John Muir


[Catharine Merrill]


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[Original returned to Miss M. Merrill] Portage, Aug. 12th, ‘67 Dear friend [Catherine Merrill]:

I should have answered your kind letter long ago, but the blessed misfortune of many friends you speak of has hindered me. I wish you could see our beautiful plants, and scenery, but I suppose you have seen a great deal that, strange, to say, is more beautiful. On setting out to walk with Nature we at once find a beautiful piece of stream bank, or prairie, or retired lakelet, which on examination we find to contain a thousand times more of beauty than heart could wish. And we are full gladly willing to be fenced in upon it for all eternity. We go farther and find still greater beauty, still grander scenery, increasing in intensity by countless gradations, the lowest of which is ten thousand fold too great for our comprehension, and we are lost, bewildered, overwhelmed in the immortal, shoreless, fathomless ocean of God ' s beauty. We have had our last communion with Muir’s lake. It was glassy and calm, and full of shadows in the twilight. I have said farewell to nearly all my friends too, and will soon leave home once more for I know not where. You would enjoy a visit to that rooky hill we have spoken of so often, though a mere pimple, I suppose, to the Alps you have enjoyed. The most of Wisconsin is not more than 250 or 300 ft. above Lake Mich[igan], or about l000 ft. above the sea. The Blue Mounds, a few m[ile]s west of Madison, are only about 1670 feet above the sea -the highest land in Wis. Our Observatory is perhaps 150 or 180 ft. above the plain. It is a broad hill with long sloping sides, and with a great pile of whinstone blocks cast upon the top. It is not quite bare in any part, for its sides are clothed richly in white and black oaks, and the rocky summit has gray cedars and rock ferns. A great many ravines run up against the rocks on every side; these have the Desmodium's, and the harebells and many precious ferns and rare peculiar plants of their own. One of these ravines have evidently been scooped out for a fern garden. 120,000 of my favorite Osmundas live there, all regularly planted at equal distances. The highest point commands a landscape circle of about 1000 sq. miles, composed of 10 or 12 m[ile]s of the Fox river, Lake Puckawa and five or six nameless little lakes- marsh and woodland exquisitely arranged and joined-and about 200 hills, and some prairie. Ah! these are the gardens for me! There is landscape gardening! While we were there, clouds of every texture and size were held above its flowers and moved about as needed, now increasing, now diminishing, lighter and deeper shadow and full sunshine in small and greater pieces, side by side as each portion of the great garden required. A shower too was guided over some miles that required watering. The streams and the lakes and dens and rains and clouds in the hand of God weighed and measured myriads of plants daily coming into life, every leaf receiving its daily bread--the infinite work done in calm effortless omnipotence. But now , Miss Merrill, we must leave our garden , and I am sure I do it with more pain than I should ever feel in leaving all the jardins des plants in the world, where poor exiled flowers from all countries are mixed and huddled in royal pens. I will send your literary paper in a day or two. I have had only fragments of time to work upon it, one hour one week, another hour the next, etc., besides I never sat down to describe a flower before, so I will be satisfied whether you mend it or reject it all together.

Yours most cordially, John Muir [Envelope addressed Merrill & Co., For Miss Catherine Merrill, Indianapolis, Indiana]

1) Rib Hill in Marathon County, 1940 ft., is now regarded as the highest point. 2) [Scotch] for a dingle or wooded vale.


[Portage, Wisc.]

Date Original

1867 Aug 12


Original letter dimensions: 20.5 x 12.5 cm

Resource Identifier


File Identifier

Reel 01, Image 1112

Copyright Statement

The unpublished works of John Muir are copyrighted by the Muir-Hanna Trust. To purchase copies of images and/or obtain permission to publish or exhibit them, see

Owning Institution

University of the Pacific Library Holt-Atherton Special Collections. Please contact this institution directly to obtain copies of the images or permission to publish or use them beyond educational purposes.

Copyright Holder

Muir-Hanna Trust

Copyright Date


Page Number

Page 1


John Muir, correspondence, letters, author, writing, naturalist, California, correspondent, mail, message, post, exchange of letters, missive, notes, epistle