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Book Review: Letters to a Friend by John Muir

Reviewed by Le Roy Jeffers

Source: Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1916 January), pp. 123-124.

Letters to a Friend Written to Mrs. Ezra S. Carr, 1866-1879.
By John Muir Houghton, Mifflin Co. 1915. $3.00 net,

Slight in form in comparison with his later writings, these early letters of John Muir to his friend come to us as voice from the past, bearing a charm and a fragrance like that of his own dear flowers. Written to one who in motherly affection offered her appreciation and sympathy, they are the outpouring of a heart in whose greatness many were to find companionship. But like all who bear to mankind a revelation of the invisible, Muir was destined to pass many lonely years with nature and with God before people in general were willing to receive his message.

In 1868 Muir yielded to that silent but potent invitation which the great forests and wild-flower gardens of our glorious California ever extend to the lover of nature. Inquiring the way to Yosemite, he set out afoot across the continuous flower fields of the central valley, pausing at night to lie beneath their enfolding bloom, and pressing onward by day toward the heavenly mountains that were to receive him as their own.

With an undying enthusiasm this prophet of the mountains casts forever aside the advice of his well-meaning friends, who would have him enter a career that amounted to something, and, with unspeakable joy, he roams over the untrodden paradise of our great Sierra Nevada.

Patiently he studies the life of bird, and flower, and tree, discovering their inmost secrets and enabling them to converse with us in a common language. He forms close acquaintance with glaciers, standing amid a storm of criticism as their friend, for he showed how they have carved and polished these mountains and made possible the peace and joy of the valleys. Even the rocks seemed to reveal to him their age-long secrets as he saw in them God's own writing.

In the incomparable waterfalls of Yosemite and other valleys of the range Muir found an unending source of pure delight. How reverently he worships their creator as he listens to their changing music! Each tiny drop to him is a heaven-born voice, and all are singing in wondrous melody. By night as well as by day he mingles with their spray, on one occasion following a tiny ledge that led him far behind the great Yosemite Fall. Here, amid its ceaseless thunder, he watches the moonbeams as they filter through the mist. As he lingers long, some spent comets of the fall are Mown inward, acquainting him with their hidden power, and speedily inducing him to depart from their sanctuary.

But it is to the glorious, eternal mountains that Muir oftenest turns. With only a crust of bread, living on air and water as only a mountaineer knows how, he seeks their distant summits. In all our wide domain none are more transcendently beautiful than these heavenly mountains. In their flowery valleys, filled with giant trees, innumerable lakes and fairy falls, even the unfeeling traveler must linger with delight, while in the higher regions of the range the wanderer will long find solitudes and mountain peaks unspoiled by man.

First of all, in spirit, Muir shares these joys with his friend, then reveals his heart in his letters. True friendship ever reaches far beyond the lives of those who find it. We feel with him the passion pure for God and His creation. Each mountain peak that Muir ascended calls us still to worship as in distant years they called their friend and prophet. With him we see again the holy morning's Alpine glow crown Shasta's distant summit, and by his side, in spirit led, our hearts respond in glad thanksgiving.

While we commend these letters of John Muir to the attention of all who are his true friends, we suggest that acquaintance with our greatest prophet of nature, and that of the land he loved, be further formed through his Mountains of California, Our National Parks, The Yosemite, and Travels in Alaska. Then will one roam through the valleys and over these mountains of God with seeing eye and understanding heart, while, perchance, the vision of eternal beauty that was his will become one's own.

Source: Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 1 (1916 January), pp. 123-124.

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