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My First Summer in the Sierra: with Illustrations Paperback – Illustrated, October 17, 2013
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- Publisher : J Missouri; Illustrated ed. edition (October 17, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 182 pages
- ISBN-10 : 194077702X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1940777023
- Lexile measure : 1420L
- Item Weight : 8.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.46 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #148,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Muir “hitched a ride,” that is, seized an opportunity and joined in the “old-fashioned” practice of transhumance. “Old-fashioned,” in that it is a practice in decline, defeated by the primacy of fences and “property rights.” But the practice of moving livestock to better grazing, in particular to higher elevations in the summer, has existed for thousands of years. In June 1869, he joined 2500 sheep, as they moved from the Merced valley in central California, and walked with them into the high Sierra Mountains, in the area of current day Yosemite National Park, and returned to the lowlands by the equinox. He did not have required duties – a professional shepherd, along with assistants – handled the “grunt work.” Three magnificent months to observe a country that had just been opened to exploration by the white man largely in the last two decades, thanks to the ’49 “Gold Rush.” Three months of living outside, largely without shelter, and “reading” only the natural world.
I found his writing to be dense, like a fine chocolate bar, and could rarely read more than 15 pages at a time without taking a break to think about his observations. In one section, he contemplates the many different paths raindrops take. In another, he examines the lives of three very different creatures: the bear, the grasshopper and the common housefly. For sure, he provides anthropomorphic characterizations. He has a keen geological “eye,” spotting signs of glacial action in prior times. Clearly his heart lies in the very high country of the Sierra, around Lake Tenaya. Somehow he knew about a flower called the cassiope bell, searched for it, and found it in profusion. It is wonderful nowadays to be able to see a picture of it on the internet, and understand immediately his enthusiasm. In yet another section, he relates his “telepathic” knowledge that his college teacher, Professor Butler, had just arrived in Yosemite.
Muir does not like the sheep he has had to travel with, comparing them to locust, and at one point saying that he would rather herd wolves. He is also rather critical of the various Indian hunting groups that he encounters, always critical of their dirtiness. In general, he repeatedly praises the cleanliness of the natural world, but seems to be oblivious to the dirtiness of the sheep that are his companions.
In the high country it is approximately two months of intense life between the melting of the snows and the arrival of the next frosts. On August 10, he says: “Another of those charming exhilarating days that make the blood dance and excite nerve currents that render one unwearable and well-nigh immortal.” In another section, he says of Yosemite’s cathedral: “Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fibre thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself. The same may be said of stone temples.”
Yes, at times his exuberance can be “over the top.” So be it, for it seems that he can see deeper than us average mortals. 5-stars.
A few quotes:
“Everything seems consciously peaceful, thoughtful, faithfully waiting God*s will.”
“No other place has ever so overwhelmingly attracted me as this hospitable, Godful wilderness.”
“The basin of this famous Yosemite stream is extremely rocky, — seems fairly to be paved with domes like a street with big cobblestones. I wonder if I shall ever be allowed to explore it. It draws me so strongly, I would make any sacrifice to try to read its lessons. I thank God for this glimpse of it. The charms of these mountains are beyond all common reason, unexplainable and mysterious as life itself.”
Now I have GOT to get back to Yosemite soon. Again and again.
This Kindle edition is quite disappointing. It appears to be a poor-quality OCR rendering of an earlier form of the document with no evident post-transcription copyediting – and is filled with groan-inducing misspellings and other errors not present in any other editions I’ve seen. (Example: how is the word “email” even possible in a 19th-century text??)
Do read this wonderful book – but don’t frustrate yourself with this edition.
By S.M.P. on December 15, 2020
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I bought this as I was travelling part of this route and would have liked to see a map in the book of his route, not the modern map at the back that had been put in.