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Team.






STICKEEN

BY
JOHN MUIR




1909




TO
HELEN MUIR

_Lover of wildness
this icy storm-story
is affectionately
dedicated_




TO MY DOG BLANCO

BY J.G. HOLLAND

My dear dumb friend, low lying there,
A willing vassal at my feet;
Glad partner of my home and fare,
My shadow in the street;

I look into your great brown eyes,
Where love and loyal homage shine,
And wonder where the difference lies
Between your soul and mine!

* * * * *

I scan the whole broad earth around
For that one heart which, leal and true,
Bears friendship without end or bound,
And find the prize in you.

* * * * *

Ah, Blanco! did I worship God
As truly as you worship me,
Or follow where my Master trod
With your humility:

Did I sit fondly at His feet
As you, dear Blanco, sit at mine,
And watch Him with a love as sweet,
My life would grow divine!






STICKEEN


In the summer of 1880 I set out from Fort Wrangel in a canoe to continue
the exploration of the icy region of southeastern Alaska, begun in the
fall of 1879. After the necessary provisions, blankets, etc., had been
collected and stowed away, and my Indian crew were in their places ready
to start, while a crowd of their relatives and friends on the wharf were
bidding them good-by and good-luck, my companion, the Rev. S.H. Young,
for whom we were waiting, at last came aboard, followed by a little
black dog, that immediately made himself at home by curling up in a
hollow among the baggage. I like dogs, but this one seemed so small and
worthless that I objected to his going, and asked the missionary why he
was taking him.

"Such a little helpless creature will only be in the way," I said; "you
had better pass him up to the Indian boys on the wharf, to be taken home
to play with the children. This trip is not likely to be good for
toy-dogs. The poor silly thing will be in rain and snow for weeks or
months, and will require care like a baby."

But his master assured me that he would be no trouble at all; that he
was a perfect wonder of a dog, could endure cold and hunger like a bear,
swim like a seal, and was wondrous wise and cunning, etc., making out a
list of virtues to show he might be the most interesting member of the
party.

Nobody could hope to unravel the lines of his ancestry. In all the
wonderfully mixed and varied dog-tribe I never saw any creature very
much like him, though in some of his sly, soft, gliding motions and
gestures he brought the fox to mind. He was short-legged and
bunchy-bodied, and his hair, though smooth, was long and silky and
slightly waved, so that when the wind was at his back it ruffled,
making him look shaggy. At first sight his only noticeable feature was
his fine tail, which was about as airy and shady as a squirrel's, and
was carried curling forward almost to his nose. On closer inspection you
might notice his thin sensitive ears, and sharp eyes with cunning
tan-spots above them. Mr. Young told me that when the little fellow was
a pup about the size of a woodrat he was presented to his wife by an
Irish prospector at Sitka, and that on his arrival at Fort Wrangel he
was adopted with enthusiasm by the Stickeen Indians as a sort of new
good-luck totem, was named "Stickeen" for the tribe, and became a
universal favorite; petted, protected, and admired wherever he went, and
regarded as a mysterious fountain of wisdom.

On our trip he soon proved himself a queer character - odd, concealed,
independent, keeping invincibly quiet, and doing many little puzzling
things that piqued my curiosity. As we sailed week after week through
the long intricate channels and inlets among the innumerable islands and
mountains of the coast, he spent most of the dull days in sluggish ease,
motionless, and apparently as unobserving as if in deep sleep. But I
discovered that somehow he always knew what was going on. When the
Indians were about to shoot at ducks or seals, or when anything along
the shore was exciting our attention, he would rest his chin on the edge
of the canoe and calmly look out like a dreamy-eyed tourist. And when he
heard us talking about making a landing, he immediately roused himself
to see what sort of a place we were coming to, and made ready to jump
overboard and swim ashore as soon as the canoe neared the beach. Then,
with a vigorous shake to get rid of the brine in his hair, he ran into
the woods to hunt small game. But though always the first out of the
canoe, he was always the last to get into it. When we were ready to
start he could never be found, and refused to come to our call. We soon
found out, however, that though we could not see him at such times, he
saw us, and from the cover of the briers and huckleberry bushes in the
fringe of the woods was watching the canoe with wary eye. For as soon as
we were fairly off he came trotting down the beach, plunged into the
surf, and swam after us, knowing well that we would cease rowing and
take him in. When the contrary little vagabond came alongside, he was
lifted by the neck, held at arm's length a moment to drip, and dropped
aboard. We tried to cure him of this trick by compelling him to swim a
long way, as if we had a mind to abandon him; but this did no good: the
longer the swim the better he seemed to like it.

Though capable of great idleness, he never failed to be ready for all
sorts of adventures and excursions. One pitch-dark rainy night we landed
about ten o'clock at the mouth of a salmon stream when the water was
phosphorescent. The salmon were running, and the myriad fins of the
onrushing multitude were churning all the stream into a silvery glow,
wonderfully beautiful and impressive in the ebon darkness. To get a
good view of the show I set out with one of the Indians and sailed up
through the midst of it to the foot of a rapid about half a mile from
camp, where the swift current dashing over rocks made the luminous glow
most glorious. Happening to look back down the stream, while the Indian
was catching a few of the struggling fish, I saw a long spreading fan of
light like the tail of a comet, which we thought must be made by some
big strange animal that was pursuing us. On it came with its magnificent
train, until we imagined we could see the monster's head and eyes; but
it was only Stickeen, who, finding I had left the camp, came swimming
after me to see what was up.

When we camped early, the best hunter of the crew usually went to the
woods for a deer, and Stickeen was sure to be at his heels, provided I
had not gone out. For, strange to say, though I never carried a gun, he
always followed me, forsaking the hunter and even his master to share my
wanderings. The days that were too stormy for sailing I spent in the
woods, or on the adjacent mountains, wherever my studies called me; and
Stickeen always insisted on going with me, however wild the weather,
gliding like a fox through dripping huckleberry bushes and thorny
tangles of panax and rubus, scarce stirring their rain-laden leaves;
wading and wallowing through snow, swimming icy streams, skipping over
logs and rocks and the crevasses of glaciers with the patience and
endurance of a determined mountaineer, never tiring or getting
discouraged. Once he followed me over a glacier the surface of which was
so crusty and rough that it cut his feet until every step was marked
with blood; but he trotted on with Indian fortitude until I noticed his
red track, and, taking pity on him, made him a set of moccasins out of a
handkerchief. However great his troubles he never asked help or made
any complaint, as if, like a philosopher, he had learned that without
hard work and suffering there could be no pleasure worth having.

Yet none of us was able to make out what Stickeen was really good for.
He seemed to meet danger and hardships without anything like reason,
insisted on having his own way, never obeyed an order, and the hunter
could never set him on anything, or make him fetch the birds he shot.
His equanimity was so steady it seemed due to want of feeling; ordinary
storms were pleasures to him, and as for mere rain, he flourished in it
like a vegetable. No matter what advances you might make, scarce a
glance or a tail-wag would you get for your pains. But though he was
apparently as cold as a glacier and about as impervious to fun, I tried
hard to make his acquaintance, guessing there must be something worth
while hidden beneath so much courage, endurance, and love of
wild-weathery adventure. No superannuated mastiff or bulldog grown old
in office surpassed this fluffy midget in stoic dignity. He sometimes
reminded me of a small, squat, unshakable desert cactus. For he never
displayed a single trace of the merry, tricksy, elfish fun of the
terriers and collies that we all know, nor of their touching affection
and devotion. Like children, most small dogs beg to be loved and allowed
to love; but Stickeen seemed a very Diogenes, asking only to be let
alone: a true child of the wilderness, holding the even tenor of his
hidden life with the silence and serenity of nature. His strength of
character lay in his eyes. They looked as old as the hills, and as
young, and as wild. I never tired of looking into them: it was like
looking into a landscape; but they were small and rather deep-set, and
had no explaining lines around them to give out particulars. I was
accustomed to look into the faces of plants and animals, and I watched
the little sphinx more and more keenly as an interesting study. But
there is no estimating the wit and wisdom concealed and latent in our
lower fellow mortals until made manifest by profound experiences; for it
is through suffering that dogs as well as saints are developed and made
perfect.

After exploring the Sumdum and Tahkoo fiords and their glaciers, we
sailed through Stephen's Passage into Lynn Canal and thence through Icy
Strait into Cross Sound, searching for unexplored inlets leading toward
the great fountain ice-fields of the Fairweather Range. Here, while the
tide was in our favor, we were accompanied by a fleet of icebergs
drifting out to the ocean from Glacier Bay. Slowly we paddled around
Vancouver's Point, Wimbledon, our frail canoe tossed like a feather on
the massive heaving swells coming in past Cape Spenser. For miles the
sound is bounded by precipitous mural cliffs, which, lashed with
wave-spray and their heads hidden in clouds, looked terribly threatening
and stern. Had our canoe been crushed or upset we could have made no
landing here, for the cliffs, as high as those of Yosemite, sink sheer
into deep water. Eagerly we scanned the wall on the north side for the
first sign of an opening fiord or harbor, all of us anxious except
Stickeen, who dozed in peace or gazed dreamily at the tremendous
precipices when he heard us talking about them. At length we made the
joyful discovery of the mouth of the inlet now called "Taylor Bay," and
about five o'clock reached the head of it and encamped in a spruce grove
near the front of a large glacier.

While camp was being made, Joe the hunter climbed the mountain wall on
the east side of the fiord in pursuit of wild goats, while Mr. Young and
I went to the glacier. We found that it is separated from the waters of
the inlet by a tide-washed moraine, and extends, an abrupt barrier, all
the way across from wall to wall of the inlet, a distance of about three
miles. But our most interesting discovery was that it had recently
advanced, though again slightly receding. A portion of the terminal
moraine had been plowed up and shoved forward, uprooting and
overwhelming the woods on the east side. Many of the trees were down and
buried, or nearly so, others were leaning away from the ice-cliffs,
ready to fall, and some stood erect, with the bottom of the ice plow
still beneath their roots and its lofty crystal spires towering high
above their tops. The spectacle presented by these century-old trees
standing close beside a spiry wall of ice, with their branches almost
touching it, was most novel and striking. And when I climbed around the
front, and a little way up the west side of the glacier, I found that it
had swelled and increased in height and width in accordance with its
advance, and carried away the outer ranks of trees on its bank.

On our way back to camp after these first observations I planned a
far-and-wide excursion for the morrow. I awoke early, called not only by
the glacier, which had been on my mind all night, but by a grand
flood-storm. The wind was blowing a gale from the north and the rain
was flying with the clouds in a wide passionate horizontal flood, as if
it were all passing over the country instead of falling on it. The main
perennial streams were booming high above their banks, and hundreds of
new ones, roaring like the sea, almost covered the lofty gray walls of
the inlet with white cascades and falls. I had intended making a cup of
coffee and getting something like a breakfast before starting, but when
I heard the storm and looked out I made haste to join it; for many of
Nature's finest lessons are to be found in her storms, and if careful
to keep in right relations with them, we may go safely abroad with them,
rejoicing in the grandeur and beauty of their works and ways, and
chanting with the old Norsemen, "The blast of the tempest aids our oars,
the hurricane is our servant and drives us whither we wish to go." So,
omitting breakfast, I put a piece of bread in my pocket and hurried
away.

Mr. Young and the Indians were asleep, and so, I hoped, was Stickeen;
but I had not gone a dozen rods before he left his bed in the tent and
came boring through the blast after me. That a man should welcome
storms for their exhilarating music and motion, and go forth to see God
making landscapes, is reasonable enough; but what fascination could
there be in such tremendous weather for a dog? Surely nothing akin to
human enthusiasm for scenery or geology. Anyhow, on he came,
breakfastless, through the choking blast. I stopped and did my best to
turn him back. "Now don't," I said, shouting to make myself heard in the
storm, "now don't, Stickeen. What has got into your queer noddle now?
You must be daft. This wild day has nothing for you. There is no game
abroad, nothing but weather. Go back to camp and keep warm, get a good
breakfast with your master, and be sensible for once. I can't carry you
all day or feed you, and this storm will kill you."

But Nature, it seems, was at the bottom of the affair, and she gains her
ends with dogs as well as with men, making us do as she likes, shoving
and pulling us along her ways, however rough, all but killing us at
times in getting her lessons driven hard home. After I had stopped again
and again, shouting good warning advice, I saw that he was not to be
shaken off; as well might the earth try to shake off the moon. I had
once led his master into trouble, when he fell on one of the topmost
jags of a mountain and dislocated his arm; now the turn of his humble
companion was coming. The pitiful little wanderer just stood there in
the wind, drenched and blinking, saying doggedly, "Where thou goest I
will go." So at last I told him to come on if he must, and gave him a
piece of the bread I had in my pocket; then we struggled on together,
and thus began the most memorable of all my wild days.

The level flood, driving hard in our faces, thrashed and washed us
wildly until we got into the shelter of a grove on the east side of the
glacier near the front, where we stopped awhile for breath and to
listen and look out. The exploration of the glacier was my main object,
but the wind was too high to allow excursions over its open surface,
where one might be dangerously shoved while balancing for a jump on the
brink of a crevasse. In the mean time the storm was a fine study. Here
the end of the glacier, descending an abrupt swell of resisting rock
about five hundred feet high, leans forward and falls in ice cascades.
And as the storm came down the glacier from the north, Stickeen and I
were beneath the main current of the blast, while favorably located to
see and hear it. What a psalm the storm was singing, and how fresh the
smell of the washed earth and leaves, and how sweet the still small
voices of the storm! Detached wafts and swirls were coming through the
woods, with music from the leaves and branches and furrowed boles, and
even from the splintered rocks and ice-crags overhead, many of the tones
soft and low and flute-like, as if each leaf and tree, crag and spire
were a tuned reed. A broad torrent, draining the side of the glacier,
now swollen by scores of new streams from the mountains, was rolling
boulders along its rocky channel, with thudding, bumping, muffled
sounds, rushing towards the bay with tremendous energy, as if in haste
to get out of the mountains; the waters above and beneath calling to
each other, and all to the ocean, their home.

Looking southward from our shelter, we had this great torrent and the
forested mountain wall above it on our left, the spiry ice-crags on our
right, and smooth gray gloom ahead. I tried to draw the marvelous scene
in my note-book, but the rain blurred the page in spite of all my pains
to shelter it, and the sketch was almost worthless. When the wind began
to abate, I traced the east side of the glacier. All the trees standing
on the edge of the woods were barked and bruised, showing high-ice mark
in a very telling way, while tens of thousands of those that had stood
for centuries on the bank of the glacier farther out lay crushed and
being crushed. In many places I could see down fifty feet or so beneath
the margin of the glacier-mill, where trunks from one to two feet in
diameter were being ground to pulp against outstanding rock-ribs and
bosses of the bank.

About three miles above the front of the glacier I climbed to the
surface of it by means of axe-steps made easy for Stickeen. As far as
the eye could reach, the level, or nearly level, glacier stretched away
indefinitely beneath the gray sky, a seemingly boundless prairie of ice.
The rain continued, and grew colder, which I did not mind, but a dim
snowy look in the drooping clouds made me hesitate about venturing far
from land. No trace of the west shore was visible, and in case the
clouds should settle and give snow, or the wind again become violent, I
feared getting caught in a tangle of crevasses. Snow-crystals, the
flowers of the mountain clouds, are frail, beautiful things, but
terrible when flying on storm-winds in darkening, benumbing swarms or
when welded together into glaciers full of deadly crevasses. Watching
the weather, I sauntered about on the crystal sea. For a mile or two out
I found the ice remarkably safe. The marginal crevasses were mostly
narrow, while the few wider ones were easily avoided by passing around
them, and the clouds began to open here and there.

Thus encouraged, I at last pushed out for the other side; for Nature can
make us do anything she likes. At first we made rapid progress, and the
sky was not very threatening, while I took bearings occasionally with a
pocket compass to enable me to find my way back more surely in case the
storm should become blinding; but the structure lines of the glacier
were my main guide. Toward the west side we came to a closely crevassed
section in which we had to make long, narrow tacks and doublings,
tracing the edges of tremendous transverse and longitudinal crevasses,
many of which were from twenty to thirty feet wide, and perhaps a
thousand feet deep - beautiful and awful. In working a way through them I
was severely cautious, but Stickeen came on as unhesitating as the
flying clouds. The widest crevasse that I could jump he would leap
without so much as halting to take a look at it. The weather was now
making quick changes, scattering bits of dazzling brightness through the
wintry gloom; at rare intervals, when the sun broke forth wholly free,
the glacier was seen from shore to shore with a bright array of
encompassing mountains partly revealed, wearing the clouds as garments,
while the prairie bloomed and sparkled with irised light from myriads of
washed crystals. Then suddenly all the glorious show would be darkened
and blotted out.

Stickeen seemed to care for none of these things, bright or dark, nor
for the crevasses, wells, moulins, or swift flashing streams into which
he might fall. The little adventurer was only about two years old, yet
nothing seemed novel to him, nothing daunted him. He showed neither
caution nor curiosity, wonder nor fear, but bravely trotted on as if
glaciers were playgrounds. His stout, muffled body seemed all one
skipping muscle, and it was truly wonderful to see how swiftly and to
all appearance heedlessly he flashed across nerve-trying chasms six or
eight feet wide. His courage was so unwavering that it seemed to be due
to dullness of perception, as if he were only blindly bold; and I kept
warning him to be careful. For we had been close companions on so many
wilderness trips that I had formed the habit of talking to him as if he
were a boy and understood every word.

We gained the west shore in about three hours; the width of the glacier
here being about seven miles. Then I pushed northward in order to see as
far back as possible into the fountains of the Fairweather Mountains, in
case the clouds should rise. The walking was easy along the margin of
the forest, which, of course, like that on the other side, had been
invaded and crushed by the swollen, overflowing glacier. In an hour or
so, after passing a massive headland, we came suddenly on a branch of
the glacier, which, in the form of a magnificent ice-cascade two miles
wide, was pouring over the rim of the main basin in a westerly
direction, its surface broken into wave-shaped blades and shattered
blocks, suggesting the wildest updashing, heaving, plunging motion of a
great river cataract. Tracing it down three or four miles, I found that
it discharged into a lake, filling it with icebergs.

I would gladly have followed the lake outlet to tide-water, but the day
was already far spent, and the threatening sky called for haste on the
return trip to get off the ice before dark. I decided therefore to go
no farther, and, after taking a general view of the wonderful region,
turned back, hoping to see it again under more favorable auspices. We
made good speed up the caƱon of the great ice-torrent, and out on the
main glacier until we had left the west shore about two miles behind us.
Here we got into a difficult network of crevasses, the gathering clouds
began to drop misty fringes, and soon the dreaded snow came flying thick
and fast. I now began to feel anxious about finding a way in the
blurring storm. Stickeen showed no trace of fear. He was still the same
silent, able little hero. I noticed, however, that after the
storm-darkness came on he kept close up behind me. The snow urged us to
make still greater haste, but at the same time hid our way. I pushed on
as best I could, jumping innumerable crevasses, and for every hundred
rods or so of direct advance traveling a mile in doubling up and down in
the turmoil of chasms and dislocated ice-blocks. After an hour or two of
this work we came to a series of longitudinal crevasses of appalling
width, and almost straight and regular in trend, like immense furrows.
These I traced with firm nerve, excited and strengthened by the danger,
making wide jumps, poising cautiously on their dizzy edges after
cutting hollows for my feet before making the spring, to avoid possible
slipping or any uncertainty on the farther sides, where only one trial
is granted - exercise at once frightful and inspiring. Stickeen followed
seemingly without effort.

Many a mile we thus traveled, mostly up and down, making but little real
headway in crossing, running instead of walking most of the time as the
danger of being compelled to spend the night on the glacier became
threatening. Stickeen seemed able for anything. Doubtless we could have
weathered the storm for one night, dancing on a flat spot to keep from
freezing, and I faced the threat without feeling anything like despair;
but we were hungry and wet, and the wind from the mountains was still


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Online LibraryJohn MuirStickeen → online text (page 1 of 2)