- Paperback: 182 pages
- Publisher: J Missouri; Illustrated ed. edition (October 17, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781940777023
- ISBN-13: 978-1940777023
- ASIN: 194077702X
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 96 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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My First Summer in the Sierra: with Illustrations Paperback – October 17, 2013
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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.
It's this printing I have a problem with. The size of the book is awkward, and completely unnecessarily so because the blank margin space is huge. The print is big too, but it's also fuzzy and hard to read. Lots of wasted thick paper here (which will only make you feel guilty as you read about the beauty of the trees). All in all this feels similar to reading an instructional manual that was printed on a poorly calibrated home printer. There are other copies of this book available, I would recommend choosing one of them.
It's almost like poetry.