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Produced by Judy Gibson





STEEP TRAILS

California-Utah-Nevada-Washington-Oregon-The Grand Canyon


by John Muir




EDITOR'S NOTE

The papers brought together in this volume have, in a general way, been
arranged in chronological sequence. They span a period of twenty-nine
years of Muir's life, during which they appeared as letters and
articles, for the most part in publications of limited and local
circulation. The Utah and Nevada sketches, and the two San Gabriel
papers, were contributed, in the form of letters, to the San Francisco
Evening Bulletin toward the end of the seventies. Written in the field,
they preserve the freshness of the author's first impressions of those
regions. Much of the material in the chapters on Mount Shasta first took
similar shape in 1874. Subsequently it was rewritten and much expanded
for inclusion in Picturesque California, and the Region West of the
Rocky Mountains, which Muir began to edit in 1888. In the same work
appeared the description of Washington and Oregon. The charming little
essay "Wild Wool" was written for the Overland Monthly in 1875. "A
Geologist's Winter Walk" is an extract from a letter to a friend, who,
appreciating its fine literary quality, took the responsibility of
sending it to the Overland Monthly without the author's knowledge. The
concluding chapter on "The Grand Canyon of the Colorado" was published
in the Century Magazine in 1902, and exhibits Muir's powers of
description at their maturity.

Some of these papers were revised by the author during the later years
of his life, and these revisions are a part of the form in which they
now appear. The chapters on Mount Shasta, Oregon, and Washington will
be found to contain occasional sentences and a few paragraphs that were
included, more or less verbatim, in The Mountains of California and Our
National Parks. Being an important part of their present context, these
paragraphs could not be omitted without impairing the unity of the
author's descriptions.

The editor feels confident that this volume will meet, in every way,
the high expectations of Muir's readers. The recital of his experiences
during a stormy night on the summit of Mount Shasta will take rank among
the most thrilling of his records of adventure. His observations on the
dead towns of Nevada, and on the Indians gathering their harvest of
pine nuts, recall a phase of Western life that has left few traces in
American literature. Many, too, will read with pensive interest the
author's glowing description of what was one time called the New
Northwest. Almost inconceivably great have been the changes wrought in
that region during the past generation. Henceforth the landscapes that
Muir saw there will live in good part only in his writings, for fire,
axe, plough, and gunpowder have made away with the supposedly boundless
forest wildernesses and their teeming life.

William Frederic Bade

Berkeley, California

May, 1918





STEEP TRAILS


CONTENTS

I. Wild Wool
II. A Geologist's Winter Walk
III. Summer Days at Mount Shasta
IV. A Perilous Night on Shasta's Summit
V. Shasta Rambles and Modoc Memories
VI. The City of the Saints
VII. A Great Storm in Utah
VIII. Bathing in Salt Lake
IX. Mormon Lilies
X. The San Gabriel Valley
XI. The San Gabriel Mountains
XII. Nevada Farms
XIII. Nevada Forests
XIV. Nevada's Timber Belt
XV. Glacial Phenomena in Nevada
XVI. Nevada's Dead Towns
XVII. Puget Sound
XVIII. The Forests of Washington
XIX. People and Towns of Puget Sound
XX. An Ascent of Mount Rainier
XXI. The Physical and Climatic Characteristics of Oregon
XXII. The Forests of Oregon and Their Inhabitants
XXIII. The Rivers of Oregon
XXIV. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado
Footnotes



ILLUSTRATIONS


The Crest of the Wahsatch Range From a point about four miles north of
Salt Lake City, Utah. From a photograph by Herbert W. Gleason

At Shasta Soda Springs. A view of Mossbrae Falls, where a subterranean
stream coming down from the glaciers of Mt. Shasta breaks through the
vegetation and flows into the Sacramento River. From a photograph by
Herbert W. Gleason

Mount Shasta after a Snowstorm A view from the west, near Sisson.
From a photograph by Pillsbury's Pictures, Inc.

Mormon Lilies The plant is known in Utah as the Sego Lily, and in
California and elsewhere as the Mariposa Tulip (Calochortus Nuttallii).
From a photograph by Herbert W. Gleason

Along the Oregon Sea Bluffs A view near the town of Ecola, Oregon.
From a photograph by Herbert W. Gleason

O'Neill's Point A favorite point of observation overlooking the Grand
Canyon Of Arizona. Now called by the Indian name, Yavapai Point. From a
photograph by Herbert W. Gleason





I. WILD WOOL


Moral improvers have calls to preach. I have a friend who has a call to
plough, and woe to the daisy sod or azalea thicket that falls under
the savage redemption of his keen steel shares. Not content with the
so-called subjugation of every terrestrial bog, rock, and moorland, he
would fain discover some method of reclamation applicable to the ocean
and the sky, that in due calendar time they might be brought to bud and
blossom as the rose. Our efforts are of no avail when we seek to turn
his attention to wild roses, or to the fact that both ocean and sky are
already about as rosy as possible - the one with stars, the other with
dulse, and foam, and wild light. The practical developments of his
culture are orchards and clover-fields wearing a smiling, benevolent
aspect, truly excellent in their way, though a near view discloses
something barbarous in them all. Wildness charms not my friend, charm it
never so wisely: and whatsoever may be the character of his heaven,
his earth seems only a chaos of agricultural possibilities calling for
grubbing-hoes and manures.

Sometimes I venture to approach him with a plea for wildness, when he
good-naturedly shakes a big mellow apple in my face, reiterating his
favorite aphorism, "Culture is an orchard apple; Nature is a crab." Not
all culture, however, is equally destructive and inappreciative. Azure
skies and crystal waters find loving recognition, and few there be who
would welcome the axe among mountain pines, or would care to apply
any correction to the tones and costumes of mountain waterfalls.
Nevertheless, the barbarous notion is almost universally entertained by
civilized man, that there is in all the manufactures of Nature something
essentially coarse which can and must be eradicated by human culture.
I was, therefore, delighted in finding that the wild wool growing upon
mountain sheep in the neighborhood of Mount Shasta was much finer than
the average grades of cultivated wool. This FINE discovery was made
some three months ago [1], while hunting among the Shasta sheep between
Shasta and Lower Klamath Lake. Three fleeces were obtained - one that
belonged to a large ram about four years old, another to a ewe about the
same age, and another to a yearling lamb. After parting their beautiful
wool on the side and many places along the back, shoulders, and hips,
and examining it closely with my lens, I shouted: "Well done for
wildness! Wild wool is finer than tame!"

My companions stooped down and examined the fleeces for themselves,
pulling out tufts and ringlets, spinning them between their fingers,
and measuring the length of the staple, each in turn paying tribute to
wildness. It WAS finer, and no mistake; finer than Spanish Merino. Wild
wool IS finer than tame.

"Here," said I, "is an argument for fine wildness that needs no
explanation. Not that such arguments are by any means rare, for all
wildness is finer than tameness, but because fine wool is appreciable
by everybody alike - from the most speculative president of national
wool-growers' associations all the way down to the gude-wife spinning by
her ingleside."

Nature is a good mother, and sees well to the clothing of her many
bairns - birds with smoothly imbricated feathers, beetles with shining
jackets, and bears with shaggy furs. In the tropical south, where the
sun warms like a fire, they are allowed to go thinly clad; but in the
snowy northland she takes care to clothe warmly. The squirrel has
socks and mittens, and a tail broad enough for a blanket; the grouse
is densely feathered down to the ends of his toes; and the wild sheep,
besides his undergarment of fine wool, has a thick overcoat of hair that
sheds off both the snow and the rain. Other provisions and adaptations
in the dresses of animals, relating less to climate than to the more
mechanical circumstances of life, are made with the same consummate
skill that characterizes all the love work of Nature. Land, water, and
air, jagged rocks, muddy ground, sand beds, forests, underbrush, grassy
plains, etc., are considered in all their possible combinations while
the clothing of her beautiful wildlings is preparing. No matter what the
circumstances of their lives may be, she never allows them to go dirty
or ragged. The mole, living always in the dark and in the dirt, is
yet as clean as the otter or the wave-washed seal; and our wild sheep,
wading in snow, roaming through bushes, and leaping among jagged
storm-beaten cliffs, wears a dress so exquisitely adapted to its
mountain life that it is always found as unruffled and stainless as a
bird.

On leaving the Shasta hunting grounds I selected a few specimen tufts,
and brought them away with a view to making more leisurely examinations;
but, owing to the imperfectness of the instruments at my command, the
results thus far obtained must be regarded only as rough approximations.

As already stated, the clothing of our wild sheep is composed of fine
wool and coarse hair. The hairs are from about two to four inches long,
mostly of a dull bluish-gray color, though varying somewhat with the
seasons. In general characteristics they are closely related to the
hairs of the deer and antelope, being light, spongy, and elastic, with
a highly polished surface, and though somewhat ridged and spiraled,
like wool, they do not manifest the slightest tendency to felt or become
taggy. A hair two and a half inches long, which is perhaps near
the average length, will stretch about one fourth of an inch before
breaking. The diameter decreases rapidly both at the top and bottom, but
is maintained throughout the greater portion of the length with a fair
degree of regularity. The slender tapering point in which the hairs
terminate is nearly black: but, owing to its fineness as compared with
the main trunk, the quantity of blackness is not sufficient to affect
greatly the general color. The number of hairs growing upon a square
inch is about ten thousand; the number of wool fibers is about
twenty-five thousand, or two and a half times that of the hairs. The
wool fibers are white and glossy, and beautifully spired into ringlets.
The average length of the staple is about an inch and a half. A fiber
of this length, when growing undisturbed down among the hairs, measures
about an inch; hence the degree of curliness may easily be inferred. I
regret exceedingly that my instruments do not enable me to measure the
diameter of the fibers, in order that their degrees of fineness might be
definitely compared with each other and with the finest of the domestic
breeds; but that the three wild fleeces under consideration are
considerably finer than the average grades of Merino shipped from San
Francisco is, I think, unquestionable.

When the fleece is parted and looked into with a good lens, the skin
appears of a beautiful pale-yellow color, and the delicate wool fibers
are seen growing up among the strong hairs, like grass among stalks
of corn, every individual fiber being protected about as specially and
effectively as if inclosed in a separate husk. Wild wool is too fine to
stand by itself, the fibers being about as frail and invisible as the
floating threads of spiders, while the hairs against which they
lean stand erect like hazel wands; but, notwithstanding their great
dissimilarity in size and appearance, the wool and hair are forms of
the same thing, modified in just that way and to just that degree that
renders them most perfectly subservient to the well-being of the sheep.
Furthermore, it will be observed that these wild modifications are
entirely distinct from those which are brought chancingly into existence
through the accidents and caprices of culture; the former being
inventions of God for the attainment of definite ends. Like the
modifications of limbs - the fin for swimming, the wing for flying, the
foot for walking - so the fine wool for warmth, the hair for additional
warmth and to protect the wool, and both together for a fabric to wear
well in mountain roughness and wash well in mountain storms.

The effects of human culture upon wild wool are analogous to those
produced upon wild roses. In the one case there is an abnormal
development of petals at the expense of the stamens, in the other an
abnormal development of wool at the expense of the hair. Garden roses
frequently exhibit stamens in which the transmutation to petals may
be observed in various stages of accomplishment, and analogously the
fleeces of tame sheep occasionally contain a few wild hairs that are
undergoing transmutation to wool. Even wild wool presents here and there
a fiber that appears to be in a state of change. In the course of my
examinations of the wild fleeces mentioned above, three fibers were
found that were wool at one end and hair at the other. This, however,
does not necessarily imply imperfection, or any process of change
similar to that caused by human culture. Water lilies contain parts
variously developed into stamens at one end, petals at the other, as
the constant and normal condition. These half wool, half hair fibers may
therefore subserve some fixed requirement essential to the perfection of
the whole, or they may simply be the fine boundary-lines where and exact
balance between the wool and the hair is attained.

I have been offering samples of mountain wool to my friends, demanding
in return that the fineness of wildness be fairly recognized and
confessed, but the returns are deplorably tame. The first question
asked, is, "Now truly, wild sheep, wild sheep, have you any wool?" while
they peer curiously down among the hairs through lenses and spectacles.
"Yes, wild sheep, you HAVE wool; but Mary's lamb had more. In the name
of use, how many wild sheep, think you, would be required to furnish
wool sufficient for a pair of socks?" I endeavor to point out the
irrelevancy of the latter question, arguing that wild wool was not made
for man but for sheep, and that, however deficient as clothing for other
animals, it is just the thing for the brave mountain-dweller that wears
it. Plain, however, as all this appears, the quantity question rises
again and again in all its commonplace tameness. For in my experience it
seems well-nigh impossible to obtain a hearing on behalf of Nature from
any other standpoint than that of human use. Domestic flocks yield more
flannel per sheep than the wild, therefore it is claimed that culture
has improved upon wildness; and so it has as far as flannel is
concerned, but all to the contrary as far as a sheep's dress is
concerned. If every wild sheep inhabiting the Sierra were to put on tame
wool, probably only a few would survive the dangers of a single season.
With their fine limbs muffled and buried beneath a tangle of hairless
wool, they would become short-winded, and fall an easy prey to the
strong mountain wolves. In descending precipices they would be thrown
out of balance and killed, by their taggy wool catching upon sharp
points of rocks. Disease would also be brought on by the dirt
which always finds a lodgment in tame wool, and by the draggled and
water-soaked condition into which it falls during stormy weather.

No dogma taught by the present civilization seems to form so insuperable
an obstacle in the way of a right understanding of the relations which
culture sustains to wildness as that which regards the world as made
especially for the uses of man. Every animal, plant, and crystal
controverts it in the plainest terms. Yet it is taught from century
to century as something ever new and precious, and in the resulting
darkness the enormous conceit is allowed to go unchallenged.

I have never yet happened upon a trace of evidence that seemed to show
that any one animal was ever made for another as much as it was made for
itself. Not that Nature manifests any such thing as selfish isolation.
In the making of every animal the presence of every other animal has
been recognized. Indeed, every atom in creation may be said to be
acquainted with and married to every other, but with universal union
there is a division sufficient in degree for the purposes of the most
intense individuality; no matter, therefore, what may be the note
which any creature forms in the song of existence, it is made first for
itself, then more and more remotely for all the world and worlds.

Were it not for the exercise of individualizing cares on the part of
Nature, the universe would be felted together like a fleece of tame
wool. But we are governed more than we know, and most when we are
wildest. Plants, animals, and stars are all kept in place, bridled
along appointed ways, WITH one another, and THROUGH THE MIDST of one
another - killing and being killed, eating and being eaten, in harmonious
proportions and quantities. And it is right that we should thus
reciprocally make use of one another, rob, cook, and consume, to the
utmost of our healthy abilities and desires. Stars attract one another
as they are able, and harmony results. Wild lambs eat as many wild
flowers as they can find or desire, and men and wolves eat the lambs to
just the same extent.

This consumption of one another in its various modifications is a
kind of culture varying with the degree of directness with which it is
carried out, but we should be careful not to ascribe to such culture
any improving qualities upon those on whom it is brought to bear. The
water-ousel plucks moss from the riverbank to build its nest, but is
does not improve the moss by plucking it. We pluck feathers from birds,
and less directly wool from wild sheep, for the manufacture of clothing
and cradle-nests, without improving the wool for the sheep, or the
feathers for the bird that wore them. When a hawk pounces upon a linnet
and proceeds to pull out its feathers, preparatory to making a meal,
the hawk may be said to be cultivating the linnet, and he certainly does
effect an improvement as far as hawk-food is concerned; but what of the
songster? He ceases to be a linnet as soon as he is snatched from the
woodland choir; and when, hawklike, we snatch the wild sheep from its
native rock, and, instead of eating and wearing it at once, carry it
home, and breed the hair out of its wool and the bones out of its body,
it ceases to be a sheep.

These breeding and plucking processes are similarly improving as regards
the secondary uses aimed at; and, although the one requires but a few
minutes for its accomplishment, the other many years or centuries, they
are essentially alike. We eat wild oysters alive with great directness,
waiting for no cultivation, and leaving scarce a second of distance
between the shell and the lip; but we take wild sheep home and subject
them to the many extended processes of husbandry, and finish by boiling
them in a pot - a process which completes all sheep improvements as far
as man is concerned. It will be seen, therefore, that wild wool and tame
wool - wild sheep and tame sheep - are terms not properly comparable, nor
are they in any correct sense to be considered as bearing any antagonism
toward each other; they are different things. Planned and accomplished
for wholly different purposes.

Illustrative examples bearing upon this interesting subject may be
multiplied indefinitely, for they abound everywhere in the plant and
animal kingdoms wherever culture has reached. Recurring for a moment to
apples. The beauty and completeness of a wild apple tree living its own
life in the woods is heartily acknowledged by all those who have been so
happy as to form its acquaintance. The fine wild piquancy of its fruit
is unrivaled, but in the great question of quantity as human food wild
apples are found wanting. Man, therefore, takes the tree from the woods,
manures and prunes and grafts, plans and guesses, adds a little of this
and that, selects and rejects, until apples of every conceivable size
and softness are produced, like nut galls in response to the irritating
punctures of insects. Orchard apples are to me the most eloquent words
that culture has ever spoken, but they reflect no imperfection upon
Nature's spicy crab. Every cultivated apple is a crab, not improved,
BUT COOKED, variously softened and swelled out in the process, mellowed,
sweetened, spiced, and rendered pulpy and foodful, but as utterly unfit
for the uses of nature as a meadowlark killed and plucked and roasted.
Give to Nature every cultured apple - codling, pippin, russet - and every
sheep so laboriously compounded - muffled Southdowns, hairy Cotswolds,
wrinkled Merinos - and she would throw the one to her caterpillars, the
other to her wolves.

It is now some thirty-six hundred years since Jacob kissed his mother
and set out across the plains of Padan-aram to begin his experiments
upon the flocks of his uncle, Laban; and, notwithstanding the high
degree of excellence he attained as a wool-grower, and the innumerable
painstaking efforts subsequently made by individuals and associations
in all kinds of pastures and climates, we still seem to be as far from
definite and satisfactory results as we ever were. In one breed the
wool is apt to wither and crinkle like hay on a sun-beaten hillside. In
another, it is lodged and matted together like the lush tangled grass of
a manured meadow. In one the staple is deficient in length, in another
in fineness; while in all there is a constant tendency toward disease,
rendering various washings and dippings indispensable to prevent its
falling out. The problem of the quality and quantity of the carcass
seems to be as doubtful and as far removed from a satisfactory solution
as that of the wool. Desirable breeds blundered upon by long series
of groping experiments are often found to be unstable and subject to
disease - bots, foot rot, blind staggers, etc. - causing infinite trouble,
both among breeders and manufacturers. Would it not be well, therefore,
for some one to go back as far as possible and take a fresh start?

The source or sources whence the various breeds were derived is not
positively known, but there can be hardly any doubt of their being
descendants of the four or five wild species so generally distributed
throughout the mountainous portions of the globe, the marked differences
between the wild and domestic species being readily accounted for by the
known variability of the animal, and by the long series of painstaking
selection to which all its characteristics have been subjected. No other
animal seems to yield so submissively to the manipulations of culture.
Jacob controlled the color of his flocks merely by causing them to stare
at objects of the desired hue; and possibly Merinos may have caught
their wrinkles from the perplexed brows of their breeders. The
California species (Ovis montana) [2] is a noble animal, weighing when
full-grown some three hundred and fifty pounds, and is well worthy the
attention of wool-growers as a point from which to make a new departure,
for pure wildness is the one great want, both of men and of sheep.




II. A Geologist's Winter Walk [3]

After reaching Turlock, I sped afoot over the stubble fields and through
miles of brown hemizonia and purple erigeron, to Hopeton, conscious
of little more than that the town was behind and beneath me, and the
mountains above and before me; on through the oaks and chaparral of the
foothills to Coulterville; and then ascended the first great mountain
step upon which grows the sugar pine. Here I slackened pace, for I drank
the spicy, resiny wind, and beneath the arms of this noble tree I felt
that I was safely home. Never did pine trees seem so dear. How sweet was
their breath and their song, and how grandly they winnowed the sky! I
tingled my fingers among their tassels, and rustled my feet among their


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