A forested valley of trees in autumn, walled on either side by lofty rock cliffs, beyond which rise the mountains of California
A forested valley of trees in autumn, walled on either side by lofty rock cliffs, beyond which rise the mountains of California
A forested valley of trees in autumn, walled on either side by lofty rock cliffs, beyond which rise the mountains of California

The Mountains of California by John Muir: A Book Overview and Review

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More than a month ago, I resolved to write, and post, here on my blog, articles or entries that are concerned with providing overviews and reviews of the books and other literary pieces I happen to read, travel genre or otherwise.

The first of such articles I wrote was an overview and review of Mark Twain’s book Roughing It, his second published novel, a semi-biography that recounts his travels and adventures in the 19th century Wild West of the United States and beyond. It was a tremendous success, as far as Google Analytics would care to show, read by as many as eight people to date, myself and my mother included – only two more people and I would have needed urgent help to manage my newfound fame!

But, having read numerous cautionary tales of people who were ruined by instant fame and fortune, I did not let such great accomplishment go into my head. Instead, I kept on living my life with the same remarkable humility that I’ve always been known and admired for. If anything, my recent success only inspired me to keep writing.

And so after Roughing It, I resolved to follow it up with another book overview and review. This time, I decided to delve into the literary craft of John Muir, a most famed Scottish-American author, mountaineer, naturalist, botanist, zoologist, and environmental activist, among other things. His tireless campaign for the preservation of wilderness, chiefly the western forests of America, greatly contributed to the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, and his noble efforts earned him the fond nickname Father of the National Parks.

An oil painting of an old bearded man
John Muir by Orlando Rouland, 1917. Oil on canvas | IMAGE BY ORLANDO ROULAND ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS


But despite John Muir’s fame, I must admit that I have only recently learned of him – it was only two years ago when I first came upon his name. While I was compiling notable quotes and sayings on mountains, on woods and forests, and on nature in general, Muir figured prominently as the author of a number of quotes that I found to be well-worded, singularly thoughtful, and deeply inspirational. In fact, many of the quotes credited to his name I have had memorized by heart, for use, sometimes, as captions for my pictures on Facebook (I’ve yet to have an Instagram account).

But Muir’s quotes resonated with me in a manner I have not felt with most other quotes, and with most other authors. His choice of words, his flawless delivery, his evident and overflowing love for Nature – all these and more stirred something within my soul, awakening a different and deeper kind of consciousness.

My curiosity piqued, I then determined to know more about the man. It was thus that I discovered that Muir was in fact an author of several literary works – full-fledged books, no less! – and that the very quotes, his quotes, that I have grown familiar with, and have grown to love, came from those books. And so I thought that since I loved his quotes, which are but samples of his literary genius, then surely I will also love his books, his complete creations. Immediately then I embarked on a quest to read all of his writings.

Of course, it was only logical to start my journey to discover Muir by reading the first book he has ever written, and that was The Mountains of California. Just as I did with Mark Twain’s Roughing It, I downloaded a copy of The Mountains of California in EPUB format from Project Gutenberg, a vast online repository of thousands of mostly older books and literary works, all in digital and electronic formats, all available for free for anyone to access, download, and read. I would have preferred to read a physical copy, a proper book, so to speak, but I have no money to buy one, or to buy anything, for that matter.

In any case, akin to how I wrote my piece for Roughing It, my book overview and review for The Mountains of California consists of two parts: the overview, which, provides a brief summary of the book; and the review, a slightly deeper examination and analysis of the book, which will most likely end up being just a rundown of my reading experience.

Please bear in mind that I am no literary critic, nor do I intend to be one. Also, my book review and overview is not in any way a literary critique, nor do I intend it to be. I am only a humble reader desiring nothing more than to share my reading experience with fellow lovers of books and of reading.

 

Overview

The Mountains of California, published in 1894, is John Muir’s first book. It is a compilation of his own accounts of his travels and journeys, and his explorations and examinations, of the mountain ranges of California, in particular the Sierra Nevada, during the late 1860s to the early 1870s, a time when the wild places in the State where still numerous and little-charted. The book also discusses in detail the geography and topography, the geological and natural history, and the climate and weather patterns of California’s mountain ranges, presenting information on a variety of topics, including the formation of the State’s mountains, glaciers, lakes, and forests, and the workings of wind, storm, and weather on the mountains. Moreover, the book offers an insight into the flora and fauna of the region, ranging from the towering Sequoia to the tiny Douglas squirrel, and from the soaring sugar pine to the singing water ouzel.

An oil painting of the mountains of California, specifically the Sierra Nevada
Among the Sierra Nevada, California by Albert Bierstadt, 1868. Oil on canvas | IMAGE BY ALBERT BIERSTADT ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

 

Review

Reading The Mountains of California was a great and delightful experience, to say the least. First of all, I found the book to be very immersive. I have never set foot in California, nor in any of the American States, for that matter, but the manner in which John Muir wrote – vividly and detailed, richly and thoroughly, lovingly and painstakingly – seemingly lifted me from my home and bore me almost twelve thousand kilometers (more than seven thousand miles) to the western shores of America. And it bore me back in time, more than a hundred and fifty years ago, when California still remained largely wild and free, when great and noble tribes of Native Americans still roamed some parts of the State, to see with my own eyes the high and wild places pristine and untouched even as John Muir saw them.

I swear I was with Muir when he braved the climb to the peak of Mount Ritter, when, at a short distance from the summit, he very nearly fell to his death. I was with him when he ventured out one day in December, 1874, from the safety of a cabin, to chase a wild storm that swept through the forest, and shared in his exhilaration in witnessing the might and power of so dangerous – yet spectacular – a weather. And I was with him even as he sat perfectly still, in measured silence and collected delight, observing raptly the daily life of the Douglas squirrel and the water ouzel.

A stream flows through a vegetated and flowery land, behind which rises a mountain, Mount Ritter, one of the mountains of California
Mount Ritter | PHOTO BY DCRJSR ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (modified)


For John Muir has a gift for bringing his readers to the places he has been, to see the things he has seen, and to share the experiences he has felt. He writes richly, sparing no detail. And though I found that it is his wont to use a great deal of adjectives, I did not think that it was excessive, exaggerated, or extravagant. On the contrary, I thought that his lavish use of adjectives was justified, and if anything only contributed to drive home his points, and to shed an insight into his particularly deep reverence for Nature. Moreover, I was amused by his use of personifications, which seemed to come off naturally and which made his storytelling all the more entertaining. And there were many instances in the book when I had to pause after a reading a certain sentence or paragraph, just to turn that sentence or paragraph over and over in my mind, marveling just how perfectly expressed it was, how perfectly put together, and admiring Muir’s superb choice of words.

Secondly, I found The Mountains of California to be very informative. The book, after all, is a veritable trove of valuable and interesting information first and a storybook second. Before reading the book, I had no idea how glaciers could shape and sculpt mountains, or how glacial lakes came to be. I had no idea what the differences are between a sugar pine and a Tamarack pine, or what a water ouzel even is, or that honeybees are actually not native to California. Of course, some information in the book, being, after all, a work of an older time, might already be obsolete and due for an update, but the book as a whole is educational as much as it is entertaining.

A painting of a water ouzel
A water ouzel by Joseph Wolf, 1867. Lithograph | IMAGE BY JOSEPH WOLF ON WIKIMEDIA COMMONS


I must admit, however, that when I started reading The Mountains of California, and had only progressed a bit through book, I was somewhat overwhelmed – not because of Muir’s writing style, mind you, for on the contrary, he writes simply and clearly – but rather because of the volume of information that he presents. The first few chapters of the book are dedicated to the geology and history of the mountains and the glaciers, and being, after all, not as learned on these matters as I would like to be, I was overloaded with unfamiliar terms and topics on volcanology, montology, and glaciology, which I had a rather difficult time understanding.

Such terms and topics would have required an appropriate dictionary at hand, or more preferably, Google Search. Unfortunately, consulting my dictionary app or Google would mean that I would have to alternate every few seconds or so between my eBook reader app and my dictionary app or Google, which would be very disruptive to my reading experience and frankly just be a tedious and tiresome process. And so I did not bother, but kept on reading instead, without the aid of a dictionary or Google, trusting that I could still glean some understanding in the end despite my obviously insufficient knowledge on geology, montology, volcanology, glaciology, etc. (I did, fortunately).

But then I grew more comfortable as the topic of the book shifted from things that relied heavily on technical terms, to matters that I was more familiar with. As the book coursed through descriptions and discussions about forests, firs, and flourishing pines; about squirrels, sheep, and singing birds; and about wind, weather, and wild storms, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, immensely pleased to be reading topics that require little background knowledge beforehand.

Grassy plain with snow peaks looming in the background
The Sierra Nevada | PHOTO BY DENYS NEVOZHAI ON UNSPLASH (modified)


Immersive and informative, I also found the book to be very inspirational. If I admired Muir for his quotes which are but samples of his literary genius, I admire him even more now after reading a full and complete book of his. His writing manifests a deep and profound love for Nature, an almost spiritual reverence. Never once did he utter a hash or unfavorable word against Nature, but sought to portray every natural thing or event – whether it’s a sweetly singing water ouzel or a frightfully wild storm – in a positive light. In fact, the whole book glows with positivity and lightheartedness, and from start to finish is a wonderful, wholesome experience.

Indeed, there were many moments throughout the book when I simply had to pause and close my eyes in order to savor the words I had just read, to relish them over and over in my mind, and also to gain some breathing space lest I become overwhelmed with sheer delight. Now, thinking about it, I wonder if the feeling I got from reading the The Mountains of California is the same feeling I get whenever I’m in Nature.

Moreover, Muir‘s writing was such that I am now more than ever inspired to improve my writing, if only in the hope that I, too, might achieve a level of genius that Muir enjoyed. My dream is to one day walk and wander through wild places, to roam and range upon faraway lands, and to share my adventures with other people, through storytelling, mostly through written works but also in video format.

Forest on a valley walled on either side by tall cliffs, beyond which rises the mountains of California
Yosemite Valley | PHOTO BY ROBBY MCCULLOUGH ON UNSPLASH (modified)


Only two years ago I did not know who John Muir was. Now, he certainly ranks among my favorite authors. After reading The Mountains of California, I am filled with an intense eagerness to discover the rest of his works, and in so doing grow my love for books, for reading, for travel and adventure, and most of all, for Nature. And if you happen to love all these same things, then I encourage you to read The Mountains of California, and hope that you will also find it pleasurable and worthwhile as I did.

Featured Image by Aniket Deole on Unsplash (modified)
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TRAVEL INFORMATION, INSIGHT, & INSPIRATION

Hi. I’m Jared Jeric dela Cruz, the creator and author of this travel blog. I am an ardent dreamer, an aspiring adventurer, and a passionate storyteller

PHMILLENNIA is a travel blog lovingly crafted and nurtured to bring you  travel information, insight, and inspiration.

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