My First Summer in the Sierra

My First Summer in the Sierra

By:  John Muir

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In the summer of 1869, John Muir made his first long trip to Yosemite. When a friend offered him the chance to accompany his flock of sheep and a shepherd to the high pastures of the Sierra, it was an opportunity Muir could not resist. My First Summer in the Sierra is the journal he kept of those summer days, of the wildlife and plant life, and of his explorations into the magical places of the mountains.

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  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780395353516

  • ISBN-10: 0395353513

  • Pages: 336

  • Price: $19.95

  • Publication Date: 04/15/1998

  • Carton Quantity: 24


John Muir

John Muir (1838-1914) was one of the most influential conservationists and nature writers in American history. He was instrumental in the creation and passage of the National Parks Act, and founder of the Sierra Club, acting as its president until his death. Muir was a spirit so free that all he did to prepare for an expedition was to "throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump the back fence."
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    A travel classic by "the most celebrated celebrator of nature in America." -- Commentary

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    Chapter 1

    Through the Foothills with a Flock of Sheep

    In the great Central Valley of California

    there are only two seasons — spring

    and summer. The spring begins with the

    first rainstorm, which usually falls in November.

    In a few months the wonderful flowery

    vegetation is in full bloom, and by the end

    of May it is dead and dry and crisp, as if every

    plant had been roasted in an oven.

     Then the lolling, panting flocks and herds are

    driven to the high, cool, green pastures of the

    Sierra. I was longing for the mountains about

    this time, but money was scarce and I couldn’t

    see how a bread supply was to be kept up. While

    I was anxiously brooding on the bread problem,

    so troublesome to wanderers, and trying

    to believe that I might learn to live like the wild

    animals, gleaning nourishment here and there

    from seeds, berries, etc., sauntering and climbing

    in joyful independence of money or baggage,

    Mr. Delaney, a sheep-owner, for whom I

    had worked a few weeks, called on me, and offered

    to engage me to go with his shepherd and

    flock to the headwaters of the Merced and Tuolumne

    Rivers — the very region I had most in

    mind. I was in the mood to accept work of any

    kind that would take me into the mountains

    whose treasures I had tasted last summer in the

    Yosemite region. The flock, he explained, would

    be moved gradually higher through the successive

    forest belts as the snow melted, stopping

    for a few weeks at the best places we came to.

    These I thought would be good centers of observation

    from which I might be able to make

    many telling excursions within a radius of eight

    or ten miles of the camps to learn something of

    the plants, animals, and rocks; for he assured me

    that I should be left perfectly free to follow my

    studies. I judged, however, that I was in no way

    the right man for the place, and freely explained

    my shortcomings, confessing that I was wholly

    unacquainted with the topography of the upper

    mountains, the streams that would have to be

    crossed, and the wild sheep-eating animals,

    etc.; in short that, what with bears, coyotes,

    rivers, cañons, and thorny, bewildering chaparral,

    I feared that half or more of his flock would

    be lost. Fortunately these shortcomings seemed

    insignificant to Mr. Delaney. The main thing, he

    said, was to have a man about the camp whom

    he could trust to see that the shepherd did his

    duty, and he assured me that the difficulties that

    seemed so formidable at a distance would vanish

    as we went on; encouraging me further by saying

    that the shepherd would do all the herding,

    that I could study plants and rocks and scenery

    as much as I liked, and that he would himself

    accompany us to the first main camp and make

    occasional visits to our higher ones to replenish

    our store of provisions and see how we prospered.

    Therefore I concluded to go, though still

    fearing, when I saw the silly sheep bouncing one

    by one through the narrow gate of the home corral

    to be counted, that of the two thousand and

    fifty many would never return.

     I was fortunate in getting a fine St. Bernard

    dog for a companion. His master, a hunter with

    whom I was slightly acquainted, came to me as

    soon as he heard that I was going to spend the

    summer in the Sierra and begged me to take

    his favorite dog, Carlo, with me, for he feared

    that if he were compelled to stay all summer on

    the plains the fierce heat might be the death of

    him. “I think I can trust you to be kind to him,”

    he said, “and I am sure he will be good to you.

    He knows all about the mountain animals, will

    guard the camp, assist in managing the sheep,

    and in every way be found able and faithful.”

    Carlo knew we were talking about him, watched

    our faces, and listened so attentively that I fancied

    he understood us. Calling him by name, I

    asked him if he was willing to go with me. He

    looked me in the face with eyes expressing wonderful

    intelligence, then turned to his master,

    and after permission was given by a wave of the

    hand toward me and a farewell patting caress, he

    quietly followed me as if he perfectly understood

    all that had been said and had known me always.

    June 3, 1869. This morning provisions, campkettles,

    blankets, plant-press, etc., were packed

    on two horses, the flock headed for the tawny

    foothills, and away we sauntered in a cloud of

    dust: Mr. Delaney, bony and tall, with sharply

    hacked profile like Don Quixote, leading the

    pack-horses, Billy, the proud shepherd, a Chinaman

    and a Digger Indian to assist in driving

    for the first few days in the brushy foothills, and

    myself with notebook tied to my belt.

     The home ranch from which we set out is

    on the south side of the Tuolumne River near

    French Bar, where the foothills of metamorphic

    gold-bearing slates dip below the stratified deposits

    of the Central Valley. We had not gone

    more than a mile before some of the old leaders

    of the flock showed by the eager, inquiring

    way they ran and looked ahead that they were

    thinking of the high pastures they had enjoyed

    last summer. Soon the whole flock seemed to

    be hopefully excited, the mothers calling their

    lambs, the lambs replying in tones wonderfully

    human, their fondly quavering calls interrupted

    now and then by hastily snatched mouthfuls

    of withered grass. Amid all this seeming babel

    of baas as they streamed over the hills every

    mother and child recognized each other’s voice.

    In case a tired lamb, half asleep in the smothering

    dust, should fail to answer, its mother would

    come running back through the flock toward the

    spot whence its last response was heard, and refused

    to be comforted until she found it, the one

    of a thousand, though to our eyes and ears all

    seemed alike.

     The flock traveled at the rate of about a mile

    an hour, outspread in the form of an irregular

    triangle, about a hundred yards wide at the

    base, and a hundred and fifty yards long, with

    a crooked, ever-changing point made up of the

    strongest foragers, called the “leaders,” which,

    with the most active of those scattered along the

    ragged sides of the “main body,” hastily explored

    nooks in the rocks and bushes for grass and

    leaves; the lambs and feeble old mothers dawdling

    in the rear were called the “tail end.”

     About noon the heat was hard to bear; the

    poor sheep panted pitifully and tried to stop

    in the shade of every tree they came to, while

    we gazed with eager longing through the dun

    burning glare toward the snowy mountains and

    streams, though not one was in sight. The landscape

    is only wavering foothills roughened here

    and there with bushes and trees and outcropping

    masses of slate. The trees, mostly the blue

    oak (Quercus douglasii), are about thirty to forty

    feet high, with pale blue-green leaves and white

    bark, sparsely planted on the thinnest soil or in

    crevices of rocks beyond the reach of grass fires.

    The slates in many places rise abruptly through

    the tawny grass in sharp lichen-covered slabs

    like tombstones in deserted burying-grounds.

    With the exception of the oak and four or five

    species of manzanita and ceanothus, the vegetation

    of the foothills is mostly the same as that of

    the plains. I saw this region in the early spring,

    when it was a charming landscape garden full of

    birds and bees and flowers. Now the scorching

    weather makes everything dreary. The ground

    is full of cracks, lizards glide about on the rocks,

    and ants in amazing numbers, whose tiny sparks

    of life only burn the brighter with the heat, fairly


Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780395353516

  • ISBN-10: 0395353513

  • Pages: 336

  • Price: $19.95

  • Publication Date: 04/15/1998

  • Carton Quantity: 24

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