muir’s yosemite


Reflections from John Muir (1838-1914)

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 off like autumn leaves.  As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature’s sources never fail.  Like a generous host, she offers here brimming cups in endless variety, served in a grand hall, the sky its ceiling, the mountains its walls, decorated with glorious paintings and enlivened with bands of music ever playing.

~ Our National Parks

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!

In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world.

~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

All Nature’s wildness tells the same story: the shocks and outbursts of earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, roaring, thundering waves and floods, the silent uprush of sap in plants, storms of every sort, each and all, are the orderly, beauty-making love-beats of Nature’s heart.

~ Three Adventures in the Yosemite

I’ve been visiting Yosemite National Park since I was a child.  My first visits were as a young girl traveling with my dad during the wintertime, and I have an especially fond memory of spending one Christmas there long ago.  We bought a small Christmas tree somewhere along the way, and my dad had thought to bring an assortment of styrofoam balls and glitter so we could make ornaments.  I can still remember the glitter and glue and how we stuck toothpicks in some of them to resemble stars and how we used a needle and thread to hang them on the branches and to string popcorn garlands.  Later during high school I would return during the summers with my best friend and her family, and we would set up camp for a week, floating down the river on inflatable swimming pool mattresses, working on our tans, and trying to stay out of trouble.  We continued this tradition during college, and now that we have families of our own, her dad still reserves the best sites along the river and a third generation has joined us in looking forward to this one week in what many have called Nature’s Cathedral.

Muir once wrote in Our National Parks, “I have done the best I could to show forth the beauty, grandeur, and all-embracing usefulness of our wild mountain forest reservations and parks, with a view to inciting the people to come and enjoy them, and get them into their hearts.”  Unfortunately, I think he has succeeded all too well because the crowds come in droves.  On a recent mid-morning hike back from Vernal Falls, I had to literally wait in traffic as heaps of huffers and puffers formed a steady stream up the granite steps along the mist trail, heads down and so focused on following the herd up the mountain they had nary a thought that anyone would actually be headed down and so clogged all sides of the trail.  I even overheard one woman reflect on how she could not enjoy the scenery because she had to make her way through so many people.  I reflect on how I hate these crowds every time I go, and yet, I still go, perhaps with some smug knowledge I possess of Yosemite’s secrets, the unmarked trails and off-the-beaten-track bikeways where I can get away from the bustle and hum.  While it is incredibly hard for me to imagine Muir’s Yosemite in the middle of a dusty campground some late July, it is not altogether impossible.  The real secret to Muir’s Yosemite for me is morning.

I love the morning in Yosemite, when I can sneak away and wade out into the cold river before anyone else.  The ducks peddle slowly in the reeds along the bank.  The deer shyly make their way through leafy brush before returning to their dens in the trees.  Birds call to one another in the branches above.  And the sun casts a warm glow on the shimmering granite cliffs overhead, on my face upturned as I float in the water with arms outstretched.  In the morning, it is easy to look up into the beauty of Muir’s Yosemite.  And if you are lucky, you can find a peace like this wherever you are.  You may need to rise early or stay up late, but in the midst of any crowd, you can always find solitude if you know where to look for it.


In the morning everything is joyous and bright, the delicious purple of the dawn changes softly to daffodil yellow and white . . . The birds begin to stir, seeking sunny branches on the edge of the meadow . . . the deer withdraw from the open glades and ridge-tops to their leafy hiding-places in the chaparral, the flowers open and straighten their petals as the dew vanishes . . . the very rocks seem to tingle with life, and God is felt brooding over everything great and small.

~ John Muir The Mountains of California



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  1. Yosemite is a special place, and I love the way Muir writes about it in his journals. Wish I could capture some of what he did during all those walks. Thanks!

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