Sunday, February 19, 2017

The End of the Wild

Coming soon...

I am enamored with the work of John Muir, in both the way he lived and the way he wrote so lovingly and persuasively about securing the health of the environment for its own sake, outside of the wants and needs of humans. He was smart enough to know, though, that he had to use his writing to charm the American public into falling in love with mountains, streams, Redwoods, insects, canyons, antelope, seals, and storms in order to save the environment from irrevocable destruction by miners, loggers, manufacturers, ranchers, farmers, and drillers. He appealed to the American public's heart, its sense of decency and stewardship, to help lead them toward a logical conclusion that may have felt counterintuitive to their bank accounts: set aside vast swaths of land and let them be wild. He was able to convince Teddy Roosevelt. Together, the two of them are largely responsible for the existence of the national park system, as well as the environmental movements that grew out of them. Another beautiful result of reading John Muir is that you can't escape the musicality of his prose. Nothing puts me in a writing mode more than reading poetry or prose that comes close. So, it was with him in mind, that I started The End of the Wild, which comes out in April with Little, Brown and Company. I had other inspirations, of course, including a short story by Mark Richard titled "Strays," but in my mind, Muir was the guiding light. (Richard was the mosquito buzzing around the light. More of him later.)

This following excerpt is from The Mountains of California (1894) and is the beginning of a chapter that describes how Muir rode out a storm at the top of a Douglas Fir tree. I think you can hear the influence of his religious upbringing, his deep knowledge of the lyricism and metaphor of biblical language.

"THE mountain winds, like the dew and rain, sunshine and snow, are measured and bestowed with love on the forests to develop their strength and beauty. However restricted the scope of other forest influences, that of the winds is universal. The snow bends and trims the upper forests every winter, the lightning strikes a single tree here and there, while avalanches mow down thousands at a swoop as a gardener trims out a bed of flowers. But the winds go to every tree, fingering every leaf and branch and furrowed bole; not one is forgotten; the Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the dells; they seek and find them all, caressing them tenderly, bending them in lusty exercise, stimulating their growth, plucking off a leaf or limb as required, or removing an entire tree or grove, now whispering and cooing through the branches like a sleepy child, now roaring like the ocean; the winds blessing the forests, the forests the winds, with ineffable beauty and harmony as the sure result."

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