Almost three decades ago I first walked in the redwood forest north of San Francisco named after the author of this work. It was only within the last year that I read one of his classic works:
My First Summer in the Sierra: with Illustrations
, based on his experiences the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1869. At the time I noted an earlier work, a substantial saunter that he took commencing a couple years prior to becoming fascinating with Yosemite.
John Muir starts his walk on September 01, 1867, at Louisville, KY. He is 29 years old. He has a wonderful obsession with the flora of this earth, is knowledgeable of same, and knows many of the scientific names for the various species. He intends to go due south, wanting to see tropical flora, and eventually hopes to float down the Amazon River. It is an ambitious undertaking; he has only limited financial resources, so he lives “rough,” often sleeping in the open fields, only in his clothes.
In a month he managed to walk not to the Gulf, but to the Atlantic Ocean, at Savannah, GA, by October 08. Thus he is managing about 20 miles a day. He notes the microclimate around the non-commercialized entrance to Mammoth Cave, KY that permits ferns to flourish. His route takes him over the Appalachian Mountains, through Murphy, NC, and on to Blairsville, Gainesville, Athens and Augusta, GA. The towns, however, are of little interest. It is the topography of the land, and its flora that compel his attention. Crossing the last, most eastern chain of mountains, the Blue Ridge, he contemplates the vast pine forest that stretches eastward to the sea.
Different eyes might have focused on the devastating impact of the Civil War on the lands that he passed through. He does mention it from time to time. There is concern about lawlessness, and roving bands that might rob him (his principle protection is that he has virtually nothing to steal.) There is the dire poverty of the mountain people who nonetheless offer him their hospitality. In Georgia he talks to a plantation owner de-rusting his cotton gin, after he had hidden it in a pond, so Sherman’s troops would not destroy it. But overall, the Civil War is deep-background, and although he spends almost a week sleeping in a grave yard just outside Savannah, waiting for additional supplies and money to arrive by post, he never mentions what Sherman’s troops did to that city.
Tillandsia usneoides is the scientific name for Spanish moss. He considers two rows of 100-year old oak trees, touching at the top, over a road, draped in Tillandsia, with the low light of morning to be the most spectacular sight he had ever seen (of course, this is prior to Yosemite.) Walking is much more difficult in the coastal lowlands, with the swamps, snakes and alligators, so he elects to take a steamer to Florida. Lush tropical flora, the vines and the palm trees, enchant him. Despite the swamps, he does walk across the peninsula, and finally reaches the Gulf of Mexico, culminating a walk of that titled 1000 miles. Shortly thereafter, while working in a sawmill he contracts malaria, and almost dies.
It takes him a couple of months to recover. He catches another boat, not for South America, per the original plan, but to Cuba. He says he’d love to walk the 700-800 mile mountain spine (as would I!), but was still too weak from the malaria. Therefore, he confines his enjoyment of tropical flora to Havana, and immediate environs. Next he catches a sloop loaded with oranges for NYC, where he catches another boat that reverses the journey, takes him to the isthmus of Panama, which he crosses, and catches another boat for California. The last chapter concerns his time in “Twenty Hill Hollow”, which is before Yosemite, describing the much different ecology of California, based on much less rain.
I could use a good 1000-mile walk myself to shake off the weighted cares of our civilization. For Muir’s inspiration, 5-stars.