Clinton L. Merriam
Aug. 20 th '71
Mr. Clinton L. Merriam
Dear Sir, I am much obliged to you for your letter of Aug. 2d, which is so toned with the spirit of friendliness.I have no objection to your publishing what I have told you of the discovery of Yosemite Creek glacier, trusting as I do in your judgement, and kindness of heart, but had I written forthe public I should have been more full and exact in my figures and descriptions.
I returned a few days ago from Mono Lake and the High Sierra back of Yosemite, having spent a most delightful and instructive month, but I will start again for the same region tomorrow because in the expedition of last month I was not entirely free, being joined to a party that was not congenial.So hard is it to dwell even here, in the very grandest of the Lord's mountain gardens without some kind of human company and sympathy that we are glad to take the first that offers, but tomorrow I go alone and shall read my half-studied lessons without disturbance. I mean to spend a week or so upon the Yosemite glacier carefully tracing all of its tributaries and mapping their direction and depth, etc. as fully as the evidence which is readable to me will allow. I shall then study for a few days about Lake Tenaya, then proceed to the summit mountains in the region of the Mono pass — Castle Peak, Mts. Dana, Gibbs, and Lyell, carefully noting the relationship of the granite to the grand capping of metamorphic slate, which relationship bears directly upon the question of the nature of granite and its origin. Whether
it is an eruptive-igneous rock or a sedimentary rock in the last stages of metamorphism. The magnificent sections of all kinds of granite with every variety of folding and cleavage make this a very favorable locality for the study of this great question.
I mean also in this ramble to give some attention to the ancient terraces of Mono lake, some of which are said to be600 ft. above the present level.
I will endeavor also to gather some reliable data with a view to determining the relative age of the glaciers of the eastern slope in this region and the volcanic cones; on my return I will explore that portion of the South Fork of the Tuolumne river which flows between the Upper Tuolumne meadows and the Hetch Hetchy valley. If the winter snows do not hinder me I shall also explore the basin of the Pohono and Illilouette and trace the smaller tributaries of the Nevada stream to their highest sources in the Lyell group. Upon my return from these rambles I shall willingly send you such facts as I think will most interest you.
You ask whether I would be willing to engage in scientific labors for the Smithsonian Institut[ion] or some other institution with similar aims. I answer, Yes. I have kept up a more or less regular course of study for the last ten years and have during that time supported myself by any kind of toil that came in my way, herding sheep, fanning, millwrighting, horse breaking, schoolteaching, etc, but if I could give my whole time to science I should be happy indeed, and no amount of hardship
and labor could crush or outweary me. I should like to collect plants or minerals or insects or to prepare a work upon the trees of this coast, or to take part in any exploring expedition in which there was work that I was capable of doing.
You request a sketch of my life. Well, here are the outlines.
I was born thirty-two years ago at Dunbar Scotland where the romantic Forth dies in the sea.
Twenty-one years ago my father emigrated to America with his family, landing at N. York. He groped his way westward to Wisconsin and settled upon the edge of a rushy, lily lake where no bird or plant was trodden or disturbed, in one of the dearest and most adorned of all the earthly mansions of the Lord. Here I lived eleven years reading Nature in the fields, and books by the winter fireside.
At the age of twenty-two I left the old homestead with all of its ferny meadows and broidered hills and entered the State University at Madison where I remained four years pursuing a select course mostly in mathematics and Natural Science. Since that time I have lived a life of free unmeasured terrestrial glory in God's gardens of unconfused beauty and grandeur, and my glorious existence was discharmed only when the want of bread and clothing compelled me to creep doubtfully forth into the mixed glare and clang of this uneasy Anglo-Saxon civilization.
I walked alone through the high cold swamps of Canada West, and the dark level forests of Arbor Vitae which enclose them where dwells sweet Linnea and Calypso and Calopogon; also the sunny orchard woods of Wisconsin, and the waving flowery
prairies of Illinois, the close dark forest levels of Indiana and the glorious bossy green woods of Kentucky and Tennessee, and N. Carolina, and down through the gates of the Blue Ridge to the black sheeted levels of pine in Georgia; and through the unberdered half-made swamps and magnificent tropic tangles of Florida. Also I spent a month among the palms and vines of sunny coral-edged Cuba.
For the last three years I have been in this grandest of God's mountain temples, and only Providence my guide shall say when I shall go out from it.
I will give you no tedious details. You will now understand my tendencies and instincts and if you can at any time help me to some scientific task where I can accomplish some more definite and generally useful results, I shell be grateful.
I have spoken without reserve feeiling that you are a friend.
With kindest regards to yourself and wife, I am
I should like to see what you have published concerning our valley.
via Big Oak Flat]
1871 Aug 20
Original letter dimensions: 26.5 x 20.5 cm.
Muir, John, "Letter from John Muir to Clinton L. Merriam, 1871 Aug 20." (1871). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 1389.
Reel 02, Image 0495
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