In the late 1800s, John Muir made several trips to the pristine, relatively unexplored territory of Alaska, irresistibly drawn to its awe-inspiring glaciers and its wild menagerie of bears, bald eagles, wolves, and whales. Half-poet and half-geologist, he recorded his experiences and reflections in Travels in Alaska, a work he was in the process of completing at the time of his death in 1914. As Edward Hoagland writes in his Introduction, "A century and a quarter later, we are reading [Muir's] account because there in the glorious fiords . . . he is at our elbow, nudging us along, prompting us to understand that heaven is on earth--is the Earth--and rapture is the sensible response wherever a clear line of sight remains." This Modern Library Paperback Classic includes photographs from the original 1915 edition.
John Muir had a life-long interest in the rugged wilderness of Alaska, with its large forests and huge glaciers. Through endless observation, Muir discovered and reconstructed many facts about glaciers, then unknown or ill-understood, such as the idea that glaciers once covered a much larger part of the world and helped create the North-American landscape.
Muir's travels were made in the true spirit of exploration, and he was a very couragious adventurer, often exposing himself to risks other travellers would faint dare. His aversion of tackle and equipment, and his preference for the simplest mode of travel, often without much more than a knapsack and a crust of bread, foraging edible fruit and wild-life, enabled him to reach areas other explorers would not go.
Travels in Alaska bring together the reports on three trips John Muir made to Alaska, in 1879, 1880, and a decade later in 1890. Muir who made a living of his travel writing, always carried a note-book, but notes were not as detailed as a diary. His writings, based on the note-books and his memory are written in a fresh and engaging style, making the reader an immediate witness of the spectacle and event. Only, Muir's last trip to Alaska, which disappointed him as, even then, erosion and destruction of the landscape took its visible toll, is much shorter, and was written on and off for many years, a large part in the final year of his life.
So, especially, Muir's description of the first two trips, in 1879 and the following year, 1880, are brimming with his enthusiasm for the wild in the north.
Muir's writing style is always easy to follow. Most plants and trees are described using their English names, and only for some rarer species of herbs and mosses are sometimes Latin names introduced, but sparsely. Muir's language is poetic, but never baroque, making his descriptions as rich and pure as the phenomena he observed. There are some moments of real excitement, as, for instance his encounters with bears.
In all three reports about Alaska, Muir writes about the tribes of Native Americans he met on his travels, describing their culture and customs, making Travels in Alaska also of special interest to anthropologists and readers with an interest in the Native American Indians.
Muir's reports not only describe how civilization encroached upon these last remnants of the wilderness, but also how they corrupted and changed the lifestyle of the Native Americans in those parts.
He goes into a great deal of detail about plants and glaciers and waterfalls and ice and rivers and trees and rocks and anything else, but for all that detail I couldn't help but want to read more. He tells his story with such vibrance and exhuberance I was just drawn on and on. I have several more free kindle books of his to read and his first about the Sierra Nevada that is a real book and I can't wait to get to all of them.
I highly recommend reading him.
A chronicle of mountaineering in Alaska by the founder of the Sierra Club in 1879, 1880 and 1890, prepared for publication after his death by Marion Randall Parsons and William Frederic Bade, with an introduction by the latter. Contains much edited material from articles Muir had written for the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin.
Large Paper Edition limited to 450 copies, this is No. 248. Green laid paper boards, dark green buckram shelfback, brown leather label with gilt-stamped lettering on spine, untrimmed edges, colored photogravure front, with printed tissue, and 16 plates tipped in. Ink inscribed on upper ffep “Amia Louise Poor, Xmas 1918, M.W.P.” Primary illustrator Herbert W. Gleason. Binding tight and square, many unclipped pages, Near Fine condition.
A chronicle of mountaineering in Alaska in 1879, 1880 and 1890, this work was Muir’s chief pleasure and recreation prior to his passing. Prepared for publication after his death by Marion Randall Parsons and William Frederic Bade, with an introduction by the latter. Contains much edited material from articles Muir had written for the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin. Kimes 332
We read of his encounters with the locals as well, Indian clans who forged an existence from this harsh and unforgiving environment. They people welcomed him into their villages and as acted as guides on some of his more adventurous walks too.
The writing is lyrical and elegant, along with his descriptions of the scenery, the long fjords, the forests, the glaciers and the moraines are beautiful making this an enjoyable read. But in lots of ways this is a time capsule, taking us back to a time and a landscape that we are unlikely to see with the way that climate change is going.