A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

February 14, 2009 at 4:22 pm (books, Nature) ()

By the time I finished A Passion for Nature, I had encountered so many fascinating stories and so much superb writing – by both Muir and his biographer, Donald Worster –  that the book was positively festooned with myriad of the multicolored post-it flags with which I am currently enamored.

john-muir-bookOh, dear, I can’t very well quote the entire book! What I can do, though, is to present various highlights from this epochal tome. I propose to do this in serial form, interspersing these posts with those on other subjects. Actually, I’ve already begun this  little project. (See “Literary Musings” from February 7.) What follows is the second installment.

In 1867, John Muir undertook to walk from Indianapolis, Indiana, to South Florida. From there, he planned to take ship to Cuba. At the time, he was 29 years old.

“After scaling the Cumberland Plateau, [Muir] began his ascent of the Appalachian Mountains south of what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In all directions he could gaze on spectacular forests crowning ridge after ridge, with mountain mists drifting through the valleys, the most sublime picture his eyes had ever beheld.”

Muir poured out his rapture in his journals:

“‘Such an ocean of wooded, waving, swelling mountain beauty and grandeur…Oh, these forest gardens of our Father! What perfection, what divinity, in their architecture! What simplicity and mysterious complexity of detail!’

Adds Worster: “Autumn was approaching in the mountains, summer green was beginning to fade to fall browns and yellows, the air was cold at night, and Muir was in heaven.”

At the same time that he was glorying in nature,  Muir was encountering humans who were both destitute and desperate:

“The higher he climbed, the more backward and benighted the people became, and the more dangerous. It was in the delightsome mountains that Muir met a roving band of outlaw whites who lived by marauding and plundering. They let him pass because he looked like a poor, hapless collector of herbal remedies. Never before in the Midwest or Canada had he known real danger in his travels, but the South was a land where men regularly carried guns and where officers of the law were often far away, a condition that seemed to increase with the grandeur of the surroundings.

Despite contracting malaria in Florida and nearly dying, Muir eventually made it all the way to Cuba.

Route followed by John Muir on his (mind-boggling) journey

Route followed by John Muir on his (mind-boggling) journey

John Muir in 1907

John Muir in 1907


  1. Post Book World (print edition) postmortem « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] and social figure” is Clarence King, a personage recently encountered by me in Donald Worster’s biography of John Muir. Like Muir, King was an avid mountain climber; he is wrote Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada, […]

  2. Beauty, natural and man made, reflected in the written word « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] 15, 2009 at 2:48 pm (California, Italy, Nature, books) From A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster: “What seems clear is that his Sierra summer awakened the deepest and most […]

  3. What To Read Now – according to the July 13 issue of Newsweek « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] there any titles I would add to Newsweek’s selection? One that sprang to mind immediately was A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster.  Muir explored his adopted homeland on foot and with tireless enthusiasm, often making do with […]

  4. Books to talk about – a personal view « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] Mr. Whicher: a shocking murder and the undoing of a great Victorian detective – Kate Summerscale A Passion for Nature:  the life of John Muir – Donald Worster Zeitoun – Dave Eggers The Age of Wonder:  how the romantic generation […]

  5. editor said,

    I have written a rather long essay on what I see as a connection between the 18th century philosopher/naturalist Jean Jacques Rousseau and the 19th’s John Muir: http://coastlinejournal.com/. A shorter version is in the current (Spring/Summer 2010) edition of the journal Confluence. And by the way I “borrowed” your map of Muir’s long walk to Florida, and linked it back to your site.

    Michael Cox
    Coastline Journal

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