Friday, May 4, 2012

 1. The book "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf     2.  Muir's writing and philosophy   3. Title Page
4. Publisher and Index    5.  Map of his journey    6. Long Moss and oak trees of Bonaventure Cemetary     7. Author's Sketch    8. Author's Sketch

A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf
Author: John Muir
Edited by William Frederick Bade’
Large Print Edition
Publisher: Norman Berg/Houghton Mifflin co.
Copyright: 1970 reprint of the 1916 original edition 

Walk right along with 27-year-old John Muir as he began exploring from Decatur, Ill in October, 1867 all the way to Cuba (using a boat in there of course).  The journal is edited for clarity by Bade’ and seems true to Muir’s poignant and transcendent voice.  After an accident that nearly left him blind, Muir decided “that life was too brief and uncertain, and time too precious to waste upon belts and saws; that while he was pottering in a wagon factory, God was making a world.”  This is when he decided to devote his life to the study of nature, and sensitive to the life around him, Muir coined his famous quote “Earth, Planet, Universe.”

Muir was raised near Portage, WI, with brothers and sisters.  His father was a deeply religious man and much of Muir’s descriptions of nature included biblical phraseology. 

It’s fascinating to read about the South in 1967, still suffering from the affects of the Civil War.  He walked with nothing but a plant press and journal running into all sorts of plants and people.  In Kentucky he noticed the white men liked their guns and horses.  He mentioned their accents “sartain” for certain, “tollable” for tolerable, and “parrs” for pears.  Possibly because of having only Northern experiences to draw on at this time in his life, he made unfortunate comments about African Americans, but does redeem himself as he heard more and more white-man stories and saw the unfairness.’  These stories from the white males themselves, only proved with certainty, how much they used and took from others based solely upon the color of their skin.

Muir saw scenery grander than any he had ever beheld, exclaiming, “Oh these forest gardens of our Father!”  Still, he found the mountain regions of Tennessee and North Carolina far more backward than the remotest parts of Wisconsin.  Referring to everything from weaving to grist mills, he wrote “it’s as if laws had been passed making attempts at improvement a crime.”  He was warned of many people living like wild beasts as he continued south.  Probably due to this, he was not welcomed but interrogated when he approached any farm.

While he did purchase bread or a meal where he could find it, Muir often depended on the charity of strangers for his food and lodging due to the remote areas he walked through..  He found the many caves emitted cool breezes and were surrounded by plenty of plant life.  

Georgia was his admitted favorite, mainly because he found the people so obliging and kind.  He also thought that the plants of the north and south met most distinctly on the southern slope of the Georgian Allegany’s.  Athens was particularly lovely in Muir’s estimation, and he described beautiful and aristocratic mansions.  In the plant world he “scarce saw a familiar face. . .”  Muir witnessed the traces of war: burned fences, mills, and woods.  He saw the wounds the aged carried and like the new trees, the youth were full of vigor. 

He walked about 25 miles a day and the next day, 40 miles with no dinner or supper.  As he neared Savannah, he saw his first pomegranate (and I’ll bet he ate it), Spanish moss, and a cypress swamp.  While watching for alligators, the strange sounds filled him with “indescribable loneliness.”  By the time he arrived in Savannah he was able to stay one night in a motel of sorts, and then found that the money he asked his brother to send had not come.

Forced to find somewhere to sleep while waiting for the money, he wandered to the Bonaventure Graveyard.  Today, you may know it from the 1994 book by John Berendt or the 1997movie of the same name, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  The cemetery was adopted by the city in 1907 and hosts daily tours.  In 1867, Muir traveled 2 to 4 miles by his estimation on a shell-covered road to get there.  It was part of an abandoned plantation. 

He knew this was the safest place to rest due to the superstitious nature of man.  There were many desperate people about at this time and it was not uncommon to be killed for $2.  Though he was comfortable by the standards of his good nature, it is thought that this was the time he contacted malaria.  Throughout his stay, he remarked on the birds, butterflies, a Long Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), and beauty of the graveyard while also imparting his views on death.

“On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death”, Muir said.  He saw life and death a friendly union of “Nature.”  He thought if children walked with Nature instead of seeing adults yield to groans and tears, that death would be stingless and as beautiful as life.  “. . .the grave has no victory, for it never fights.  All is divine harmony.”

After a week he literally staggered to the post office from lack of food.  Finally the money arrived and he needed to prove he was indeed the botanist, John Muir to claim the package.  He made the postman smile as he offered to be interrogated as to his knowledge of botany, in case he had actually stolen a John Muir’s things and now claimed to be this man.

In October 15, 1867, Muir took a steamer to the “Land of Flowers” and saw the flowery Canaan, “an answer to his longings and prayers.”  Florida was the place that he felt he truly left his native land of the north (Wisconsin) because he recognized no plant.  He struggled through vines and black, alligator-ridden water gathering specimens, but the grandest discovery of his day was seeing his first palmetto (palm tree).  He decided that the cat brier was a worse scorn than the alligator and would travel up to a mile out of his way just to find a small opening. 

Muir stayed with a white doctor where he heard a recital of how the earth was here only for us and how they knew all God’s intentions.  If you read this book, you will see how little he agreed with that mentality and in his journal called them “Lord Man.” 

He received food from some Florida loggers whom he found barbaric, but they did help.  Also an African American family shared some beans with him when they couldn’t even cloth their son.  He was nearly accosted by a wild-eyed man who Muir figured was a run-a-away. 

When he finally found his way to the coast, he began working for the Hodgson’s mill for some money.  Not long after, he fell sick with Malaria and Typhoid, and owed his life to the kindness, skill and care of Mr. And Mrs. Hodgson.  After two months, almost as soon as he could walk, he boarded a sailing vessel for Cuba.  He visited Mrs. Hodgson about 25 years later to thank her once again.  “Is that John Muir?” she exclaimed.  “My John Muir?”

Muir’s love of nature had him clinging to a rope on the boat during a storm so as not to be washed overboard just to watch the mountainous waves.  They arrived in Havana and while he found the city full of lovely gardens and people, he preferred the natural side of the harbor which he marveled over.  He found a flower in the sand being beaten about by the rough waves, only to discover it was growing there.  When he found that there were no ships going to South America, he boarded a schooner full of oranges bound for New York.  His journal ends here, but the reader is treated to an extension through a letter he wrote of how he came to Yosemite.

Sometimes it’s seems that Muir is inclined toward depression as he describes loneliness and fear.  Through isolation, illness, and adversity he constantly mentioned God’s children (plants), and KEPT WALKING!  He was consistently grateful to God for this wondrous place called Earth.  Inspiring.

Of the 31 steps to the attic I give this 62.  Well worth the trip up and down

1970 Hardcover, Berg/Houghton publisher.  Book condition near fine, no marks or writing.  Clean, tight binding.  No dj.  17 photo illustrations. $30 plus $4.00 shipping.