My First Summer in the Sierra

by John Muir, Galen Rowell

The most celebrated book by the grand architect of the twentieth-century conservation movement.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780395353516
  • ISBN-10: 0395353513
  • Pages: 336
  • Publication Date: 04/15/1998
  • Carton Quantity: 24

Also available in:

About the Book
About the Authors
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book
    In the summer of 1869, John Muir made his first long trip to Yosemite. When a friend offered him the chance to accompany his flock of sheep and a shepherd to the high pastures of the Sierra, it was an opportunity Muir could not resist. My First Summer in the Sierra is the journal he kept of those summer days, of the wildlife and plant life, and of his explorations into the magical places of the mountains.
  • About the Author
  • Excerpts

     

    Chapter 1

    Through the Foothills with a Flock of Sheep

    In the great Central Valley of California
    there are only two seasons — spring
    and summer. The spring begins with the
    first rainstorm, which usually falls in November.
    In a few months the wonderful flowery
    vegetation is in full bloom, and by the end
    of May it is dead and dry and crisp, as if every
    plant had been roasted in an oven.
     Then the lolling, panting flocks and herds are
    driven to the high, cool, green pastures of the
    Sierra. I was longing for the mountains about
    this time, but money was scarce and I couldn’t
    see how a bread supply was to be kept up. While
    I was anxiously brooding on the bread problem,
    so troublesome to wanderers, and trying
    to believe that I might learn to live like the wild
    animals, gleaning nourishment here and there
    from seeds, berries, etc., sauntering and climbing
    in joyful independence of money or baggage,
    Mr. Delaney, a sheep-owner, for whom I
    had worked a few weeks, called on me, and offered
    to engage me to go with his shepherd and
    flock to the headwaters of the Merced and Tuolumne
    Rivers — the very region I had most in
    mind. I was in the mood to accept work of any
    kind that would take me into the mountains
    whose treasures I had tasted last summer in the
    Yosemite region. The flock, he explained, would
    be moved gradually higher through the successive
    forest belts as the snow melted, stopping
    for a few weeks at the best places we came to.
    These I thought would be good centers of observation
    from which I might be able to make
    many telling excursions within a radius of eight
    or ten miles of the camps to learn something of
    the plants, animals, and rocks; for he assured me
    that I should be left perfectly free to follow my
    studies. I judged, however, that I was in no way
    the right man for the place, and freely explained
    my shortcomings, confessing that I was wholly
    unacquainted with the topography of the upper
    mountains, the streams that would have to be
    crossed, and the wild sheep-eating animals,
    etc.; in short that, what with bears, coyotes,
    rivers, cañons, and thorny, bewildering chaparral,
    I feared that half or more of his flock would
    be lost. Fortunately these shortcomings seemed
    insignificant to Mr. Delaney. The main thing, he
    said, was to have a man about the camp whom
    he could trust to see that the shepherd did his
    duty, and he assured me that the difficulties that
    seemed so formidable at a distance would vanish
    as we went on; encouraging me further by saying
    that the shepherd would do all the herding,
    that I could study plants and rocks and scenery
    as much as I liked, and that he would himself
    accompany us to the first main camp and make
    occasional visits to our higher ones to replenish
    our store of provisions and see how we prospered.
    Therefore I concluded to go, though still
    fearing, when I saw the silly sheep bouncing one
    by one through the narrow gate of the home corral
    to be counted, that of the two thousand and
    fifty many would never return.
     I was fortunate in getting a fine St. Bernard
    dog for a companion. His master, a hunter with
    whom I was slightly acquainted, came to me as
    soon as he heard that I was going to spend the
    summer in the Sierra and begged me to take
    his favorite dog, Carlo, with me, for he feared
    that if he were compelled to stay all summer on
    the plains the fierce heat might be the death of
    him. “I think I can trust you to be kind to him,”
    he said, “and I am sure he will be good to you.
    He knows all about the mountain animals, will
    guard the camp, assist in managing the sheep,
    and in every way be found able and faithful.”
    Carlo knew we were talking about him, watched
    our faces, and listened so attentively that I fancied
    he understood us. Calling him by name, I
    asked him if he was willing to go with me. He
    looked me in the face with eyes expressing wonderful
    intelligence, then turned to his master,
    and after permission was given by a wave of the
    hand toward me and a farewell patting caress, he
    quietly followed me as if he perfectly understood
    all that had been said and had known me always.

    June 3, 1869. This morning provisions, campkettles,
    blankets, plant-press, etc., were packed
    on two horses, the flock headed for the tawny
    foothills, and away we sauntered in a cloud of
    dust: Mr. Delaney, bony and tall, with sharply
    hacked profile like Don Quixote, leading the
    pack-horses, Billy, the proud shepherd, a Chinaman
    and a Digger Indian to assist in driving
    for the first few days in the brushy foothills, and
    myself with notebook tied to my belt.
     The home ranch from which we set out is
    on the south side of the Tuolumne River near
    French Bar, where the foothills of metamorphic
    gold-bearing slates dip below the stratified deposits
    of the Central Valley. We had not gone
    more than a mile before some of the old leaders
    of the flock showed by the eager, inquiring
    way they ran and looked ahead that they were
    thinking of the high pastures they had enjoyed
    last summer. Soon the whole flock seemed to
    be hopefully excited, the mothers calling their
    lambs, the lambs replying in tones wonderfully
    human, their fondly quavering calls interrupted
    now and then by hastily snatched mouthfuls
    of withered grass. Amid all this seeming babel
    of baas as they streamed over the hills every
    mother and child recognized each other’s voice.
    In case a tired lamb, half asleep in the smothering
    dust, should fail to answer, its mother would
    come running back through the flock toward the
    spot whence its last response was heard, and refused
    to be comforted until she found it, the one
    of a thousand, though to our eyes and ears all
    seemed alike.
     The flock traveled at the rate of about a mile
    an hour, outspread in the form of an irregular
    triangle, about a hundred yards wide at the
    base, and a hundred and fifty yards long, with
    a crooked, ever-changing point made up of the
    strongest foragers, called the “leaders,” which,
    with the most active of those scattered along the
    ragged sides of the “main body,” hastily explored
    nooks in the rocks and bushes for grass and
    leaves; the lambs and feeble old mothers dawdling
    in the rear were called the “tail end.”
     About noon the heat was hard to bear; the
    poor sheep panted pitifully and tried to stop
    in the shade of every tree they came to, while
    we gazed with eager longing through the dun
    burning glare toward the snowy mountains and
    streams, though not one was in sight. The landscape
    is only wavering foothills roughened here
    and there with bushes and trees and outcropping
    masses of slate. The trees, mostly the blue
    oak (Quercus douglasii), are about thirty to forty
    feet high, with pale blue-green leaves and white
    bark, sparsely planted on the thinnest soil or in
    crevices of rocks beyond the reach of grass fires.
    The slates in many places rise abruptly through
    the tawny grass in sharp lichen-covered slabs
    like tombstones in deserted burying-grounds.
    With the exception of the oak and four or five
    species of manzanita and ceanothus, the vegetation
    of the foothills is mostly the same as that of
    the plains. I saw this region in the early spring,
    when it was a charming landscape garden full of
    birds and bees and flowers. Now the scorching
    weather makes everything dreary. The ground
    is full of cracks, lizards glide about on the rocks,
    and ants in amazing numbers, whose tiny sparks
    of life only burn the brighter with the heat, fairly
    quiver...

  • Reviews
    A travel classic by "the most celebrated celebrator of nature in America." -- Commentary
×