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Northwest Passages: From the Pen of John Muir in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska

reviewed by Abraham Hoffman

(Reprinted from the John Muir Newsletter , Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1992)

Northwest Passages: From the Pen of John Muir in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska
introduction by Scott Lankford.
Palo Alto, CA: Tioga Publishing Company
(Order from publisher: P.O. Box 50490, Palo Alto, CA 94303.)

Reviewed by Abraham Hoffman, Book Editor, Californians

What better way to introduce someone to John Muir than by presenting him or her with a gift of selections from John Muir's writings, reasonably priced in a hard-backed edition and illustrated with the woodcuts of graphic designer Andrea Hendrick? Add to this a knowledgeable introduction by Muir scholar Scott Lankford, and you have the makings, with some limitations, of a sense of the timelessness of Muir's descriptions of mountains, woods, and glaciers.

Lankford's introduction argues for the significance of 1888 as a watershed year in Muir's life. Having become husband, father, and property owner, by the late 1880s Muir had gone stale. Even his health had declined. Louie Muir, John' wife, was astute enough to understand the problem. Lankford credits Mrs. Muir with literally ordering her husband out of the house and onto a prolonged trip through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. This was the trip that renewed Muir's dedication to wilderness, set his pen flowing again, and energized him into becoming an environmental activist in the years that followed.

Muir's writings on California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska appear here as brief excerpts, the longest of which is his description of his climb of Mt. Rainier. These writings are presented as fine printing on 70 lb. paper with numerous attractive woodcuts by Hendrick. However attractive the format, there are, as noted, some problems with this volume. One may get the impression from the introduction that the writings all stem from Muir's 1888 journey. This isn't true as most of the excerpts come from books published years later, even posthumously. No attribution is given to specific passages other than a general section label of the name of the state. So a reader interested in following up on the excerpts faces quite a chore in locating their sources. Some excerpts are so short as to be quotations rather than excerpts. The book is unpaginated, giving it a suspicious resemblance to those Hallmark love/poetry books which lovers buy for each other. The book may therefore be a nice gift from one lover of Muir to another, as an expression of love. Best to read the excerpts to each other aloud in front of a fire on a cold winter's night.

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