exceedingly.
How shall I ever tell of the miles and miles of beauty that have been flowing
into me in such measure? These lofty curving ranks of lobing, swelling
hills, these concealed valleys of fathomless verdure, and these lordly
trees with the nursing sunlight glancing in their leaves upon the outlines
of the magnificent masses of shade embosomed among their wide
-- these are cut into my memory to go with me forever.
"I was a few miles south of Louisville when I planned my journey.
I spread out my map under a tree and made up my mind to go through Kentucky,
Tennessee, and Georgia to Florida, thence to Cuba, thence to some part
of South America; but it will be only a hasty walk. I am thankful,
however, for so much. My route will be through Kingston and Madisonville,
Tennessee, and through Blairsville and Gainesville, Georgia. Please write
me at Gainesville. I am terribly letter-hungry. I hardly dare to think
of home and friends."
In editing the journal I have endeavored, by use of all the available
evidence, to trail Mr. Muir as closely as possible on maps of the sixties
as well as on the most recent state and topographical maps. The one used
by him has not been found, and probably is no longer in existence. Only
about twenty-two towns and cities are mentioned in his journal. This constitutes
a very small number when one considers the distance he covered. Evidently
he was so absorbed in the plant life of the region traversed that he paid
no heed to towns, and perhaps avoided them wherever possible.
The sickness which overtook him in Florida was probably of a malarial
kind, although he describes it under different names. It was, no
a misfortune in itself, and a severe test for his vigorous constitution.
But it was also a blessing in disguise, inasmuch as it prevented him from
carrying out his foolhardy plan of penetrating the tropical jungles of
South America along the Andes to a tributary of the Amazon, and then floating
down the river on a raft to the Atlantic. As readers of the journal will
perceive, he clung to this intention even during his convalescence at
Cedar Keys and in Cuba. In a letter dated the 8th of November he describes
himself as "just creeping about getting plants and strength after
my fever." Then he asks his correspondent to direct letters to New
Orleans, Louisiana. I shall have to go there," he writes, "for
a boat to South America. I do not yet know to which point in South America
I had better go." His hope to find there a boat for South America
explains an otherwise mystifying letter in which he requested his brother
David to send him a certain sum of money by American Express order to New
Orleans. As a matter of fact he did not
go into Louisiana at all,
either because he
learned that no south-bound ship was available at the mouth of the Mississippi,
or because the unexpected appearance of the Island Belle in the harbor
of Cedar Keys caused him to change his plans.
In later years Mr. Muir himself
strongly disparaged the wisdom of his plans with respect to South America,
as may be seen in the chapter that deals with his Cuban sojourn. The judgment
there expressed was lead-penciled into his journal during a reading of
it long afterwards.
Nevertheless the Andes and the South American forests continued
to fascinate his imagination, as his letters show, for many years after
he came to California. When the long deferred journey to South America
was finally made in 1911, forty-four years after the first attempt, he
whimsically spoke of it as the fulfillment of those youthful dreams that
moved him to undertake his thousand-mile walk to the Gulf.
Mr. Muir always
recalled with gratitude the
Florida friends who nursed him through
his long and serious illness. In 1898, while traveling through the South
on a forest-inspection tour with his friend Charles Sprague Sargent,
he took occasion to revisit the scenes of his early adventures. It may
be of interest to quote some sentences from letters written at that time
to his wife and to his sister Sarah. "I have been down the east side
of the Florida peninsula along the Indian River," he writes, "through
the palm and pine forests to Miami, and thence to Key West and the southmost
keys stretching out towards Cuba. Returning, I crossed over to the west
coast by Palatka to Cedar Keys, on my old track made thirty-one years ago,
in search of the Hodgsons who nursed me through my long attack of fever.
Mr. Hodgson died long ago, also the eldest son, with whom I used to go
boating among the keys while slowly convalescing."
He then tells how
he found Mrs. Hodgson and the rest of the family at Archer. They had long
thought him dead and were naturally very
much surprised to see
him. Mrs. Hodgson was in her garden and he recognized her, though the years
had altered her appearance. Let us give his own account of the meeting:
"I asked her if she knew me. 'No, I don't,' she said; 'tell me your
name.' 'Muir,' I replied. 'John Muir? My California John Muir?' she almost
screamed. I said, 'Yes, John Muir; and you know I promised to return and
visit you in about twenty-five years, and though I am a little late
or seven years
-- I've done the best I could.' The eldest boy and girl remembered
the stories I told them, and when they read about the Muir Glacier they
felt sure it must have been named for me. I stopped at Archer about four
hours, and the way we talked over old times you may imagine." From
Savannah, on the same trip, he wrote: "Here is where I spent a hungry,
weary, yet happy week camping in Bonaventure graveyard thirty-one years
ago. Many changes, I am told, have been made in its graves and avenues
of late, and how many in my life!"
In perusing this journal the reader will miss the literary finish which
Mr. Muir was accustomed to give to his later writings. This fact calls
for no excuse. Not only are we dealing here with the earliest product of
his pen, but with impressions and observations written down hastily during
pauses in his long march. He apparently intended to use this raw material
at some time for another book. If the record, as it stands, lacks finish
and adornment, it also possesses the immediacy and the freshness of first
The sources which I have used in preparing this volume are threefold:
(1) the original journal, of which the first half contained many interlinear
revisions and expansions, and a considerable number of rough pencil sketches
of plants, trees, scenery, and notable adventures; (2) a wide-spaced, typewritten,
rough copy of the journal, apparently in large part dictated to a stenographer;
it is only slightly revised, and comparison with the original journal shows
many significant omissions and additions: (3)
two separate elaborations
of his experiences in Savannah when he camped there for a week in the Bonaventure
graveyard. Throughout my work upon the primary and secondary materials
I was impressed with the scrupulous fidelity with which he adhered to the
facts and impressions set down in the original journal.
Readers of Muir's writings need scarcely be told that this book, autobiographically,
bridges the period between
The Story of my Boyhood and Youth
My First Summer in the Sierra
. However, one span of the bridge was
lacking, for the journal ends with Mr. Muir's arrival in San Francisco
about the first of April, 1868, while his first summer in the Sierra was
that of 1869. By excerpting from a letter a summary account of his first
visit to Yosemite, and including a description of Twenty Hill Hollow, where
he spent a large part of his first year in California, the connection is
made complete. The last chapter was first published as an article in the
of July, 1872.
A revised copy of the printed
article, found among Muir's literary effects, has been made the basis of
the chapter on Twenty Hill Hollow as it appears in this volume.
[Forward to chapter 1]