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M I C H A E L P. C O H E N Southern Utah State College John Muir’s Public Voice In the 1890’s John Muir became a major figure in the popular literature of America. His reputation was made though through his efforts, not primarily as a writer, but as an advocate of National Parks and as a public figure. One reviewer, praising Muir’s first published book, The Mountains of California, called him the “most rapt enthusiast of the new out of doors gospel.” Indeed, the voice of The Mountains of California is enthusiastic and evangelical; it encourages the uninitiated tourist. Yet it is not the voice which Muir had always used toward the public. How Muir came to speak effectively to the American public is my subject, and this in turn is involved with the relationship between Muir’s writing and his role as a public man, between his book, The Mountains of California, and his vision of a system of National Parks, and finally between his view of nature and his view of America’s needs for recreation. The young Muir loved the mountains but hated the tourist. His letters reveal this hatred when he speaks of “human stuff being poured into” Yosemite Valley, and the “blank fleshly apathy with which most of it comes into contact with the rock and water spirits of the place.” He depicts the tourist as an overgrown frog, and a kind of scum that floats around the bottom of the valley, lacking the gumption to really see the spiritual beauty of the mountains.1 He is aware of the effect of his attitude on his writing, saying to a close friend, The moonshine is glorious, and sunshine more glorious . . . winds rage and waters roar, and . . . in “terrible times” glaciers guttered the mountains with their hard cold snouts. This is about the 1WilIiam Frederick Bade, The Life and Letters of John Muir (Boston, 1923) I, p. 220. 178 Western American Literature limit of what I feel capable of doing for the public— the moiling, squirming, fog breathing public.Turning away from the public he spent his energy writing scientific articles about the geology of the Sierra. He put great value on his own experience, but did not wish to share it with any but a select group which would make the effort to understand him. This was selfish, perhaps, but Muir came to realize, in the late seventies, that by hoarding the treasure of his Sierran experi­ ence he was losing his mountains to a use more degrading than tourism. He dramatizes his guilt over the desecration of his favorite alpine lake by sheepherding. He speaks of Shadow Lake as an “unlooked for treasure that is bound up and hidden away in the depths of the alpine solitudes of the Sierra.”3 He had hoarded its beauty as the Indians before him had saved its hunting ground for times of hunger, for “hunting in this hollow is like hunting in a fenced park.” Muir admits that he told its beauty only to a few friends because he feared that it “might become trampled and improved like Yosemite.” On my last visit . . . I was startled by a human track, which I at once saw belonged to some shepherd; for each step was turned out 35 or 40° from the general course pursued, and was also run over in an uncertain and sprawling fashion at the heel, while a row of round dots on the right indicated the staff that shepherds always carry. None but a shepherd could make such a track, and after tracing it a few minutes I began to fear that he might be seeking pasturage, for what else could he be seeking: certainly not scenery. Returning from the glaciers shortly afterward, my worst fears were realized. A trail had been cut down the moun­ tainside from the north, and all the gardens and meadows were destroyed by a hoard of hoofed locusts, as if swept by a fire. The money changers were in the temple.4 Afraid of the tourist’s trail, he has, by his silence, permitted a worse evil. He comes, through his experience and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 177-187
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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