John Muir


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May 24 is memorable as the Ice day. In the forenoon of this bleak snowy day we enjoyed our first view of ocean ice, the southmost of the great polar pack only a few hours sailing to the N. of St. Paul Island, which is not far from its southern limit. Strong northerly winds, however, sometime carry fragments considerably south of this. It always reaches lower on the American side. Norton Sound is seldom clear before the middle or end of June. Large quantities of river ice are poured from the Kuskquin and Yukon on the breaking up of those rivers, and mingled with the ocean ice. This being a favorable year from the comparative mildness of last winter we hope to find Behring Strait open by the end of this month. This ice is now drifting past in ragged wasting masses from a foot to 100 feet in breadth, bluish white in color, looking mostly like coarse granular snow with pale blue stratified bases under water. We ran past one flat cake on which lay a small white seal which kept its place, though we were within 15 or 20 feet of it. Guns were then brought into the pilot house and loaded. In a few minutes another seal was discovered riding leisurely on its ice raft and shot. The engine was stopped, the boat lowered, and a sailor stepped on the ice and threw the heedless fellow into the boat. It seemed to pay scarce any attention to the steamer, and when wounded by the first ball that was fired, it did not even then seek to escape, which surprised me since those among the fiords north of Wrangel and Sitka are so shy that my Indians, as we glided toward them in a canoe, seldom were successful in getting a shot. The seal was nearly white, a smooth oval bullet without an angle anywhere, large, prominent, human-like eyes, and long whiskers. It seemed cruel to kill it, and the most wonderful to us, as we shivered in our overcoats, that it could live happily enough to grow fat and keep full of warm red blood with water at 32o for its pasture field and wet sludge for its bed. In half an hour we descried another, a large one, which we also shot as it lay at ease on a large cake against which the waves were beating. Like the other two it waited until we were within easy range and allowed itself to be shot without the slightest effort to escape. This one proved to be a fine specimen of the saddle-back species,

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Original journal dimensions: 11 x 18.5 cm.

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Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library

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John Muir, journals, drawings, writings, travel, journaling, naturalist