John Muir: “A Wind-storm in the Forests”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

John Muir (1838-1914), the great naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, has long been a favorite of mine.

Through his book Travels in Alaska, I learned about the formation of Glacier Bay and Muir’s exploration of that twinned body of water I called home for two summers. Muir Inlet and Muir Glacier are both named for him.

And when I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, at the end of my first Glacier Bay summer, I was thrilled to learn that Muir had also been a student at the university and that he is honored by a display in the Wisconsin Historical Society. His highly unusual and inventive “desk” – part alarm-clock, part task-master – is practically enshrined there.

But nothing holds a place as dear to my heart as Muir’s essay, “A Wind-storm in the Forests,” a chapter in his 1894 book, The Mountains of California.

Like Muir, I love storms – but always enjoy the most from the safety of my cozy home.

Muir, on the other hand, revels in this essay in his experience of climbing to the top of a tree and riding it for hours through a wild Sierra storm. As he writes, “the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof.”

Muir describes his wild storm ride with such exuberance and passion that I feel almost as if I have joined him there:

. . . [N]ever before did I enjoy so noble an exhilaration of motion. The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobo-link on a reed. . . . I kept my lofty perch for hours, frequently closing my eyes to enjoy the music by itself, or to feast quietly on the delicious fragrance that was streaming past.

If you’re not usually drawn to environmental writing or to the work of naturalists like Muir, I encourage you to start with this wonderful chapter/essay. Frequently anthologized (you can find it, for example, in The Norton Book of Nature Writing), it is also available as a chapter in Muir’s The Mountains of California, which you can purchase or simply access online on a number of free sites (including on the Sierra Club website).

I wouldn’t have the courage to experience a storm this way, but I’m glad that Muir did – and that he wrote about it! If you love storms, you’ll love this piece!

Join me this week on Pinterest as I pin images and resources related to John Muir. Take a look around at all my boards – or go straight to “My Favorite Books” board for John Muir treats.

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Image credit: This image is in the public domain.