The manner in which John Muir describes his surroundings made me realize how little I paid attention to mine. He saw wonder and life in the places I would have seen monotony. Muir saw an opportunity to be thankful for the wildlife surrounding him, where I sometimes saw a burden in it. The constant noting of the beauty of nature is the dominant trait in My First Summer in the Sierra, and the reason it has such a charm.
My First Summer in the Sierra is written in a style that gives a reader a sense of wanderlust for his or her own backyard. It is a book which made me realize I don’t need to go too far to find a reason to have my breath taken away by nature, because all I need is a change in perspective and an appreciation for every tree, leaf, flower and creature that I come across.
I also took a keen interest in Muir’s style of writing because it is unlike anyone else’s when it comes to describing nature. Muir does not care to describe his interaction with nature, nor does he take the time to explain what he learns from his surroundings. Instead Muir lets the environment speak for itself. The language Muir gives nature is the language of description. Muir gives the smallest of details–the pores of a plant, the shadow a rock creates, the sound of the stream rushing by, the height of the trees—to depict to the reader what it truly means to find beauty in everything. It is the manner of the description and his constant gratefulness that allows for a relationship to form between the reader and what Muir is describing.
Muir does not only have an avid passion and gratitude towards nature, but he is also a devoted scientist. The curiosity of a scientist parallels his harmony and unity with nature, evidently seen when he writes, “One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of nature, – inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.” Muir molds science and nature so effortlessly it is difficult to note where one of his passions ends and the other begins. I found this to be incredibly interesting, since it is not common for many scientists to think of nature in that manner.
My First Summer in the Sierra impacted me in a way that made me take a step back and realize that I was not living with nature, but rather I was merely living in it. I took for granted the sound of a bird’s song, never thinking about what it would be like if I woke up and day and didn’t hear nature outside. I took for granted the opened acorns, not realizing that it did not matter if I stand still or move, life still goes on around me. It was this realization that led me to see that I should slow down and take my surroundings in. I must sometimes stop and admire the creations around me. I must also stop and realize how small I am compared to a tree, and how much I take for granted. Muir also taught me that I cannot understand nature’s beauty until I can fully appreciate its splendor.
Ana Navarrete is a senior Environment and the Humanities student who plans to attend law school in the fall of 2015, with the aim of pursuing a career in environmental law. She is a member of Texas Tech’s Honors College from Houston, Texas.
Plates from My First Summer in the Sierra: Liberty Cap, with Vernal and Nevada Falls; Magnificent Silver Firs (Mr. Muir in foreground); White Mariposa Tulip (Calorchortus albus).
My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir. Boston: Houghthon Mifflin, 1911. This book can be read in the Holden Reading Room of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University. A digital copy of this book, and others by John Muir, is available in the SWC/SCL’s digital collection (http://collections.swco.ttu.edu/) in the Natural History and Science Collection.