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M A R C H  1 9 1 1

My First Summer in the Sierra--March

by John Muir

July 15 [1869]. -- Followed the Mono Trail up the eastern rim of the basin nearly to its summit, then turned off southward to a small shallow valley that extends to the edge of the Yosemite, which we reached about noon and encamped. After luncheon I made haste to high ground, and from the top of the ridge on the west side of Indian Canon gained the noblest view of the summit peaks I have ever yet enjoyed. Nearly all the upper basin of the Merced was displayed, with its sublime domes and canons, dark upsweeping forests and glorious array of white peals deep in the sky, every feature glowing, radiating beauty that pours into our flesh and bones like heat-rays from fire. Sunshine over all; no breath of wind to stir the brooding calm.

Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boundless an affluence of sublime mountain beauty. The most extravagant description I might give of this view to any one who has not seen similar landscapes with his own eyes would not so much as hint its grandeur, and the spiritual glow that covered it. I shouted and gesticulated in a wild burst of ecstasy, much to the astonishment of St. Bernard Carlo, who came running up to me, manifesting in his intelligent eyes a puzzled concern that was very ludicrous, and had the effect of bringing me to my common senses. A brown bear too, it would seem, had been a spectator of the show I had made of myself, for I had gone but a few yards when I started one from a thicket of brush. He evidently considered me dangerous, for he ran away very fast, tumbling over the tops of the manzanita bushes in his haste. Carlo drew back with his ears depressed, as if afraid, and looked me in the face as if expecting me to pursue, for he had seen many a bear battle in his day.

See each installment of this article:
  • Part I
    (January, 1911)
  • Part II
    (February, 1911)
  • Part IV
    (April, 1911)

    Return to Flashback: John Muir's Yosemite

    See "Chesuncook" by Henry David Thoreau (1858).

    See a collection of contemporary articles about the environment.

  • Following the ridge, which made a gradual descent to the south, I came at length to the brow of that massive cliff that stands between Indian Canon and Yosemite Falls, and here the far-famed valley came suddenly into view throughout almost its whole extent: the noble walls, sculptured into endless variety of domes and gables, spires and battlements and plain mural precipices, all a-tremble with the thunder tones of the falling water. The level bottom seemed to be dressed like a garden, sunny meadows here and there and groves of pine and oak, the river of Mercy sweeping in majesty through the midst of them and flashing back the sunbeams. The great Tissiack or Half Dome, rising at the upper end of the valley to a height of nearly a mile, is nobly proportioned and lifelike, the most impressive of all the rocks, holding the eye in devout admiration, calling it back again and again from falls or meadows or even the mountains beyond, -- marvelous cliffs, marvelous in sheer dizzy depth and sculpture, types of endurance. Thousands of years have they stood in the sky, exposed to rain, snow, frost, earthquake, and avalanche, yet they still wear the bloom of youth.

    I rambled along the valley-rim to the westward; most of it is rounded off on the very brink so that it is not easy to find places where one may look clear down the face of the wall to the bottom. When such places were found, and I had cautiously set my feet and drawn my body erect, I could not help fearing a little that the rock might split off and let me down; and what a down -- more than three thousand feet! Still my limbs did not tremble, nor did I feel the least uncertainty as to the reliance to be placed on them. My only fear was that a flake of the granite, which in some places showed joints more or less open and running parallel with the face of the cliff, might give way. After withdrawing from such places excited with the view I had got, I would say to myself, 'Now don't go out on the verge again.' But in the face of Yosemite scenery cautious remonstrance is vain; under its spell one's body seems to go where it likes, with a will over which we seem to have scarce any control.

    After a mile or so of this memorable cliff work I approached Yosemite Creek, admiring its easy, graceful, confident gestures as it comes bravely forward in its narrow channel, singing the last of its mountain songs on its way to its fate, -- a few rods more over the shining granite, then down half a mile in snowy foam to another world, to be lost in the Merced, where climate, vegetation, inhabitants, all are different. Emerging from its last gorge, it glides in wide lace-like rapids down a smooth incline into a pool, where it seems to rest and compose its gray, agitated waters before taking the grand plunge; then slowly slipping over the lip of the pool basin it descends another glossy slope with rapidly accelerated speed to the brink of the tremendous cliff, and with sublime, fateful confidence springs out free in the air.

    I took off my shoes and stockings, and worked my way cautiously down alongside the rushing flood, keeping my feet and hands pressed firmly on the polished rock. The booming, roaring water rushing past close to my head was very exciting. I had expected that the sloping apron would terminate with the perpendicular wall of the valley, and that from the foot of it where it is less steeply inclined I should be able to lean far enough out to see the forms and behavior of the fall all the way down to the bottom. But I found that there was yet another small brow over which I could not see, and which appeared to be too steep for mortal feet. Scanning it keenly, I discovered a narrow shelf about three inches wide on the very brink, just wide enough for a rest for one's heels. But there seemed to be no way of reaching it over so steep a brow.

    At length, after careful scrutiny of the surface, I found an irregular edge of a flake of the rock some distance back from the margin of the torrent. If I was to get down to the brink at all, that rough edge, which might offer slight finger-holds, was the only way. But the slope beside it looked dangerously smooth and steep, and the swift, roaring flood beneath, overhead, and beside me was very nerve-trying. I therefore concluded not to venture farther, but did nevertheless. Tufts of artemisia were growing in clefts of the rock near by, and I filled my mouth with the bitter leaves, hoping they might help to prevent giddiness. Then, with a caution not known in ordinary circumstances, I crept down safely to the little ledge, got my heels well planted on it, then shuffled in a horizontal direction twenty or thirty feet until close to the outplunging current, which by the time it had descended thus far was already white. Here I obtained a perfectly free view down into the heart of the snowy, chanting throng of comet-like streamers into which the body of the fall soon separates.

    While perched on that narrow niche I was not distinctly conscious of danger. The tremendous grandeur of the fall in form and sound and motion acting at close range smothered the sense of fear, and in such places one's body takes care for safety on its own account. How long I remained down there, or how I returned? I can hardly tell. Anyhow, I had a glorious time, and got back to camp about dark, enjoying triumphant exhilaration, soon followed by dull weariness. Hereafter I'll try to keep away from such extravagant, nerve-straining places. Yet such a day is well worth venturing for. My first view of the High Sierra, first view looking down into Yosemite, the death-song of Yosemite Creek, and its flight over the vast cliff, each one of these is of itself enough for a great lifelong landscape fortune -- a most memorable day of days--enjoyment enough to kill, if that were possible.

    July 16. -- My enjoyments yesterday afternoon, especially at the head of the fall, were too great for good sleep. Kept starting up last night in a nervous tremor, half-awake, fancying that the foundation of the mountain we were camped on had given way, and was falling into Yosemite Valley. In vain I roused myself to make a new beginning for sound sleep. The nerve-strain had been too great, and again and again I dreamed I was rushing through the air above a glorious avalanche of water and rocks. One time, springing to my feet, I said, 'this time it is real -- all must die, and where could mountaineer find a more glorious death.'

    July 20. -- Our shepherd is a queer character, and hard to place in this wilderness. His bed is a hollow made in red, dry-rot, punky dust beside a log which forms a portion of the south wall of the corral. Here he lies with his wonderful, everlasting clothing on, wrapped in a red blanket, breathing not only the dust of the decayed wood but also that of the corral, as if determined to take ammoniacal snuff all night after chewing tobacco all day. Following the sheep, he carries a heavy six-shooter swung from his belt on one side, and his luncheon on the other. The ancient cloth in which the meat, fresh from the frying-pan, is tied, serves as a filter through which the clear fat and gravy juices drip down on his hip and leg in clustering stalactites. This oleaginous formation is soon broken up, however, and diffused and rubbed evenly into his scanty apparel, by sitting down, rolling over, crossing his legs while resting on logs, etc., making shirt and trousers water-tight and shiny.

    His trousers in particular have become so adhesive with the mixed fat and resin, that pine-needles, thin flakes and fibres of bark, hair, mica-scales, and minute grains of quartz, hornblende, etc., feathers, seed, wings, moth and butterfly wings, legs and antennae of innumerable insects, or even whole insects such as the small beetles, moths, and mosquitoes, with flower-petals, pollen dust, and indeed bits of all plants, animals, and minerals of the region, adhere to them, and are safely imbedded, so that, though far from being a naturalist, he collects fragmentary specimens of everything, and becomes richer than he knows. His specimens are kept passably fresh too by the purity of the air and the resiny bituminous beds into which they are pressed. Man is a microcosm; at least our shepherd is, or rather his trousers. These precious overalls are never taken off, and nobody knows how old they are, though one may guess by their thickness and concentric structure. Instead of wearing thin they wear thick, and in their stratification have no small geological significance.

    Besides herding the sheep, Billy is the butcher, while I have agreed to wash the few iron and tin utensils, and make the bread. Then, these small duties done, by the time the sun is fairly above the mountain-tops I am beyond the flock, free to rove and revel in wildness all the big, immortal days.

    Sketching on the North Dome. It commands views of nearly all the valley, besides a few of the high mountains. I would draw everything in sight,-- rock, tree, and leaf. But little can I do beyond mere outlines, -- marks with meanings like words, readable only to myself; yet I sharpen my pencils and work on as if others might possibly be benefited. Whether these picture-sheets are to vanish like fallen leaves or go to friends like letters, matters not much, for little can they tell to those who have not themselves seen similar wildness, and like a language have learned it.

    No pain here, no dull empty hours, no fear of the past, no fear of the future. These blessed mountains are so compactly filled with God's beauty, no petty personal hope or experience has room to be. Drinking this champagne-water is pure pleasure, so is breathing the living air, and every movement of limbs is pleasure, while the whole body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all one's flesh, like radiant heat, making passionate ecstatic pleasure-glow not explainable. One's body then seems homogeneous throughout, sound as a crystal.

    Perched like a fly on this Yosemite dome, I gaze and sketch and bask, oftentimes settling down into dumb admiration without definite hope of ever learning much, yet with the longing, unresting effort that lies at the door of hope, humbly prostrate before the vast display of God's power, and eager to offer self-denial and renunciation with eternal toil to learn any lesson in the divine manuscript.

    It is easier to feel than to realize, or in any way explain, Yosemite grandeur. The magnitudes of the rocks and trees and streams are so delicately harmonized, they are mostly hidden. Sheer precipices three thousand feet high are fringed with tall trees growing close like grass on the brow of a lowland hill, and extending along the feet of these precipices a ribbon of meadow a mile wide and seven or eight long that seems like a strip a farmer might mow in less than a day. Waterfalls five hundred to one or two thousand feet high are so subordinated to the mighty cliffs over which they pour, they seem like wisps of smoke, gentle as floating clouds, though their voices fill the valley and make the rocks tremble. The mountains, too, along the eastern sky, and the domes in front of them, and the succession of smooth, rounded waves between, swelling higher, with dark woods in their hollows, serene in massive, exuberant bulk and beauty, tend yet more to hide the grandeur of the Yosemite temple, and make it appear as a subdued, subordinate feature of the vast harmonious landscape. Thus every attempt to appreciate any one feature is beaten down by the overwhelming influence of all the others. And as if this were not enough, lo, in the sky arises another mountain-range with topography as rugged and substantial-looking as the one beneath it, -- snowy peaks and domes and shadowy Yosemite valleys, -- another version of the snowy Sierra, a new creation, heralded by a thunderstorm.

    How fiercely, devoutly wild is Nature in the midst of her beauty-loving tenderness, -- painting lilies, watering them, and caressing them with gentle hand; going from flower to flower like a gardener, while building rock-mountains and cloud-mountains full of lightning and rain. Gladly we run for shelter beneath an overhanging cliff, and examine the reassuring ferns and mosses, gentle love-tokens growing in cracks and chinks. Daisies too and ivesias, confiding wild children of light too small to fear. To these one's heart goes home, and the voices of the storm become gentle.

    Now the sun breaks forth, and fragrant steam arises. The birds are out singing on the edges of the groves. The west is flaming in gold and purple, ready for the ceremony of the sunset, and back I go to camp with my notes and pictures, the best of them printed in my mind as dreams. A fruitful day, without measured beginning or ending. A terrestrial eternity. A gift of good God.

    Wrote to my mother and a few friends, mountain hints to each. They seem as near as if within voice-reach or touch. The deeper the solitude the less the sense of loneliness, and the nearer our friends. Now bread and tea, fir bed and good-night to Carlo, a look at the sky lilies, and death-sleep until the dawn of another Sierra to-morrow.

    July 21. -- Sketching on the dome, -- no rain; clouds at noon about quarter filled the sky, casting shadows with fine effect on the white mountains at the heads of the streams, and a soothing cover over the gardens during the warm hours.

    Saw a common housefly and a grasshopper and a brown bear. The fly and grasshopper paid me a merry visit on the top of the dome, and I paid a visit to the bear in the middle of a small garden meadow between the dome and the camp, where he was standing alert among the flowers as if willing to be seen to advantage. I had not gone more than half a mile from camp this morning when Carlo, who was trotting on a few yards ahead of me, came to a sudden, cautious standstill. Down went tail and ears, and forward went his knowing nose, while he seemed to be saying, 'Ha, what's this? A bear, I guess.' Then a cautious advance of a few steps, setting his feet down softly like a hunting cat, and questioning the air as to the scent he had caught, until all doubt vanished. Then he came back to me, looked me in the face, and with his speaking eyes reported a bear near by; then led on softly, careful like an experienced hunter not to make the slightest noise, and frequently looking back as if whispering, 'Yes, it's a bear; come and I'll show you.'

    Presently we came to where the sunbeams were streaming through between the purple shafts of the firs, showing that we were nearing an open spot; and here Carlo came behind me, evidently sure that the bear was very near. So I crept to a low ridge of moraine boulders on the edge of a narrow garden meadow, and in this meadow I felt pretty sure the bear must be.

    I was anxious to get a good look at the sturdy mountaineer without alarming him; so drawing myself up noiselessly behind one of the largest of the trees, I peered past its bulging buttresses, exposing only a part of my head; and there stood neighbor Bruin within a stone-throw, his hips covered by tall grass and flowers, and his front feet on the trunk of a fir that had fallen out into the meadow, which raised his head so high that he seemed to be standing erect. He had not yet seen me, but was looking and listening attentively, showing that in some way he was aware of our approach. I watched his gestures, and tried to make the most of my opportunity to learn what I could about him, fearing he would catch sight of me and run away. For I had been told that this sort of bear, the cinnamon, always ran from his bad brother man, never showing fight unless wounded or in defense of young.

    He made a telling picture, standing alert in the sunny forest garden. How well he played his part, harmonizing in bulk and color and shaggy hair with the trunks of the trees and lush vegetation, as natural a feature as any other in the landscape. After examining at leisure, noting the sharp muzzle thrust inquiringly forward, the long shaggy hair on his broad chest, the stiff erect ears nearly buried in hair, and the slow heavy way he moved his head, I thought I would like to see his gait in running, so I made a sudden rush at him, shouting and swinging my hat to frighten him, expecting to see him make haste to get away. But to my dismay he did not run or show any sign of running. On the contrary he stood his ground, ready to fight and defend himself, lowered his head, thrust it forward, and looked sharp and fierce at me. Then I suddenly began to fear that upon me would fall the work of running; but I was afraid to run, and therefore, like the bear, held my ground.

    We stood staring at each other in solemn silence within a dozen yards or thereabouts, while I fervently hoped that the power of the human eye over wild beasts would prove as great as it is said to be. How long our awfully strenuous interview lasted I don't know, but at length in the slow fullness of time he pulled his huge paws down off the log, and with magnificent deliberation turned and walked leisurely up the meadow, stopping frequently to look back over his shoulder to see whether I was pursuing him, then moving on again, evidently neither fearing me very much nor trusting me. He was probably about five hundred pounds in weight, a broad rusty bundle of ungovernable wildness, a happy fellow whose lines have fallen in pleasant places. The flowery glade in which I saw him so well, framed like a picture, is one of the best of all I have yet discovered, a conservatory of Nature's precious plant people. Tall lilies were swinging their bells over that bear's back with geraniums, larkspurs, columbines, and daisies brushing against his sides. A place for angels, one would say, instead of bears.

    July 23. -- Another midday cloudland, displaying power and beauty that one never wearies in beholding, but hopelessly unsketchable and untellable. What can poor mortals say about clouds? While a description of their huge, glowing domes and ridges, shadowy gulfs and canons and feather-edged ravines is being tried, they vanish, leaving no visible ruins. Nevertheless these fleeting sky-mountains are as substantial and significant as the more lasting upheavals of granite beneath them. Both alike are built up and die, and in God's calendar difference of duration is nothing. We can only dream about them in wondering, worshiping admiration, happier than we dare tell even to friends who see furthest in sympathy, glad to know that not a crystal or vapor particle of them, hard or soft, is lost, -- that they sink and vanish only to rise again and again in higher and higher beauty. As to our own work, duty, influence, etc., concerning which so much fussy pother is made, it will not fail of its due effect, though like a lichen on a stone we keep silent.

    July 24. -- Clouds at noon occupying about half the sky gave half an hour of heavy rain to wash one of the cleanest landscapes in the world. How well it is washed! The sea is hardly less dusty than the ice-burnished pavements and ridges, domes and canons, and summit peaks plashed with snow like waves with foam. How fresh the woods are and calm after the last films of clouds have been wiped from the sky. A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing its branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. 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. Yonder to the eastward of our camp-grove stands one of Nature's cathedrals hewn from the living rock, almost conventional in form, about two thousand feet high, nobly adorned with spires and pinnacles, thrilling under floods of sunshine as if alive like a grove-temple, and well named 'Cathedral Peak.'

    Even Shepherd Billy turns at times to this wonderful mountain-building, though apparently deaf to all stone-sermons. Snow that refused to melt in fire would hardly be more wonderful than unchanging dullness in the rays of God's beauty. I have been trying to get him to walk to the brink of Yosemite for a view, offering to watch the sheep for a day, while he should enjoy what tourists come from all over the world to see. But though within a mile of the famous valley, he will not go to it, even out of mere curiosity.

    'What,' says he, 'is Yosemite but a canon, -- a lot of rocks, -- a hole in the ground, -- a place dangerous about falling into, -- a d---d good place to keep away from?'

    But think of the waterfalls, Billy, -- just think of that big stream we crossed the other day, falling half a mile through the air, -- think of that and the sound it makes. You can hear it now like the roar of the sea.'

    Thus I pressed Yosemite upon him, like a missionary offering the gospel, but he would have none of it. 'I would be afraid to look over so high a wall,' he said. 'It would make my head swim; there is nothing worth seeing anyway, only rocks, and I see plenty of them here. Tourists that spend their money to see rocks and falls are fools, that's all. You can't humbug me. I've been in this country too long for that.'

    Such souls, I suppose, are asleep, or smothered and befogged beneath mean pleasures and cares.

    July 26. -- How boundless the day seems as we revel in these storm-beaten sky-gardens amid so vast a congregation of onlooking mountains. Strange and admirable it is that the more savage and chilly and storm-chafed the mountains, the finer the glow on their faces and the finer the plants they bear. The myriads of flowers tingeing the mountain-top do not seem to have grown out of the dry, rough gravel of disintegration, but rather they appear as visitors, a cloud of witnesses to Nature's love in what we in our timid ignorance and unbelief call howling desert. The surface of the ground, so dull and forbidding at first sight, besides being rich in plants, shines and sparkles with crystals, -- mica, hornblende, feldspar, quartz, and tourmaline. The radiance in some places is so great as to be fairly dazzling, keen lance-rays of every color flashing, sparkling in glorious abundance, joining the plants in their fine, brave beautywork,--every flower, every crystal, a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.

    From garden to garden, ridge to ridge, I drifted enchanted, now on my knees gazing into the face of a daisy, now climbing again and again among the purple and azure flowers of the hemlocks, now down into the treasuries of the snow, or gazing afar over domes and peaks, lakes and woods, and the billowy glaciated fields of the upper Tuolumne, and trying to sketch them. In the midst of such beauty, pierced with its rays, one's body is all one tingling palate. Who wouldn't be a mountaineer! Up here all the world's prizes seem nothing.

    July 30. -- Ants, flies, and mosquitoes seem to enjoy this fine climate. A few house-flies have discovered our camp. The Sierra mosquitoes are courageous and of good size, some of them measuring nearly an inch from tip of sting to tip of folded wings. Though less abundant than in most wildernesses, they occasionally make quite a hum and stir, and pay but little attention to time or place. They sting anywhere, any time of day, wherever they can find anything worth while, until they are themselves stung by frost. The large jet-black ants are only ticklish and troublesome when one is lying down under the trees. Noticed a borer drilling a silver fir; ovipositor about an inch and a half in length, polished and straight like a needle. When not in use it is folded back in a sheath, which extends straight behind like the legs of a crane in flying. This drilling, I suppose, is to save nest-building and the after care of feeding the young. Who would guess that in the brain of a fly so much knowledge could find lodgment? How do they know that their eggs will hatch in such holes, or after they hatch, that the soft helpless grubs will find the right sort of nourishment in silver-fir sap?

    This domestic arrangement calls to mind the curious family of gall-flies. Each species seems to know what kind of plant will respond to the irritation or stimulus of the puncture it makes, and the eggs it lays, in forming a growth that not only answers for a nest and home, but also provides food for the young. Probably these gall-flies make mistakes at times like anybody else, but when they do there is simply a failure of that particular brood, while enough to perpetuate the species do find the proper plants and nourishment. Many mistakes of this kind might be made without being discovered by us. Once a pair of wrens made the mistake of building a nest in the sleeve of a workman's coat, which was called for at sundown, much to the consternation and discomfiture of the birds. Still the marvel remains that any of the children of such small people as gnats and mosquitoes should escape their own and their parents' mistakes, as well as the vicissitudes of the weather and hosts of enemies, and come forth in full vigor and perfection to enjoy the sunny world. When we think of the small creatures that are visible, we are led to think of many that are smaller still, and lead us on and on into infinite mystery.

    August 2. -- Clouds and showers about the same as yesterday. Sketching all day on the North Dome until four or five o'clock in the afternoon, when, as I was busily employed thinking only of the glorious Yosemite landscape, trying to draw every tree and every line and feature of the rocks, I was suddenly and without warning possessed with the notion that my friend Professor J. D. Butler, of the State University of Wisconsin, was below me in the valley, and I jumped up full of the idea of meeting him, with almost as much startling excitement as if he had suddenly touched me to make me look up.

    Leaving my work without the slightest deliberation, I ran down the western slope of the dome and along the brink of the valley-wall, looking for a way to the bottom, until I came to a side canon, which, judging by its apparently continuous growth of trees and bushes, I thought might afford a practical way into the valley, and immediately began to make the descent, late as it was, as if drawn irresistibly. But after a little, common sense stopped me and explained that it would be long after dark ere I could possibly reach the hotel, that the visitors would be asleep, that nobody would know me, that I had no money in my pockets, and moreover was without a coat. I therefore compelled myself to stop, and finally succeeded in reasoning myself out of the notion of seeking my friend in the dark, whose presence I only felt in a strange, telepathic way. I succeeded in dragging myself back through the woods to camp, never for a moment wavering, however, in my determination to go down to him next morning.

    This I think is the most unexplainable notion that ever struck me. Had some one whispered in my ear while I sat on the dome, where I had spent so many days, that Professor Butler was in the valley, I could not have been more surprised and startled. Then I was leaving the university he said, 'Now John, I want to hold you in sight and watch your career. Promise to write me at least once a year.' I received a letter from him in July at our rest camp in the Hollow, written in May, in which he said that he might possibly visit California some time this summer, and therefore hoped to meet me. But inasmuch as he named no meeting-place, and gave no directions as to the course he would probably follow, and as I would be in the wilderness all summer, I had not the slightest hope of seeing him, and all thought of the matter had vanished from my mind until this afternoon, when he seemed to be wafted, bodily almost, against my face. Well, to-morrow I shall see, for, reasonable or unreasonable, I feel I must go.

    August 3. -- Had a wonderful day. Found Professor Butler as the compass needle finds the pole. So last evening's telepathy, transcendental revelation, or whatever else it may be called, was true; for strange to say, he had just entered the valley by way of the Coulterville Trail, and was coming up the valley past El Capitan when his presence struck me. Had he then looked toward the North Dome with a good glass when it first came in sight, he might have seen me jump up from my work and run toward him. This seems the one well-defined marvel of my life of the kind called supernatural; for, absorbed in glad Nature, spirit-rappings, second-sight, ghost-stories, etc., have never interested me since boyhood, seeming comparatively useless and infinitely less wonderful than Nature's open, harmonious, songful, sunny, everyday beauty.

    This morning when I thought of having to appear among tourists at a hotel, I was troubled because I had no suitable clothes, and at best am desperately bashful and shy. I was determined to go, however, to see my old friend after two years among strangers; got on a clean pair of overalls, a cashmere shirt, and a sort of jacket, the best my camp wardrobe afforded, tied my notebook on my belt, and strode away on my strange journey, followed by Carlo. I made my way through the gap discovered last evening, which proved to be Indian Canon. There was no trail in it, and the rocks and brush were so rough that Carlo frequently called me back to help him down precipitous places.

    Emerging from the canon shadows, I found a man making hay on one of the meadows, and asked him whether Professor Butler was in the valley. 'I don't know,' he replied, 'but you can easily find out at the hotel. There are but few visitors in the valley just now. A small party came in yesterday after noon, and I heard some one called Professor Butler, or Butterfield, or some name like that.'

    In front of the gloomy hotel I found a tourist party adjusting their fishing tackle. They all stared at me in silent wonderment as if I had been seen dropping down through the trees from the clouds, mostly, I suppose, on account of my strange garb. Inquiring for the office, I was told it was locked, and that the landlord was away, but I might find the landlady, Mrs. Hutchings, in the parlor. I entered in a sad state of embarrassment, and after waiting in the big, empty room, and knocking at several doors, the landlady at length appeared, and in reply to my question said she rather thought Professor Butler was in the valley, but to make sure she would bring the register from the office.

    Among the names of the last arrivals, I soon discovered the professor's familiar handwriting, at the sight of which bashfulness vanished; and having learned that his party had gone up the valley, probably to the Vernal and Nevada Falls, I pushed on in glad pursuit, my heart now sure of its prey. In less than an hour I reached the head of the Nevada Canon at the Vernal Falls, and just outside of the spray discovered a distinguished-looking gentleman who, like everybody else I have seen to-day, regarded me curiously as I approached. When I made bold to inquire if he knew where Professor Butler was, he seemed yet more curious to know what could possibly have happened that required a messenger for the professor, and instead of answering my question he asked with military sharpness, 'Who wants him?'

    'I want him,' I replied, with equal sharpness.

    'Why! Do you know him?'

    'Yes,' I said. ' Do you know him?'

    Astonished that any one in the mountains could possibly know Professor Butler, and find him as soon as he had reached the valley, he came down to meet the strange mountaineer on equal terms, and courteously replied, 'Yes, I know Professor Butler very well. I am General Alvord, and we were fellow students in Rutland, Vermont, long ago, when we were both young.'

    'But where is he now?' I persisted, cutting short his story.

    'He has gone beyond the falls with a companion to try to climb that big rock, the top of which you see from here.'

    His guide now volunteered the information that it was the Liberty Cap Professor Butler and his companion had gone to climb, and that if I waited at the head of the fall I would be sure to find them on their way down. I therefore climbed the ladders alongside the Vernal Fall, and was pushing forward, determined to go to the top of Liberty Cap Rock in my hurry rather than wait, if I should not meet my friend sooner. So heart-hungry at times may one be to see a friend in the flesh, however happily full and carefree one's life may be.

    I had gone but a short distance, however, above the brow of the Vernal Fall, when I caught sight of him in the brush and rocks, half-erect, groping his way, his sleeves rolled up, vest open, hat in his hand,--evidently very hot and tired. When he saw me coming, he sat down on a boulder to wipe the perspiration from his brow and neck; and taking me for one of the valley guides, he inquired the way to the fall ladders. I pointed out the path, marked with little piles of stones, on seeing which he called his companion, saying that the way was found. But he did not yet recognize me. Then I stood directly in front of him, looked him in the face, and held out my hand.

    He thought that I was offering to assist him in rising. 'Never mind,' he said.

    Then I said, 'Professor Butler, don't you know me?'

    'I think not,' he replied; but catching my eye, sudden recognition followed, and astonishment that I should have found him just when he was lost in the brush and did not know that I was within hundreds of miles of him. 'John Muir, John Muir, where have you come from?'

    Then I told him the story of my feeling his presence when he entered the valley last evening when he was four or five miles distant, as I sat sketching on the North Dome. This of course only made him wonder the more. Below the foot of the Vernal Fall the guide was waiting with his saddlehorse, and I walked along the trail chatting all the way back to the hotel, talking of school-days, friends in Madison, of the students, how each had prospered, etc., ever and anon gazing at the stupendous rocks about us, now growing indistinct in the gloaming, and again quoting from the poets, -- a rare ramble.

    It was late ore we reached the hotel, and General Alvord was awaiting his arrival for dinner. When I was introduced he seemed yet more astonished than the professor at my descent from cloudland, and my going straight to my friend without knowing in any ordinary way that he was even in California. They had come on direct from the East, had not yet visited any of their friends in the State, and considered themselves undiscoverable.

    As we sat at dinner the general leaned back in his chair, and looking down the table thus introduced me to the dozen guests or so, including the staring fisherman mentioned above.

    'This man, you know,' he said, ' came down out of these huge trackless mountains, you know, to find his friend Professor Butler here, the very day he arrived. And how did he know he was here? He just felt him, he says. This is the queerest case of Scotch farsightedness I ever heard of,' etc., etc. While my friend quoted Shakespeare: 'More things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' 'As the sun ere he has risen sometimes paints his image in the firmament, e'en so the shadows of events precede the events, and in to-day already walks to-morrow.'

    Had a long conversation after dinner over Madison days. The Professor wants me to promise to go with him some time on a camping trip in the Hawaiian Islands, while I tried to get him to go back with me to camp in the High Sierra. But he says, 'Not now.' He must not leave the general; and I was surprised to learn they are to leave the valley to-morrow or next day. I'm glad I'm not great enough to be missed in the busy world.

  • See Part I
  • See Part II
  • See Part IV


    "My First Summer in the Sierra (Part III), The Atlantic Monthly; March 1911; Volume 107, No. 3.
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