Friday, June 28, 2013

Review of 'The Wisdom of John Muir' compiled by Anne Rowthorn

The Wisdom of John Muir: 100+ Selections from the Letters, Journals, and Essays of the Great Naturalist
" Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day."  6/23/1869
"... rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last." 9/2/1868
These John Muir quotes capture perfectly his unswerving faith in the healing and restorative power of nature for the human spirit.  If Muir was a preacher, this would be his sermon.

John Muir had a gift for prose that he discovered only reluctantly, and at the prodding of friends and colleagues with whom he corresponded.  He had no real desire to make his intimate personal writings available to the general public.  The above two quotes are from his personal journal.  Many of the other quotes in 'The Wisdom of John Muir' come from private letters to friends.  He didn't publish his first article until 1872 at age 34.  When encouraged by a friend to write a book he lamented:
"Book-making frightens me because it demands so much artificialness and retrograding ... Moreover I find that though I have a few thoughts entangled in the fibers of my mind, I possess no words into which I can shape them ... These mountain fires that glow in one's blood are free to all, but I cannot find the chemistry that may press them unimpaired into booksellers' bricks.  True, I can proclaim that moonshine is glorious, and sunshine more glorious, that winds rage, and waters roar ... This is about the limit of what I feel capable of doing for the public.  But for my few friends I can do more because they already know the mountain harmonies and can catch the tones I gather for them, though written in a few harsh and gravelly sentences."  12/25/1872
Thank goodness Muir's friends persisted, for despite his perceptions that the wider public would not fathom his passion for nature, he discovered that such passion lies dormant in all of us; and we are much the better for having had him to express for us what we can only vaguely sense.

Anne Rowthorn had admired Muir's work and writings for years, and seems a kindred spirit.  She lovingly and thoughtfully assembled her 100+ selections of Muir's writing, dividing them into twelve themed chapters that are roughly chronological and reflect ups and downs, ins and outs of the man's life.  Rowthorn's commentary provides a rich frame for the quotes, and serves as a decent biography.  Her touch is light yet its impact on this final product is considerable.  She adds value, making this book far more than an assemblage of memorable snippets.  It becomes a coherent package.

In summary, I found 'The Wisdom of John Muir' to be a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the man - a fine guidebook to his personality and his unique spirituality as well as to his style and craft as a writer.  This would be an excellent choice as a gift to any young lover of nature.

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