book review

John Muir’s My First Summer In the Sierra Book Analysis and Review

Throughout John Muir’s book, “My First Summer In the Sierra ”, he describes, as the title suggests, the time he spent in the High Sierra in the years prior to his strong conservation efforts. During this time he worked as a supervisor for a sheep dive. This book serves as Muir’s personal journal, detailing everything he saw and did during his time. Recording descriptions of flora and fauna as well as collection data in order to display the importance and beauty of the world around us.

John Muir and the Sierra

Muir is in awe of the natural beauty of the Sierra for the majority of the book. He talks about nature in a way that is so idealistic it almost seems untrue. The ways in which he describes his surroundings make it seem almost as if he is describing a foregin planet in which plants were alive with the consciousness of humans. He grounds himself, however, in his data collection. Due to the nature of the book, serving as a dated journal of his trip, and his scientific background, he records data along with colorful descriptions of plants. 

Upon his arrival he was taken aback by the insincerity of the people he comes across, it is clear that he much prefers the company of plants and wildlife to that of humans; so much so that he spends little time mentioning the people he encounters on his journey. Instead he writes pages distributing what are thought to be inerrantly human adjectives to flowers, plants, and small critters. He refers to the sheep he heads as “hoofed locusts”, relating them to pests due to the damages they cause to the ecosystem with their feet. This specific description serves to bring to mind a well known disliked organism and therefore successfully personifying the sheep as a vessel for his hatred for the destruction of nature. 

John Muir’s Devotion to Nature

He grows more and more connected to his surroundings as the book progresses. Developing deeper connections and stronger bonds. He becomes protective of the natural beauty that surrounds him and finds it puzzling and frustrating that something so beautiful would be destroyed and replaced with cement. By the end of the book it becomes obvious that he would devote his life to what he had experienced. As his devotion for beauty grew so did his desire to help it flourish, and eventually he did just that.

Repeatedly he begins his days with the phrase “and another glorious day” amazed by every moment, no matter sun or storm, he finds peace and wonderment in nature. He expresses his joyousness in a way which could only be classified as child-like. Free from preconceived notions, negativity surrounding the natural world, and starting each day in a “glorious” way. His unending positivity makes it arguably impossible to dispute him as it would prove frivolous, as if arguing with a child over the definition of true happiness. Where a child would claim their direct surroundings as the truth behind the coveted notion, meanwhile most often  adults see no choice but to only imagine happiness in things free of error and strife. Muir refuses the societal negatives engraved in most of us and chooses to devote himself to the positives, a windstorm being nothing more than a dance of the trees and a swarm of insects put simply as  “clouds of happy insects filling the sky with joyous hums”. Isn’t this world Muir has discovered for himself true happiness? What so many people desire he is able to find by merely discarding the negativity society presents us with and embracing his surroundings in a way most havent had the chance to, and in that lies his true message.

“It seems strange that visitors to Yosemite should be so little influenced by its novel grandeur, as if their eyes were bandaged and their ears stopped.”

~John Muir

The message of this book is glaringly obvious, as Muir stated, “It seems strange that visitors to Yosemite should be so little influenced by its novel grandeur, as if their eyes were bandaged and their ears stopped”. Through his writings he hopes to inspire those who couldn’t bother enough to take a look at the natural beauties of the world to go outside and experience it purely for what it is… beautiful. For Muir it is inconceivable that anyone wouldn’t want to devote themselves to the glory of the natural world, and that is a beautiful thing. In a way it serves him a connection with god. Using words such as tabernacle to describe the mountain and claiming the world to be a “church with the mountain as an altar” and simultaneously juxtaposing the locust-ness of the sheep. Drawing connections between the animal and the coming of the apocalypse, being in this case the destruction of the planet by human hands.  

My First Summer in the Sierra and Environmental Science

As a scientist he sets out to find proofs for his hypotheses and collects data. While the scientific aspects of this book most definitely relate to Environmental Science the most important thing to walk away from this book with is an understanding of the grace and beauty nature provides us. Despite what we have done to her the earth never holds a grudge. At our core we all have deep connections to nature and as soon as we are able to see the environment for what it is the sooner we will be able to devote ourselves to her cause, in turn saving ourselves. Whether we choose to eat locally sourced, organic products more often, decline to partake in the consumption of meat and dairy products, or to have more awareness of every action related to the earth beneath our feet. 

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