Saturday, February 03, 2007

My First Summer in the Sierra

My California Culture class started last week, and tomorrow we'll start talking about John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra. This is the work of an ecstatic poet--many raptures on plants, trees, squirrels, bears, ants, etc. The only creatures Muir seems to disdain are people and sheep. (He was accompanying a flock headed for high pastures.)

When Muir observes people, the results are remarkable. Consider the passage describing Billy, the shepherd.
Following the sheep he carries a heavy six-shooter swung from his belt on one side and his luncheon on the other. The ancient cloth in which the meat, fresh from the frying-pan, is tied serves as a filter through which the clear fat and gravy juices drip down on his right hip and leg in clustering stalactites. This oleaginous formation is soon broken up, however, and diffused and rubbed evenly into his scanty apparel, by sitting down, rolling over, crossing his legs while resting on logs, etc., making shirts and trousers water-tight and shiny. His trousers, in particular, have become so adhesive with the mixed fat and resin that pine needles, thin flakes and fibres of bark, hair, mica scales and minute grains of quartz, hornblende, etc., feathers, seed wings, moth and butterfly wings, legs and antennae of innumerable insects, or even whole insects such as the small beetles, moths, and mosquitoes, with flower petals, pollen dust and indeed of all plants, animals, and minerals of the region adhere to them and are safely imbedded, so that though far from being a naturalist he collects fragmentary specimens of everything and becomes richer than he knows ... Man is a microcosm, at least our shepherd is, or rather his trousers.

Come on, people, give it up for John Muir. That's restaurant-quality stuff.

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