Writings of John Muir
Volume 9 - Life and Letters of
John Muir, Volume 1
Chapter VII. First Yosemite Years, 1869-1870
Muir's first excursion into
the High Sierra ended in September, 1869. What he saw and experienced during
that memorable summer is told vividly, and with infectious enthusiasm, in
his journal, later published as "My First Summer in the Sierra." Only one
thing there was that marred his joy - the fearful destruction wrought in the
forests by the "hoofed v locusts" which he was set to guard. Though: he did
not realize it then, the time was coming when his direct observation of the
devastating effect of sheeping in the High Sierra was to become an important
factor in his campaign to expel the trampling, devouring hordes from the
mountains. But the uppermost impression in his mind, when the summer ended,
was after all the Edenic loveliness of the regions he had visited. "I have
crossed the Range of Light," so runs the concluding sentence of his journal,
"surely the brightest and best of all the Lord has built; and rejoicing in
its glory, I gladly, gratefully, hopefully pray I may see it again."
The fulfillment of this
desire was not to be long delayed, for the means of accomplishment were in
his own power. After spending about eight weeks breaking horses for Pat
Delaney, building fences, and running a gang-plow over his broad acres below
French Bar, he set out on foot for Yosemite by way of Piflo Blanco,
Coulterville, and Harding's Mill.
Meanwhile his Madison
friends, the Carrs, had, during the summer of 1869, removed to California,
where Professor Carr had been appointed to a Professorship in the University
of California. They had not seen Muir since 1867 and were at this time
urging him to pay them a visit in Oakland. "I thank you most heartily for
the very kind invitation you send me," he writes from Delaney's ranch near
La Grange under date of November 15, 1869. "I could enjoy a blink of rest in
your new home with a relish that only those can know who have suffered
solitary banishment for so many years. But I must return to the mountains -
to Yosemite. I am told that the winter storms there will not be easily
borne, but I am bewitched, enchanted, and to-morrow I must start for the
great temple to listen to the winter songs and sermons preached and sung
Mrs. Carr, soon after her
arrival in California, had visited Yosemite, but to her and Muir's great
disappointment the letter which was to call him down from the heights, to
meet her in the Valley, failed to reach its destination. Muir at this time
was still purposing to go on an exploratory trip to South America, a plan in
which Mrs. Carr was warmly abetting him. So fully was his mind made up on
this point that in a letter to his brother David he allowed himself only
about six months more in California, and the prospect of so early a
departure to other lands made him determined to spend these months in the
The proposed South American
journey and the spell which the beauty and grandeur of the Sierra Nevada
were weaving about him form the subject of a paragraph in a letter written
to his sister Sarah during this same summer while encamped "in a spruce
grove near the upper end of Yosemite, two miles from the north wall."
Just think [he writes] of the
blessedness of my lot! - have been camped here right in the midst of
Yosemite rocks and waters for fifteen days, with nearly all of every day to
myself to climb, sketch, write, meditate, and botanize! My foot has pressed
no floor but that of the mountains for many a day. I am far from the ways
and pursuits of man. I seldom even hear the bleating of our twenty-five
hundred sheep. The manifold overwhelming sublimities of the Sierra are all
in all. I am with Nature in the grandest, most divine of all earthly
A few months will call upon
me to decide to what portion of God's glorious star I will next turn. The
sweets of home, the smooth waters of civilized life have attractions for me
whose power is increased by time and constant rambling, but I am a captive,
I am bound. Love of pure unblemished Nature seems to overmaster and blur out
of sight all other objects and considerations. I know that I could under
ordinary circumstances accumulate wealth and obtain a fair position in
society, and I am arrived at an age that requires that I should choose some
definite course for life. But I am sure that the mind of no truant schoolboy
is more free and disengaged from all the grave plans and purposes and
pursuits of ordinary orthodox life than mine. But I wonder what spirit is
conjuring up such sober affairs at this time. I only meant to say a word by
way of family greeting. To-morrow I will be among the sublimities of
Yosemite and forget that ever a thought of civilization or time-honored
proprieties came among my pathless, lawless thoughts and wanderings.
Few persons at this time had
braved the storms and isolation of Yosemite during the winter season. The
first to do this was James C. Lamon, a Virginian, who came to California
from Texas in 1851 and found his way into Yosemite Valley in 1857. Two years
later he planted an orchard opposite Half Dome and in 1862 began to make the
Valley his residence both in winter and in summer. In 1864 his example was
followed by J. Al. Hutchings who brought his wife with him and soon became a
sort of valet de place. His frame house, situated directly opposite the
Yosemite Fall, served also the purpose of a hotel for visitors, and Muir
upon his arrival in the Valley naturally sought shelter there. The following
letter reflects something of the elation with which he began to explore his
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
Yosemite, December 6th, 1869
DEAR FRIEND MRS. CARR:
I am feasting in the Lord's
mountain house, and what pen may write my blessings! I am going to dwell
here all winter magnificently "snow-bound." Just think of the grandeur of a
mountain winter in Yosemite! Would that you could enjoy it also!
I read your word of pencil
upon the bridge below the Nevada, and I thank you for it most devoutly. No
one nor all of the Lord's blessings can enable me to exist without friends,
and I know that you are a friend indeed.
There is no snow in the
Valley. The ground is covered with the brown and yellow leaves of the oak
and maple, and their crisping and rustling make me think of the groves of
I have been wandering about
among the falls and rapids studying the grand instruments of slopes and
curves and echoing caves upon which those divine harmonies are played. Only
a thin flossy veil sways and bends over Yosemite now, and Pohono, too, is a
web of waving mist. New songs are sung, forming parts of the one grand
anthem composed and written in "the beginning."
Most of the flowers are dead.
Only a few are blooming in summer nooks on the north side rocks. You
remember that delightful fernery by the ladders. Well, I discovered a garden
meeting of Adiantum far more delicate and luxuriant than those at the
ladders. They are in a cove or covelette between the upper and lower
Yosemite Falls. They are the most delicate and graceful plant creatures I
ever beheld, waving themselves in lines of the most refined of heaven's
beauty to the music of the water. The motion of purple dulses in pools left
by the tide on the sea coast of Scotland was the only memory that was
stirred by these spiritual ferns.
You speak of dying and going
to the woods. I am dead, and gone to heaven.
Indian [Tom] comes to the
Valley once a month upon snowshoes. He brings the mail, and so I shall hope
to hear from you. Address to Yosemite, via Big Oak Flat, care of Mr.
A pleasing picture of his
employment, his cabin, and the variety of his nature interests during the
next two years is drawn in the following passage from unfinished memoirs:
I had the good fortune to
obtain employment from Mr. Hutchings in building a sawmill to cut lumber for
cottages, that he wished to build in the spring, from the fallen pines which
had been blown down in a violent wind-storm a year or two before my arrival.
Thus I secured employment for two years, during all of which time I watched
the varying aspect of the glorious Valley, arrayed in its winter robes; the
descent from the heights of the booming, out-bounding avalanches like
magnificent waterfalls; the coming and going of the noble storms; the
varying songs of the falls; the growth of frost crystals on the rocks and
leaves and snow; the sunshine sifting through them in rainbow colors;
climbing every Sunday to the top of the walls for views of the mountains in
glorious array along the summit of the range, etc.
I boarded with Mr. Hutchings'
family, but occupied a cabin that I built for myself near the Hutchings'
winter home. This cabin, I think, was the handsomest building in the Valley,
and the most useful and convenient for a mountaineer. From the Yosemite
Creek, near where it first gathers its beaten waters at the foot of the
fall, I dug a small ditch and brought a stream into the cabin, entering at
one end and flowing out the other with just current enough to allow it to
sing and warble in low, sweet tones, delightful at night while I lay in bed.
The floor was made of rough slabs, nicely joined and embedded in the ground.
In the spring the common pteris ferns pushed up between the joints of the
slabs, two of which, growing slender like climbing ferns on account of the
subdued light, I trained on threads up the sides and over my window in front
of my writing desk in an ornamental arch. Dainty little tree frogs
occasionally climbed the ferns and made fine music in the night, and common
frogs came in with the stream and helped to sing with the Hylas and the
warbling, tinkling water. My bed was suspended from the rafters and lined
with libocedrus plumes, altogether forming a delightful home in the glorious
Valley at a cost of only three or four dollars, and I was loath to leave it.
This all too brief account of
Muir's earlier Yosemite years we fortunately are able to supplement with the
To David Gilrye Muir
YOSEMITE, March 20th, 
DEAR BROTHER DAVID G.:
Your last of January 6th
reached me here in the rocks two weeks ago. I am very heartily glad to learn
that your dear wife and wee ones have escaped from sickness to health. "Ten
weeks of fever" - mercy, what intense significance these four words have for
me after my Florida experience. We were taught to believe' that Providence
has special designs to accomplish by the agency of such afflictions. I
cannot say that I have the requisite amount of faith to feel the truth of
this, but one invariable result of suffering in a love-knit family is to
quicken all the powers that develop compact units from clusters of human
I am sitting here in a little
shanty made of sugar pine shingles this Sabbath evening', I have not been at
church a single time since leaving home. Yet this glorious valley might well
be called a church, for every lover of the great Creator who comes within
the broad overwhelming influences of the place fails not to worship as he
never did before. The glory of the Lord is upon all his works; it is written
plainly upon all the fields of every clime, and upon every sky, but here in
this place of surpassing glory the Lord has written in capitals. I hope that
one day you will see and read with your own eyes.
The only sounds that strike
me to-night are the ticking of the clock, the flickering of the fire and the
love songs of a host of peaceful frogs that sing out in the meadow up to
their throats in slush, and the deep waving roar of the falls like breakers
on a rocky coast.
Your description of the sad
quiet and deserted loneliness of home made me sorry, and I felt like
returning to the old farm to take care of father and mother myself in their
old days, but a little reflection served to show that of all the family, my
views and habits and disposition make me the most incapable for the task.
You stirred a happy budget of
memories in speaking of my work-shop and laboratory. The happiest days and
scrap portions of my life were in that old slant-walled garret and among the
smooth creeks that trickled among the sedges of Fountain Lake meadow.
In recalling the mechanical
achievements of those early days I remember with satisfaction that the least
successful one was that horrid guillotine of a thing for slicing off
I have completed the sawmill
here. It works extremely well. If not a "Kirk and a mill" I have at least
made a house and a mill here. . .
To Sarah Muir Galloway
YOSEMITE VALLEY, March 24th,
A grand event has occurred in
our remote snowbound Valley. Indian Tom has come from the open lower world
with the mail. . . .
I wrote you some weeks ago
from this place. Tom leaves the Valley to-morrow. I have four letters to
write this evening, and it is nearly nine o'clock, so I will not try to
write much, but will just say a few things in haste. First of all et me say
that though my lot in these years is to wander in foreign lands, my heart is
at home. I still feel you all as the chief wealth of my inmost soul and the
most necessary elements of my life. What if many a river runs between us.
Distance ought not to separate us. Comets that leave their sun for long
irregular journeys through the fields of the sky acknowledge as constant and
controlling a sympathy with its great center as the nearer, more civilized
stars that travel the more proper roads of steady circles. No one reflection
gives me so much comfort as the completeness and unity of our family. An
apparently short column of years has made men and women of us all, and as I
wrote to Daniel, we stand united like a family clump of trees - may the
divine power of family love keep us one. And now do not consider me absent -
lost. I have but gone out a little distance to look at the Lord's gardens.
Remember me very warmly to
Mrs. Galloway. Tell her that I sympathize very keenly with her in her great
affliction. Tell her that my eyes open every day upon the noblest works of
God and that I would gladly lend her my own eyes if I could. I think of her
very often. I was telling my friend here about her a few nights ago in our
little shanty. I do not live "near the Yosemite," but in it - in the very
grandest, warmest center of it. I wish you could hear the falls to-night -
they speak a most glorious language, and I hear them easily through the thin
walls of our cabin.
Of course I am glad to hear
from you in this solitude, and I thank you for the daisy and the rose leaf
and the old legend. I will tell you all about the Yosemite and many other
places when I reach home. The surpassing glory of a place like this explains
the beauty of that [which] is written in smaller characters, like that of
your Mound hill....
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE, April 5th, 1870
DEAR MRS. CARR:
I wish you were here to-day,
for our rocks are again decked with deep snow. Two days ago/ a big gray
cloud collared Barometer Dome, - the vast looming column of the upper falls
was swayed like a shred of loose mist by broken pieces of storm that struck
it suddenly, occasionally bending it backwards to the very top of the cliff,
making it hang sometimes more than a minute like an inverted bow edged with
comets. A cloud upon the Dome and these ever- varying rockings and bendings
of the falls are sure storm signs, but yesterday's morning sky was clear,
and the sun poured the usual quantity of the balmiest spring sunshine into
the blue ether of our Valley gulf. But ere long ragged lumps of cloud began
to appear all along the Valley rim, coming gradually into closer ranks, and
rising higher like rock additions to the walls. From the top of the
cloud-banks, fleecy fingers arched out from both sides and met over the
middle of the meadows, gradually thickening and blackening until at night
confident snowflakes began to fall.
We thought that the last snow
harvest had been withered and reaped long ago by the glowing sun, for the
bluebirds and robins sang spring, and so also did the bland unsteady winds,
and the brown meadow opposite the house was spotted here and there with blue
violets. Carex spikes were shooting up through the dead leaves and the
cherry and brier rose were unfolding their leaves; and besides these, spring
wrote many a sweet mark and word that I cannot tell, but snow fell all the
hours of to-day in cold winter earnest, and now at evening there rests upon
rocks, trees, and weeds, as full and ripe a harvest of snow flowers as I
ever beheld in the stormiest, most opaque days of mid-winter.
April 131h, 
About twelve inches of snow
fell in that last snowstorm. It disappeared as suddenly as it came, snatched
away hastily almost before it had time to melt, as if a mistake had been
made in allowing it to come here at all. A week of spring days, bright in
every hour, without a stain or thought of the storm, came in glorious
colors, giving still greater pledges of happy life to every living creature
of the spring, but a loud energetic snowstorm possessed every hour of
yesterday. Every tree and broken weed bloomed yet once more. All summer
distinctions were leveled off. All plants and the very rocks and streams
were equally polypetalous.
This morning winter had
everything in the Valley. The snow drifted about in the frosty wind like
meal and the falls were muffled in thick cheeks of frozen spray. Thus do
winter and spring leap into the Valley by turns, each remaining long enough
to form a small season or climate of its own, or going and coming squarely
in a single day. Whitney says that the bottom has fallen out of the rocks
here - which I most devoutly disbelieve. Well, the bottom frequently falls
out of these winter clouds and climates. It is seldom that any long
transition slant exists between dark and bright days in this narrow world of
I know that you are enchanted
with the April loveliness of your new home. You enjoy the most precious kind
of sunshine, and by this time flower patches cover the hills about Oakland
like colored clouds. I would like to visit those broad outspread blotches of
social flowers that are so characteristic of your hills, but far rather
would I see and feel the flowers that are now at Fountain Lake, and the
lakes of Madison.
Mrs. Hutchings thought of
sending you a bulb of the California lily by mail, but found it too large.
She wishes to be remembered to you. Your Squirrel [Florence Hutchings] is
very happy. She is a rare creature.
I hope to see you and the
Doctor soon in the Valley. I have a great deal to say to you which I will
not try to write. Remember me most cordially to the Doctor and to Allie and
all the boys. I am much obliged to you for those botanical notes', etc., and
Ever most cordially yours
To David Gilrye Muir
BALMY SABBATH MORNING IN
YOSEMITE April 10th, 
Your geographical, religious
and commercial letter was handed me this morning by a little black-eyed
witch of a girl [Florence Hutchings], the only one in the Valley. I also
received your note of February 8th in due time (that is any time) and I
propose to answer them as one, thus accomplishing "twa at a blow"; but I am
bewildered by the magnitude and number of the subjects of which they treat.
I think that since my pen is perturbed by too big a quantum of levity for
Sabbath writing I shall begin with baptism, hoping that my muddy ink and
muddy thoughts will settle to the seriousness or anger that naturally
belongs to the subject.
I do not like the doctrine of
close communion as held by hard-shells, because the whole clumsy structure
of the thing rests upon a foundation of coarse-grained dogmatism. Imperious,
bolt-upright exclusiveness upon any subject is hateful, but it becomes
absolutely hideous and impious in matters of religion, where all men are
equally interested. I have no Patience at all for the man who complacently
wipes his pious lips and waves me away from a simple rite which commemorates
the love and sacrifice of Christ, telling me, "Go out from us for you are
not of us," and all this not for want of Christian love on my part, or the
practice of self-denying virtues in seeking to elevate myself; but simply
because in his infallible judgment I am mistaken in the number of quarts of
that common liquid we call water which should be made use of in baptism.
I think infant baptism by
sprinkling or any other mode is a beautiful and impressive ordinance, and
however the Scripture of the thing is interpreted no parent can be doing an
unseemly or un-Christian act in dedicating a child to God and taking upon
him vows to lead his child in the path that all good people believe in. The
baptism of an old sinner is apt to do but little good, but the baptism of an
infant, in connection with the religious training which is supposed to
follow it, is likely to do very much good.
I was baptized three times
this morning. 1st (according to the old way of dividing the sermon), in
balmy sunshine that penetrated to my very soul, warming all the faculties of
spirit, as well as the joints and marrow of the body; 2d, in the mysterious
rays of beauty that emanate from plant corollas; and 3d, in the spray of the
lower Yosemite Falls. My 1st baptism was by immersion, the 2d by pouring,
and the 3d by sprinkling. Consequently all Baptists are my brethering, and
all will allow that I've "got religion."
To Mrs. Ezra S. Garr
YOSEMITE, May 17th, 
DEAR FRIEND MRS. CARR:
Our valley is just gushing,
throbbing full of open, absorbable beauty, and I feel that I must tell you
about it. I am lonely among my enjoyments; the valley is full of visitors,
but I have no one to talk to.
The season that is with us
now is about what corresponds to full-fledged spring in Wisconsin. The oaks
are in full leaf and have shoots long enough to bend over and move in the
wind. The good old bracken is waist high already, and almost all the rock
ferns have their outermost fronds unrolled. Spring is in full power and is
steadily reaching higher like a shadow, and will soon reach the topmost
horizon of rocks. The buds of the poplar opened on the 19th of last month,
those of the oaks on the 24th.
May 1st was a fine, hopeful,
healthful, cool, bright day, with plenty of the fragrance of new leaves and
flowers and of the music of bugs and birds. From the 5th to the 14th was
extremely warm, the thermometer averaging about 85° at noon in shade. Craggy
banks of cumuli became common about Starr King and the Dome, flowers came in
troops, the upper snows melted very fast, raising the falls to their highest
pitch of glory. The waters of the Yosemite Fall no longer float softly and
downily like hanks of spent rockets, but shoot at once to the bottom with
tremendous energy. There is at least ten times the amount of water in the
Valley that there was when you were here. In crossing the Valley we had to
sail in the boat. The river paid but little attention to its banks, flowing
over the meadow in great river-like sheets.
But last Sunday, 15th, was a
dark day. The rich streams of heat and light were withheld. The thermometer
fell suddenly to 35°; and down among the verdant banks of new leaves, and
groves of half-open ferns, and thick settlements of confident flowers came
heavy snow in big blinding flakes, coming down with a steady gait and taking
their places gracefully upon shrinking leaves and petals as if they were
doing exactly right. The whole day was snowy and stormy like a piece of
early winter. Snow fell also on the 16th. A good many of the ferns and
delicate flowers are killed.
There are about fifty
visitors in the Valley at present. When are you and the Doctor coming? Mr.
Hutchings has not yet returned from Washington, so I will be here all
summer. I have not heard from you since January.
I had a letter the other day
from Professor Butler. He has been glancing and twinkling about among the
towns of all the states at a most unsubstantial velocity.
Most cordially yours;
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE, Sunday, May 29th,
I received your "apology" two
days ago and ran my eyes hastily over it three or four lines at a time to
find the place that would say you were coming, but you "fear" that you
cannot come at all, and only "hope" that the Doctor may! But I shall
continue to look for you, nevertheless. The Chicago party you speak of were
here and away again before your letter arrived. All sorts of human stuff is
being poured into our Valley this year, and the blank, fleshly apathy with
which most of it comes in contact with the rock and water spirits of the
place, is most amazing. I do not wonder that the thought of such people
being here makes you "mad"; but, after all, Mrs. Carr, they are about
harmless. They climb sprawlingly to their saddles like overgrown frogs
pulling themselves up a stream bank through the bent sedges, ride up the
Valley with about as much emotion as the horses they ride upon are
comfortable when they have "done it all" and long for the safety and
flatness of their proper homes.
In your first letter to the
Valley you complain of the desecrating influences of the fashionable hordes
about to visit here, and say that you mean to come only once more and "into
the beyond." I am pretty sure that you are wrong in saying and feeling so,
for the tide of visitors will float slowly about the bottom of the Valley as
a harmless scum collecting in hotel and saloon eddies, leaving the rocks and
falls eloquent as ever and instinct with imperishable beauty and greatness;
and recollect that the top of the Valley is more than half way to real
heaven and the Lord has many mansions in the Sierra equal in power and glory
to Yosemite, though not quite so open, and I venture to say that you will
yet see the Valley many times both in and out of the body.
I am glad you are going to
the Coast Mountains to sleep on Diablo - Angelo - ere this. I am sure that
you will be lifted above all the effects of your material work. There is a
precious natural charm in sleeping under the open starry sky. You will have
a very perfect view of the Joaquin Valley, and the snowy pearly wall of the
Sierra Nevada. I lay for weeks last summer upon a bed of pine leaves at the
edge of a daisy gentian meadow in full view of Mt. Dana.
Mrs. Hutchings says that the
lily bulbs were so far advanced in their growth, when she dug some to send
you, that they could not be packed without being broken, but I am going to
be here all summer and I know where the grandest plantation of these lilies
grows, and I will box up as many of them as you wish, together with as many
other Yosemite things as you may ask for, and send it out to you before the
pack train makes its last trip. I know the Spirea you speak of - it is
abundant all around the top of the Valley and the rocks at Lake Teriaya and
reaches almost to the very summit about Mt. Dana. There is also a purple one
very abundant on the fringe meadows of Yosemite Creek a mile or two back
from the brink of the falls. Of course it will be a source of keen pleasure
to me to procure you anything you may desire. I should like to see that
grand Agave. I saw some in Cuba, but they did not exceed twenty-five or
thirty feet in height.
I have thought of a walk in
the wild gardens of Honolulu, and now that you speak of my going there it
becomes very probable, as you seem to understand me better than I do myself.
I have no square idea about the time I shall get myself away from here. I
shall at least stay till you come. I fear that the Agave will be in the
spirit world ere that time.
You say that I ought to have
such a place as you saw in the gardens of that mile and half of climate.
Well, I think those lemon and orange groves would do perhaps to make a
living, but for a garden I should not have anything less than a piece of
pure nature. I was reading Thoreau's "Maine Woods" a short time ago. As
described by him these woods are exactly like those of Canada West. How I
long to meet Linncea and Chio genes his pidula once more! I would rather see
these two children of the evergreen woods than all the twenty-seven species
of palm that Agassiz met on the Amazon.
These summer days "go on"
calmly and evenly. Scarce a mark of the frost and snow of the 15th is
visible. The bracken are four or five feet high already. The earliest
azaleas have opened and the whole crop of buds is ready to burst. The river
does not overflow its banks now, but it is exactly brim full.
The thermometer averages
about 75° at noon. We have sunshine every morning from a bright, blue sky.
Ranges of cumuli appear towards the summits with great regularity every day
about eleven o'clock, making a splendid background for the South Dome. In a
few hours these clouds disappear and give up the sky to sunny evening.
Mr. Hutchings arrived here
from Washington a week ago. There are sixty or seventy visitors here at
Ever yours most cordially
When Congress in 1864, by
special Act, granted to the State of California the Yosemite Valley,
together with a belt of rock and forest a mile in width around the rim, for
recreational purposes, no account was taken of the possible claims of such
settlers as J. C. Lamon and J. M. Hutchings. These two endeavored to make
good what they regarded as preemption claims to a section of land in the
Valley. Their action resulted in prolonged litigation, but the issue was
finally decided against the claimants both by the Supreme Court of the State
and the Federal Supreme Court. It was not, however, until 1875 that the
Commissioners appointed by the governor found themselves in undisputed
control of the Valley. Muir's references to Mr. Hutchings' absences in
Washington relate to this matter.
Among Eastern tourists
visiting Yosemite Valley in 1870 were Mark Hopkins, then President of
Williams College, and Mrs. Robert C. Waterston, the accomplished daughter of
Josiah Quincy. "His [Muir's] letters," wrote Mrs. Waterston to a friend,
"are poems of great and exquisite beauty-worthy to be written out of a heart
whose close communion with nature springs to a perfect love.
"Too near to God for doubt or
He shares the eternal calm."
Therese Yelverton and her
Yosemite novel, in which John Muir and "Squirrel" - Florence Hutchings -
were introduced as leading characters, must be reserved for more extended
notice in another connection.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE, July 29th, 
MY DEAR FRIEND MRS. CARR:
I am very, very blessed. The
Valley is full of people, but they do not annoy me. I revolve in pathless
places and in higher rocks than the world and his ribbony wife can reach.
Had I not been blunted by hard work in the mill, and crazed by Sabbath raids
among the high places of this heaven, I would have written you long since. I
have spent every Sabbath for the last two months in the spirit world,
screaming among the peaks and outside meadows like a negro Methodist in
revival time, and every intervening clump of week days in trying to fix down
and assimilate my shapeless harvests of revealed glory into the spirit and
into the common earth of my existence, and I am rich - rich beyond measure,
not in rectanguIa blocks of sifted knowledge, or in thin, sheets of beauty
hung picture-like about "the walls of memory," but in unselected atmospheres
of terrestrial glory diffused evenly throughout my whole substance.
Your Brooksian letters I have
read with a great deal of interest. They are so full of the spice and poetry
of unmingled Nature, and in many places they express my own present feelings
very fully. Quoting from your Forest Glen, "Without anxiety and without
expectation all my days come and go mixed with such sweetness to every
sense," and again, "I don't know anything of time, and but little of space,"
and "My whole being seemed to open to the sun." All this I do most
comprehensively appreciate, and am just beginning to know how fully
congenial you are. Would that you could share my mountain enjoyments! In all
my wanderings through Nature's beauty, whether it be among the ferns at my
cabin door, or in the high meadows and peaks, or amid the spray and music of
waterfalls, you are the first to meet me, and I often speak to you as verily
present in the flesh.
Last Sabbath I was baptized
in the irised foam of the Vernal, and in the divine snow of Nevada, and you
were there also and stood in real presence by the sheet of joyous rapids
below the bridge.
I am glad to know that
McClure and McChesney have told you of our night with upper Yosemite. Oh,
what a world is there! I passed, no, I lived another night there two weeks
ago, I entering as far within the veil amid equal glory, together with Mr.
Frank Shapleigh of Boston. Mr. Shapleigh is an artist and I like him. He has
been here six weeks, and has just left for home. I told him to see you and
to show you his paintings. He is acquainted with Charles Sanderson and Mrs.
Waterston. Mrs. Waterston left the Valley before your letter reached me, but
one morning about sunrise an old lady came to the mill and asked me if I was
the man who was so fond of flowers, and we had a very earnest unceremonious
chat about the Valley and about "the beyond." She is made of better stuff
than most of the people of that heathen town of Boston, and so also is
Mrs. Yelverton is here and is
going to stop a good while. Mrs. Waterston told her to find me, and we are
pretty well acquainted now. She told me the other day that she was going to
write a Yosemite novelfl and that "Squirrel" and I were going into it. I was
glad to find that she knew you. I have not seen Professor LeConte; perhaps
he is stopping at one of the other hotels.
Has Mrs. Rapelye or Mr. Colby
told you about our camping in the spruce woods on the south rim of the
Valley, and of our walk at daybreak to the top of the Sentinel dome to see
the sun rise out of the crown peaks of beyond?
About a week ago at daybreak
I started up the mountain near Glacier Point to see Pohono in its upper
woods and to study the kind of life it lived up there. I had a glorious day,
and reached my cabin at daylight, by walking all night. And, oh, what a
night among those moonshadows! It was one o'clock A.M. when I reached the
top of the Cathedral rocks, a most glorious twenty-four hours of life amid
nameless peaks and meadows, and the upper cataracts of Pohono! Mr. Hutchings
told me next morning that I had done two or three days' climbing in one and
that I was shortening my life; but I had a whole lifetime of enjoyment, and
I care but little for the arithmetical length of iir days. I can hardly
realize that I have 6ot yet seen you here. I thank you for sending me so
many friends, but I am waiting for you.
I am going up the mountain
soon to see your lily garden at the top of Indian Caņon. "Let the Pacific
islands lie." My love to Allie and all your boys and to the Doctor. Tell him
that I have been tracing glaciers in all the principal canons towards the
The meeting of John Muir and
Joseph Le- V Conte in August, 1870, was destined to have literary and
scientific consequences not foreseen at the time. It appears clearly from
the first of the following letters that Muir was already aware of the
existence of living glaciers in the Sierra Nevada, a fact not then known to
any one else and one which he regarded as having an important bearing upon
his theory of Yosemite's origin. Discussion of the broader issues involved
we must postpone to the chapter on "Persons and Problems."
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
[August 7th, 1870]
[First part of letter
To-morrow we set out for the
LyeH Glacier in company with LeConte and his boys. We will be with them four
or five days when they will go on Monoward for Tahoe. I mean to set some
stakes in a dozen glaciers and gather some arithmetic for clothing my
I hope you will not allow old
H[utchings] or his picture agent Houseworth to so gobble and bewool poor
Agassiz that I will not see him.
I will return to the Valley
in about a week, if I don't get overdeep in a crevass.
Later. Yours of Monday eve
has just come. I am glad your boy is so soon to feel mother, home, and its
blessings. I hope to meet [John] Torrey, although I will push iceward as
before, but may get back in time. I will enjoy Agassiz and Tyndall even
more. I'm sorry for poor [Charles Warren] Stoddard; tell him to come.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
YOSEMITE, August 20th, 
DEAR FRIEND MRS. CARR:
I have just returned from a
ten days' ramble [Described in Joseph LeConte's privately printed Journal of
Ramblings through the High Sierras of California by the University Excursion
Party (1875). Muir's theory of the glacial origin of Yosemite is mentioned
several times in this rare booklet. Reprinted in the Sierra Club Bulletin,
vol. iii, no. 1 (1900), ] with Professor LeConte and his students in the
beyond, and, oh! we have had a most glorious season of terrestrial grace. I
do wish I could amble ten days of equal size in very heaven that I could
compare its scenery with that of Bloody Caņon and the Tuolumne Meadows and
Lake Tenaya and Mount Dana.
Our first camp after leaving
the Valley was at Eagle Point, overlooking the Valley on the north side,
from which a much better general view of the Valley and the high crest of
the Sierra beyond is obtained than from Inspiration Point. Here we watched
the long shadows of sunset upon the living map at our feet and in the later
darkness, half silvered by the moon, went far out of human cares and human
Our next camp was at Lake
Tenaya, one of the countless multitudes of starry gems that make this
topmost mountain land to sparkle like a sky. After moonrise LeConte and I
walked to the lake shore and climbed upon a big sofa-shaped rock that stood,
islet-like, a little way out in the shallow water, and here we found another
bounteous throne of earthly grace, and I doubt if John in Patmos saw grander
visions than we. And you were remembered there and we cordially wished you
Our next sweet home was upon
the velvet gentian meadows of the South Tuolumne. Here we feasted upon soda
and burnt ashy cakes and stood an hour in a frigid rain with our limbs bent
forward like Lombardy poplars in a gale, but ere sunset the black cloud
departed, our spines were straightened at a glowing fire, we forgot the cold
and all about half raw mutton and alkaline cakes. The grossest of our
earthly coils was shaken off, and ere the last slant sunbeams left the
dripping meadow and the spirey mountain peaks we were again in the third
alpine heaven and saw and heard things equal in glory to the purest and best
of Yosemite itself.
Our next camp was beneath a
big gray rock at the foot of Mount Dana. Here we had another rainstorm,
which drove us beneath our rock where we lay in complicated confusion, our
forty limbs woven into a knotty piece of tissue compact as felt.
Next day we worshiped upon
high places on the brown cone of Dana, and returned to our rock. Next day
walked among the flowers and cascades of Bloody Caņon, and camped at the
lake. Rode next day to the volcanic cone nearest to the lake and bade
farewell to the party and climbed to the highest crater in the whole range
south of the Mono Lake. Well, I shall not try to tell you anything, as it is
unnecessary. Professor LeConte, whose company I enjoyed exceedingly, will
tell you about our camp meeting on the Tenaya rock.
I will send you a few choice
mountain plant children by Mrs. Yelverton. If there is anything in
particular that you want, let me know. Mrs. Yelverton will not leave the
Valley for some weeks, and you have time to write.
I am ever your friend
The two following letters
relate in part to an American colonization scheme promoted by a Mr. A. D.
Piper, of San Francisco, who is said to have received from the Brazilian and
Peruvian governments a concession for the navigation of the waters of the
upper Amazon, together with a grant of millions of acres on the Purus in the
Department of Beni. One of Mrs. Carr's sons joined the expedition and she
was anxious to have Muir go also, holding out to him the prospect of a cheap
and comfortable passage to the heart of the Andes and the privilege of
"locating" three hundred and twenty- five acres of land anywhere within the
grant. Muir was too canny to be inveigled into joining such an expedition.
It speedily went to pieces in Brazil, whence Mrs. Carr's son returned
seriously broken in health.
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
TOLMNE RIVER, TWO MILES BELOW
LA GRANGE, November 4th, 
DEAR FRIEND MRS. CARR:
Yours of October 2d reached
me a few days since. The Amazon and Andes have been in all my thoughts for
many years, and I am sure that I shall meet them some day ere I die, or
become settled and civilized and useful. I am obliged to you for all of this
information. I have studied many paths and plans for the interior of South
America, but none so easy and sure ever appeared as this of your letter. I
thought of landing at Guayaquil and crossing the mountains to the Amazon,
float to Para, subsisting on berries and quinine, but to steam along the
palmy shores with company and comforts is perhaps more practical, though not
so pleasant. Hawthorne says that steam spiritualizes travel, but I think
that it squarely degrades and materializes travel. However, flies - and
fevers have to be considered in this case.
I am glad that Ned has gone.
The woods of the Purus will be a grand place for the growth of men. It must
be that I am going soon, for you have shown me the way. People say that my
wanderings are very many and methodless, but they are all known to you in
some way before I think of them. You are a prophet in the concerns of my
little outside life, and pray, what says the spirit about my final escape
from Yosemite? You saw me at these rock altars years ago, and I think I
shall remain among them until you take me away.
I reached this place last
month by following the Merced out of the Valley and through all its caflons
to the plains above Snelling - a most glorious walk. I intended returning to
the Valley ere this, but Mr. Delaney, the man with whom I am stopping at
present, would not allow me to leave before I had plowed his field, and so I
will not be likely to see Yosemite again before January, when I shall have a
grand journey over the snow.
Mrs. Yelverton told me before
I started upon my river explorations that she would likely be in Oakland in
two weeks, and so I made up a package for you of lily bulbs, cones, ferns,
etc., but she wrote me a few days ago that she was still in the Valley.
I find that a portion of my
specimens collected in the last two years and left at this place and Hopeton
are not very well cared for, and I have concluded to send them to you. I
will ship them in a few days by express, and I will be down myself, perhaps,
in about a year. If there is anything in these specimens that the Doctor can
make use of in his lectures tell him to do so freely, of course.
The purple of these plains
and of this whole round sky is very impressively glorious after a year in
the deep rocks.
People all throughout this
section are beginning to hear of Dr. Carr. He accomplishes a wonderful
amount of work. My love to Allie, and to the Doctor, and I am,
Ever most cordially yours
To Mrs. Ezra S. Carr
NEAR LA GRANGE, CALIFORNIA.
December 22, 
DEAR MRS. CARR:
It is so long since I have
heard from you that I begin to think you have sent a letter to Yosemite. I
am feeling lonely again, and require a word from you.
Some time ago Mr. Hutchings
wrote me saying that he would require my shingle cabin for his sister, and
so I am homeless again. I expected to pass the winter there, writing,
sketching, etc., and in making exploratory raids back over the mountains in
the snow, but Mr. Hutchings' jumping my nest after expressly promising to
keep it for me, has broken my pleasant lot of plans, and I am at work making
new ones. Were it not that Mr. Hutchings owes me money and that I have a lot
of loose notes and outline sketches to work up I should set out for South
America at once. As it is, I shall very likely remain where I am for a few
months and return to the mountains in the spring. I wish in particular to
trace some of the upper Yosemite streams farther and more carefully than I
have yet done, and I shall dip yet once more into the fathomless grandeur of
I am in comfortable quarters
at present, within sight and hearing of the Tuolumne, on a smooth level once
the bottom of a shallow lake-like expansion of the river where it leaves the
Evening purple on the
mountains seen through an ample gap up the Tuolumne is of terrestrial
beauty, the purest and best. The sheet gold of the plain composita will soon
be lighted in the sun days of spring, deepening and glowing yet brighter as
it spreads away over the sphered and fluted rock-waves of this old ocean
bed. You must not fail to see the April gold of the Joaquin.
I send herewith a letter to
Mrs. Yelvert.on in your care, as you will be likely to know where she is. I
have just received a letter which she left for me at Snelling, giving an
account [Cf. "Summer with a Countess," by Mary Viola Lawrence in The
Overland Monthly, November, 1871.] of her fearful perils in the snow. It
seems strange to me that I should not have known and felt her anguish in
that terrible night, even at this distance. She told me that I ought to wait
and guide her out, and I feel a kind of guiltiness in not doing so.
Since writing the above yours
of November 19th is received, directed to the "Tuolumne River, etc." You are
"glad that I am kindly disposed towards South America, but a year is a long
time," etc. But to me a Yosemite year is a very little measure of time, or
rather, a measureless and formless mass of time which can in no manner be
geometrically or arithmetically dealt with. But, Mrs. Carr, why do you wish
to cut me from California and graft me among the groves of the Purus? Please
write the reason. This Pacific sunshine is hard to leave. If souls are
allowed to go a-rapping and visiting where they please I think that,
unbodied, I will be found wallowing in California light.
If the bulbs were lost I will
procure some more for you, if you do not send me up the Amazon before next
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