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My First Summer in the Sierra (Classic, Nature, Penguin) Paperback – March 3, 1987

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Editorial Reviews Review

John Muir, a young Scottish immigrant, had not yet become the famed conservationist whom he liked to call "John o' the Mountains" when he first trekked into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada not long after the end of the Civil War. Having caught a glimpse of such magical places as Tuolumne Meadows and El Capitan, Muir ached to return, and in the summer of 1869 he signed on with a crew of shepherds and drove a flock of 2,500 woolly critters toward the headwaters of the Merced River.

The diary he kept while tending sheep forms the heart of My First Summer in the Sierra; published in 1911, it enticed thousands of Americans to visit the Yosemite country. The book is full of the concerns Muir would later voice as America's foremost preservationist and wildlands advocate, which would bear fruit in the creation of several national parks and monuments. And it resounds with Muir's nearly pantheistic regard for the natural world: with celebrations of the Sierra's lizards that "dart about on the hot rocks, swift as dragonflies," its mountain lions and tall trees and fierce thunderstorms and bears; with Muir's overarching awe for places that civilization had yet to tame. Though perhaps a little purple by modern standards, Muir's book continues to inspire readers to seek out such places for themselves and make them their own--and as such it stands among the enduring classics of environmental literature. --Gregory McNamee


“As more and more of us grow aghast at what we have done to the world we started with, Muir’s reverence and devotion will seem keenly germane, and our regret may be transmuted into a fight for the future.” —Edward Hoagland

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Product Details

  • Series: Classic, Nature, Penguin
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (March 3, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140255702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140255706
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,386,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
In the summer of 1869, John Muir was invited to help herd sheep in summer pasture near Yosemite, California. This book is Muir's diary of his first summer in the Sierra Nevada. In the spirit of an ascetic mystic, Muir recorded his feelings of wonder as he discovered the awesome beauty of the Sierra Nevada. I held my breath and chuckled as Muir described his encounters with the denizens of the woods. "Having heard that a black bear will run from his bad brother man and deciding I would like to see his gait in running, I rushed and shouted at a large cinnamon colored fellow. To my dismay, he did not run. On the contrary, he stood his ground, ready to fight. Then, I suddenly began to fear upon me would fall the work of running." For the reader or nature lover who would like to become more familiar with the father of the conservation movement, this is the book to read.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By K.S.Ziegler on July 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
John Muir was born in 1838 and at a young age emigrated from Scotland with his family to a Wisconsin farm. He escaped the hard labor of the farm and his father's backward Biblical obsessions by displaying great powers of visualization. From principles learned from books, he whittled and fashioned barometers, thermometers, clocks and other marvels from the barest of materials. But he repudiated his inventive genius, which could have made him rich, after an industrial accident left him temporarily blinded; and he took off for the wilderness to discover plants and the natural world.

This book is a journal account of Muir's finding a place for himself in Yosemite after some dangerous wandering through the hazards of reconstruction in the South after the Civil War. It's a book of discovery. Although flocks of sheep like Muir's employer's were allowed to overrun backcountry meadows, and gold miners had ripped apart the lower river beds, the Sierras then were still a place that had many aspects that had not yet been explored or understood. The backcountry was much more vulnerable to exploitation (though in many ways less endangered) than today, but there was freer and unfettered access for one who sought out it's mysteries and wanted to learn. This book shows Muir's powers of visualization ("the eye within the eye") in his beginning to formulate the role that glaciers play in the formation of the landscape. No one at that time had come to a solid understanding of what had made Yosemite Valley. And, although it might seem quite clear in retrospect, it took a strong mind of one who up until that time had been adrift in the world, a wanderer who studied plants, to visualize his theories and make them known to the world.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Wesley L. Janssen VINE VOICE on January 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is the third of Muir's books that I have read, the first in several years. Gretel Ehrlich writes in her introduction: "[Muir] wrote: 'I should like to live here always. It is so calm and withdrawn while open to the universe in full communion with everything good.' And in so speaking of the place he loved best, described himself."
In the inimitable way of John Muir, the book is essentially a journal, in this case of his thoughts and travels in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the summer of 1869. On one day (July 15) he tells of his great desire to look directly down the thousands of vertical feet of Yosemite Falls leading him into a death-defying pilgrimage onto shear rock: "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 . . . 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." I'll guess that Muir is the only person to have ever positioned himself on the lip of this great waterfall. Having earlier read of his mountaineering and storm-reveling experiences, even this is not quite surprising. On another day he writes of encountering a brown bear, a housefly, and a grasshopper, and treats them all as being equally fascinating.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on April 16, 2007
Format: School & Library Binding
Gretel Ehrlich provides the introduction. It is noted that John Muir walked first, wrote later. In 1868 he was thirty years old and had walked a thousand miles. He was a seeker in self-exile such as D.H. Lawrence, Rockwell Kent, and Basho. Muir chronicles a rite of passage. The summer described began in June, 1869. Forty-one years later the account was pieced together.

Muir worked for Mr. Delaney as a sheepherder. He had a St. Bernard dog as a companion. Mr. Delaney encouraged Muir to sketch and pursue his naturalist studies. He was to learn that sheep cannot be governed when hungry. Bushes are stripped. The sheep resemble locusts in their destructive potential.

Two kinds of squirrels are evident, the Douglas and the California Gray. The wood rat is more like a squirrel than a rat. He bulds large striking looking houses. Sheep camp bread is baked in Dutch ovens. Descriptions of silver firs, Sierra juniper, yellow and sugar pines, Douglas spruce, sequoia, hemlock, and dwarf pines appear in the account of the summer. Nature is extravagant. The group follows the Yosemite trail.

Mules flee from bears, and dogs want to. Bears are very shy. Indian patience is required to see them. Making sheep cross a stream is a challenge. Once one goes in, the others push in pell-mell. Lake Tenaya was named for one of the chiefs of the Yosemite tribe. Sierra mosquitoes are nearly an inch long. Sierra chipmunks are arboreal and squirrel-like. Grouse and woodpeckers are abundant in the vicinity of Mount Hoffman.

On August third Muir found Professor Butler, his teacher at the University of Wisconsin, because, sensing his presence, John Muir made inquiries at the only hotel in the area and was directed to go to the Vernal Falls.
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