Highland Books

Books & Photographs by Chris Highland

Muir

John Muir, Kern River, 1902

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Reviews of Meditations of John Muir

More reviews on Good Reads

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I compiled these selections from Muir’s writings for a class I am currently teaching.  I think they clearly show that Muir was not a follower of any one religious faith but a lover of Nature and her scriptures.

The Gospel According to John Muir

{representative passages from his writings}

“Muir’s love of nature was so largely a part of his religion that he naturally chose biblical phraseology when he sought a vehicle for his feelings. . .  He concluded that life was too brief and uncertain, and time too precious, to waste upon [money-seeking work]; that while he was pottering in a wagon factory, God was making a world; and he determined that . . .he would devote the remainder of his life to a study of the process.”

(William Frederic Bade, Introduction to A Thousand Mile Walk, 1916)

Gospel

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (Our National Parks, 1901)

“Mountains holy as Sinai. . .They are given, like the Gospel, without money and without price. . . Wonderful how completely everything in wild nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent of us.  The sun shines not on us but in us.  The rivers flow not past, but through us. . .  The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.  The Song of God, sounding on forever.  So pure and sure and universal is the harmony. . .as we are absorbed in the harmony.” (Journals, 1872)

“[I said to my friend], ‘But think of the waterfalls—just think of that big stream we crossed the other day, falling half a mile through the air—think of that, and the sound it makes.  You can hear it now like the roar of the sea.’  Thus I pressed Yosemite upon him like a missionary offering the gospel, but he would have none of it.” (My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911)

“The forests of America. . .[are] lordly monarchs proclaiming the gospel of beauty like apostles.” (Our National Parks)

“No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of what . . .is called rubbish or waste; every thing is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons. . .  When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

God

“No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty.  Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening—still all is Beauty!” (Journal, 1875) 

Heaven/Immortality

“The forests, too, seem kindly familiar, and the lakes and meadows and glad singing streams.  I should like to dwell with them forever. . .  Bathed in such beauty. . .would be endless pleasure.  And what glorious cloudlands I should see, storms and calms,–a new heaven and a new earth every day.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“The radiance in some places is so great as to be fairly dazzling. . .joining the plants in their fine, brave beauty-work—every crystal, every flower a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.” (My First Summer)

“We read our Bibles and remain fearful and uncomfortable amid Nature’s loving destructions, her beautiful deaths.    Talk of immortality!  After a whole day in the woods, we are already immortal.  When is the end of such a day?”  (Journal, 1875)

“A thousand Yellowstone wonders are calling, ‘Look up and down and round about you!’  And a multitude of still, small voices may be heard directing you. . .to learn that here is heaven and the dwelling-place of angels.” (Our National Parks)

Hell

“When I first heard of hell. . .I always insisted that I could climb out of it.  Anyhow the terrors of the horrible place seldom lasted long beyond the telling; for natural faith casts out fear.” (The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, 1912)

“But those terrible fire lessons quickly faded away in the blithe wilderness air; for no fire can be hotter than the heavenly fire of faith and hope that burns in every healthy boy’s heart.” (Boyhood and Youth)

Death

“But let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights.  All is divine harmony.” (A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, 1914)

“Even death is in harmony here.  Only in shambles and the downy beds of homes is death terrible.” (Journal, 1872)

“Death is a kind nurse saying, ‘Come, children, to bed and get up in the morning’—a gracious Mother calling her children home.” (Journal, undated)

“Butterflies and the grand host of smaller flies are benumbed every night, but they hover and dance in the sunbeams over the meadows before noon with no apparent lack of playful, joyful life.  Soon they must all fall like petals in an orchard, dry and wrinkled, not a wing of all the mighty host left to tingle the air.  Nevertheless new myriads will arise in the spring, rejoicing, exulting, as if laughing cold death to scorn.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“Accidents in the mountains are less common than in the lowlands, and these mountain mansions are decent, delightful, even divine, places to die in, compared with the doleful chambers of civilization.  Few places in this world are more dangerous than home.” (The Mountains of California, 1894)

Good and Evil

“Pervaded with divine light, every landscape glows like a countenance hallowed in eternal repose; and every one of its living creatures, clad in flesh and leaves, and every crystal of its rocks, whether on the surface shining in the sun or buried miles deep in what we call darkness, is throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeats of God.  All the world lies warm in one heart. . .” (Our National Parks)

“From children one passes naturally into the blooming wilderness, to the pure religion of sunshine and snow, where all the good and the evil of this strange people lifts and vanishes from the mind like mist from the mountains.” (Steep Trails, 1918)

“All nature’s wildness tells the same story.  Storms of every sort, torrents, earthquakes, cataclysms, ‘convulsions of nature,’ etc, however mysterious and lawless at first sight they may seem, are only harmonious notes in the song of creation, varied expressions of God’s love.” (Our National Parks)

 

Bible

“But every eye [of the missionaries] was turned to the mountains.  Forgotten now were the Chilcats (First Peoples) and missions while the word of God was being read in these majestic hieroglyphics blazoned along the sky.  The earnest, childish wonderment with which this glorious page of Nature’s Bible was contemplated was delightful to see.  All evinced eager desire to learn.” (Travels in Alaska, 1915)

“Miles and miles of tree scripture along the sky, a bible that will one day be read!  The beauty of its letters and sentences have burned me like fire through all these Sierra seasons.  Yet I cannot interpret their hidden thoughts.  They are terrestrial expressions of the sun, pure as water and snow.” (Letter to Jeanne Carr, September, 1874)

“Wildness was ever sounding in our ears, and Nature saw to it that besides school lessons and church lessons some of her own lessons should be learned. . .” (Boyhood and Youth)

“Nature’s literature is written in mountain-ranges along the sky, rising to heaven in triumphant songs in long ridge and dome and clustering peak.” (Journal, 1872)

“What questions I asked, and how little I know of all the vast show, and how eagerly, tremulously hopeful of some day knowing more, learning the meaning of these divine symbols crowded together on this wondrous page.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

Baptism

“This sudden plash into pure wildness—baptism in Nature’s warm heart—how utterly happy it made us!” (Boyhood and Youth)

“How soothingly, restfully cool it is beneath that leafy, translucent ceiling, and how delightful the water music. . .The place seemed holy, where one might hope to see God.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“I was baptized three times this morning.  First, balmy sunshine that penetrated to my very soul, warming all the faculties of spirit, as well as the joints and marrow of the body; second, in the mysterious rays of beauty that emanate from plant corollas; and third, in the spray of the lower Yosemite Falls.  My first baptism was by immersion, the second by pouring, and the third by sprinkling.  Consequently all Baptists are my brethering, and all will allow that I’ve ‘got religion’.” (Letter to brother David Muir, April, 1870)

Communion

“Nature’s tables are spread and fires burning.  You must go warm yourselves and eat.” (Letter to Mrs. Swain, October 1900)

“I should like to live here always.  It is so calm and withdrawn while open to the universe in full communion with everything good.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin. . .” (Our National Parks)

Creation

“The world, we are told, was made especially for [humanity]—a presumption not supported by all the facts. . .  sheep are food and clothing ‘for us”. . .whales are storehouses of oil for us. . .Now it never seems to occur to these far-seeking teachers that Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. . .  The universe would be incomplete without [humanity]; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge. . .   But, glad to leave these ecclesiastical fires and blunders, I joyfully return to the immortal truth and immortal beauty of Nature.” (Thousand Mile Walk, 1914)

“And in looking through God’s great stone books made up of records reaching back millions and millions of years, it is a great comfort to learn that vast multitudes of creatures, great and small and infinite in number, lived and had a good time in God’s love before [humankind] was created.” (Boyhood and Youth)

“We live in ‘creation’s dawn.’  The morning stars still sing together, and the world, though made, is still being made and becoming more beautiful every day.” (Journal, 1873)

“Contemplating the works of these flowers of the sky [snowflakes], one may easily fancy them endowed with life: messengers sent down to work in the mountain mines on errands of divine love.” (The Mountains of California)

Animals

“Godlike sympathy [for animals as fellow mortals] grows and thrives and spreads far beyond the teachings of churches and schools, where too often the mean, blinding, loveless doctrine is taught that animals have neither mind nor soul, have no rights that we are bound to respect, and were made only for [humans], to be petted, spoiled, slaughtered, or enslaved.” (Boyhood and Youth)

“Surely a better time must be drawing nigh when godlike human beings will become truly humane, and learn to put their animal fellow mortals in their hearts instead of on their backs or in their dinners.” (Boyhood and Youth)

Church

 “This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened for the poor lonely worshiper.  In our best times everything turns into religion, all the world seems a church and the mountains altars.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“I am sitting here in a little shanty made of sugar pine shingles this Sabbath evening.  I have not been at church a single time since leaving home.  Yet this glorious valley might well be called a church, for every lover of the great Creator who comes within the broad overwhelming influences of the place fails not to worship as he never did before. . .  Here in this place of surpassing glory the Lord has written in capitals.  I hope that one day you will see and read with your own eyes.” (Letter to brother David, March, 1870)

“No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“[I ] have been sketching the North Tuolumne Church.  The sunset gloriously colored.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“With inexpressible delight you wade out into the grassy sun-lake, feeling yourself contained in one of Nature’s most sacred chambers, withdrawn from the sterner influences of the mountains, secure from all intrusion, secure from yourself, free in the universal beauty.” (The Mountains of California)

Sermons

“Should church-goers try to pass the time fishing in baptismal fonts while dull sermons were being preached, the so-called sport might not be so bad; but to play in the Yosemite temple, seeking pleasure in the pain of fishes struggling for their lives, while God is preaching the sublimest water and stone sermons!” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“I caught sight of the first palmetto in a grassy place, standing almost alone.  A few magnolias were near it, and bald cypresses, but it was not shaded by them.  They tell us that plants are perishable, soulless creatures, that only [humanity] is immortal, but this, I think, is something that we know very nearly nothing about.  Anyhow, this palm was indescribably impressive and told me grander things than I ever got from human priest.” (Thousand Mile Walk, 1914)

“. . .So we can read the history of ice. . .like an alphabet written too large. . .  Winds and streams of water are the best interpreters and historians and preachers of ice now dead.  Yosemite winds, Yosemite waters, glorious  proclaimers, apostles of the combing ice, never cease to preach it night and day!” (Journal, 1872)

Prayer

“Travel-worn pioneers. . .build, and plant, and settle, and so come under natural influences.  When a person plants a tree they plant themselves.  Every root is an anchor. . .  These, and the seeds they plant, are their prayers, and, by them brought into right relations with God, they work grander miracles every day than ever were written.” (Steep Trails, 1918)

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” (The Yosemite, 1914)

Miracles

“Anyhow, it seems silly to make so much of it, while the natural and common is more truly marvelous and mysterious than the so-called supernatural.  Indeed most of the miracles we hear of are infinitely less wonderful than the commonest of natural phenomena, when fairly seen.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

Salvation/Health

“The mountains are fountains not only of rivers and fertile soil, but of [humans].  Therefore we are all, in some sense, mountaineers, and going to the mountains is going home. . .  Many are sick and have been dragged to the healing wilderness unwillingly for body-good alone. . .  None may wholly escape the good of Nature, however imperfectly exposed to her blessings.  The minister will not preach a perfectly flat and sedimentary sermon after climbing a snowy peak; and the fair play and tremendous impartiality of Nature, so tellingly displayed, will surely affect the after pleadings of the lawyer.” (Steep Trails, 1918)

“Californians have only to go east a few miles to be happy. . .leave all and go east and you cannot escape a cure for all care.  Earth hath no sorrows that earth cannot heal, or heaven cannot heal, for the earth as seen in the clean wilds of the mountains is about as divine as anything the heart of [humanity] can conceive!” (Journal, 1872)

“I feel sure I should not have one dull moment [in the mountains].  It is only common sense, a sign of health, genuine, natural, all-awake health.  One would be at an endless Godful play.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

Vocation

“I bade adieu to mechanical inventions, determined to devote the rest of my life to the study of the inventions of God.” (Thousand Mile Walk, 1916)

“I am not anxious to tell what I have done but what Nature has done—an infinitely more important story.” (Letter to Richard Gilder, 1899)

“Civilization and fever and all the morbidness that has been hooted at me have not dimmed my glacial eye, and I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s loveliness.” (Letter to Jeanne Carr, October, 1874)

 

 Unity

“More and more, in a place like this, we feel ourselves part of wild Nature, kin to everything.” (My First Summer)

“To lovers of the wild, these mountains are not a hundred miles away.  Their spiritual power and the goodness of the sky make them near, as a circle of friends. . .  You cannot feel yourself out of doors; plain, sky, and mountains ray beauty which you feel.  You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire.  Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of Nature.” (Thousand Mile Walk)

“I am often asked if I am not lonesome on my solitary excursions.  It seems so self-evident that one cannot be lonesome where everything is wild and beautiful and busy and steeped with God that the question is hard to answer—seems silly.  Every particle of rock or water or air has God by its side leading it the way it should go.  How else would it know where to go or what to do?” (Journal, 1890)

 “Some [of these raindrops] have gone journeying on in the rivers to join the larger raindrop of the ocean.  From form to form, beauty to beauty, ever changing, never resting, all are speeding on with love’s enthusiasm, singing with the stars the eternal song of creation.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

The Super-Natural

“This seems the one well-defined marvel of my life of the kind called supernatural; for, absorbed in glad Nature [these things] have never interested me since boyhood, seeming comparatively useless and infinitely less wonderful than Nature’s open, harmonious, songful, sunny, everyday beauty.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“How infinitely superior to our physical senses are those of the mind!  The spiritual eye sees not only rivers of water but of air.  It sees the crystals of the rock. . .the whole world is in motion to the center. . .  Imagination is usually regarded as a synonym for the unreal.  Yet is true imagination healthful and real, no more likely to mislead than the coarser senses.  Indeed, the power of imagination makes us infinite.” (Journal, undated)

Education

“How interesting everything is!  Every rock, mountain, stream, plant, lake, lawn, forest, garden, bird, beast, insect seems to call and invite us to come and learn something of its history and relationship.” (My First Summer in the Sierra)

“Little, however, is to be learned in confused, hurried tourist trips, spending only a poor noisy hour in a branded grove with a guide.  You should go looking and listening alone on long walks through the wild forests and groves in all the seasons of the year.” (Our National Parks)

“I wish you could come here and rest a year in the simple unmingled Love fountains of God.  You would then return to your scholars with fresh truth gathered and absorbed from pines and waters and deep singing winds, and you would find that they all sang of fountain Love just as did Jesus and all of pure God manifest in whatever form. . .  Rocks and waters are words of God and so are people.  We all flow from one fountain Soul.  All are expressions of one Love. . .God flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts, saturating all and fountainizing all.” (Letter to Catharine Merrill, Yosemite, June, 1872)

“But I am sure that the mind of no truant schoolboy is more free and disengaged from all the grave plans and purposes and pursuits of ordinary orthodox life than mine.” (Letter to sister Sarah, 1869)

“And then a lifetime is so little a time that we die ere we get ready to live.” (Letter to Jeanne Carr, September, 1865)

Collected by Chris Highland  2008

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