Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My First Summer in the Sierra: John Muir (an excerpt)

John Muir published in 1911 this narrative, My First Summer in the Sierra, of his summer in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. However, the date of his excursion is the summer of 1869, just twenty years after the California gold rush. Muir was 31 years old.

The passage below describes how spring floods, caused by melting snow, form pools and waterfalls in the streams, and how boulders fall from the mountains and create a flow of water and debris "swirling and dancing on wonderful journeys."

One of these ancient flood boulders stands firm in the middle of the stream channel, just below the lower edge of the pool dam at the foot of the fall nearest our camp. It is a nearly cubical mass of granite about eight feet high, plushed with mosses over the top and down the sides to ordinary highwater mark.

When I climbed on top of it to-day and lay down to rest, it seemed the most romantic spot I had yet found, -- the one big stone with its mossy level top and smooth sides standing square and firm and solitary, like an altar, the fall in front of it bathing it lightly with the finest of the spray, just enough to keep its moss cover fresh; the clear green pool beneath, with its foam-bells and its half circle of lilies leaning forward like a band of admirers, and flowering dogwood and alder trees leaning over all in sun-sifted arches.

How soothingly, restfully cool it is beneath that leafy, translucent ceiling, and how delightful the water music--the deep bass tones of the fall, the clashing, ringing spray, and infinite variety of small low tones of the current gliding past the side of the boulder-island, and glinting against a thousand smaller stones down the ferny channel! All this shut in; every one of these influences acting at short range as if in a quiet room. The place seemed holy, where one might hope to see God.

After dark, when the camp was at rest, I groped my way back to the altar boulder and passed the night on it, -- above the water, beneath the leaves and starts, -- everything still more impressive than by day, the fall seen dimly white, singing Nature's old love song with solemn enthusiasm, while the stars peering through the leaf-roof seemed to join in the white water's song. Precious night, precious day to abide in me forever.

Thanks be to God for this immortal gift.

My First Summer in the Sierra was downloaded as a free ebook from Project Gutenberg.

Rights for Muir's book are now in the public domain.


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