My travel to Alaska preface

 Forty years ago John Muir wrote to a friend; “I am hopelessly and

forever a mountaineer. . . . Civilization and fever, and all the

morbidness that has been hooted at me, have not dimmed my glacial eyes,

and I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s

loveliness.” How gloriously he fulfilled the promise of his early

manhood! Fame, all unbidden, wore a path to his door, but he always

remained a modest, unspoiled mountaineer. Kindred spirits, the greatest

of his time, sought him out, even in his mountain cabin, and felt

honored by his friendship. Ralph Waldo Emerson urged him to visit

Concord and rest awhile from the strain of his solitary studies in the

Sierra Nevada. But nothing could dislodge him from the glacial problems

of the high Sierra; with passionate interest he kept at his task. “The

grandeur of these forces and their glorious results,” he once wrote,

“overpower me and inhabit my whole being. Waking or sleeping, I have no

rest. In dreams I read blurred sheets of glacial writing, or follow

lines of cleavage, or struggle with the difficulties of some

extraordinary rock-form.”

There is a note of pathos, the echo of an unfulfilled hope, in the

record of his later visit to Concord. “It was seventeen years after our

parting on Wawona ridge that I stood beside his [Emerson’s] grave under

a pine tree on the hill above Sleepy Hollow. He had gone to higher

Sierras, and, as I fancied, was again waving his hand in friendly

recognition.” And now John Muir has followed his friend of other days

to the “higher Sierras.” His earthly remains lie among trees planted by

his own hand. To the pine tree of Sleepy Hollow answers a guardian

sequoia in the sunny Alhambra Valley.

In 1879 John Muir went to Alaska for the first time. Its stupendous

living glaciers aroused his unbounded interest, for they enabled him to

verify his theories of glacial action. Again and again he returned to

this continental laboratory of landscapes. The greatest of the

tide-water glaciers appropriately commemorates his name. Upon this book

of Alaska travels, all but finished before his unforeseen departure,

John Muir expended the last months of his life. It was begun soon after

his return from Africa in 1912. His eager leadership of the ill-fated

campaign to save his beloved Hetch-Hetchy Valley from commercial

destruction seriously interrupted his labors. Illness, also, interposed

some checks as he worked with characteristic care and thoroughness

through the great mass of Alaska notes that had accumulated under his

hands for more than thirty years.

The events recorded in this volume end in the middle of the trip of

1890. Muir’s notes on the remainder of the journey have not been found,

and it is idle to speculate how he would have concluded the volume if

he had lived to complete it. But no one will read the fascinating

description of the Northern Lights without feeling a poetical

appropriateness in the fact that his last work ends with a portrayal of

the auroras—one of those phenomena which elsewhere he described as “the

most glorious of all the terrestrial manifestations of God.”

Muir’s manuscripts bear on every page impressive evidence of the pains

he took in his literary work, and the lofty standard he set himself in

his scientific studies. The counterfeiting of a fact or of an

experience was a thing unthinkable in connection with John Muir. He was

tireless in pursuing the meaning of a physiographical fact, and his

extraordinary physical endurance usually enabled him to trail it to its

last hiding-place. Often, when telling the tale of his adventures in

Alaska, his eyes would kindle with youthful enthusiasm, and he would

live over again the red-blooded years that yielded him “shapeless

harvests of revealed glory.”

For a number of months just prior to his death he had the friendly

assistance of Mrs. Marion Randall Parsons. Her familiarity with the

manuscript, and with Mr. Muir’s expressed and penciled intentions of

revision and arrangement, made her the logical person to prepare it in

final form for publication. It was a task to which she brought devotion

as well as ability. The labor involved was the greater in order that

the finished work might exhibit the last touches of Muir’s master-hand,

and yet contain nothing that did not flow from his pen. All readers of

this book will feel grateful for her labor of love.

I add these prefatory lines to the work of my departed friend with

pensive misgiving, knowing that he would have deprecated any discharge

of musketry over his grave. His daughters, Mrs. Thomas Rea Hanna and

Mrs. Buel Alvin Funk, have honored me with the request to transmit the

manuscript for publication, and later to consider with them what

salvage may be made from among their father’s unpublished writings.

They also wish me to express their grateful acknowledgments to Houghton

Mifflin Company, with whom John Muir has always maintained close and

friendly relations.


Berkeley, California,

_May_, 1915.

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