My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Why would I read this? For one, it takes place in my hood. Two, it's by John Muir, the famous Scottish/American naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, which saved national treasures like Yosemite and the Sequoia National Park.
Without Muir this might no longer exist as it does to this day...
If it weren't for Muir these living trees, some of which have been here longer than the pyramids, may have been cut down...
To look at a map of the United States, one would get the impression that moving west a traveler would encounter the Rocky Mountains and then nothing but lowlands stretching out to the Pacific. But no, there are more mountains to be passed once you hit California and they are no joke. Just ask the Donner Party. Muir's task was to enter this rugged country to oversee a herd of sheep sent into the mountains to forage during the blistering Summers suffered upon the San Joaquin Valley floor. My First Summer in the Sierra is his recounting of this life-altering experience.
One thing is obvious almost from the beginning. John Muir was a good writer. His elegant use of language was apt for the grandeur of his subject. And the sheer joy he felt in being there is so evident in his effusive language.
The second thing that became apparent about Muir is that he was smart. His writing portraits a clear head and a clearly intelligent mind. One gets the impression that he would've excelled at whatever vocation he chose.
The Nobly-Bearded John Muir
He was a man of science who believed in God and believed he was best communed with through nature. No need to cut down the trees to make cathedrals when the cathedrals are already built and have been standing for hundreds, even thousands of years.
My First Summer in the Sierra will likely invest within you a strong desire to see all he is describing. I felt as if I could've gone on and on reading his accounts forever. However, it's probably for the best that this is short. It's mostly just straight up description - like watching a well-shot nature documentary - very beautiful description indeed, but pretty much plotless. The only tension is in whether or not the sheep will survive and a few encounters with friend and foe. Just the same, readers should be thankful there's any tension at all, this isn't a novel after all.
This is an ode to the glories this world has been providing its inhabitants long before we arrived. And long may it last.