“No amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to know these mountains. As well seek to warm the naked and frost-bitten by lectures on caloric and pictures of flame. One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books.” JM
In three simple, expository lines Muir opened a window to his soul. He revealed that he was closest to God when he was in the mountains, and predating Zora Hurston,
(Their Eyes Were Watching God) indicated that you have to go there to know there.
It is likely that two of the many reasons that John Muir has attracted so many millions of Nature lovers are his ultra-exuberance for life and his holistic vision. Adding Shakespeare’s adage:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
thou canst not then be false to any man,”
Muir was honor-bound to reveal his frustration that the confining limits of even the finest version of the Homo sapiens’ vernacular precluded him from adequately describing the marvels, miracles and mysteries of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He made it very clear that all of his five senses were taxed vastly beyond the descriptive power of any words.
Following a large earthquake in Yosemite Valley he wrote: “It seemed to me that if all of the thunder I ever heard were condensed into one roar it would not equal this rock roar at the birth of a mountain talus. Think, then of the roar that arose to heaven when all of the thousands of ancient canyon taluses throughout the length and breadth of the range were simultaneously given birth.”
I don’t recall this description, but he was surely aware of the nearly overwhelmingly sweet smell of the Jeffrey Pine forests on a hot autumn afternoon. Or the delight of inviting fellow walkers to poke their noses into a Jeffrey or Ponderosa Pine and hear them respond: “It smells like butterscotch!” or “It smells like vanilla!”
One of his great pleasures was to dip his head into an icy-cold alpine stream and taste water that he described as more glorious than champagne. Gourmet food had no appeal to him and he embraced the precept; “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Muir’s world was an ongoing, enhanced tactile event. He felt wonder where others felt rocks. While camping in Yosemite, he felt rapture by walking in “creation’s dawn”…where, “the morning stars still sing together and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day.” But one of his great joys was to make a bed of freshly cut boughs of cedar, fir, hemlock or spruce, snuggle down under a single wool blanket and fall into a deep sleep with the feeling of; the peace of the mountains that transcends all human comprehension.
After Muir was nearly blinded in one eye due to an industrial accident he was directed to stay in a darkened room for one month. After the one-month-confinement he went for a walk in an Indiana woods and described beauty so intense that it created a deep visceral pain. The pain mysteriously subsided when he closed his eyes. The walk turned out to be perhaps the greatest epiphany of his life and he reckoned he would begin a 1,000-mile-walk and “say goodbye to mechanical inventions and study the inventions of God.” That singular event probably prepared him to see visions, marvels and wonders that others were not aware of. While in Yosemite, he often slept under a canopy of billions and billions of intensely brilliant stars. Each day he tried to single out one of the 8 million humanly visible colors that reflected, refracted and illuminated his beloved “Range Of Light.” While living (and preparing his journals for publication) in San Francisco, Muir was exposed daily to the social malaise of people living in the “lowlands.” He was keenly aware that his spiritual experiences could not be translated into words, which compelled him to dedicate his life to offering his thoughts as a form of literary enticement to encourage his readers to: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
(Photo credit: creationsdawn-WordPress.com)