“Passing through Yosemite Valley in the fall of 1872, Muir met two artists who he agreed to lead into…”Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
Passing through Yosemite Valley in the fall of 1872, Muir met two artists who he agreed to lead into the mountains. After a few days, they rounded a great projection of rock and came upon what he called a “typical alpine landscape.” The artists, one of whom is believed to have been the Scottish landscape painter William Keith, decided to stay put in order to paint the romantic archetype that unfolded before their eyes. Muir was not content with pictures, though. He wanted experience. He pressed on and, reaching a cliff at the side of a massive glacier, began to scale Ritter’s peak. Clambering up crumbling battlements of metamorphic rock, hammering off ice with stones, Muir eventually found himself in an impossible spot: spread-eagled against a smooth cliff face, unable to move hand or foot. Convinced he was about to fall to his death, Muir suddenly became “possessed of a new sense,” a power that took control of his body, moving it up the rock “with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do.”
This is mysticism not as contemplative exercise, but as extreme sport. In his account, Muir scrambles about for the proper religious or scientific metaphor for this “new sense”—instinct, guardian angel, the other self. In the next century, he might have used Buddhist language or the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s popular notion of a “peak experience.” It doesn’t matter. What infused Muir’s limbs was life itself, which for Muir meant the wild flux of moonbows and pine pitch and glacial rifts and telescopes— in other words, everything. “When we try to pick out anything by itself,” he wrote, “we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” What he discovered on Mount Ritter was that he was hitched as well, linked not just to some hazy sense of oneness but also to a direct course of action, a knowing spontaneity.
An experience of John Muir’s, the founder of the Sierra Club, found in which names him as one of the many benefactor’s of California’s ‘spirit’
An experience of John Muir’s, the founder of the Sierra Club, found in
which names him as one of the many benefactor’s of California’s ‘spirit’