A Guest Blog from John Muir*
I was longing for an adventure, but money was scarce and I couldn’t see how a bread supply was to be kept up. Or at least, that was my current excuse for not doing something about it.
I know that I could, under ordinary circumstances, accumulate wealth and obtain a fair position in society, and I am arrived at an age that requires that I should choose some definite course for life. But I am sure that the mind of no truant schoolboy is more free and disengaged from all the grave plans and purposes and pursuits of ordinary orthodox life than mine!
Anyway, I brooded on the bread problem, so troublesome to wanderers, trying to believe that I might learn to live like the wild animals, gleaning nourishment here and there, sauntering and climbing in joyful independence of money or baggage. But I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news. It feels important to keep close to Nature’s heart and break clear away, once in awhile, and spend a week in the wild to Wash your spirit clean.
Go now and then, for fresh life, they say… Go, whether or not you have faith… Go up and away for life; be fleet! So here I am — I’ve gone!
I wish I knew where I was going. Doomed to be carried of the spirit into the wilderness, I suppose. I wish I could be more moderate in my desires, but I cannot, and so there is no rest.
When an excursion into the wild is proposed, all sorts of exaggerated or imaginary dangers are conjured up, filling the kindly, soothing wilderness with colds, dangers, bugs, impassable rivers, and jungles of brush, to which is always added quick and sure starvation. It’s all nonsense! The greatest danger is only being too cowardly or dull to not go at all.
I never take much time to prepare for a trip — just long enough to throw bread and tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence. My pack is as light as a squirrel’s tail.
The freedom I felt as I departed was exhilarating, and neither burning heat, thirst, and faintness, nor rain, bogs and cold could make it less. Before I had walked ten miles, I was wearied and footsore, that’s true. But it was real, earnest work and I liked it. Any kind of simple, natural destruction is preferable to the numb, dumb apathetic deaths of a town.
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in… And, as night fell, I lay down thankful beside the warming fire. The great rousing fragrant fire is the very God of the house. No wonder the old nations with their fresher instincts had their fireside Gods. A fine place this to forget weariness and wrongs and bad business.
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. It’s another glorious day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.
There’s so much you get exposed to out here that carries us back into the midst of the life of a past infinitely remote. And as we go on and on, studying this old, old life in the light of the life beating all about us, we enrich and lengthen our own.
The world’s big, no doubt about it, and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark. I am only a baby slowly learning my adventure alphabet. But who wouldn’t be an adventurer!? Out here all the real world’s prizes seem nothing!
Walk, ride, run, paddle away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom. In every encounter with nature you receive far more than you seek. This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
We are now in the great outdoors and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. The clearest way into the Universe, I believe, is through a wilderness. For we little know how much wildness there is in us. Only a few generations separate us from our grandfathers that were savage as wolves. This is the secret of our love for the hunt. Savageness is natural, civilization is strained and unnatural.
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.
Accidents in the mountains are less common than in the lowlands, and these mountain mansions are decent, delightful, even divine, places to die in, compared with the doleful chambers of civilization. Remember that few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes, the waters, the quieter tracks. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast-rooted they travel about as far as we do.
The gales thrashed me, the mists descended, the mountain felt fierce. But as day ended I lit the stove, got a cup of tea, stripped off my dripping clothing, wrapped myself in a sleeping bag and lay brooding on the gains of the day and plans for the morrow.
It’s true; you may be a little cold some nights on mountain tops above the timber-line, but you will see the stars, and by and by, when the time comes, you can sleep enough in your town bed, or at least in your grave. So make the most of what you have. I felt glad, rich, and almost comfortable.
It was still raining hard when I awoke, but I made up my mind to disregard the weather, put on my dripping clothing, glad to know it was rinsed fresh and clean, slung my pack over my shoulder, and plunged once more into the dripping cloud. While perched on that narrow niche I was not distinctly conscious of danger. The tremendous grandeur of the place smothered the sense of fear, and in such places one’s body takes keen care for safety on its own account. Hereafter I’ll try to keep from such extravagant, nerve-straining places. Yet such a day is well worth venturing for. I had a glorious time, and got to camp about dark, enjoying triumphant exhilaration soon followed by dull weariness.
How deep our sleep last night in the mountain’s heart, beneath the stars, hushed by solemn-sounding waterfalls and many small soothing river voices in sweet accord! And the dawns and sunrises of these mountain days, –the rose light creeping higher among the stars, changing to daffodil yellow, the level beams bursting forth, streaming across the ridges, touching ridge after ridge, awakening and warming all. Divine, enduring, unwastable wealth. Our first pure mountain day, warm, calm, cloudless — how immeasurable it seems, how serenely wild! I can scarcely remember its beginning. Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky, spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere.
Exhilarated with the mountain air, I feel like shouting this morning with excess of wild animal joy. My first view of the Highest peaks is of itself enough for a most memorable day of days–enjoyment enough to kill if that were possible. Now away we go toward the topmost mountains. Many still, small voices, as well as the thunder, are calling, “Come higher.” Farewell, woods, gardens, towns, and a thousand others. Farewell. Farewell. It’s time to head high.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity. A little money we all need nowadays, but there is nothing about the getting of it that should rob us of our wits. Gold-digging is only a dull chore, and no sane man will allow it to blind him and draw him away from the real blessings of existence. A lifetime is so little a time that we die before we get ready to live.
Too many people are on the world, not in it. No amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to *know* these mountains. One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books.
I’m glad I’m not great enough to be missed in the busy world. I may yet become a proper cultivated plant, cease my wild wanderings, and form a so-called pillar or something in society. But not yet. I would rather stand in what all the world would call an idle manner, literally gaping with all the mouths of soul and body, demanding nothing, fearing nothing, but hoping and enjoying enormously.
And so, Go east, young man, go east! Go any direction; only go! You have only to go a few miles to be happy. Toilers in the cities, whose lives are well-nigh choked by the weeds of care that have grown up and run to seed all about you — leave all and go and you cannot escape a cure for all care. Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek.
* — this blog is made up entirely of quotes from John Muir’s writings. I compiled it to show the relevance of his writing even a century after his death. I made a short film with my friend Tem to help highlight the beautiful landscapes that the John Muir Trust helps care for. I hope that you enjoy it.
Originally published at www.alastairhumphreys.com on November 18, 2016.