Reading Log: John Muir’s ‘My First Summer in the Sierra,’ In Which Very Many Plants are Described

I have recently come into a more nuanced appreciation of the out-of-doors, simultaneously for mature and more childlike than that which had previously characterized my experience in the wilderness, which might be summed up as putting up with the out-of-doors in order to do cool things like bouldering. While I can’t seem to shake my drive to do in favor of a more meditative approach, I’ve been spending more time on old Forest service roads and on little-maintained trails in the Sequoia and Southern Sierras, with no other goal than making a particular pass or peak before running out of daylight. In short, I’m long overdue a dose of John Muir.

Muir is a beloved figure here in California. My home states boasts a huge swath of the Pacific Crest Trail -most notably, the John Muir trail, 250 miles of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, stretching from Mt. Whitney to Yosemite National Park. Muir is also a bit of a legend, an intellectual who found God in the ancient paths of glaciers and who would set off on any indeterminate journey into the wilderness with nothing more than a bag of bread and a long coat. Well, that and his notebooks.

The writings are journalistic, displaying that compacted dropping of superfluous articles (“Dog is not in camp,” and “Morning finds camp empty”) so characteristic of narrative journal entries. While his meticulous recording of flora and cloud cover might find me reading faster, his excitement is so genuine it’s often contagious. Earnestness and excitement carry the reader on, and his more reflective passages pair well with his chronological day-keeping.

Recommendation: Go for it. Unless you hate the outside, or people being excited about it. Unrelated recommendation -take a hike.

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