Sitka July 15th 1879
Dear Friends three
The glacial, botanical, & general landscape developments are on the grandest & most telling scale imaginable not only here but all the way up from Puget Sound. With the exception of a few hours sail in two or three places open to the ocean on one side the whole voyage has been in a narrow river-like channel mostly between bold impressive mountains very densely tree clad down to the waters edge cascades pouring down on either side from the snowy summits. It was hard to believe that we were sailing on salt water so perfectly river-like are the narrow winding channels. The average elevation of the snow I estimated at about 2,000 feet above the sea. Small local glaciers were seen nestling back in shadowing amp[illegible]here & here where the peaks rose higher in Avalanche producing clusters If you turn to the charts I sent you you may form some conception of the narrowness & extreme picturesqueness of the strange waterway eroded by the northern ice through these mtn ranges – Straits, channels reaches narrow islands capes pro[illegible] inlets fords innumerable in most surpassing variety, & compositions of striking impressiveness Our way layup the Strait of Georgia,
 Johnson Strait Fifty Hugh Sound, Fisher Channel, Tol[illegible] Channel, Fraser Reach, Grenville Channel etc from channel to channel every on of these marvelous pathways eroded by the glaciers & not appreciably changed by post glacial agents. Even the rocks along the shores are scarce at all wasted by the beating of the waves because these arms of the sea have but just come into existence These waves have but just begun to beat But dear me How comprehensively impossible it is for anything like a fair presentation of the subject to be made here. I have been gazing nearly all these nightless days as the wondrous landscapes passed in review - & have scarce written a note. We arrived here this morning at Fort Wrangall we stopped half a day It is a rickety falling scatterment of houses dead & decomposing set & sunken in a blacky oozy bog the crooked trains of wooden huts wriggling along either side of streets obstructed by wolfish curs, hideous Indians, logs, stumps & erratic boulders The mud between a little too thick to sail in & far too soft to walk int. But How beautiful are the mountains beyond laden with glaciers & the many wooded islands circling around the bay to seaward. Sitka is a queer old townlet. Yankee Russian & Indian Architecture
oddly commingled on good rising glacial ground. The Sound is fairly dotted with islands some of them more rocks tufter with Couifers, Merizies Spruce & Hemlock & Cypress. The green damp crowded leafy luxuriance of the woods on the level bottoms of the main island is is indescribably extravagant. Generation after generation of trees fall upon one another & waste to humus until moss & logs & leaves form a grass ten of twelve feet thick upon which the present forest is growing. In many places not a root of trees even 150 ft high touches the ground – [illegible] I mean. They are growing on a tangle of mossy decayed & decaying spongy logs – the constant wetness preventing fires. I noticed four trees today growing astride a prostrate trunk & that again on others now decayed. A section cut near the shore through the mass of roots & logs & humus for a fishing station made some strange developments. Dead stumps 75 ft high accumulate wet massy cushions of moss, & polypod[illegible] find their way up there & flourish on them & so do young hemlocks & spruces, making green lively gardens in the air. The direction of the flow of the ice that
eroded this harbor & brought the many islands about it into relief was nearly westward. The box was opened & mined into with a corkscrew & your health [illegible] many times on the way hither. We had missionaries many aboard only one to stay however. A young lady who I suppose was crossed in something or other & offered herself as a [convertor?] of these Indians about Fort Wrangall. To her I presented one bottle for purposes strictly missionary 16th Another lovely day. So cool so calm so bright. In an hour or two 4 P.M. we return to Fort Wrangall I mean to leave the California there & wait over one trip exploring the glaciers as far inland as possible The glacial phenomena are glorious all about here close to shore, far up the heights & at the bottom of the bays & inlets I hope to hear from you at Port Townsend where I hope to arrive in a month. W. T.
[in margin: Cordially Yours John Muir] [circled in margin: 1a]
1879 Jul 15
Original letter dimensions: 27 x 21 cm.
Muir, John, "Letter from [John Muir] to [Strentzel Family], 1879 Jul 15." (1879). John Muir Correspondence (PDFs). 495.
Reel 03, Image 1110
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