DON RAKOW: Good evening and welcome. I'm Don Rakow, the Elizabeth Newman Wilds Director of Cornell Plantations. And I'm so glad to see such a wonderful audience here this evening. You've all shown great wisdom, because you're in for a great treat this evening.
I'd like to make a few announcements before we introduce tonight's guest speaker. The first is that we would like to thank the great Class of 1945 for sponsoring this lecture. And we're very pleased that we actually have a few representatives of the Class of 1945 to honor this evening, Ed and Virginia Cranch and Lois Humphries, here in the first row.
We also would like to thank the Class of 1938, and I don't think we have any representatives of that class here this evening, for providing additional support for the Plantations' lecture series.
Excuse me. This being the last lecture in our Fall series, there are a few special thanks we would like to make. First to Rick Wood, who is videographer for each of these lectures, also handles all of the AV needs.
That is a great segue way for me to mention that each of the lectures in the Plantations' lecture series, with the exception of the first, either are or will be on our website. So if you go to our www.CornellPlantations.org website, you will be able to access any lectures that you may have missed or that you want to have the pleasure of seeing again. We also, of course, would like to thank all of our members and donors that make not only this lecture series but all of our activities and all of our collections at Plantations possible. If you are feeling awkward about not being a member, we have a great solution to that. We also would like to thank our volunteer lecture committee, who help us select individuals and topics to offer to all of you each fall.
Now I would like to make you aware of a couple of additional opportunities. One is that on Saturday, December 4th, about a month from now, we'll be holding a wonderful program called Identifying with Trees, which will be a splendid opportunity to learn more about trees, their associated lore, and their identification. It also will be an opportunity for many of you to see the interior of the Bryan C. Nevin Welcome Center for the first time. Because this will be the first class that we actually hold inside the Nevin Center. So we invite you to sign up for that, again, by accessing our website.
And speaking of our website, we also invite all of you to become members through our e-newsletter. This is something that we update a number of times a year, usually six times a year. And it is the best way of staying up-to-date on everything happening at Cornell Plantations.
So before I introduce our Director of Natural Areas, I would like to just mention that our speaker tonight, Lee Stetson, has DVDs, CDs, and books that he will be offering for sale in the foyer behind the auditorium immediately after tonight's lecture. And I believe that after you've heard him, after you've experienced the spirit of John Muir, you will want to go home with one of those products.
So at this point, I would like to turn things over to Todd Bittner, who is the Cornell Director of Natural Areas, who will introduce our speaker. Todd?
TODD BITTNER: Good evening and welcome. It is my distinct honor tonight to introduce two remarkable men. As an avid supporter of the arts in our national parks, Lee Stetson has entertained and educated audiences for nearly 30 years. He has written and performed over 10 plays, including shows based on the life of the naturalist John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt.
These productions, with Mr. Stetson in the title role, have been presented in Yosemite National Park since 1983 to more than a quarter of a million people and have toured throughout the country. More recently, Lee Stetson was featured as John Muir in Ken Burns' PBS documentary, The National Parks, America's Best Idea. And when he is not on stage, Lee Stetson can be found surrounded by schoolchildren, leading educational tours, and sharing his wealth of knowledge with future stewards of our natural areas.
It is also my privilege tonight to introduce an icon in the protection of wild places, John Muir. As a founding father of the conservation movement, John Muir's legacy is unrivaled. Throughout his wandering adventures through the Sierras, he learned from the land, and taught the people of his time and ours the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage.
As a founding member and first president of the Sierra Club, John Muir helped to preserve many of the crown jewels of our national park system, including Yosemite and Mariposa Grove. His extensive and eloquent writings inspired and framed a conservation movement that continues to this day. A true friend of flowers, fauna, and forests, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the spirit of John Muir.
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Well, well, well, now what a grand gathering, hey, of wilderness lovers, of nature lovers, of planetary lovers have we here! Well, now. Well, such a gathering should bring forth any other lively spirit hearabout.
And having spent, oh, a long and happy lifetime marveling at and playing with and defending the rock and water spirits of this good planet, well, now, now you can marvel that I appear to be one. And I heartily thank you for your summons here this evening.
Well, you did call? Eh? Well. No, no, no, no. I may have been mistaken. But I experienced such a sharp sensation of having been called, that-- well, no. I know you've found your spirit from time to time, oh, drawn to places or to people of like nature.
Oh, but still, still I do detect some surprise, or perhaps some doubt, that the spirit of old John Miller still wanders on this good planet. Well, I can appreciate that doubt for I, too, have heard the rumor that I died.
And long ago, they say. And of a broken heart, oh, of a shattered spirit from the loss of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, that other magnificent Yosemite-type valley, not far from there. Indeed, still part of our national park that I fought so long, so hard to protect. And to no avail.
Well now, I suppose that there's a great deal of romance attached to the idea of dying of a broken heart. But we'll think on it. If we wilderness lovers died every time we lost a place we loved, well, our species would have long ago gone the way of the dodo bird. And it was always thus. Eh?
The very first reservation, well, reserved area, that was ever made, and long before our Hetch Hetchy or the Yosemite, now it met the same fate. And that reservation, run by the Lord himself in very moderate dimensions, well, containing only one tree, eh? An apple tree, as I recall, the smallest reservation that was ever made.
And yet no sooner was it made than it was attacked. And by everybody in the world, the devil, one man, and one woman. And that has been the history of every reservation ever since. As soon as they are created, the thieves and the devil and his relations come forward to attack them.
And well, I doubt not that if all of the rest of our beautiful wilderness were utterly stripped away from us, and there remained only one tree, eh? Well, one tree reserved as the most noble and glorious, well it would not be long before you would find a lumber man and a lawyer at the foot of it. And eagerly proving, by every law celestial and terrestrial that, well, that tree? That tree, too, must come down.
No, I'm never surprised. Saddened, yes. But never surprised to see lord man treating the natural world as if, well, as if naturalness was the least natural thing in it. As if a tree had no fruitful function until lord man devised one for it.
I once overheard a tourist day contemplating one of my king sequoias and musing on it. Saying, well, well, now, I wonder how many outhouses might be built from yonder tree? And now lumber is all some see. And I doubt not that these trees would make very good lumber after passing through the sawmill. Well, there's some of our politicians, after being passed through the hands of a French cook, would make good food, eh?
But I am not here this evening to rant and rail against those who would destroy our wilderness. I did a great deal of that in the old days. And well, we have many a good warrior for that cause nowadays. Many in this very gathering, I have no doubt.
No, no, no. I'm here this evening, well, just to bring a little spirit to the occasion and perhaps to tell you a story or two of my days in the wilderness. And in any case, I'm always delighted to be able to saunter about one more time with all my kindred spirits in this good planet.
Oh, well. I could not help but notice as I was sauntering on my way here today that in, well, in this place and many other national parks nowadays, it's becoming difficult to see the forest for the people. Have you noticed?
But I've also noticed that when you walk quietly away from those places, well, it's not long before you will find yourself alone, begin to enjoy the freedom of the mountain air, sauntering through the pine woods and the meadows, and rambling along the brows of the magnificent mountain tops, El Capitan, or the Tissiack, the Half Dome, or Shasta. Oh, Shasta, oh, Mt. Shasta. I will not soon forget old Shasta.
Well, it was there that I very nearly became a spirit long before my time. It was the last day of April of 1875. And I went to claim Shasta with Jerome Fay, oh, a good mountaineer, to make better metrical observations for a close survey. And we encamped at Timberline.
We rose about 2 o'clock in a keen, starry night. And we breakfast, said goodbye to our horses, and we began our ascent. Climbing up past the Whitney glacier, and near the summit of this 14,000 foot peak, passing a group of hissing fumaroles, or hot springs, with those curious gas jets, eh, some of them six or eight feet tall and evidence of Shasta's volcanic heart.
Well, upon gaining the summit, we saw down off toward Lassen's Butte, hundreds of square miles of white cumuli, boiling dreamily in the sunshine far below us. And causing no alarm for, well, the temperature stood at 34 degrees in the shade at 9 AM, rose steadily to 50 degrees by 2:00 PM. So comfortable that a common bumblebee zigzagged vigorously about our heads as if he did not know that the nearest wildflower was a mile beneath us.
Well, while at our work, clouds began to grow down in the Shasta valley, gradually encircling our mountain in one continuous cloud zone, leaving the lofty cone upon which we stood solitary in the sunshine. And between two skies, a sky of spotless blue above and a sky of glittering cloud below, like a lasting addition to the landscape. So near looking, so substantial looking, that we fancied we could almost leap down upon them from where we stood and bounce our way gently back down to the lowlands.
But then, thin films of this cloud began to drift directly up and over the summit, drawn out in long fairy webs, oh, forming, dissolving, as if by magic. Well, seeing these, the coming of a storm, Jerome was eager to depart. But another observation of my barometer was due at 3 o'clock. And I was anxious to complete our studies.
Well, the sky speedily darkened. And just as I was finally boxing up our instruments, well, this storm broke upon us and in serious earnest. First came the hail, oh, beating us and the cliffs, running, swirling amid the rocks in a curious network of screams.
And as we forced her way down that first long thin ridge line, pass that group of hissing fumaroles, well now, this storm became inconceivably violent. My thermometer fell 22 degrees in just a few minutes. It soon sank below zero.
The hail gave place to a thick snow and darkness came on like night. A violent wind boomed and surged amidst these desolate crags. Lightning flashes cut through this gloomy darkness in quick succession. And the thunders are the most loud and appalling I ever heard, made an almost continuous roar, stroke, rapidly following stroke as if the mountain were being rent to its foundations and the fires of that old volcano were breaking forth again.
We first had to make our way down this long thin ridge line, about a mile and a half, flanked in many places by the steep, icy slopes of the Whitney glacier on the one side and shattered precipice upon the other. Now, despite the gloomy darkness and the blinding snow, I felt confident we could force our way down. But as we sheltered for a moment in the lee of the lava rock, Jerome, coming up behind me and without any bewilderment, declared, "It is impossible to proceed."
And he firmly refused to make the venture to find our camp. Well, being the cause of his current peril, I certainly could not leave him. And so we made a dash from our shelter back up the mountain, against the blast of this storm as if fording a rapid stream to those fumaroles.
Now, the fumaroles, they extended for about a quarter of an acre, but they were now only about an eighth of an inch in thickness. For those scalding gas jets were now shorn off at the ground by the frosty wind.
"Here," said Jerome, as we shivered in the midst of these hissing, sputtering fumaroles. "Now here, we shall be safe from frost." Yes. We can lay down in this mud and steam and sludge warm at least on one side.
But how will it prevent our lungs from these harmful gases? And how after our clothing is saturated, shall we reach camp without freezing? Which will have to wait for sunshine. And when will it come?
But there was nothing for it. And so we laid down on this hot, muddy surface on our back so as to expose our bodies as little as possible to that ferocious wind and to allow the drift to blow over us. But how lavishly that snow fell. Only mountaineers may know.
This fertile snow cloud fell to a depth of two feet in just a few hours. And the storm blast, laden with a sharp, crisp snow, seemed to stupefy us with its stings, sifting into the folds of our clothing, many places reaching the skin. We were glad at first to see this snow packing about us, hoping that it would deaden the force of the wind. But as the temperature fell, well, it soon all froze into a stiff, crusty heap, augmenting our rather novel misery.
And the crusty surface upon which we lay, frequently gave way, opening new vents to scald us. When the heat became unendurable in some spot where the steam was escaping through the sludge, well, we tried to pack it up with snow or mud, shifting a little bit at a time with our heels. For to stand up, exposed to that fearsome wind in our frozen and boiled condition, it seemed certain death. And yet, then we also feared that if at any time that wind might fail, well, then carbonic acid might collect. And in sufficient quantities as to cause sleep or death.
And so in a state of half-consciousness, we called out to each other frequently by name, each fearing that the other might be numbed or dead. "Are you suffering much, John?" Jerome would ask with a pitiful faintness. "Oh, yes." I would answer, but striving to keep my voice brave.
"Oh, yes, frozen and burned. But never mind, Jerome. The night will wear away at last, and tomorrow, oh, what campfires we shall make. What sunbathes we shall take."
Well, truth is, we did nothing but suffer. Frozen, burned, blistered, famished, our bodies seemed all but lost to us at times, all dead but the eyes. Although the eyes now, the eyes, they were given something glorious to see. For suddenly, that storm broke, vanished, not a crystal left in the sky.
And then, with marvelous brightness, the stars shown down with those long lance rays, near looking, new looking, as if never seen before. But then the bitter wind and the drifting snow would break this blissful vision and dreary pains were returned to us like clouds. And as the night wore on, well, the frost became more and more intense. We became all icy, covered over with a large mound of frozen, crusted snow, as if we had lain adrift all winter, like logs.
In about 13 hours, every hour like a year, day began to break. But it was hours longer before the sun came stealing down the ridge line and into the hollow where we lay. But at length, after the temperature rose a bit, we began to struggle homeward.
Upon rising, I found that my beard was frozen to my box of instruments. And our frozen trousers could scarcely be made to bend at the knee. And so we feebly waded through the drifts.
Until we reached the long home slopes, they were that loose dry snow where our feebleness accelerated rather than diminished our speed. Well, between slipping and sliding and pitching headlong, we made rapid progress. The sun warmed our backs. We began to revive.
And we reached camp about 10 o'clock. And we were safe. But our feet were frozen. And thawing them was painful, being done very slowly by keeping them buried in soft snow for several hours.
But then, wrapped up in sacking, we were soon mounted and on our way down into a thick sunshine where, to our utter astonishment, at the base of this mountain, we discovered that only a slight shower of rain had fallen. Showing, notwithstanding the terrific fury of our storm, just how local it had been-- well, as if it had been created and presented for Jerome and me alone.
And so I'll not soon forget old Shasta, the glorious storms. Oh, such storms there, so quick and violent and beautiful. And truth to tell, you know, I think I came back down off that mountain with more health and happiness and vigor than ever I ascended it.
And it's always true, is it not? And you, you good wilderness lovers, you know this truth and better than most. Whenever you go off to engage the wilderness, ah, the healthy, invigorating effect of engaging the great outdoors.
And among the very many advantages of engaging the wilderness, even in a mountain such as Shasta, even in the midst of such a storm, is that out there, you will never meet a politician.
Politicians, eh, politicians, though not all bad, I suppose. Oh, well, there was Roosevelt, eh? Old Teddy. Now there was an all round, strong, bold, good man.
Well, he had, as they say, seen the elephant. And nobody could fool or bulldoze him. He did have an unhappy tendency of shooting the elephants that he saw. But still, never before had a more engaging warm and good man in the wilderness.
And during our three day camping trip, up there in the Yosemite, three days alone with the President of the United States, I stuffed him over the campfires-- I stuffed him pretty well full of stories of the timber thieves and other spoilers of the forest. And good, good Roosevelt-- before the end of his term, he had set aside more than 200 million acres of land for protection and created five national parks. Bully, bully Roosevelt!
He did annoy me around the campfire, though. Well, as he spoke all too frequently of his heroic conquest of wild animals, eh? I eventually had to address him on that subject with my usual tact. He had just finished describing the slaughter or the maiming of some poor beast.
And I turned to him rather abruptly and I said Mr. Roosevelt, when are you going to get beyond this boyishness of killing things? Are you not getting far enough along to leave that off?
Well, he pondered my audacity for a moment and then replied, rather weakly, I thought, "Muir, I guess you're right." I guess. Eh, a good guess, I'd say.
Well, I still read in the papers long afterwards of him off torturing some poor crocodile in Africa. When will god-like human beings become truly humane and learn to put their fellow animal mortals in their hearts instead of on their backs or in their dinners or on their walls? Gah. If a war of races were to break out between lord man and the wild beasts, well, I would be tempted to sympathize with the bears.
Yeah, even to the least loved mosquito I have given many a meal and told her go in peace. And to the dreaded crocodile, chased so energetically by our Mr. Roosevelt, I have frequently sent wishes for them to be blessed now and then with a delicious tidbit of terror-stricken man. No, no, not Mr. Roosevelt, of course-- many another politician nowadays. But not Mr. Roosevelt, not the great lover and defender of my trees and my glorious forests.
Ah, the trees. You know, it has been said, you know, that trees are imperfect men. And then they seem to bemoan their imprisonment, rooted in the ground. Well, they never seemed so to me. I never saw a discontented tree, have you?
No, no. They grip that ground as though they liked it. And though fast-rooted, well, they sometimes travel about as far as we do.
I remember once I was exploring a tributary valley of the Yuba River when I chanced upon the most bracing wind storm imaginable. I lost no time in pushing off deep into the woods to enjoy it. Oh, the air!
Well, it was mottled with pine tassels and bright green plumes that went flashing past in the sunlight like birds pursued. And I heard trees crashing for hours, one every two or three minutes. Some uprooted, some broken straight across.
Well, I drifted on through this music and motion, through these dancing trees, until about midday, I found myself on the summit of the highest ridge in this neighborhood. And then it suddenly occurred to me that it would be a grand idea to climb one of those swaying trees to obtain a wider outlook.
Well, I made a cautious choice of the tallest of the group, a Douglas fir, that were growing close together like a tuft of grass. So no one of us was likely to fall over, unless all the rest went with it. They were about 100 feet tall. And their brushy tops were rocking and swirling in wild ecstasy.
Being accustomed to climbing trees and making botanical studies, I experienced no difficulty in reaching the top of this one. But never before did I experience such a noble exhilaration of motion. The slender top fairly flapped and squished in the passionate torrent, bending backwards and forwards, going round and around, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves while I clung with muscles firm braced like a bubbling on the reed. Happy me!
Well, well, well, well, you see, we all travel the Milky Way together, both trees and men. But it never occurred to me, until that December storm day when I was swinging in the wind, that trees are travelers in the ordinary sense. They make many journeys.
Oh, not extensive ones, it's true. But then our own little journeys away and back again, a little more than tree waving, and some of them not so much, eh? I do love the majesty of mountain storms. Well, you know, you know, people need the woods.
And they're beginning to go to them. But they're not yet ready for storms, a lack of faith in the scriptures of nature. Lack of faith, aye, too much of that nowadays, have you noticed? Most visitors to the wilderness nowadays, they seem to lack faith in their own two legs. Eh?
Well, most visitors nowadays they seem to need to be rolled on wheels with blankets and kitchen arrangements and clinging to their automobiles like wrecked sailors on rafts. And they're addicted, they are, addicted to their scenery habit. You know, driving to and fro to seek out points of interest.
It's all silliness and Kodak cameras and frightening the wild life with their outrageous costumes and hiking through the-- gah, hiking. Hiking is a vile word, don't you think, when one should saunter through the Sierra, through the wilderness. They go hiking through the woods well down the easy trails to the nearest lake. Well, you know they'll go where they can find their own reflection.
Or they go horseback riding. And they climb, sprawl into their shadows like overgrown frogs hopping up a stream bank. And then plod, they plod up and down the valley with about as much emotion as the horse they ride upon.
I suppose the tide of such visitors will float slowly to the bottom of the valleys and collect like a harmless scum in the hotel lobbies. Well, well, you know, that whenever an excursion into the upper reaches of our mountains is proposed, these people, eh? Well, they load themselves with all sorts of unnecessary fears and refuse to go, as if there were nothing in the wilderness except for snakes and bears and Indians and all going restlessly about signaling they might devour.
Well, the truth is that the few creatures remaining there have lost confidence in brother man. And it's not now easy to make their acquaintance. And no American wilderness I know is so dangerous as is a city street. Why don't you go to the woods for safety, if nothing else?
These people are like children, afraid of their mother. Eh? No, not all people, of course. No, no, well, just last October, up on the Tioga Road in the Yosemite region, well, I met a bevy of short-skirted girls all coming through the lofty forest arches and radially healthy from lusty exercise, from rapid runs over boulders requiring quick decisions at every step, and their rosy cheeks telling the exhilaration of that spicy mountain air. Ah, lady mountain airs here.
I suppose that they found in me, well, a strange, unclassified wilderness creature. Well, people always have. I've always made something of a tramp of myself out there, you see, with worn, soiled clothing, hair, oh, lots of hair-- well, once, lots of hair.
I remember once, when one brave tourist, after examining me carefully, informing me quite emphatically, if I had a beard like yours, I would set fire to it. It's true. I did. I made a tramp of myself.
And I went hungry and cold and left bloody trails on the sharp ice peaks to-- well, to see the wonders of this Earth. But you know, out there, I was free to come and go. No-- no bell that rang meant me.
No ding dong civilization for me, no, no, no. I would simply stuff some bread and tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence, having all I needed for weeks. There were things out there to sustain me, things to fatten my soul and all as free as the air.
And as for the rest, well, crusts of bread and tea answer very well, if one has a mind to think so. Now I know, I know, I know some people would miss their meat as a drunkard misses his drink. But this depraved appetite for flesh, well, it stands greatly in the way of free days up on the mountain. So meat, meat of any kind is hard to carry. And it makes a repulsive mess when stuffed into a pack.
Oh, or so also the butter, eh? Or the butter. And the milk habit has seized most people. Have you noticed?
Well, here. Oh, oh, bread, eh? Oh, bread, bread, bread, good bread, without butter? Well, coffee then. Coffee with-- without milk? Awful calamity. As if everything, before being stuffed in our mouth, must first be held under a cow.
Well, I know. I know from all experience that all these things are unnecessary. Eat bread in the mountains with love and adoration in your soul. You can get a nourishment that food experts know nothing of. Once in the mountains with my bread and tea, I was free to follow my instincts, to be myself for good or ill and to see what would be the upshot.
And I decided then, that as long as I lived, I would hear the birds and the winds and the waterfalls sing. I'd interpret the rocks and learn the language of storm and flood and avalanche. I'd make the acquaintance of the wild gardens and the glaciers and get as near to the heart of this world as I could.
And so I did. I drifted about from rock to rock, from grove to grove, from stream to stream. And whenever I met a new plant, I would sit down beside it for a minute or a day to make its acquaintance, hear what it had to tell. And I asked the boulders where they had been and whither they were going. And when night found me, well, there I camped.
I took no more heed to save time or to make haste than did the trees or the stars. This is true freedom, a good, practical sort of immortality, to hover among those mountains as if on spirit wings. Eh, spirit wings-- I do get carried away, don't I?
I remember one time, I was standing in front of a grove of those giant wonders, the sequoia, with my tree lover friend Sargent from Boston-- well, Boston. Well, I couldn't hold it in. And I began to jump about and sing and glory in it all, like a Methodist in revival time.
When I happened to turn around, and I caught sight of Sargent standing there, cool as a rock. A half amused expression on his face, but never saying a word. "Why don't you let yourself out at a site like that, man?" I asked him.
"Well, I don't wear my heart upon my sleeve," he retorted. "Well, who cares where you wear your little heart, man? There you stand in the face of all heaven come down to Earth, like a critic of the universe, as if to say, [COUGHS] come nature. Bring on the best you have. I'm from [AUDIO OUT]
To which he replied, he says, "Muir, get a pulpit, man. Get a pulpit." And I sometimes wish I could mount a pulpit and preach the green brown woods to all the world, descending like a John the Baptist from the divine wilderness and eating raw honey, raw anything and crying out repent, for the kingdom of Sequoia it is at hand!
Aye, sequoia. I've often thought that, you know, if one, only one, of our sequoia kings, in all their god-like majesty, could only one go to Washington, DC and there plead its own cause, there would never again be any lack of defenders for wildness, eh? Aye, sequoia, my sequoia kings. And Bostons, what is it with Bostons, anyway?
Oh. Well, they're not all bad from Boston, I suppose. Oh, I must tell you my favorite Bostonesque acquaintance was a fellow by the name of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Eh? Oh, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Now I was working there as a sawmill operator in the Yosemite Valley, just a young man at 30 years of age, when one day I overheard the hotel people whispering, "Emerson is here!" My heart throbbed as though an angel direct from heaven had alighted on our Sierran rocks.
But so great was my awe and reverence for the man, I did not dare to go to him or to speak to him. Though I thought that he would be the first to sing and plead and praise my mountains. Well, I'd just happen on the outside of the crowd of people who were pushing up to be introduced to him.
But then I heard that in three or four days he was going away. And in sheer desperation, I sat down and I wrote him a note. And I said, "El Capitan and the Tissiak, the Half Dome demand that you stay longer."
Well, the next day, he inquired for the writer and was directed to the sawmill, to which he came on horseback, attended by some of his Boston friends. But ah, Emerson, Emerson, the most serene majestic sequoia-like soul I ever met. He was as sincere as the trees, as sincere as the sun.
Now I had then a small, box-like home attached to the gable of the mill overhanging the stream. Well, people called it my hangness, because it seemed unsupported. A hole in the roof commanded a glorious view of the upper Yosemite fall. And a skylight on the other side gave me a grand view of the Half Dome.
But it was not easy of access, being reached only by a series of sloping planks like a hand ladder. Fortunately, all of the people I disliked were afraid to enter it. And Emerson bravely climbed up. And I showed him my collection of plants and my studies of the glaciers, all of which seemed to excite him greatly.
Now I was then, well, in my early 30s. And he was close to 70. But forgetting his age or his plans with those Boston friends, I immediately proposed an immeasurable camping trip in back of the mountains. Well, he seemed anxious to go. But he considerately mentioned this party.
And I said, well, never mind, let all plans and parties and all low land duties all go fade away. The mountains are calling. Run away!
But alas, he was too close to the sundown of his life. And his Boston party, full of indoor philosophy, well, they kept Mr. Emerson to the hotels and the trails. And still, he came again and again to my hangness while his party hung about the hotel.
And when he was about to leave the valley, well, he asked me to accompany him to the Mariposa Grove of big trees. "Well," I said, "well now, Mr. Emerson, I'll go if you will camp out with me in the Grove. I will build a glorious fire and the great brown bowls of the sequoia will be lighted up.
You yourself are a sequoia," I said. "You must stop and get acquainted with your big brethren." Well now, at this, he became enthusiastic like a boy. His sweet perennial smile became deeper and sweeter. And he said, "Yes, we will camp out, camp out tonight."
I thought, well, at least we'll have one good memorable night around the sequoia campfire. Well then, next day, early in the afternoon, when we approached Clark Station, Wawona, eh, in the southern part of Yosemite, well, I was surprised to see this party dismount. And when I went up to ask, "we're not going up to the Grove to camp?"
One of these Boston fellows turns to me and says, oh, oh, no, no. It would never do to camp out in the night air, Mr. Muir. Mr. Emerson might take cold, you know, and that would be a dreadful thing."
Gah! "Only in hotels and homes are colds caught," I said. "No one was ever known to take cold camping in these woods. There's not a single cough or sneeze in all of the Sierra!"
And then I pointed out the climate changing fire that I would make and told how the great stars would come down between the glorious domes and urged them once more to come on and make an immortal Emerson night of it. But their strange dread of pure night air was not to be overcome. They could not escape the house habit, with all of us comforting carpet dust and other unknowable reeks.
And so next day, early in the afternoon, this sadly civilized party departed. But when they had reached the ridge line and were all over and out of sight, Emerson wheeled his horse and took off his hat and waved me down a last goodbye, and then down all mountains and into the sunset.
I felt lonely when he left. So sure I had been that he would be the first to sing and praise my mountains. And I built a great fire in the Grove that night. But as usual, had it to myself.
But though lonely, lonely for the first time in those woods, I quickly took heart again. For the trees had not gone to Boston, nor the birds. And as I sat by my fire, Emerson was with me again in the spirit, though I never saw him again in the flesh.
I wish I had known him some other season, not so late in the winter of his life. Although for his Boston party, I suppose, all seasons are winter, which may be dismal in Boston, but can be enjoyed hearabouts and thereabouts as well as any other, eh?
Aye, they're missing. They missed out on the wildness of Yosemite. Although, one last quick adventure for you before the mountains call me home here. I know many of you are interested in the fact that snow will soon be a flying. So I'd be amiss if I didn't tell you of some of my snow adventures.
But the most significant of them, I suppose, is my snow avalanche ride. Few Yosemite visitors ever see a snow avalanche. And well, fewer still know the exhilaration of riding upon one.
Now in all of my mountaineering, I enjoyed only one snow avalanche ride. But oh, the start was so sudden, the end came so soon, that I scarcely had time to reflect upon the danger that attends this sort of travel. One fine Yosemite morning, after a heavy snow storm, eager to see as many snow avalanches as possible, and wide views of the forest, and the summit peaks in their new white robes, eh, before the sunshine had time to change them, well, I set off to climb by a side canyon, about 3,000 feet above the Yosemite valley floor.
Now the looseness of the snow at the foot of the canyon told me the climb would require, ooh, a very long time, some four to five hours, as I estimated. But it soon proved to be far more difficult than I had anticipated. Wallowing up, I sank to my waist most of the way, sometimes almost out of sight.
And so a half an hour before sundown, I was still two or 300 feet below the summit. And my hopes now reduced in getting up in time to see the sunset. But I was not to have a summit view of any kind that day.
For heavy tramping near the head of this canyon started an avalanche. And I was swished to the foot of that canyon as if by an enchantment. When the avalanche started, I threw myself on my back and spread my arms to try to keep from sinking. Fortunately, although the canyon was very steep, it was not interrupted by precipices large enough to cause outbounding or free plunging.
And on no part of this rush down was I buried. I was only moderately embedded in the surface, or at times, a little below. But covered with a veil, a back stream and snow dust particles. And as the whole mass of this snow beneath and about me joined in my flight, well, I heard no sound and experienced no friction.
Although I was tossed here and there, lurched from side to side, but on I sailed, noiselessly, effortlessly, feet foremost over rocks and logs and chaparral, moving away through space, softly as a cloud. And when the avalanche finally swedged and came to a rest, I found myself on top of this crumpled pile without a scar or a bruise.
My wallowing assent had taken me nearly all day-- my descent, only about a minute. Of all of the modes of motion that I have experienced, well, the most spiritual was this flight in a Milky Way of snow stars. And you know, whenever danger does attend your travels, well, then, thought is quickened, common cares are buried, and pictures of wild, immortal beauty are pressed upon your memory, saturate themselves through every part of your body to dwell forever.
Some of the days that I have spent alone in the depths of this wilderness has shown me that immortality beyond the grave is not essential to perfect happiness. So go, go out, go up. I urge you. Go be free.
Oh, I know. Most here in this audience would do so. But you know so many down there in the lowlands that will not. And those that need clean sky and snow and rest the most are always the last to leave, eh?
How hard it is to pull and to shake people out of the cities and the towns. Go, urge them to go. Go, because-- because everybody needs to be kind, at least to themselves. But go because everybody needs beauty, as well as bread and places to play in and pray in when nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.
Go quietly. Go alone. No harm will befall you. And go often. Go all your life.
As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed. But nature's sources will never fail you. And go ultimately because in the going lies the answer to those who would destroy our wilderness through greed and arrogance and ignorance. For if enough of us go and play among the spirits of the wilderness, jumping from rock to rock, tracing the rivers and the streams to their sources, sauntering through the pine woods and the meadows, or spending a lazy afternoon at the river's edge, if enough of us simply do this, get in touch with the nerves of the Mother Earth, then we need not despair.
For what we so learn to love, we shall not allow to be destroyed, eh? And we can retain our faith, our faith in the loving process of creation, to be sure, but our faith, too, in humanity. As a workman, our faith that the time is coming, and it must come, when every article of manufacture, every dwelling, every part of human activity will be as purely a work of loving creation as are the mountains, the pine trees, my bonnie loving flowers.
Well, the mountains are soon calling me home. And I must soon go. I thought we might take a moment before I did so, though, to see if there were any questions for old John Muir before he saunters off to the wilderness. Are there any questions for old John out here before I go? I see no hands poking up. Come on, brave people. Certainly there is a question. There?
AUDIENCE: So what do you think about having a redwood forest named after you?
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): About having a--
AUDIENCE: A redwood forest named after you.
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): A redwood forest named after me? What do I think about having a redwood forest named after me? I think a great deal of it. Thank you very much.
And you know, it's an interesting thing. It was a congressman in the area of the Muir Woods, which it is now called. Many things-- my name has been put to many places, I fear. But one of the proudest, of course, that I am of is of the Muir Woods.
And a congressman decided to give those words to a fellow by the name of President Teddy Roosevelt. And he was kind enough to name them for me. Many things have been named for me on this good planet. But of all the ones named for me, the Muir Woods are the ones I regard the highest.
AUDIENCE: And then you have politicians actually go there for meetings.
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): They do, indeed. If politicians are going to meet anywhere at all, I think the wilderness would be the best place for them. There are lessons to be learned there. It will teach them much. Yes, indeed. Any other questions? Yes?
AUDIENCE: Is it true you were drafted and walked across the country?
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): I was drafted and walked across the country?
AUDIENCE: A reduction point?
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Oh, no, no, no. The two incidents don't go together in any way. I was never actually formally drafted.
It's true that during the Civil War, I did go to Canada. And I ran a broom factory there for many years. But unhappily, it burned down.
And after the Civil War is when I did take a walk through the South. And that was I would now call my 1,000 mile walk, the first of my many adventures. And my first occasion to meet a mountain. In Scotland and in Canada, of course, and in Wisconsin, mountains were not to be had.
But when I took my 1,000 mile walk, after a temporary blindness that occurred in an industrial accident that I had-- I won't bore you with the details-- but after that, I decided the inventions of creation were infinitely more interesting than my own. And so I went on this long saunter, thinking that I was headed for the wilderness of South America where I wanted to build a raft on the headwaters of the Amazon River and float down its entire length. But I was on this 1,000 mile walk to get there, the beginning of it al, from Louisville, Kentucky across Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Florida, all the way down to the Cedar Key.
But I managed to acquire a fever there, probably malaria. They kept me on my backside for so very long that I wound up, instead of going down to South America to stay, I simply went down across the isthmus of Panama by rail. We didn't have a canal in those days.
And then another ship up to San Francisco-- I asked the first person I met coming off the boat the wildest place he knew of. He pointed toward Yosemite. And I walked up there. And so that's the two incidents, but not quite wedded together. Yeah. Another question, perhaps? Yes?
AUDIENCE: What do you think of the loss of the glaciers that you so loved?
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Aye, Very good question. What do I think of the loss of the glaciers that I so loved? You know, when I first arrived in the Yosemite, of course, the great theorist, of the day, geologist of the day, a fellow by the name of Whitney, they named that mountain after him. I always thought they should have named Half Dome for him, given his theories.
His viewpoint was that, of course, glaciers never existed in the Yosemite, that it was caused by great disruptions of rock, great masses of rock being pushed aside and the like. Now I didn't think much of that so-called cataclysmic theory. And in my pursuit of evidence to point to some contrary evidence, for I had seen such evidence in Wisconsin, as a boy going to school there, I decided to explore this [AUDIO OUT] thoroughly and found 65 small but living glaciers in the Sierra Nevada.
Now less than half of those glaciers still exist. And in fact, the reason I went to Alaska on so many occasions in my life, seven different occasions, was to chase down working glaciers of a larger magnitude. And they, too, for the most part, are disappearing very rapidly.
To the degree that human activity is responsible for some of that loss, it is a very sad thing indeed. And I miss the glaciers that are gone. I cherish the ones that remain. And I urge all that can do anything they can to help preserve the ones remaining, that we do that, indeed. So I miss them greatly.
AUDIENCE: Over there.
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Pointing over there? There? Yes?
AUDIENCE: I'm interested in Glacier Bay. How did it look when you went there?
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): She is interested in Glacier Bay. And how did it look when I first went there? Well, it still looks splendid, I want to tell you. And if any of you have not yet been to Glacier Bay, save your pennies. You must go in this lifetime. It is one of the Lord's grandest landscapes.
Although it is a landscape that I wouldn't have recognized, going back immediately from my earliest days there. The reason Glacier Bay-- well, I discovered Glacier Bay largely because the great explorers, formerly before me, had missed it because it was covered with ice. It couldn't be found.
But when I was there, it happened the glacier there had retreated far enough so that the glacier was well-known to the Indian guides that took me up there. And so I was the first to see that glacier. And there is now, named for me in that bay, the Muir Glacier, which has retreated many miles since I first explored it. But it is one of the grandest gardens, if you do go to any other wild place in your lifetime after Yosemite, go to Glacier Bay. Right. Yes?
AUDIENCE: If you could tell the story of your night on the glacier?
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): The night on the glacier-- on Glacier Bay?
AUDIENCE: I believe it was there. Did you spend the night and have a whole--
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Well, I spent 11 days on that glacier. Sure, I'd be glad to tell you. It's a story, I must warn you before I start, that it will last almost four or five minutes.
But it is a story well worth repeating. And is another of the grand-- I had good reason to return to Glacier Bay. Because I wanted to study the main seven tributaries of that massive glacier there, now known as the Muir Glacier.
Well, some companions had taken me by canoe across the unit from our main camp to the head of that glacier. And they promised to retrieve me in 11 days, time enough, I thought, to learn something. And time enough, too, I hoped, to get rid of, by the way, a severe bronchial cough which had troubled me for three months and which I had acquired, of course, down in the low lands.
Now I intended to camp out on the glacier every night and to sleep on the ice. I constructed a small sled about three feet long, 18 inches wide, made as light as possible, but still not weighing less than 100 pounds when fully packed with my instruments, a little hard tack and sugar, my sleeping bag and everything securely latched onto that sled so that nothing would drop off. Eh? No matter how much I might be jarred as I hauled it over those icy hammocks or dangled it from the crevasses, those gray cracks in the glacial ice.
And dragging that heavy little sled over so wildly broken a glacial surface as the Muir's, seven or eight miles a day, over innumerable crevasses and some of them brim full with water, over unnumbered streams, around several lakes, and through this endless sea of icy hammocks, well, this was somewhat fatiguing. But I oftentimes had to carry that sled bodily, strapped across my back. And oftentimes, too, I had to cross those nerve trying, ice sliver bridges, you know, a thin sliver of ice that's dragged out between one side of a crevasse and the other upon which I could sit astride and shoving my sled ahead to me a little at a time, with a tremendous abyss on both sides.
And the ice? Ah, the surface of that ice was so rough that my shoes, resoled just before starting out were about worn away within the week. And my feet were wet every night. But still, in that serene Alaskan wilderness, eh, despite some discomfort with that intense, silvery whiteness of the day, the sound of the whills and the streams dropping into the chasms and crevasses, or the feel of fresh snow in your face in the solid darkness of night, or the icy freshness of the sweet North wind-- well, despite some discomfort, one could still gain a hot bath in perfect peace.
And so having spent a great deal of time on the glacier, I experienced many things on that glacier while out there. And some days were dismal and damp. And but I often, in the great sunny weather and there was a great deal of it, I used to climb up into the local mountains, to get good views of the glacier, take my bearings in case of storm.
And on one such occasion, thinking that I would shorten my return journey from my camp, well, I was tempted to glisser down, using my ice ax as a brake, to glisser down what appeared to be a snow-filled ravine, which was very steep. But all went well until I reached a spot about halfway down, a bluish spot that proved to be ice. And there I completely lost control of myself.
And I shot down, spinning into a gravelly talus at its base and arriving happily, all without a scratch. But just as I arrived, I suddenly heard a loud, fierce, diabolical scream, as if some enemy, having seen me fall, was exulting in my death. And then swooping from the sky, two ravens alighted on a jag of rock within a few feet of me, evidently hoping that I had been maimed and that they were about to have a feast.
Well, as they looked me over, eh, judging my condition, impatiently waiting for bone picking time, I saw what they were up to and I shouted out to them, ah, not yet, ya black imps. Not yet. I'm not carrion yet. I was only sliding for fun. Shame on you not to know better!
And well, they did seem ashamed. What wonderful eyes they must have, eh? Nothing that moves on that great icy wilderness escapes those brave birds, though much was escaping these eyes about now. Well, I had been sketching every day. And my eyes were now much inflamed. I could scarcely see.
Every object I tried to draw appeared doubled. And I woke one morning nearly blind. Well that day, all day, I laid down upon my little sled with a snow poultice bound across my eyes, hoping to reduce the inflammation. Every object I tried to look at appeared doubled, even the distant mountain ranges, the upper an exact copy of the lower.
Now this was the first time in Alaska that I had too much sunshine. Although not all was dismal, not all, for twice that day I was visited by a hummingbird, come all the way across that glacial sea to investigate the red lining of my sleeping bag. And fortunately, about 5 o'clock, some thin but kindly clouds began to drift over this glowing landscape.
And I gladly took advantage of them, pulling my cap down low and then dragging my sled a few more miles down the ice toward the main camp where I might be more easily found should I be unable to travel. Eh?
Well, that night, again, wet bandages across my eyes as long as I could bear it. And next morning, feeling somewhat better, I decided to haul this sled further on down toward my companions. Now the surface of that glacier, near the head of it, was free, apparently, of anything like danger.
And I was sauntering rather carelessly about, hauling my heavy little sled, when I was suddenly, and without warning, swallowed up by a water-filled crevasse. Now this crevasse, like many others, was being used as the channel of a stream, eh? But at some narrow point downstream, the small, cubicle masses of ice, of the chips into which a glacial surface constantly disintegrates, were jammed up against some obstacle. And then moving further and further back, well, it formed a kind of slush across its entire surface.
Well now into this, after crossing really thousands of dangerous crevasses, I suddenly sank. For never before had I encountered a danger so completely concealed. Well, down I plunged, over head and ears. But of course, bobbed up again.
And after a hard struggle, I succeeded in dragging myself out on the farther side. And then I hastily drew my sled into the shelter of a cliff, stripped off all of my clothing, threw it into a large, soggy heap. And then leapt into my sleeping bag to simply shiver away the night as best I could.
And oh, yeah, the next morning, in a dreary rain, dressing-- well, after wringing out these sloppy undergarments-- well, it was far from pleasant. And yet, that very evening, I was back at the main camp. My eyes were better. And I felt no ill effect from my icy bath.
And every last trace of my three month bronchial cough was gone. No lowland microbe could survive such a trip. And so are you weary? Are you ill?
Well, then go. Air yourself out on the ice prairies, or up on your own breezy mountaintops. But outdoors, outdoors is the natural place for man. And the further from these cities, the better. Aye. Well, that's my story of the Muir Glacier. Oh, what are we on?
I do thank you for that. But I wonder, too, there is a possibility there's a question or two for the other fellow that inhabits this body up here. And I'll be glad to answer that question, as well, if you have any questions for either fellow.
But otherwise, I'm going to be outside in a few moments signing books and CDs. And if you're interested in more of the stories and so forth, I'd be glad to share those with you. And I'll be glad to chat with you out there, as well. So it seems to me we've drained you-- oh, no, there's one more right there. Yes?
AUDIENCE: I don't know which gentleman would--
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Either one will do.
AUDIENCE: --for either one. But I was just curious what inspired you to do this, what got you started, why did you--
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Thank you. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: What inspired you to take the character?
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Well, a great question what inspired me to handle the character of John Muir. You know, I've been an actor for some 15 years before I started this, my current occupation, which is being John Muir, more or less.
But I had always done so in very beautiful parts of the country. I had a theater company in Honolulu that I founded there. It's still there. And I had another in Idaho for a while. And yet a third, I worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for a while, as well.
Those experiences always brought me into contact with wilderness and wildness. And I was always glad to be able to ply my craft in a place where that worked. And then I went to Los Angeles seeking, as I was speaking to others earlier, seeking fame and fortune, neither of which I found.
But I did find the Sierra Nevada. And a friend of mine sent me a biography of John Muir. And when I had finished that biography, I was pretty well convinced that there was a character worth discovery there.
And so I began to really do some serious research. This would be in 1981 and '82. And finally went to Yosemite, where I had never been and was immediately stricken, almost numbed by the beauty of Yosemite.
And I immediately became a permanent resident there. And within a year of being there and having written my first script, I had five different shows based on the character of Muir. You've heard about half of one of them. And one of them involves the character of Teddy Roosevelt, as well.
But I've been there ever since. They were kind enough to give me a two week start on things. They decided it was worthwhile. And I've been there ever since. So that's how I happened to get there.
DON RAKOW: Well, I would like to offer a tremendous thanks to both John Muir and Lee Stetson.
LEE STETSON (AS JOHN MUIR): Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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Often called "The Father of our National Parks," wilderness prophet John Muir (1838-1914) is widely regarded as America's most influential naturalist.
Lee Stetson brought nearly thirty years of artistry and scholarship on Muir to the Statler Auditorium Nov. 11, performing selections from his stirring stage productions, based entirely on Muir's writings. Stetson discussed his own observations on his portrayal of Muir, and how Muir remains relevant to modern day issues and problems. The event was part of the Plantations lecture series.
You can connect with nature at Cornell Plantations, which features an arboretum, botanical garden and 4300 acres of protected natural areas--all free and open to the public every day from dawn to dusk.