He would not cease singing or feeding for an earthquake

John Muir in 1902. Library of Congress.

Born in 1838 in Scotland, John Muir was 11 years old when his family moved to Fountain Lake Farm in Wisconsin, USA. It was whilst growing up on that farm, now recognised as a National Historic Landmark thanks to his work, that the “Father of the National Parks” fell in love with the wilderness and decided to dedicate his life to its preservation and promotion, going on to found the Sierra Club—an environmental organisation which to this day aims to “explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth.” Throughout, Muir was a prolific nature writer, and in his journals recorded much of what he saw on his travels. He penned this entry on the first day of February in 1873, as he travelled through Indian Canyon in California.

The Diary Entry

February 1

Two feet of snow fell last evening. Still snowing all day and this evening. Calm, the air full of snow as if coming from inexhaustible fountains. The snow is damp at the bottom of the valley; therefore it is clogged and aggregated on all kinds of foliage, and branches, and old stumps and rocks. It lies in largest masses on the flat fronded branches of firs and the mounded close foliage of the live-oaks, and it bends and welds together the tassels of the pines…. The fall is booming grandly, but is seldom seen on account of continual snow.

The ouzel is on his favorite feeding ground. He dives nineteen times in forty seconds. He heeds not the roar of avalanches, the heavy masses of snow from banks and trees, and the constant upspringing of pines. He would not cease singing or feeding for an earthquake. Waters of rapids when they flow under a muffling snow-bank are full of tones identical with those flowing under the feathers of an ouzel. Jay sings as if a piece of melting ice were in his throat. An eagle perches on a dead Libocedrus, allowing the snow to collect on his shoulders. Woodpeckers are busy pecking at the undersides of oak limbs, and on knots, passing the time, saying little beyond a few complimentary nods on meeting…. The sunny delta of Indian Canyon is a favorite abode of birds.

Further Reading

Many of John Muir’s original journals are held at the University of the Pacific Library’s Holt-Atherton Special Collections and Archives, and they can be viewed online. It’s an amazing resource. I would also recommend grabbing a copy of John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe. And if you’re looking to read some of Muir’s published writing, some of which includes his journal entries, a good place to start is the John Muir: Nature Writings collection by the Library of America.

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