John Muir


John Muir


[Jeanne C.] Carr


7. [Sept, 1874] Yosemite ValleyDear Mrs Carr. Here again are pine trees & the wind & living rock & water. Ive met two of my ousels on one of the peelbe ripples of the river where I used to be with them. Most of the meadow gardens are disenchanted & dead, yet I found a few mint spikes & asters & brave sunful golden rods & a patch of the tiny mimalas that has two spots on each lip The fragrance & the color o& the form, & the whole spiritual expression of golden rods are hopeful & strength = =giving beyond [ dug?] other flowers that I know a single spike is sufficient to heal unbelief & melancholy On leaving Oakland I was so excited over my escape that of course I forgot & left all the accounts I was to collect, No wonder & no matter. I’m beneath that grand old pine that I have heard so often in storms both in the night & day It sings grandly

[Page 2], every needle sun thrilled & shining & responding tunefully to the azure wind When I left I was in a dreamy ex= =hausted daze, Yet from mere habit or instinct I tried to observe & study. From the car window I watched the gradual transitions from muddy water, spongy tule, marsh & level field as we shot up the San Jose Valley, & marked as best I could the forms of the stream canons as they opened to the plain, & the outlines of the undulating hillocks & headlands between Interest increased at every mile until it seemed un= bearable to be thrust so flyingly onward even towards the blessed Sierras. I will study them yet. free from time & wheels, When we turned suddenly & dashed into the narrow mouth of the Liver= =more Pass I was looking out of the right side of the car. The window was closed an account of the cinders & smoke from the locomotive All at once my eyes clasped a big hard 3.rock not a hundred yds away, every line of wh’ is as strictly & outspokenly glacial as any of the most alphabetic of the high & young Sierra, that one sure glacial word thrilled & overjoyed me more than you will ever believe Town smokes & shadows had not dimmed my vision for I had passed this glacial rock twice before without reading its meaning. As we proceeded the general glacialness of the range became more & more apparent until we reached Pleasantown [Pleasanton] where once there was a grand Mer de glace. Here the red sun went down in a cloudless glow & I leaned back happy & weary & possessed with a lifeful of noble problemsAt Lathrop we suppered & changed cars The last of the daylight had long faded & I sauntered away from the din while the baggage was being transferred The Young moon hung like a sickle

[Page 3]

4above the shorn wheatfields, Ursa major pictured the northern sky The Milkyway curved sublimely through the broad cast stars like some grand celestial moraine with planets for boulders, & the whole night shone resplendent adorned with that calm imperishable beauty it has worn unchanged from the beginning I slept at Turlock & next morning faced the Sierra & set out through the sand afoot the freedom I felt was exhilarating & the burning heat & thirst & faintness could wh make it less. Before I had walked ten miles I was wearied & footsore but it was real earnest work & I liked it. Any kind of simple natural destruction is preferable to the numb dumb apathetic deaths of a town 00691

[Page 4]

5Before I was out of sight of Turlock I found a handful of the glorious [ hemizania virgata?] & a few of the patient steadfast eriogonum that I learned to love around the slopes of Twenty Hill Hollow. While I stood with these old dear friends we were joined by a lark & in a few seconds more Harry Edwards came flapping by with spotted wings Just think of the completeness of that reunion Twenty Hill Hollow Hemizouia, Eriogonum, Lark, Butterfly & I, & lavish outflows of genuine Twenty Hill Hollow sun gold. I threw down my coat & one shirt in the sand forgetting Hopeton & heedless that the sun was becoming hotter every minute I was wild once more & let my watch warn & point as it pleased. Heavy wagon loads of wheat had been hauled along the road & the wheels had sunk deep & left smooth beveled furrows in the sand. Upon the smooth slopes of these sand furrows I soon observed a most beautiful & varied embroidery evidently [deleted: the] tracks of some

[Page 5]

kind At first I thought of mice but soon saw they were too light & delicate for mice. Then a tiny lizard darted into the stubble a head of me & I carefully examined the track he made, but it was entirely unlike the fine print embroidery I was studying. However I knew that he might make very different tracks if walking leisurely therefore I determined to cutch one & experiment. I found out in Florida that lizards however swift are short winded so I gave chase & soon captured a tiny gray fellow & carried him to a smooth sand bed where he could embroider without getting away into grass tufts or holes. He was so wearied that he couldn’t skim & was compelled to walk & I was excited with delight in seeing an exquisitely beautiful strip of em= =broidery about 5/8 of an inch wide drawn out in flowing curves behind him as from a loam. The riddle was solved I knew that mountain bowlders moved in music so also do lizards & their written music printed by their feet moved so swiftly as to be invisiblecovers the hot sands with beauty wherever they go. But my sand embroidery lesson was by no means done. I speedily discovered a yet more delicate pattern on the sands woven into that of the lizards. I examined the strange combination of bars & dots – no five toed lizard had printed that music I watched narrowly down on my knees following the strange & beautiful pattern along the wheel furrows & out into the stubble Occasionally the pattern would suddenly end in a shallow pit half an inch across & an eighth of an inch deep I was fairly puzzled, picked up my bundle & trudged discontentedly away but my eyes were hungrily awake & I watched all the ground. At length a gray grasshopper rattled & flew up & the truth flashed upon me that he was the complementary embroiderer of the lizard. Then followed long careful observation. but I never could see the grasshopper until he jumped, & after he

[Page 6]

alighted he invariably stood watching me with his legs set ready for another jump in case of danger. Nevertheless I soon made sure that he was my man for I found that in jumping he mad the shallow pits I had observed at the termination of the pattern I was studying. but no matter how patiently I waited he wouldn’t [underline: walk] while I was sufficiently near to observe they are so nearly the color of the sand I therefore caught one & lifted his wing covers & cut off about half of each wing with my pen knife, & carried him to a favorable place on the sand. At first he did nothing but jump & make dimples but soon became weary & [underlined: walked] in common rhythm with all his six legs. & my interest you may guess while I watche the embroidery – the written music laid down in a beautiful ribbon-like strip behind [illegible] 00691 9I glowed with wild joy as if I had found a new glacier – copied specimens of the precious fabric into my note book & strode away with my own feet sinking with a dull craunch craunch craunch in the hot gray sand glad to believe that the dark & cloudy vicissitudes of the Oakland period had not dimmed my vision in the least Surely Mother Nature pitied the poor boy & showed him pictures Happen what would [deleted: my] fever thirst, or sun stroke my joy for that day was complete. yet I was to receive still more, A train of curving tracks with a line in the middle next fixed my attention & almost before I had time to make a guess concerning this author, a small hawk came shooting down vertically out of the sky a few steps ahead of me & picked up something in his talons, after rising thirty or forty feet over head, he dropped it by the roadside as if to show me what it was. I ran forward

[Page 7]10& found a little bunchy field mouse & at once suspected him of being embroiderer number three. After an exciting chase through stubble [ heaps?] & weed thickets I wearied & captured him without being bitten, & turned him free to make his mark in a favorable sand bed. He also embroidered better than he knew & at once claimed the authorship of the new track work. I soon learned to distinguish the pretty sparrow track from that of the Magpie & lark with their three delicate trenches & the straight scratch behind made by the back curving claw dragged loosely like the spur of a Mexican Vacqaer & the cushioned elastic feet of the hare frequently were seen mixed with the pattering scratchy prints of the squirrel. I was now wholly trackful I fancied I could see the air whirling in dimpled like from sparrow & lark wings. Earthquake bowlders descending in a song of curves snowflakes glinting songfully luther Thither 00691 11“The water in music the oar forsakes” The air in music the wing forsakes All things move in music & write it The mouse lizard & grasshopper sing together on the Turlock sands, sing with the morning stars Scarce had I began to catch the eternal harmonies of nature when I heard the hearty god daming din of the mule drive, dust whirled in the sun gold & I could see the [deleted: illegible] sweltering mules leaning forward dragging the heavily piled wheat wagons deep sunk in the sand, my embroidery perished by the mile but grasshoppers never wearied nor the gray lizards nor the larks & the coarse confusion of man was speedily healed About noon I found a family of grangers feeding & remembering your ad[illegible]tians anent my health requested leave to join them. My head ached with fever & sunshine & I could [ not?] dare the ancient brown bacon nor the bean & cakes but water & splendid buttermilk came

[Page 8]

12in perfect affinity & made me strong Towards evening after passing through miles of blooming h[illegible] I reached [illegible] on the edge of the oak fringe of the Merced. Here all were yellow & woe begone with malarious fever I rested one day spending the time in examining the remarkable flat water= eroded Valley of the Merced & the geological sections wh it offers. In going across to the river I had a suggestive time breaking my way through tangles of blackberry & brier rose & willow. I admire delicate plants that are well prickled & therefore took my scratched face & hands pat[illegible] I bathed in the sacred stream. seeming to catch all its mountain tones while it softly mumbled & rippled over the shallows of brown peebles. The whole river back to its icy sources seemed to rise in clear vi[illegible] with its countless cas= cades & falls & blooming meadows & gardens. Its pine groves too & the winds that play them, all appeared & sounded 13In the cool of the evening I caught Browny & cantered across to the Tuolumne with [ hemizunia?] A breeze swept in from your golden gate regions over the passes & across the plains fanning the hot ground & drooping plants, & refreshing every beast & bird & weary pladding [ wave?]. It was dark ere I reached my old friend Delaney but was instantly recognized by my voice, & welcomed in the old good uncivilized way not to be misunderstood all the region adjacent to the Tuolumne River where it sweeps out into the plain after its long eventful journey in the mountains is exceedingly picturesque, round terraced hills brown & yellow with grasses & compositae & adorned with open groves of darkly ferlaged live oak There hills are grouped in a most open tranquil manner & laid upon a smooth level base of purple plain while the river banks is lined with rock

[Page 9]

14of great beauty & variety in wh the river has swept & curled shifting from side to side retreating & returning as determined by flood & the gradual erosion & removal of drift beds formerly laid down A few miles above here at the village of La Grange the wild river has made some astonishing deposits in its young days through wh it now flows with the manners of stately old age apparently disclaiming all knowledge of then, but a thousand thousand bowlders gathered from many a moraine swashed & ground in potholes record their history & tell of white floods of a grandeur not easily conceived Noble sections nearly a hundred feet deep are laid bare like a book by the mining company. Water is drawn from the river 00691 15several miles above & conducted by ditches & pipes & made to play upon these deposits for the gold they contain Thus the Tuolumne of today is compelled to unravel & lay bare its own ancient history wh’ is a thousandfold more important than the handfuls of gold sand it chances to contain I mean to return to these magnificent records in a week or two & turn the gold disease of the La Grangers to account in learning the grand old story of the Sierra flood period. If these hundred laborious hydraulicers were under my employ they could not do me better service & all along the Sierra flank thousands of strong arms are working for me incited by the small golden bai[illegible] Who shall say that I am not rich? Up through the purple foothills to Coulterville where I met many hearty shaggy mountaineers glad to see me. Strange to say the Overland studies have been read & discussed in the most unlikely places

[Page 10]

16Some numbers have found their way through the Bloody Canon pass to Mono. In the evening Black & I rode together up into the sugar pine forests & on to his old ranch in the moonlight The grand priest like pines held their arms above us in blessing The wind sang songs of welcome The cool glaciers & the running crystal fountains were in it I was no longer [underlined: on] but [underlined: in] the mountains home again, & my pulses were filled again On & on in white moonlight spangles on the streams shadows in rock hollows & briery ravines Tree architecture on the sky more divine than ever Stars in [deleted: among] their spires, leafy Mosaic in meadow & bank. Never had the Sierra [deleted: it] seemed so unexhaustable mile on mile onward in the forest through groves old & young, pine tassels over arching & brushing both cheeks at once, the chirping of crickets & frogs only deepened the stillness. About 8 o’clock a strange 17mass of tones came surging & waving through the pines. “That’s the death song” said Black as he reined up his horse to listen. Some Indian is dead, soon two glaring watch fires shone red through the forest marking the place of [deleted: their] congregation The fire glare & the wild railing came with indescribable unpresarveness through the still dark woods. I listened eagerly as the weird curves of woe swelled & cadenced now rising steep like glacial precipices now swooping low in polished slopes Falling bowlders & rushing streams & wind tones caught from rock & tree I were in it. As we at length rode away & the heaviest notes were lost in distance I wandered that so much of mountain nature should well out from such a source Miles away we met Indian groups slipping through the shadows on their their way to join the death wail Farther on a harsh grunting & growling seemed to come from the opposite bank of a hazely brook along wh we rode. What?

[Page 11]

18 Hush! That’s a bear gasulated Black in a gruff bearish undertone Yes said some rough old bruin is sauntering this fine night seeking some wayside sheep lost from migrating flocks Of course all night sounds otherwise unaccountable are accredited to bears, On ascending a sloping hillock less than a mile from the first we heard another grunting bear but whether or no daylight would transform our bears to pigs may well be counted into the story. Past Bawer Cave & along a narrow winding trail in deep shadow so dark had to throw the reins on Browning’s neck & trust to his skill for I could not see the ground & the hillside was 00691 19steep. A fine bright tributary of the Merced sang far beneath us as we climbed higher higher through the hazels & dogwoods. That fringed the rough black holes of spruces & pines We were now nearing the old camping ground of the Pilot Peak region where I learned to know the large nodding lilies (L pardalium) so abund- -ant along these streams, & the groups of alder shaded cataracts so characteristic of the North Merced Fork Moonlight whitened all the long fluted slopes of the opposite bank, but we rode in continuous shadow The rush & gurgle & prolonged a [underlined: a a a]h of the stream coming up sifting into the wind was very solemnly impressive. It was here that you first seemed to join me I reached up as Brownie carried me underneath a Big Douglass Spruce & plucked one of its long plumy sprays wh’ brought you from the Oakland dead

[Page 12]

20in a moment You are more spruce then pine though I never definitely knew it ti’ll now Miles & miles of tree scripture along the sky, a bible that will one day be read the beauty of its letters & sentences have burned me like fire through all these Sierra seasons Yet I cannot interpret their hidden thoughts. They are terrestrial expressions of sun pure as water & snow Heavens! listen to the wind song. I’m still writing beneath that grand old pine in Blacks Yard & that other companion scarcely less while back of wh’ I sheltered during the earth= =quake is just a few yards beyond the shadows of their boles lie like charred logs on the gray sand while half the yard is embrodered with their branches & leaves. There goes a wood pecker with an acorn to drive into its thick bark for winter, & well it may gather its stores for I can myself detect winter in the wind 21Few nights of my mountain life have been more eventful than that of my ride in the woods from Coulterville where I made my reunion with the winds & pines. It was eleven o clock when we reached Blacks ranch I was weary & soon died in sleep How cool & vital & recreative was the hale young mountain air. An higher higher up into the holy of holies of the woods Pure white Custrous clouds overshadowed the Massive Congregations of Silver fir & pine. We entered & a thousand living arms were waved in solemn blessing. An infinity of mountain life How complete is the absorption of ones life into the spirits of mountain woods No one can love or hate an enemy here, for no one can conceive of such a creature as an enemy. Nor can one have any distinctive love of friends The dearest & best of you all seemed of no special account mere trifles

[Page 13]

22Hazel green water famous among mountaineers distilled from the pores of an ancient moraine-spiced & toned in a maze of fragrant roots Winter nor summer warm or cold it shadows over shadows keep its fountains ever cool Moss & felted leaves guard from spring & autumn frosts while a wooly robe of snow protects from the intenser cold of winter Bears deer birds & Indians love the water & nuts of Hazel green alike. While the pine squirrel reigns supreme & haunts its incomparable groves like a spirit Here a grand old glacier swept over from the Tuolumne ice fountains into basin of the Merced leaving the Hazel green moraine for the food of her corning trees, & fountains of her predestined waters. 00691 23Along the Merced divide to the ancient glacial lake bowl of Cranes Flat was ever fir or pine more perfect what groves! What Combinations of green & silver gray & glowing white of glinting sunbeams. Where is leaf or limb awanting & is this the upshot of the so called “Mountain glooms & mountain storms If so is Sierra forestry aught beside an out flow of Divine Love. These round bottomed grooves sweeping across the divide & down whose sides our horses canter with accelerated speed are the pathways of ancient ice-currents & it is just where these crushing glaciers have borne down most heavily that the greatest loveliness of grove & forest appears. A deep canon filled with blue air now comes in view on the right. That is the valley of the Merced & the highest rocks visible through the trees belong to the Yosemite Valley. More miles of glorious forest then out into free light & down down down

[Page 14]

into the groves & meadows of Yosemite The new wagon road has opened out some very striking views both up & down the Valley. How simple all the problems are that I have been working last winter Yet how hopeless seems the work of opening other eyes, by mere words No one will ever know the grandeur of this Sierra Sculpture in its entirety without the same study on the spot No one of the rocks seems to call me now, nor any of the distant mountains Surely this Merced & Tuolumne Chapter of my life is done. I have been out on the river bank with your letters. How good & wise they seem to be. You wrote better tan you knew All together they form a precious volume whose sentences are more intemately connected with my mountain work than any one will ever be able to appreciate An ansel came as I sat reading alighting in the water with a delicate & graceful glint on his bosom How pure is the morning light on the great gray wall & how marvalleous the subdued lights of the moon. The nights are wholly enchanting. I will not try tell the Valley. yet I feel that I am a stranger here I have been gathering you a handful of leaves Show them to dear Keith & give some to Mrs McChesney They are probably the last of Yosemite that I will ever give you I have not seen Mrs H & hope I shall not. I will go out in a day or so Farewell. I seem to be more re[illegible]ly leaving you here than there Keep these long pages for they are a kind of memorandum of my walk after the strange Oakland epoch & I may want to copy some of them when I have leisure. Remember me to my friends. I trust you are not now so sorely over laden Good night Keep the golden rod & the Yarron. they are Auld lange syne Ever lovingly yours John Muir


Yosemite Valley


Original letter dimensions: 25 x 40 cm.

Resource Identifier


File Identifier

Reel 03, Image 0179

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, click here to view the Holt-Atherton Special Collections policies.

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



14 pages



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.