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Book Review: Alaska Days with John Muir by S. Hall Young

Reviewed by Le Roy Jeffers

Source: Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1916 January), pp. 124-125.

A book jacket summary of this book is also available.

Complete book:
Alaska Days with John Muir by S. Hall Young (1915) - available in various digital formats from archive.org


Alaska Days with John Muir.
By S. HALL YOUNG. New York: Revell. 1915.

Every lover of nature and of the mountains will find lasting enjoyment in this volume of Alaskan travel and adventure, and in the account written by John Muir entitled Travels in Alaska. Mr. Young first went as a missionary to the Indians of Southeastern Alaska in 1878. There he was visited in the summer of 1879 by Dr. Sheldon Jackson and other leaders of the Presbyterian denomination. With them went John Muir, already famous for his articles on the mountains of California.

Establishing their headquarters at Fort Wrangell, the party chartered a steamer to visit the Indian villages and to explore the cañons of the Stickeen. They found inspiring scenery between the precipitous walls of the river, where beautiful groves of evergreen were carpeted with flowers, and singing waterfalls filled the air with music.

Late one afternoon, John Muir, who was always an indefatigable walker and mountain climber, started with Mr. Young for a distant peak from whose summit they expected to view the sunset. They sauntered along botanizing and enjoying the unfolding landscape as they ascended the mountain. After crossing a glacier and climbing the cliff to a point near the summit, they realized that they must proceed more rapidly if they were to complete the ascent. Pressing forward, Muir fairly slid up the mountain, while Young followed as fast as he was able. In crossing a gulley Young's footing gave way and he found himself sliding down ward with both shoulders dislocated. He was unable to check himself until he actually overhung a thousand-foot precipice. Whistling in order to encourage his friend, Muir was finally able to reach his side. Hanging to the cliff with one hand, with the other he swung Young out over its face, and, pulling him in, grasped his collar with his teeth. Then, with both hands free to climb, he ascended for ten or twelve feet to comparative safety. All that night Muir carried and assisted this helpless man down through ten long miles of unknown glacier and canon, reaching the steamer in the morning. With this introduction it is little wonder that these two became fast friends.

On another excursion they visited Glacier Bay, naming many of the wonderful tumbling rivers of ice which flow into the sea. Muir's description of the voyage among the islands, of the ever present glacier crowned mountains and of the marvelous colors of the floating ice, reveals an appreciation of beauty which has seldom been equalled.

In 1880 Muir and Young charter a canoe and sail northward, studying the Indian tribes and speaking at their villages. These were the early days of Alaska, and rivers of salmon were found in which there were apparently more fish than water. The quest for gold held no allurements for Muir, and awakened only pity in his heart when he beheld men blind to all but a fortune. Muir's treasure was of flower, and bird, and tree; in them he rejoiced as only a soul that is free from the search for outward things knows how.

A most interesting exploration is made of the fiords of Sum Dum Bay, and far in the heart of one of these is found a wonderful valley with flower-hung walls rising thousands of feet above the water, while a great tumbling glacier hurls its bergs into the peaceful waters. This was appropriately named Yosemite Bay.

Mr. Young's story of the famous adventure with Stickeen is dramatically told, but no one in search of adventure should fail to read Muir's own account of his trip over the vast Taylor Bay Glacier. Unlike most men, he could not remain indoors during a storm, but regardless of darkness or danger, would match his powers against all of nature's forces. In the worst weather, alone, except for Mr. Young's little dog Stickeen, Muir crosses this widely crevassed glacier. Returning at night, they loose their way on its surface, and, after jumping an eight-foot chasm, find themselves on an island, from which they escape only by traversing a frail sliver of ice seventy-five feet in length. Muir often seemed protected where other men would have met their fate.

Mr. Young has given us a vivid, lifelike impression of John Muir, of his vitality and abounding enthusiasm, above all of his abiding consciousness of God as directing all the processes of nature, and delighting in the beauty of the life which He is constantly creating. For him the trees wave and pray, while the lilies ring their bells for joy.

John Muir's place in the literature of our western mountains, trees, and flowers is easily foremost. His gospel of beauty and of joy is destined to become increasingly known as the truth of his message is attested in the experience of all who follow in his footsteps.


Source: Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1916 January), pp. 124-125.

A book jacket summary of this book is also available.

Complete book:
Alaska Days with John Muir by S. Hall Young (1915) - available in various digital formats from archive.org


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