John Muir


John Muir


[Joseph] Le Conte


[Letterhead:] Pen Sentinel Hotel, A. C. BLACK, Proprietor.

Yo Semite Valley April 27th 1872

Dear Le Conte, I am sorry that I have nothing more


Cross section of Sierras & of their zone of Arctic plants at the foot of the ranges as it perhaps existed at the opening of glacial spring time & of the same as it now does exist near the summit of the [illegible] range a short distance from glaciers. -

definite &, detailed than the following to offer on this interesting & important subject of plant distribution to wh you have kindly called my attention. There is no portion of Sierra Nevada history more unmistakeably written than that of her climate from the beginning of the departure of her glaciers to the present time, Bear in mind this important truth The glacial period is not yet ended in this portion of the range, & whatever of doubt may continue to exist concerning the past condition & position of Arctic plants on this western slope their present position


& character may be positively known. Glaciers retired slowly & steadily from the foot of the range to their present shadowy hidings in the summits, where they are now dying one by one. These glaciers seem to have been followed by a [illegible] of arctic plants of varying width from first to last At least they are now so followed. Because Arctic plants now exist in bogs of some portion of the Alps, they are supposed to be the remnants of a once generally diffused Cold flora". I doubt the truth of this hypothesis, but will offer no opinion but I am very sure that no Arctic flora ever was generally diffused over the western slope of this portion of the Sierra Nevada since the formation of glaciers. The different members of this flora followed their food-procuring glaciers just as young chickens follow the scratchings & cluckings of a mother hen, they ascended the mtns with a breadth of numbers measured by the breadth of climate bearable by them & by the kind & quantity of their food - heat & dro[illegible] behind -, ice & uneatable rocks before. They are now about as broadly diffused as they ever were. The glacial year of this mtn' slope with its plants & seasons, may be compared with its common year of twelve months. In spring the snowline creeping upward

[letterhead:] Pen Sentinel Hotel, A. C. BLACK, Proprietor.

Yo Semite Valley, _______________, 187

is followed by flowers & grasses, & the deer that feed on them. In like manner in the glacial Springtime, the ice line moved steadily upward followed by Arctic plants as closely as climate & food would allow, just as deer follow the snow line, & furthermore as deer often times linger in small herds about favorite meadows & shelters while the main deer zone goes unhalting to the summits, so have small herds of Arctic plants lingered in sheltering bogs of grateful shade supplied by special climate conditions of small range But as plants of the sun year are not simultaneously diffused over all the mtns from foothills to summits, but are compelled to move upward in a bell between two fires of frost & glazing drouth, So these ascending arctic plant nations of cori[illegible], Kalmias, Ledums, Gentians, peat-mosses, dwarf willows etc, have been driven to their present position in a narrow zones between similar f[illegible] instead of being allowed simultaneous-universal empire. Between the [semitropical?] grasses & woody compositions of the foothills & the brown-spiked frostloving sedges that bloom at the foot of the glaciers, there is no unoccupied space, - not even a line of separation to mark off this complex flora into distinct chapters. The different floral zones are spliced & welded - they blend as do zones of color in


the rainbow. This glorious plant kingdom resting on the glowing plains of the San Joaquin & Sacramento, & slanting up against the Sierras into the cool Summit skies, is a cloud constantly emulating on one side, con- stantly dissolving on the other, & the representable members of its belted principalities, are the knowledge- loving people, a series of plumm[illegible] wh sound the depths of plant history & proclaim the progress of their splendid combinations from season to season of the glacial year. I will not pursue the few thoughts I have on this beautiful subject farther at this time, but I promise you I will study it more & gather a bouquet in better form, in after days. In the mean time you know that always I am glad & thankful for your suggestions wh are so suited to my tastes & opportunities - Also you know how gladly I will see you this summer when we will burn our thoughts to- gether instead of struggling with distance & the pen ghosts of language, Cordially yrs John Muir


New Sentinel Hotel Yo Semite Valley

Date Original

1872 Apr 27


Original letter dimensions unknown.

Resource Identifier


File Identifier

Reel 02, Image 0805

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

The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley. 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



4 pages



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