Wolfe, Linnie Marsh
From Cecelia Galloway Washington Hotel Portland, Oregon JOHN MUIR By Cecelia Galloway Not So Long Ago there was a man whose name and fame were known around the world. This man lived so close to Nature that he could hear her very heart beat. He knew her rooks and mountains, her trees and flowers, so intimately that he could read them as the rest of us read books. The story of the making of the world was like print to him, for he had eyes that saw, and ears that heard, and a heart that understood. He had a wonderful gift of words, so that in his telling the rest of us might understand also. He brought the woods and the mountains to people who could not go. He was nature's interpreter for those who do not know her language. That man was my uncle, John Muir. My first remembrance of anything at all is of John Muir playing with me as a child, and I must have been a very little girl for I remember I could walk under the table without bumping my head. The first letter I ever received was from him. He wrote it when I was born. I have it yet, faded ink on time-yellowed paper. He said he hoped they would not call me Patrickina, and fortunately they did not. He gave me the first book I ever had, a wonderful book about birds. I remember it had colored pictures, and I thought it the most beautiful book in the world. I read it over and over till I almost knew it by heart. We did not have many books in those days. John Muir loved the birds, as everyone knows who has read his story of the water ouzel. I remember him sitting on the side veranda of our house in Portage, Wisconsin, watching the birds coming to eat the berries on the big mulberry tree, some of them must have come a long distance,- orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and once we were delighted to see a scarlet tanager, a shy strange bird to make Its appearance in the city. They came every year when the berries were ripe. It was my uncle who first taught me to love the trees. I was a small girl when he told me the names of the trees that grew on my father's Wisconsin farm, the oaks, elms, maples, hickories, and the butternuts. He explained that each tree was different from its neighbors. Just as people are different from one another, and that like people they each have their own traits and whims and peculiarities. He told me about the different kinds of oaks,- the white oaks, the red oaks, the black oaks, the burr oaks, and the live oaks. He explained in language a little girl could understand that they were cousins to one another, aad he said that of all the leaves on all the oaks in the world there were never two exactly alike. All the trees remember John Muir, for he had a real affection and love for them. To him they had their own personalities and individualities, and to me they also have to this day. He taught me the names of all the wild flowers that grew there, too, and he admonished m to always call them by their right names. "For how would you like to be called by a name that didn't belong to you?" he said. He was especially interested in the great variety of wild orchids that grew on that farm,- the rose pogonia, the calopogan, the ladies' tresses, the rose-colored arethusa, and the cypripediums or lady slippers as we called them, pink and yellow, which grew in great profusion in the meadows. And there was one colony of tall stately pink and white lady slippers which grew in the deep shady woods by the creek, and which I kept hidden from everyone. My uncle said I must never pick them, for they were very rare in that locality, and must be allowed to grow undisturbed. They grew out of a carpet of mosses and little ferns by the side of a fallen tree. I had a little wild flower garden in a place whleh I called my own, where grew many varieties of wild violets,- yellow ones, several white ones, blue ones, and the beautiful birds-foot violets. I also had anemones, hepaticas, bloodroot, valerian, wild geraniums, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and one pink lady slipper which I tended with great care and persuaded to grow for me. Sometimes my uncle and I brought home something from the woods to plant in my garden. In the deep woods was a great rock standing solitary and alone among the tall trees. One side of it was abruptly perpendicular, but the other side was easy to climb, and on the top was a flat place where we could sit and eat our lunch. It was something of a curiosity, for there were no rocks like that anywhere in the neighborhood. How it got there nobody knew. My uncle said the glaciers must have brought it down in the ancient days from sonewhere far in the north, and had left it stranded alone in our woods. All around its base were ferns and vlowers. That was the "forest primeval." The woods had never been touched by white man, and the trees were tall and old and stately. But the Indians may have known it in the old days, for we used to sometimes pick up arrow heads in the fields round about, and up on the top of the hill at the edge of the woods was an Indian mound in the shape of a heart, with a circle of trees growing around it. My mother would never let anyone cut down those trees. In the dark heart of the woods was a spring in the bottom of what my uncle calles a pot-hole, made by the glaciers. There was a cold little pool there that had no inlet and no outlet, but was always full of cold water. Around its edge were reeds and cat-tails and blackberry vines, and on the steep sides sloping down to the pool were tall royal osmundii ferns almost as high as my head, tier above tier looking down at the little pool like people sitting at a theater. That fern-bordered pool was a curiosity, too, with its never-failing spring bubbling up from somewhere deep under the ground. My uncle said if one could go down deep enough they would find glacial ice still remaining there, the slow melting of which formed the spring and the pool. John Muir must have loved chlldren, for I tagged at his heels through the woods aad the marsh and the meadows of that fern like a little puppy. I learned about the birds and the squirrels and the chipmunks, and the woodchuck that sometimes sat at the door of his house in the stone wall by the red clover field, and once we saw a fox. It looked at us in startled surprise for a moment, and slipped out of sight as silently as it came. There was a sandy gravelly hillside in one of our pastures on which grew blue lupines and white clover and big patches of birds-foot violets. There were wild strawberries growing there, too, and once we found a whip-poor-will's nest with brown speckled eggs in it. It wasn't much of a nest, just a little hollow in the sand and gravel, and the mother bird and the eggs were almost the same color as the ground. I almost stepped on the bird before she flew out from under my feet, and ran away dragging her wings as if I had hurt her. But my uncle told me she was just pretending, to draw me away from her nest. But the great attraction of that gravelly hillside was the many curious things we found there among the gravel; petrified shells, far away from any water; a fragment of metallic stuff which my uncle told me had been thrown off from a passing meteor at some time; red and white striped carnelians; a moonstone; a fragment of a broken geode lined with purple amethyst crystals. There were all sorts of curious and interesting things to be found on that hillside, my uncle tried to explain them to me, and what the glaciers had done there, but I was too little to comprehend. It was only after I grew older that I began to understand. My mother had always loved curious stones, and beside the front steps she had a collection of them around a raised bed in which grew a tall white lily, and which had been found in various places on the farm. My uncle was looking at them one day, and his attention was attracted to a large round stone which looked as if it had been worn smooth by the action of water, when he took it in his hand it seemed very light for its size, and he said it must be hollow. He broke it open, and it was filled with golden-yellow crystals in hexagonal form. He said it was a geode. It must have been then that I began to realise the beauty and wonder of stones, a love that has never left me. But bye-and-bye my uncle went away on one of his long botanizing tours, and I grew up as little girls do. I didn't see him again for a long time. John Muir was my mother's brother. Her name was Sarah Muir. They were born in Dunbar, Scotland, a windy little city on the craggy coast of the North Sea, Dunbar has had its share of history and romance. It is only a few miles from Edinburgh, which Is surely the most romantic city in the world. Many of the grand and glorious and terrible and bloody deeds on the stormy tumultuous history of Scotland happened in and around Dunbar. There is perhaps no other country where a thousand years can seem so much like nothing, and the legends of Dunbar are lost in the dim traditions that go back more than a thousand years. What is left of Dunbar Castle stands on a high rocky point that juts out into the sea; a mass of ruined masonry, where John Muir climbed and played and dreamed when a little boy. The Castle dates back nearly a thousand years, and is more closely connected with Queen Mary than even Holyrood. In the old days everything happened, teen murdered, and pillaged, and burned, and fought, and loved, But nothing happens in Scotland any more, and the land is filled with ghosts and shadows that go walking up and down. The Earls of Dunbar were mighty nobles in their day, but their power vanished centuries ago. Unhappy Mary went to lay her lovely head on the block at Fotheringay. And the old Castle that had looked on the whole long tragic history of Scotland lies a shapeless mass of stones. How there is nothing left but ghosts and memories. It was here that my mother and my uncle were born. Would it be strange to think that all these things had an influence upon their youthful imagination? The very air they breathed was full of tragedy and romance. The ground they walked on had been trodden by countless unhappy feet. Even the stones had their histories. My Great-Grandfather Muir was a Scotchman, but my Great-Grandmother was English. Their son Daniel, John Muir's father and my Grandfather, was born in 1804 in Manchester, England. He left home when quite young to join the British Army. Later he purchased his discharge from the Army and eventually came to Dunbar, where he set and married my Grandmother. Grandmother Muir came from the very old stock of the Gilderoys, of early Scottish history and tradition. The name passed through several variations, some of the descendants keeping the original name, others taking the name of Gilroy, and still others the name of Gilrye. It was of this latter branch of the family tree that my Grandmother came; her father (my Great-Grandfather,} being David Gilrye, and her mother (my Great Grandmother}, being Margaret Hay, whose ancestors went back to the old days of the Scotch Covenanters. Their daughter Ann Gilrye married Daniel Muir. my mother was their second child, and John Muir was the third. Of my Grandfather Muir I remember very little, indeed I have only two distinct memories; one of his playing on his old violin, which he is said to have made himself, and of which he was very fond, at the old-Hickory Hill House of which my uncle has so often written; and the other a later memory of him at Christmas at the house in Portage, rushing out at the last minute with a big basket on his arm, and bringing it back filled with candy und toys for us children. The whole family of uncles and aunts and cousins used to gather at Grandmother Muir's house for Christmas. And I remember us all gathered around the wonderful Christmas tree in the parlor while Grandfather Muir told us all about Christmas, and what it meant, and took the gifts from the tree and handed them around to us with appropriate remarks. I recall him as a tall thin man, with blue eyes, and bearded face. My Grandmother Muir lived with us for a great many years, and died at our house in 1896. I remember her as a tall, straight, handsome old lady, with a smooth serene face. She had a very mild gentle disposition, and she went about the house quietly, always placid and smiling. She read a great deal, and possessed a quiet wit aad humor, as most Scotch people do. She had her own rooms and her flowers and her friends. She was a devout Presbyterian, and attended the Presbyterian Church in our little town of Portage, Wisconsin, with great regularity up to the time of her death, looking placid and serene in her black silk dress and her long fur coat. When my Grandfather Muir decided to come to America he brought with him my mother, Sarah, then a little girl of thirteen, and my uncles John and David, little boys of eleven aad nine. My Grandmother remained in Dunbar with the other children until a house should be built to receive them. They came directly to Wisconsin, then a new and unsettled country, and my Grandfather acquired land in what is now known as Marquette County. There they built a log cabin uatil my Grandfather could haul the lumber to build the house. That part of Wisconsin had no roads at all in those days, and he hauled the lumber by ox-team across the trackless country, steering his course by the aid of a compass. It was the first frame house anywhere in that part of the state. It stood on a hill looking down upon a little lake, which they called Fountain Lake on account of the many springs that fed it, and they called the farm the Fountain Lake Farm. Long years afterward, when my mother and father were married, they bought the Fountain Lake Farm from my Grandfather Muir, and so it happened that I was born in the Fountain Lake House where my uncle spent his boyhood, and of which he has written so much in "The Story Of My Boyhood And Youth." I was the only child in that wide family circle to be born in that house. My mother was only a little girl of thirteen years when she came to this strange new country to keep house for her father and two little brothers in the lovely Wisconsin wilderness; a little town-bred girl who knew nothing of cooking or housekeeping, and had never been away from her home town in her life. There were no neighbors for miles around, it was not unusual for the Indians to come to the door and ask for bread, which she always gave them. While they never harmed her, still she was always afraid of them. Fountain Lake is one of the many small glacier lakes which abound in Wisconsin. It is fed by twenty or more springs, and is only about a half mile long, and scarcely as wide, At that time it lay in the midst of a lovely flowery meadow, and all around its edge were white waterlilies. In the meadow were many beautiful wild flowers, among them such dainty orchids as the rose pogonia and the pink and yellow eypripediums. But my uncles' favorite flower of them all was the white waterlily. Next to the waterlilies he loved the windflower, that lovely pasque flower which Is the first to appear in the spring in Wisconsin, often blooming before the snow Is all gone. The blossoms come before the leaves, poking their gray woolly heads up through the dead grass, aud then they open their wide blue lavender petals and show their hearts of gold. Their heavenly color, and the sweet wild woodsy tang of their perfume, is the very essence of spring. There were many varieties of violets, white, yellow, and purple, but the loveliest and best-known of all the Wisconsin violets were the birds-foot violets (Viola Pedata,) that grew in great patches on the hillsides and the banks along the country roads. Had John Muir not been a great naturalist and geologist he would certainly have been an inventor, for during his boyhood and youth he made many curious machines, clocks, and other things. "My notorious bedstead has just returned me to this busy wakeful world," he wrote in that first letter of mine, referring to one of his many inventions a bed which tipped up and set him on his feet at a driven hour in the morning, at the same time lighting a lamp for him to dress by. I remember playing among those things in our attic when I was a little girl, one of them being a study desk which he made while a student at the University at Madison, Wisconsin. This desk was a marvelously intricate affair, finely and beautifully carved and whittled out of wood. At the beginning of the term he arranged all his books in the order in which they should be studied, and set the clockwork of the desk for the different study and recitation periods. At the given time, down dropped the book to be studied, open at the proper place; and when the study period was over the book was closed and put out of the way, and the next book came to take its place, open and ready for work. So on all through the term. John Muir must nave been keenly interested in higher mathematics at this time, for in a letter to my mother he asked he to "pack and send me my Loomis University Astronomy, Smith's Differential and Integral Calculus, Loomis' Algebra and Geometry, Smith's Analytical Geometry, also Loomis' Trigonometry, all of which I think you will find in your parlor." When my uncle left the University at Madison ha started on his long botanizing trips which were to take him all through Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, and finally up Into Canada, and there one of his happiest experiences was the day he found Calypso Borealis, a shy wild orchid which is very "choosy" about the place she lives, and the finding of which is always In the nature of an event. After these first and shorter botanizing tours John Muir started on his great walk, "The Thousand-Mile Walk To The Gulf." botanizing all the way to Florida Keys on tho Gulf of Mexico, sauntering leisurely along, and sleeping whorever night overtook him. From there he went over to Cuba, which was not by any means the common little trip it is nowadays. I remember what a delighted little girl I was when my uncle sent home a box of shells, and corals, and seamoss, and starfish, and all sorts of wonderful things from those strange faraway tropical shores. To me, a little girl who knew the sea only as a big blue place on the map of my little school geography, these things were nothing short of entrancing. One of my greatest childish treats on stormy, days for long afterward, when I couldn't play outdoors, was to be allowed to get the box of treasures, and handle the beautiful shells of many shapes and colors, and the pink and white coral, and dream over them and try to imagine the enchanted shores from which they came. From Cuba my uncle had intended going to South America to explore the Amazon River to its headwaters -- an amazing journey to contemplate in those long-ago days! But he fell sick with malaria and fever, and was very ill for several weeks; and when he recovered it was only a matter of not being sole to get a ship sailing when he wanted it that changed the whole trend of his life. For he went to the mountains of California instead, and after that he could never test himself away from them. Wander the whole world over, as he did in later years, he always came back to his beloved Sierras. Then he stayed two years or more in the Yosemite Valley, which at that time had never been explored, and was very little known. He was the first white man to explore and study it. He built for himself a small cabin in order that he might live there the year round, studying the trees, the flowers, the rooks, and the glaciers. It was made of sugar pine shingles or shakes, and he dug a little trench and coaxed a small stream into it, which ran through the room from one end to the other. Little ferns grew up around it, and small woodsy vines which he trained around the window where his home-made desk stood. His bed was a bunk lined with fragrant evergreen branches. There he read, and wrote, and studied, and sketched; and from there he made trips to the streams, the waterfalls, the forests, and the glaciers of the High Sierras; braving storms, climbing rocks, sometimes going without food, often bitterly cold; taking notes and making sketches when his finders were so benumbed by the frost that he could scarcely hold his pencil. Stormy days and nights such as kept other people indoors, always lured John Muir out into the woods, or up the mountains, to learn how the storm and the trees were behaving, and "see God making the world." The mountains drew him with a call that was always in his ears. They would not let him alone. In all his journeys in the most difficult pathless mountains he was never lost, and never lonely, and never afraid. He was hopelessly and forever a mountaineer. In a letter to a friend he said, "You speak of dying and going to the woods. I am dead, and gone to heaven!" In another letter he said, "Some of my grandfathers must have been born on a moorland, for the heather is in me!" Once when a friend of mine was visiting Scotland he sent me a box of heather which he had picked himself, I sent some of it to my mother, and some to Uncle John, and told him it was real heather from the Scottish moorlands. He wrote that he could shut his eyes and see again the purple moors of Scotland, "I have Scotch heather in my blood," he said. He never went armed. The bears were very numerous in the mountains, but they never troubled him. Sometimes in the berry patches he would come face to face with one, and they would stare at one another with respectful interest and curiosity. Then the bear would turn casually away, and go leisurely shout his own business. Eves the rattlesnakes which he sometimes saw were peaceable, and went their own way when they saw he was not going to molest them. John Muir knew the glaciers all over the world, and he understood how they had sculptured out the mountains, the rocks, the hills, the valleys. He discovered the great Muir Glacier in Alaska, which bears his name; and he came to be acknowledged everywhere among scientific men as the greatest authority in the world on glaciers, glacial action, and the mechanical laws which govern those rivers of ice. Close rivals to the glaciers in John Muir's heart were the trees. No one knew and loved the trees better than he. He was personally acquainted with every famous tree in the world, and he explored the forests not only all over the United States but in every other country. For many years before his death he worked unceasingly to save the trees; and everyone is familiar with his long and arduous fight which was finally instrumental in having many forest reserves created, set apart, and protected from destruction. "Any fool can destroy trees," he said "They cannot run away. It took more than three thousand years to make some of these trees in these Western woods. Through all the wonderful eventful centuries since Christ's time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drouth, disease, avalanche, and a thousand straining leveling tempests and floods. But He cannot save them from fools. Only Uncle Sam can do that." John Muir was not only a very clever inventor, and a famous naturalist and geologist, but he was a charming writer. He had the gift of tongues. He was a thin, plain, modest, retiring, unassuming man, with gentle voice and manner, fine gray eyes, and curling brown hair and beard, which later turned gray. To look at him you would have thought him a very ordinary man.. But to read his books and magazine articles is to fall under the spell of their charm and beauty. The making of the world was like an open book to him, and he wrote about it with love and pure delight. He was a brilliant conversationalist, and the fame of it lingers wherever he was known. I remember my uncle telling stories at our dinner-table, and being completely carried away with the thrill of them. One that I have heard him tell was afterward published in book form,— "Stickeen," the story of the little black dog who fell in love with my uncle at first sight, and immediately adopted him to be his God whom he adored, who followed at his heels all day, and slept at his feet at night. The brave little dog who shared with him one of his most terrible experiences on the great Muir Glacier in Alaska. John Muir didn't want to write. He disliked the mechanical part of it, shut up in a house, writing laboriously in longhand. When he first began his studies at never bad any intention of writing, but for years his friends had been urging him to write and give to the world the results of his studies. So finally, at their insistence, he began to write voluminous notes in shape, and to write. He wrote first for the San Francisco papers, and the Overland Monthly, and later for the Century, Atlantic, Scribuers, axid other magazines. Then he began on his books, and although he wrote several he never got through, for he was still writing on his "Travels on Alaska" and had several planned and, blocked out when he died. One of my mother's treasures was the old quill pen with which he wrote in longhand every word of his first book, and which he said "was made from the wing feather of an eagle, which I picked on Mount Hoffman, back a few miles from Yosemite." What could be more fitting and appropriate than that such a book by such a man should have been written with a pen made from an Eagle's pinion? For they breathe the very wild breath of the mountains, the rocks, the forests, and the glaciers of the High Sierras. He was a very affectionate man. "The circumstances of my life have wrought many changes in me," he wrote my mother once. "But my love for you all has only grown greater from year to year. In all our devious ways and wanderings we have always loved one another. No one reflection gives me comfort as the completeness and unity of our family. We stand united like a family clump of trees." John Muir never wanted nor cared for fame, yet fame sought him out and made a path to his door. When urged to write his autobiography he said that his life had been, too simple and uneventful to make it worth while, and that nobody would care to read it. He had many friends of note and high position all over the world, but he himself was a very simple and unpretentious man, and rank and position meant little to him. He never seemed to grow old, for even when he was past seventy he was still climbing the mountains. There was still so much to be learned, and so little time in which to do it. He must have been all of seventy-three or four when he made a long trip to South America to explore the Amazon River, and study the forests of Brazil. From Brazil he crossed to Peru, and from there he sailed for Africa. There were some trees there, far in the interior, that he wanted to see. After great hardships he finally came safely home again, very weary and travel-worn. It was his last long journey. It was a year or two afterward that I happened to see in Denvera beautiful hand-colored photograph of our beloved "Wisconsin wind-flowers, heavenly blue, with hearts of gold. They looked so fresh and life-like that I almost got a whiff of their wild woodsy fragrance. "Oh!" I thought, "Uncle John would love this!" So I wrapped it carefully and sent it to him. "This will remind, you of Fountain Lake," I wrote on the back of it. And then, a few days later, I picked up a newspaper and read that he was gone, "Over the summit, and traveling on!" It was never seemed to me that John Muir was dead. He was one of those who do not die. He always said that if souls were allowed to come back to the places they loved, his soul would, be found reveling in the sunlight of the California mountains. Once when-writing of the Yosemite he said, "I would like to stay here all winter, or all my life, or even all eternity." And it does not seem impossible to those who knew and loved him, to think of that wild free spirit still roaming those beautiful mountains he loved so well. "Once long ago he wrote his address in one of his old books: "John Muir, Earth-Planet, Universe!" " That tells the story better than I can write it. For to him this Earth-Planet was but one of the garden-spots of the great Universe, and the days of study he spent upon it were only in preparation for greater gardens farther on.
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Galloway, Cecelia, "Reminiscence of John Muir by Galloway, Cecelia" (2021). Reminiscences about John Muir. 13.