VI. Yosemite

A letter to bro David: July 1868

...thence down the Merced to this place.

A letter to the Merrills: July 1868

My four pages are nearly full, and on looking back on what I have written I see that it is nothing - just nothing, and though sent so far it will not carry you a drop, not a drop, my friends, from all these oceans and gulphs and bays of plant loveliness. Can you not come. Yo-Semite alone is worth the expense and danger of any journey in the world. Miss Catherine, you thought me wrong last year in some of my readings of prairie plants, so now just come yourself and see what you can make of these great lessons of mountain and plain, and you must come too, Miss Mina, for the chiefest things of all this golden land are "without controversy," and then you could go easily form here to your favorite Russian America, and the pure cool winds, and delicious crystal water of the Sierras would give you, Mrs. Moores, full bright health to enjoy themselves and all the things related to them, but do not bring Merrill with you - he must not see the Yo-Semite until he's about a hundred years old. In such scenery he is sure to break his neck.

Where is Prof. Butler? Were you ever in Cuba? Were you ever in the graveyard of Bonaventure near Savannah, Ga.? Tell Mrs. Davis that I gathered some lovely Yo-Semite ferns expressly for her and some lillies that make me remember the crocus she brought to my dark room. I wrote to you from New York but have read no answer - perhaps it has been sent to Washington, as I was away from postoffices for three months. I am sorry to know that it will be so long before I can hear from you. My love to all. Remember me to your minister and all my friends, Merrill and Janet and Chas I have some California things to tell you.

[John Muir]
[Envelope addressed Merrill & Co., For Catherine Merrill, Indianapolis, Indiana]

A letter to Mrs. Carr: July 1868

...I thought of you, Mrs. Carr, when I was in the glorious Yosemite and of the prophecy of "the Priests," that you would see it and worship there with your Doctor and Priest and I. It is by far the grandest of all of the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter. It must be the sanctum sanctorum of the Sierras, and I trust that you will all be led to it.

Remember me to the Doctor. I hope he has the pleasure of sowing in good and honest hearts the glorious truth of science to which he has devoted his life. Give my love to all your boys and my little Butler.

A letter to Mrs Carr: November 1868:

...A few miles farther "onward and upward" I found the edge of winter. Scarce a grass could be seen. The last of the lilies and spring violets were left below; the winter scales were still shut upon the buds of the dwarf oaks and alders; the grand Nevada pines waved solemnly to cold, loud winds among rushing, changing stormclouds. Soon my horse was plunging in snow ten feet in depth, the sky became darker and more terrible, many-voiced mountain winds swept the pines, speaking the dread language of the cold north, snow began to fall, and in less than a week from the burning plains of the San Joaquin autumn was lost in the blinding snows of mountain winter.

Descending these higher mountains towards the Yosemite, the snow gradually disappeared from the pines and the sky, tender leaves unfolded less and less doubtfully, lilies and violets appeared again, and I once more found spring in the grand valley. Thus meet and blend the seasons of these mountains and plains, beautiful in their joinings as those of lake and land or of the bands of the rainbow. The room is full of talking men, and I only attempt to scrawl this mote to thank you for all the good news...

A letter to Mrs Carr: May '69

There is a kind of hotel in the valley, but it is incomparably better to choose your own camp among the rocks and waterfalls. The time of highest water in the valley varies very much in different seasons. Last year it was highest about the end of June.

Rambles of a Botanist: 1872

...Descending from this winter towards the Merced, the snow gradually disappeared from the ground and sky, tender leaves unfolded less and less doubtfully, violets and lilies shone about us once more, and at length, arriving in the glorious Yosimite, we found it full of summer and spring. Thus, as colors blend in a rainbow, and as mountains curve to a plain, so meet and blend the plants and seasons of this delightsome land.

J. Muir
Yosemite, Cal.

Pelican Bay Manuscript: 1907

But the night before the start on this return trip we camped on the margin of the Bridal Veil Meadows, where, as we lay eating our suppers by the light of the campfire, we were visited by a brown bear. We heard him approaching by the heavy crackling of twigs.

Chilwell, in alarm after listening a while, said; "I see it, I see it; it's a bear, a Grissly. Where is the gun?" He said: "You take the gun and shoot him - you can shoot best" (I had shot him, you know). But the gun had only a charge of bird shot in it; therefore while the bear stood on the opposite side of the fire, at a distance of probably twenty or twenty-five feet, we hastily loaded in a lot of buckshot, which would not chamber in the barrel, but made a charge of about a foot or fourteen inches in length. Then we sat with the gun at rest, pointing towards the bear; but according to instructions from the man who sold the gun, we were advised not to shoot until the bear attacked us, so we waited patiently, looking at the bear, and he finally, after sniffing and whining, walked off. We were so much afraid of his return while asleep (not then knowing that bears never attack sleeping campers) that we kept awake most of the night on guard.

Life and Letters: 1924

...We found our way easily enough over the deep snow, guided by the topography, and discovered the trail on the brow of the valley just as the Bridal Veil came in sight. I didn't know that it was one of the famous falls I had read about, and calling Chilwell's attention to it I said, "See that dainty little fall over there. I should like to camp at the foot of it to see the ferns and lilies that may be there. It looks small from here, only about fifteen or twenty feet, but it may be sixty or seventy." So little did we then know of Yosemite magnitudes!

After spending eight or ten days in visiting the falls and the high points of view around the walls, making sketches, collecting flowers and ferns, etc., we decided to make the return trip by way of Wawona, then owned by Galen Clark, the Yosemite pioneer. The night before the start was made on the return trip we camped near the Bridal Veil Meadows, where, as we lay eating our suppers by the light of the camp-fire, we were visited by a brown bear. We heard him approaching by the heavy crackling of twigs. Chilwell, in alarm, after listening a while, said, "I see it! I see it! It's a bear, a grizzly! Where is the gun? You take the gun and shoot him--you can shoot best." But the gun had only a charge of birdshot in it; therefore, while the bear stood on the opposite side of the fire, at a distance of probably twenty-five or thirty feet, I hastily loaded in a lot of buckshot. The buckshot was too large to chamber and therefore it made a zigzag charge on top of the birdshot charge, the two charges occupying about half of the barrel. Thus armed, thegun held at rest pointed at the bear, we sat hushed and motionless, according to instructions from the man who sold the gun, solemnly waiting and watching, as full of fear as the musket of shot. Finally, after sniffing and whining for his supper what seemed to us a long time, the young inexperienced beast walked off. We were much afraid of his return to attack us. We did not then know that bears never attack sleeping campers, and dreading another visit we kept awake on guard most of the night.

Son of the Wilderness: 1946

Muir has left little record of his first impressions of that "most holy mansion of the mountains." Doubtless he found it too vast, too overpowering to be put into words, Some time after he returned to the plains he wrote to Mrs. Carr that "the magnitudes of the mountains are so great that unless seen and submit to a good long time they are not seen or felt at all."

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