- John Muir’s Last Journey: South to the Amazon and East to Africa: Unpublished Journals and Selected Correspondence ed. by Michael P. Branch (review)
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 37, Number 3, Fall 2002
- pp. 380-381
- View Citation
- Additional Information
3 8 0 WAL 3 7 .3 F a l l 2 0 0 2 no one cares? Who’ll take care of the place after I’m gone?”’ (105). Stories like Avis’s are rendered more poignant by Ronalds Burden-like (Cather-like) pres ence in the telling, the cosmopolitan narrator from the Great World far beyond the flat prairie horizon visible fromAvis’s museum window. Ronald makes a new story out of the unburdening, one which may help all participants, including the reader, to remember a little longer. Similar depths are experienced in other GhostWest stories, like Ronald’s visit to Cather country and to cowboy Texas and to the Girl Scout camp on Hood Canal, where she spent the summers of her youth. From these places, where love and need and memory meet, we get fine stories. This book is a great read. May it encourage students and others ofus to story those places which lodge in our minds like an old song. John Muir’s Last Journey: South to the Amazon and East to Africa: Unpublished Journals and Selected Correspondence. Ed. Michael P. Branch. Washington, D.C./Covelo, Calif.: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2001. 337 pages, $27.50. Reviewed by John P. O’Grady Boise State University, Idaho Inearly 1911, ashe wascorrectingproofsforM^ FirstSummerintheSierra (1911) and putting the finishing touches on his manuscript of The Yosemite (1912), seventy-three-year-old John Muir was also preparing to embark on what proved to be his last great journey: an eight-month, forty-thousand-mile voyage to South America and Africa. It was an adventure that began more than four decades earlier, when a young John Muir set out on a long walk south from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico; from there he planned “to wander far enough into South America to see tropical vegetation in all its palmy glory” (xxix). As fate would have it, severe illness along the wayforced Muir to change his itinerary7 : he turned west and found his way to literary fame in California’s Sierra Nevada, the mountains he nicknamed the “Range of Light.” Yet the desire to see South America and to study its trees never waned, so on August 12, 1911, Muir embarked on a ship from Brooklyn to pursue his long deferred dream. On one level, John Muir’s LastJourney might be read as a kind of swan song by a writer whose most eloquent works are travel narratives. The familiar Muir themes are sounded: a deep interest in the natural world, especially geology and trees; a passionate concern for environmental preservation; and a sharp ambiva lence toward writing books. Perhaps most poignant in this new volume is Muir’s trademark awareness of the numinous within nature, an awareness that is never quite sufficient to dispel a haunting sense of loneliness. It’s right there in his ear liest works—especially in the essays that were later collected and revised into The Mountains ofCalifornia (1894)—but now, thanks toJohn Muir’s LastJourney, this theme can be traced to the end ofhis long and productive life. Feelings of a lonesome wanderer become tinged with an old man’s broodings on mortality, as BOOK REVIEW S 381 can be gathered from these words in a May 1912 letter to his friend Katherine Hooker: “We must look, it seems, somewhere in the sky for a permanent meet ing place. Heavens! What long unblazed trails through starry space friends have to trace to get together. Anyhow let’s be hopeful and grateful for the good antedeath days we have enjoyed” (203). In bringing together and editing previously unpublished journals and corre spondence from the years 1911 and 1912, Michael P. Branch has accomplished a heroic work of literary scholarship, providing his readers with an intimate glimpse into a previously neglected period in Muir’s life and work. Although Muir himself was under tremendous pressure from his editor to generate a book about this grand journey, he was for some reason reluctant to proceed, perhaps intuiting that too little time remained for such an endeavor; after all, be did have more pressing matters, including his political activism to save the Hetch Hetchy Valleyfroma dam. At...