My First Summer in the Sierra (100th Anniversary Illustrated Edition)

My First Summer in the Sierra (100th Anniversary Illustrated Edition)


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My First Summer in the Sierra (100th Anniversary Illustrated Edition) by John Muir

From the photographer who brought Thoreau's Walden and Cape Cod to life comes a new work combining classic literature with brand-new photography. This time, Scot Miller takes on the seminal work of John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra. The book details Muir's first extended trip to the Sierra Nevada in what is now Yosemite National Park, a landscape that entranced him immediately and had a profound effect on his life. The towering waterfalls, natural rock formations, and abundant plant and animal life helped Muir develop his views of the natural world, views that would eventually lead him to push for the creation of the national parks.

My First Summer in the Sierra is illustrated with Miller's stunning photographs, showcasing the dramatic landscape of the High Sierra plus John Muir's illustrations from the original edition and several previously unpublished illustrations from his 1911 manuscript. The publication of My First Summer in the Sierra inspired many to journey there, and this newly illustrated edition will surely inspire many more.

This book is being published in collaboration with Yosemite Conservancy and, for each copy sold, Scot Miller is making a donation to Yosemite Conservancy. My First Summer in the Sierra won the National Outdoor Book Award.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618988518
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 03/10/2011
Pages: 204
Sales rank: 376,261
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

John Muir (1838-1914) was one of the most influential conservationists and nature writers in American history. He was instrumental in the creation and passage of the National Parks Act, and founder of the Sierra Club, acting as its president until his death. Muir was a spirit so free that all he did to prepare for an expedition was to "throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump the back fence."

SCOT MILLER is a professional photographer whose photographs have appeared in numerous books and publications, including Walden: The 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic and Cape Cod: Illustrated Edition of the American Classic. Miller lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Marilyn, where they operate Sun to Moon Gallery, a fine art photography gallery.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Through the Foothills with a Flock of Sheep

In the great Central Valley of California
there are only two seasons — spring
and summer. The spring begins with the
first rainstorm, which usually falls in November.
In a few months the wonderful flowery
vegetation is in full bloom, and by the end
of May it is dead and dry and crisp, as if every
plant had been roasted in an oven.
 Then the lolling, panting flocks and herds are
driven to the high, cool, green pastures of the
Sierra. I was longing for the mountains about
this time, but money was scarce and I couldn’t
see how a bread supply was to be kept up. While
I was anxiously brooding on the bread problem,
so troublesome to wanderers, and trying
to believe that I might learn to live like the wild
animals, gleaning nourishment here and there
from seeds, berries, etc., sauntering and climbing
in joyful independence of money or baggage,
Mr. Delaney, a sheep-owner, for whom I
had worked a few weeks, called on me, and offered
to engage me to go with his shepherd and
flock to the headwaters of the Merced and Tuolumne
Rivers — the very region I had most in
mind. I was in the mood to accept work of any
kind that would take me into the mountains
whose treasures I had tasted last summer in the
Yosemite region. The flock, he explained, would
be moved gradually higher through the successive
forest belts as the snow melted, stopping
for a few weeks at the best places we came to.
These I thought would be good centers of observation
from which I might be able to make
many telling excursions within a radius of eight
or ten miles of the camps to learn something of
the plants, animals, and rocks; for he assured me
that I should be left perfectly free to follow my
studies. I judged, however, that I was in no way
the right man for the place, and freely explained
my shortcomings, confessing that I was wholly
unacquainted with the topography of the upper
mountains, the streams that would have to be
crossed, and the wild sheep-eating animals,
etc.; in short that, what with bears, coyotes,
rivers, cañons, and thorny, bewildering chaparral,
I feared that half or more of his flock would
be lost. Fortunately these shortcomings seemed
insignificant to Mr. Delaney. The main thing, he
said, was to have a man about the camp whom
he could trust to see that the shepherd did his
duty, and he assured me that the difficulties that
seemed so formidable at a distance would vanish
as we went on; encouraging me further by saying
that the shepherd would do all the herding,
that I could study plants and rocks and scenery
as much as I liked, and that he would himself
accompany us to the first main camp and make
occasional visits to our higher ones to replenish
our store of provisions and see how we prospered.
Therefore I concluded to go, though still
fearing, when I saw the silly sheep bouncing one
by one through the narrow gate of the home corral
to be counted, that of the two thousand and
fifty many would never return.
 I was fortunate in getting a fine St. Bernard
dog for a companion. His master, a hunter with
whom I was slightly acquainted, came to me as
soon as he heard that I was going to spend the
summer in the Sierra and begged me to take
his favorite dog, Carlo, with me, for he feared
that if he were compelled to stay all summer on
the plains the fierce heat might be the death of
him. “I think I can trust you to be kind to him,”
he said, “and I am sure he will be good to you.
He knows all about the mountain animals, will
guard the camp, assist in managing the sheep,
and in every way be found able and faithful.”
Carlo knew we were talking about him, watched
our faces, and listened so attentively that I fancied
he understood us. Calling him by name, I
asked him if he was willing to go with me. He
looked me in the face with eyes expressing wonderful
intelligence, then turned to his master,
and after permission was given by a wave of the
hand toward me and a farewell patting caress, he
quietly followed me as if he perfectly understood
all that had been said and had known me always.

June 3, 1869. This morning provisions, campkettles,
blankets, plant-press, etc., were packed
on two horses, the flock headed for the tawny
foothills, and away we sauntered in a cloud of
dust: Mr. Delaney, bony and tall, with sharply
hacked profile like Don Quixote, leading the
pack-horses, Billy, the proud shepherd, a Chinaman
and a Digger Indian to assist in driving
for the first few days in the brushy foothills, and
myself with notebook tied to my belt.
 The home ranch from which we set out is
on the south side of the Tuolumne River near
French Bar, where the foothills of metamorphic
gold-bearing slates dip below the stratified deposits
of the Central Valley. We had not gone
more than a mile before some of the old leaders
of the flock showed by the eager, inquiring
way they ran and looked ahead that they were
thinking of the high pastures they had enjoyed
last summer. Soon the whole flock seemed to
be hopefully excited, the mothers calling their
lambs, the lambs replying in tones wonderfully
human, their fondly quavering calls interrupted
now and then by hastily snatched mouthfuls
of withered grass. Amid all this seeming babel
of baas as they streamed over the hills every
mother and child recognized each other’s voice.
In case a tired lamb, half asleep in the smothering
dust, should fail to answer, its mother would
come running back through the flock toward the
spot whence its last response was heard, and refused
to be comforted until she found it, the one
of a thousand, though to our eyes and ears all
seemed alike.
 The flock traveled at the rate of about a mile
an hour, outspread in the form of an irregular
triangle, about a hundred yards wide at the
base, and a hundred and fifty yards long, with
a crooked, ever-changing point made up of the
strongest foragers, called the “leaders,” which,
with the most active of those scattered along the
ragged sides of the “main body,” hastily explored
nooks in the rocks and bushes for grass and
leaves; the lambs and feeble old mothers dawdling
in the rear were called the “tail end.”
 About noon the heat was hard to bear; the
poor sheep panted pitifully and tried to stop
in the shade of every tree they came to, while
we gazed with eager longing through the dun
burning glare toward the snowy mountains and
streams, though not one was in sight. The landscape
is only wavering foothills roughened here
and there with bushes and trees and outcropping
masses of slate. The trees, mostly the blue
oak (Quercus douglasii), are about thirty to forty
feet high, with pale blue-green leaves and white
bark, sparsely planted on the thinnest soil or in
crevices of rocks beyond the reach of grass fires.
The slates in many places rise abruptly through
the tawny grass in sharp lichen-covered slabs
like tombstones in deserted burying-grounds.
With the exception of the oak and four or five
species of manzanita and ceanothus, the vegetation
of the foothills is mostly the same as that of
the plains. I saw this region in the early spring,
when it was a charming landscape garden full of
birds and bees and flowers. Now the scorching
weather makes everything dreary. The ground
is full of cracks, lizards glide about on the rocks,
and ants in amazing numbers, whose tiny sparks
of life only burn the brighter with the heat, fairly
quiver with unquenchable energy as they run in
long lines to fight and gather food. How it comes
that they do not dry to a crisp in a few seconds’
exposure to such sun-fire is marvelous. A few
rattlesnakes lie coiled in out-of-the-way places,
but are seldom seen. Magpies and crows, usually
so noisy, are silent now, standing in mixed flocks
on the ground beneath the best shade trees, with
bills wide open and wings drooped, too breathless
to speak; the quails also are trying to keep
in the shade about the few tepid alkaline waterholes;
cottontail rabbits are running from shade
to shade among the ceanothus brush, and occasionally
the long-eared hare is seen cantering
gracefully across the wider openings.
 After a short noon rest in a grove, the poor
dust-choked flock was again driven ahead over
the brushy hills, but the dim roadway we had
been following faded away just where it was
most needed, compelling us to stop to look
about us and get our bearings. The Chinaman
seemed to think we were lost, and chattered
in pidgin English concerning the abundance
of “litty stick” (chaparral), while the Indian silently
scanned the billowy ridges and gulches for
openings. Pushing through the thorny jungle,
we at length discovered a road trending toward
Coulterville, which we followed until an hour
before sunset, when we reached a dry ranch and
camped for the night.
 Camping in the foothills with a flock of sheep
is simple and easy, but far from pleasant. The
sheep were allowed to pick what they could find
in the neighborhood until after sunset, watched
by the shepherd, while the others gathered
wood, made a fire, cooked, unpacked and fed
the horses, etc. About dusk the weary sheep were
gathered on the highest open spot near camp,
where they willingly bunched close together, and
after each mother had found her lamb and suckled
it, all lay down and required no attention
until morning.
 Supper was announced by the call, “Grub!”
Each with a tin plate helped himself direct from
the pots and pans while chatting about such
camp studies as sheep-feed, mines, coyotes,
bears, or adventures during the memorable gold
days of pay dirt. The Indian kept in the background,
saying never a word, as if he belonged
to another species. The meal finished, the dogs
were fed, the smokers smoked by the fire, and
under the influences of fullness and tobacco the
calm that settled on their faces seemed almost
divine, something like the mellow meditative
glow portrayed on the countenances of saints.
Then suddenly, as if awakening from a dream,
each with a sigh or a grunt knocked the ashes
out of his pipe, yawned, gazed at the fire a few
moments, said, “Well, I believe I’ll turn in,” and
straightway vanished beneath his blankets. The
fire smouldered and flickered an hour or two
longer; the stars shone brighter; coons, coyotes,
and owls stirred the silence here and there, while
crickets and hylas made a cheerful, continuous
music, so fitting and full that it seemed a part of
the very body of the night. The only discordance
came from a snoring sleeper, and the coughing
sheep with dust in their throats. In the starlight
the flock looked like a big gray blanket.
 June 4. The camp was astir at daybreak; coffee,
bacon, and beans formed the breakfast, followed
by quick dish-washing and packing. A
general bleating began about sunrise. As soon
as a mother ewe arose, her lamb came bounding
and bunting for its breakfast, and after the
thousand youngsters had been suckled the flock
began to nibble and spread. The restless wethers
with ravenous appetites were the first to
move, but dared not go far from the main body.
Billy and the Indian and the Chinaman kept
them headed along the weary road, and allowed
them to pick up what little they could find on a
breadth of about a quarter of a mile. But as several
flocks had already gone ahead of us, scarce
a leaf, green or dry, was left; therefore the starving
flock had to be hurried on over the bare, hot
hills to the nearest of the green pastures, about
twenty or thirty miles from here.
 The pack-animals were led by Don Quixote, a
heavy rifle over his shoulder intended for bears
and wolves. This day has been as hot and dusty
as the first, leading over gently sloping brown
hills, with mostly the same vegetation, excepting
the strange-looking Sabine pine (Pinus sabiniana),
which here forms small groves or is scattered
among the blue oaks. The trunk divides
at a height of fifteen or twenty feet into two or
more stems, out-leaning or nearly upright, with
many straggling branches and long gray needles,
casting but little shade. In general appearance
this tree looks more like a palm than a pine. The
cones are about six or seven inches long, about
five in diameter, very heavy, and last long after
they fall, so that the ground beneath the trees is
covered with them. They make fine resiny, lightgiving
camp-fires, next to ears of Indian corn the
most beautiful fuel I’ve ever seen. The nuts, the
Don tells me, are gathered in large quantities by
the Digger Indians for food. They are about as
large and hard-shelled as hazelnuts — food and
fire fit for the gods from the same fruit.
 June 5. This morning a few hours after setting
out with the crawling sheep-cloud, we
gained the summit of the first well-defined
bench on the mountainflank at Pino Blanco.
The Sabine pines interest me greatly. They are
so airy and strangely palm-like I was eager to
sketch them, and was in a fever of excitement without
accomplishing much. I managed to halt long enough, however,
to make a tolerably fair sketch of Pino Blanco
peak from the southwest side, where there is a
small field and vineyard irrigated by a stream
that makes a pretty fall on its way down a gorge
by the roadside.
 After gaining the open summit of this first
bench, feeling the natural exhilaration due to the
slight elevation of a thousand feet or so, and the
hopes excited concerning the outlook to be obtained,
a magnificent section of the Merced Valley
at what is called Horseshoe Bend came full
in sight — a glorious wilderness that seemed to
be calling with a thousand songful voices. Bold,
down-sweeping slopes, feathered with pines and
clumps of manzanita with sunny, open spaces
between them, make up most of the foreground;
the middle and background present fold beyond
fold of finely modeled hills and ridges rising
into mountain-like masses in the distance,
all covered with a shaggy growth of chaparral,
mostly adenostoma, planted so marvelously
close and even that it looks like soft, rich plush
without a single tree or bare spot. As far as the
eye can reach it extends, a heaving, swelling
sea of green as regular and continuous as
that produced by the heaths of Scotland. The
sculpture of the landscape is as striking in
its main lines as in its lavish richness of detail;
a grand congregation of massive heights with the river
shining between, each carved into smooth, graceful folds
without leaving a single rocky angle exposed, as
if the delicate fluting and ridging fashioned out
of metamorphic slates had been carefully sandpapered.
The whole landscape showed design,
like man’s noblest sculptures. How wonderful
the power of its beauty! Gazing awe-stricken,
I might have left everything for it. Glad, endless
work would then be mine tracing the forces
that have brought forth its features, its rocks and
plants and animals and glorious weather. Beauty
beyond thought everywhere, beneath, above,
made and being made forever. I gazed and gazed
and longed and admired until the dusty sheep
and packs were far out of sight, made hurried
notes and a sketch, though there was no need
of either, for the colors and lines and expression
of this divine landscape-countenance are
so burned into mind and heart they surely can
never grow dim.
 The evening of this charmed day is cool,
calm, cloudless, and full of a kind of lightning I
have never seen before — white glowing cloudshaped
masses down among the trees and bushes, like quick-throbbing
fireflies in the Wisconsin meadows rather
than the so-called “wild fire.” The spreading hairs
of the horses’ tails and sparks from our blankets
show how highly charged the air is.
 June 6. We are now on what may be called the second bench
 or plateau of the Range, after making many small
ups and downs over belts of hill-waves, with, of
course, corresponding changes in the vegetation.
In open spots many of the lowland compositæ
are still to be found, and some of the Mariposa
tulips and other conspicuous members of the
lily family; but the characteristic blue oak of the
foothills is left below, and its place is taken by
a fine large species (Quercus californica) with
deeply lobed deciduous leaves, picturesquely divided
trunk, and broad, massy, finely lobed and
modeled head. Here also at a height of about
twenty-five hundred feet we come to the edge of
the great coniferous forest, made up mostly of
yellow pine with just a few sugar pines. We are
now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling
enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver,
filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone
tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the
beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part
of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and
rocks, in the waves of the sun, — a part of all nature,
neither old nor young, sick nor well,
but immortal. Just now I can hardly conceive
of any bodily condition dependent on food or
breath any more than the ground or the sky.
How glorious a conversion, so complete and
wholesome it is, scarce memory enough of old
bondage days left as a standpoint to view it
from! In this newness of life we seem to have
been so always.
 Through a meadow opening in the pine
woods I see snowy peaks about the headwaters
of the Merced above Yosemite. How near they
seem and how clear their outlines on the blue
air, or rather in the blue air; for they seem to be
saturated with it. How consuming strong the invitation
they extend! Shall I be allowed to go to
them? Night and day I’ll pray that I may, but it
seems too good to be true. Some one worthy will
go, able for the Godful work, yet as far as I can
I must drift about these love-monument mountains,
glad to be a servant of servants in so holy a
 Found a lovely lily (Calochortus albus) in a
shady adenostoma thicket near Coulterville,
in company with Adiantum chilense. It is white
with a faint purplish tinge inside at the base of
the petals, a most impressive plant, pure as a
snow crystal, one of the plant saints that all must
love and be made so much the purer by it every
time it is seen. It puts the roughest mountaineer
on his good behavior. With this plant
the whole world would seem rich though none
other existed. It is not easy to keep on with the
camp cloud while such plant people are standing
preaching by the wayside.
 During the afternoon we passed a fine
meadow bounded by stately pines, mostly the
arrowy yellow pine, with here and there a noble
sugar pine, its feathery arms outspread above the
spires of its companion species in marked contrast;
a glorious tree, its cones fifteen to twenty
inches long, swinging like tassels at the ends
of the branches with superb ornamental effect.
Saw some logs of this species at the Greeley
Mill. They are round and regular as if turned
in a lathe, excepting the butt cuts, which have a
few buttressing projections. The fragrance of the
sugary sap is delicious and scents the mill and
lumber yard. How beautiful the ground beneath
this pine thickly strewn with slender needles and
grand cones, and the piles of cone-scales, seedwings
and shells around the instep of each tree
where the squirrels have been feasting! They
get the seeds by cutting off the scales at the base
in regular order, following their spiral arrangement,
and the two seeds at the base of each scale,
a hundred or two in a cone, must make a good
meal. The yellow pine cones and those of most
other species and genera are held upside down
on the ground by the Douglas squirrel, and
turned around gradually until stripped, while
he sits usually with his back to a tree, probably
for safety. Strange to say, he never seems to get
himself smeared with gum, not even his paws
or whiskers — and how cleanly and beautiful in
color the cone-litter kitchen-middens he makes.
 We are now approaching the region of clouds
and cool streams. Magnificent white cumuli
appeared about noon above the Yosemite region,
— floating fountains refreshing the glorious
wilderness, — sky mountains in whose
pearly hills and dales the streams take their
rise, — blessing with cooling shadows and rain.
No rock landscape is more varied in sculpture,
none more delicately modeled than these landscapes
of the sky; domes and peaks rising, swelling,
white as finest marble and firmly outlined,
a most impressive manifestation of world building.
Every rain-cloud, however fleeting, leaves
its mark, not only on trees and flowers whose
pulses are quickened, and on the replenished
streams and lakes, but also on the rocks are its
marks engraved whether we can see them or not.
 I have been examining the curious and in-
fluential shrub Adenostoma fasciculata, first noticed
about Horseshoe Bend. It is very abundant
on the lower slopes of the second plateau near
Coulterville, forming a dense, almost impenetrable
growth that looks dark in the distance. It belongs
to the rose family, is about six or eight feet
high, has small white flowers in racemes eight to
twelve inches long, round needle-like leaves, and
reddish bark that becomes shreddy when old. It
grows on sun-beaten slopes, and like grass is often
swept away by running fires, but is quickly
renewed from the roots. Any trees that may have
established themselves in its midst are at length
killed by these fires, and this no doubt is the secret
of the unbroken character of its broad belts.
A few manzanitas, which also rise again from
the root after consuming fires, make out to dwell
with it, also a few bush compositæ — baccharis
and linosyris, and some liliaceous plants, mostly
calochortus and brodiæa, with deepset bulbs safe
from fire. A multitude of birds and “wee, sleekit,
cow’rin’, tim’rous beasties” find good homes in
its deepest thickets, and the open bays and lanes
that fringe the margins of its main belts offer
shelter and food to the deer when whiter storms
drive them down from their high mountain
pastures. A most admirable plant! It is now in
bloom, and I like to wear its pretty fragrant racemes
in my buttonhole.
 Azalea occidentalis, another charming shrub,
grows beside cool streams hereabouts and much
higher in the Yosemite region. We found it this
evening in bloom a few miles above Greeley’s
Mill, where we are camped for the night. It is
closely related to the rhododendrons, is very
showy and fragrant, and everybody must like it
not only for itself but for the shady alders and
willows, ferny meadows, and living water associated
with it.
 Another conifer was met to-day — incense
cedar (Libocedrus decurrens), a large tree with
warm yellow-green foliage in flat plumes like
those of arborvitæ, bark cinnamon-colored, and
as the boles of the old trees are without limbs
they make striking pillars in the woods where
the sun chances to shine on them — a worthy
companion of the kingly sugar and yellow pines.
I feel strangely attracted to this tree. The brown
close-grained wood, as well as the small scalelike
leaves, is fragrant, and the flat over-lapping
plumes make fine beds, and must shed the rain
well. It would be delightful to be storm-bound
beneath one of these noble, hospitable, inviting
old trees, its broad sheltering arms bent down
like a tent, incense rising from the fire made
from its dry fallen branches, and a hearty wind
chanting overhead. But the weather is calm tonight,
and our camp is only a sheep camp. We
are near the North Fork of the Merced. The
night wind is telling the wonders of the upper
mountains, their snow fountains and gardens,
forests and groves; even their topography is in
its tones. And the stars, the everlasting sky lilies,
how bright they are now that we have climbed
above the lowland dust! The horizon is bounded
and adorned by a spiry wall of pines, every tree
harmoniously related to every other; definite
symbols, divine hieroglyphics written with sunbeams.
Would I could understand them! The
stream flowing past the camp through ferns and
lilies and alders makes sweet music to the ear,
but the pines marshaled around the edge of the
sky make a yet sweeter music to the eye. Divine
beauty all. Here I could stay tethered forever
with just bread and water, nor would I be lonely;
loved friends and neighbors, as love for everything
increased, would seem all the nearer however
many the miles and mountains between us.
 June 7. The sheep were sick last night, and
many of them are still far from well, hardly able
to leave camp, coughing, groaning, looking
wretched and pitiful, all from eating the leaves
of the blessed azalea. So at least say the shepherd
and the Don. Having had but little grass since
they left the plains, they are starving, and so eat
anything green they can get. “Sheep-men” call
azalea “sheep-poison,” and wonder what the Creator
was thinking about when he made it — so
desperately does sheep business blind and degrade,
though supposed to have a refining influence
in the good old days we read of. The California
sheep owner is in haste to get rich, and
often does, now that pasturage costs nothing,
while the climate is so favorable that no winter
food supply, shelter-pens, or barns are required.
Therefore large flocks may be kept at slight expense,
and large profits realized, the money invested
doubling, it is claimed, every other year.
This quickly acquired wealth usually creates desire
for more. Then indeed the wool is drawn
close down over the poor fellow’s eyes, dimming
or shutting out almost everything worth seeing.
 As for the shepherd, his case is still worse, especially
in winter when he lives alone in a cabin.
For, though stimulated at times by hopes of one
day owning a flock and getting rich like his boss,
he at the same time is likely to be degraded by
the life he leads, and seldom reaches the dignity
or advantage — or disadvantage — of ownership.
The degradation in his case has for cause
one not far to seek. He is solitary most of the
year, and solitude to most people seems hard to
bear. He seldom has much good mental work or
recreation in the way of books. Coming into his
dingy hovel-cabin at night, stupidly weary, he
finds nothing to balance and level his life with
the universe. No, after his dull drag all day after
the sheep, he must get his supper; he is likely
to slight this task and try to satisfy his hunger
with whatever comes handy. Perhaps no bread is
baked; then he just makes a few grimy flapjacks
in his unwashed frying-pan, boils a handful of
tea, and perhaps fries a few strips of rusty bacon.
Usually there are dried peaches or apples in the
cabin, but he hates to be bothered with the cooking
of them, just swallows the bacon and flapjacks,
and depends on the genial stupefaction of
tobacco for the rest. Then to bed, often without
removing the clothing worn during the day. Of
course his health suffers, reacting on his mind;
and seeing nobody for weeks or months, he fi-
nally becomes semi-insane or wholly so.
 The shepherd in Scotland seldom thinks of
being anything but a shepherd. He has probably
descended from a race of shepherds and inherited
a love and aptitude for the business almost
as marked as that of his collie. He has but a small
flock to look after, sees his family and neighbors,
has time for reading in fine weather, and
often carries books to the fields with which he
may converse with kings. The oriental shepherd,
we read, called his sheep by name; they knew his
voice and followed him. The flocks must have
been small and easily managed, allowing piping
on the hills and ample leisure for reading and
thinking. But whatever the blessings of sheepculture
in other times and countries, the California
shepherd, as far as I’ve seen or heard, is
never quite sane for any considerable time. Of all
Nature’s voices baa is about all he hears. Even the
howls and ki-yis of coyotes might be blessings
if well heard, but he hears them only through a
blur of mutton and wool, and they do him no
 The sick sheep are getting well, and the shepherd
is discoursing on the various poisons lurking
in these high pastures — azalea, kalmia,
alkali. After crossing the North Fork of the Merced
we turned to the left toward Pilot Peak, and
made a considerable ascent on a rocky, brushcovered
ridge to Brown’s Flat, where for the first
time since leaving the plains the flock is enjoying
plenty of green grass. Mr. Delaney intends
to seek a permanent camp somewhere in the
neighborhood, to last several weeks.
 Before noon we passed Bower Cave, a delightful
marble palace, not dark and dripping, but
filled with sunshine, which pours into it through
its wide-open mouth facing the south. It has
a fine, deep, clear little lake with mossy banks
embowered with broad-leaved maples, all under
ground, wholly unlike anything I have seen
in the cave line even in Kentucky, where a large
part of the State is honeycombed with caves.
This curious specimen of subterranean scenery
is located on a belt of marble that is said to extend
from the north end of the Range to the extreme
south. Many other caves occur on the belt,
but none like this, as far as I have learned, combining
as it does sunny outdoor brightness and
vegetation with the crystalline beauty of the underworld.
It is claimed by a Frenchman, who
has fenced and locked it, placed a boat on the
lakelet and seats on the mossy bank under the
maple trees, and charges a dollar admission fee.
Being on one of the ways to the Yosemite Valley,
a good many tourists visit it during the travel
months of summer, regarding it as an interesting
addition to their Yosemite wonders.
 Poison oak or poison ivy (Rhus diversiloba),
both as a bush and a scrambler up trees and
rocks, is common throughout the foothill region
up to a height of at least three thousand
feet above the sea. It is somewhat troublesome
to most travelers, inflaming the skin and eyes,
but blends harmoniously with its companion
plants, and many a charming flower leans confi
dingly upon it for protection and shade. I have
oftentimes found the curious twining lily (Stropholirion
californicum) climbing its branches,
showing no fear but rather congenial companionship.
Sheep eat it without apparent ill effects;
so do horses to some extent, though not fond of
it, and to many persons it is harmless. Like most
other things not apparently useful to man, it has
few friends, and the blind question, “Why was it
made?” goes on and on with never a guess that
first of all it might have been made for itself.
 Brown’s Flat is a shallow fertile valley on the
top of the divide between the North Fork of the
Merced and Bull Creek, commanding magnifi-
cent views in every direction. Here the adventurous
pioneer David Brown made his headquarters
for many years, dividing his time
between gold-hunting and bear-hunting. Where
could lonely hunter find a better solitude? Game
in the woods, gold in the rocks, health and exhilaration
in the air, while the colors and cloud
furniture of the sky are ever inspiring through
all sorts of weather. Though sternly practical,
like most pioneers, old David seems to have
been uncommonly fond of scenery. Mr. Delaney,
who knew him well, tells me that he dearly loved
to climb to the summit of a commanding ridge
to gaze abroad over the forest to the snow-clad
peaks and sources of the rivers, and over the
foreground valleys and gulches to note where
miners were at work or claims were abandoned,
judging by smoke from cabins and camp-fires,
the sounds of axes, etc.; and when a rifle-shot
was heard, to guess who was the hunter, whether
Indian or some poacher on his wide domain.
His dog Sandy accompanied him everywhere,
and well the little hairy mountaineer knew and
loved his master and his master’s aims. In deerhunting
he had but little to do, trotting behind
his master as he slowly made his way through
the wood, careful not to step heavily on dry
twigs, scanning open spots in the chaparral,
where the game loves to feed in the early morning
and towards sunset; peering cautiously over
ridges as new outlooks were reached, and along
the meadowy borders of streams. But when
bears were hunted, little Sandy became more important,
and it was as a bear-hunter that Brown
became famous. His hunting method, as described
by Mr. Delaney, who had passed many
a night with him in his lonely cabin and learned
his stories, was simply to go slowly and silently
through the best bear pastures, with his dog and
rifle and a few pounds of flour, until he found a
fresh track and then follow it to the death, paying
no heed to the time required. Wherever the
bear went he followed, led by little Sandy, who
had a keen nose and never lost the track, however
rocky the ground. When high open points
were reached, the likeliest places were carefully
scanned. The time of year enabled the hunter to
determine approximately where the bear would
be found, — in the spring and early summer
on open spots about the banks of streams and
springy places eating grass and clover and lupines,
or in dry meadows feasting on strawberries;
toward the end of summer, on dry ridges,
feasting on manzanita berries, sitting on his
haunches, pulling down the laden branches with
his paws, and pressing them together so as to
get good compact mouthfuls however much
mixed with twigs and leaves; in the Indian summer,
beneath the pines, chewing the cones cut
off by the squirrels, or occasionally climbing a
tree to gnaw and break off the fruitful branches.
In late autumn, when acorns are ripe, Bruin’s favorite
feeding-grounds are groves of the California
oak in park-like cañon flats. Always the
cunning hunter knew where to look, and seldom
came upon Bruin unawares. When the hot scent
showed the dangerous game was nigh, a long
halt was made, and the intricacies of the topography
and vegetation leisurely scanned to catch
a glimpse of the shaggy wanderer, or to at least
determine where he was most likely to be.
 “Whenever,” said the hunter, “I saw a bear before
it saw me I had no trouble in killing it. I just
studied the lay of the land and got to leeward
of it no matter how far around I had to go, and
then worked up to within a few hundred yards
or so, at the foot of a tree that I could easily
climb, but too small for the bear to climb. Then
I looked well to the condition of my rifle, took
Off my boots so as to climb well if necessary, and
waited until the bear turned its side in clear view
when I could make a sure or at least a good shot.
In case it showed fight I climbed out of reach
But bears are slow and awkward with their eyes,
and being to leeward of them they could not
scent me, and I often got in a second shot before
they noticed the smoke. Usually, however, they
run when wounded and hide in the brush. I let
them run a good safe time before I ventured to
follow them, and Sandy was pretty sure to find
them dead. If not, he barked and drew their attention,
and occasionally rushed in for a distracting
bite, so that I was able to get to a safe
distance for a final shot. Oh, yes, bear-hunting is
safe enough when followed in a safe way, though
like every other business it has its accidents, and
little doggie and I have had some close calls.
Bears like to keep out of the way of men as a
general thing, but if an old, lean, hungry mother
with cubs met a man on her own ground she
would, in my opinion, try to catch and eat him.
This would be only fair play anyhow, for we eat
them, but nobody hereabout has been used for
bear grub that I know of.”
 Brown had left his mountain home ere we arrived,
but a considerable number of Digger Indians
still linger in their cedar-bark huts on
the edge of the flat. They were attracted in the
first place by the white hunter whom they had
learned to respect, and to whom they looked for
guidance and protection against their enemies
the Pah Utes, who sometimes made raids across
from the east side of the Range to plunder the
stores of the comparatively feeble Diggers and
steal their wives.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns vii

I. Through the Foothills with a Flock of Sheep 1
II. In Camp on the North Fork of the Merced 20
III. A Bread Famine 49
IV. To the High Mountains 57
V. The Yosemite 76
VI. Mount Hoffman and Lake Tenaya 97
VII. A Strange Experience 117
VIII. The Mono Trail 130
IX. Bloody Cañon and Mono Lake 143
X. The Tuolumne Camp 155
XI. Back to the Lowlands 170

A Statement from Yosemite Conservancy 181
Artist’s Statement 184
List of Illustrations 188

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