I’m in Stockton, California to do some research on the American (Scottish–born) naturalist John Muir, who is today known as ‘Father of the National Parks’ in America. Here at the Holt–Atherton Special Collections at the library of the University of the Pacific they have the most amazing Muir collection, including his letters, journals, notebooks and much more. Michael Wurtz, the wonderful archivist here, gave me a special tour of the collection and I would like to share one of the treasures with you – one of Muir’s letters, written in autumn 1870 to Jeanne Carr during an excursion in the Yosemite.
It’s my favourite Muir letter. I had read before because Muir’s correspondence is online.But to actually see the real thing was incredible because Muir wrote this rapturous love letter about the sequoias (those gigantic redwoods) with ink made of the sap of the trees. The writing still shines reddish purplish today.
Even the letterhead is fabulous ‘Squirrelville, Sequoia Co, Nut time’
And then Muir starts with: ‘Do behold the King in his glory, King Sequoia. Behold! Behold!’, rhapsodising about the magnificent redwoods. ‘But I'm in the woods woods woods, & they are in me-ee-ee. The King tree & me have sworn eternal love - sworn it without swearing & I’ve taken the sacrament with Douglass Squirrell drank Sequoia wine, Sequoia blood, & with its rosy purple dress I am writing this woody gospel letter.’
Here is a man who is not afraid of just letting go when it comes to nature.
‘I wish I was so drunk & Sequoical that I could preach the green brown woods to all the juiceless world, descending from this divine wilderness like a John the Baptist, eating Douglass squirrels & wild honey or wild anything, crying Repent, for the Kingdom of Sequoia is at hand’
And later on a little attack on politicians and ‘civilised’ people in general: ‘living King-juice for all defrauded civilization’ and ‘sick or successful, come suck Sequoia & be saved’
You got to love this man. This was definitely one of those research days that I will never forget. And now I’m off to the Yosemite to get my own dose of being Sequoical.
Click here for the letter
- Andrea Wulf, Eccles Centre Writer in Residence, 2013