A guest blog from John Muir*

I longed for an adventure, but money was tight and I couldn’t see how a bread supply could be kept up. Or at least, that was my current excuse for not doing anything about it.

I know that under ordinary circumstances I could accumulate wealth and attain a just position in society, and I have reached an age which requires me to choose a definite course for life. But I am sure that no schoolboy’s mind is more free and disengaged from all the serious plans and purposes and pursuits of ordinary orthodox life than mine!

At any rate, I pondered the problem of bread, so troublesome to wanderers, trying to believe that I could learn to live like the wild beasts, fetching sustenance here and there, sauntering and climbing in happy independence of money or baggage. But I lose precious days. I am degenerating into a money making machine. I learn nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get into the mountains to learn the news. It feels important to stay close to the heart of nature and break away once in a while and spend a week in nature to wash your spirit clean.

Go now and then, for fresh life, they say… Go, whether you have faith or no… Go up and away for life; be fleet! So here I am – I’m gone!

I wish I knew where I was going. Condemned to be carried by the spirit into the wilderness, I suppose. I wish I could be more moderate in my desires, but I cannot, and then there is no rest.

When an excursion into nature is suggested, all manner of exaggerated or imagined dangers are conjured up, filling the friendly, soothing wilderness with colds, dangers, insects, impassable rivers, and jungles of scrub, to which is always quick and certain starvation. . It’s all bullshit! The biggest danger is only being too cowardly or boring not to go at all.

I never spend much time preparing for a trip – just long enough to throw bread and tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence. My flock is as light as a squirrel’s tail.

The freedom I felt when I set off was exhilarating, and neither scorching heat, thirst and fainting nor rain, bogs and cold could diminish it. Before I had walked ten kilometres, I was tired and sore in my feet, that’s right. But it was real, serious work and I liked it. Any kind of simple, natural destruction is preferable to the callous, stupid apathetic death of a city.

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sunset, because going out, I found, really went in… And when night fell I lay down gratefully next to ​the warming fire. The great arousing fragrant fire is the very God of the house. No wonder the ancient nations, with their fresher instincts, had their hearth gods. A fine place this to forget fatigue and injustice and bad business.

Photo: Kevin Brunet

Of all the roads you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. It is another glorious day when one seems dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsating on, we know not whither. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more care to save time or rush than the trees and the stars. This is true freedom, a good practical form of immortality.

There is so much you are exposed to out here that takes us back to midlife in the infinitely distant past. And as we go on and on studying this old, old life in the light of the life beating around us, we enrich and prolong our own.

The world is big, no doubt about it, and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark. I’m just a baby slowly learning my fairy tale alphabet. But who wouldn’t want to be an adventurer!? Out here, all the prizes of the real world seem like nothing!

Walk, ride, run, paddle silently in all directions and taste the freedom. In every encounter with nature, you receive far more than you seek. This great show is forever. It’s always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried at once; a shower falls forever; steam always rises. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, On seas and continents and islands, each on its side, As the round earth rolls.

We are now in the open, and they are in us, rousing enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell in us. The clearest way into the universe, I think, is through a desert. Because we know little how much wildness is in us. Only a few generations separate us from our grandfathers who were wild as wolves. This is the secret behind our love of hunting. Savagery is natural, civilization is strained and unnatural.

Photo: Teddy Kelley

Climb the mountains and get their good news. The peace of nature will flow into you as sunshine pours into the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will fall from you like autumn leaves.

Accidents in the mountains are less common than in the lowlands, and these mountain mansions are decent, lovely, even divine, places to die in, compared with the gloomy chambers of civilization. Remember, few places in this world are more dangerous than home. So don’t be afraid to try the mountain passes, the water, the quieter tracks. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call all faculties to energetic, enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passports, because for every unfortunate they kill, they heal thousands. I have never seen an unhappy tree. They grab the soil as if they liked it, and although they are quickly rooted, they travel as far as we do.

The gales beat me, the mists lowered, the mountain felt fierce. But when the day ended I lit the stove, had a cup of tea, took off my dripping clothes, wrapped myself in a sleeping bag and lay brooding over the day’s gains and plans for tomorrow.

It is true; you may be a little cold some nights on mountain tops above the timber line, but you will see the stars, and by and by, when the time comes, you can sleep enough in your town bed, or at least in your grave. So make the most of what you have. I felt happy, rich and almost comfortable.

It was still raining hard when I awoke, but I decided to ignore the weather, put on my dripping clothes, glad to know they had been rinsed fresh and clean, slung my bag over my shoulder and took another plunge in the dripping. Cloud. As I sat on the narrow niche, I was not clearly aware of the danger. The sheer grandeur of the place stifled the feeling of fear, and in such places one’s body takes careful care of safety at its own expense. After this, I will try to stay away from such extravagant, nerve-wracking places. Still, such a day is worth venturing into. I had a glorious time, and came to camp about dark, and enjoyed a triumphant elation soon followed by dull weariness.

Photo: Christopher Jolly

How deep our sleep tonight in the heart of the mountain, under the stars, hushed by solemn sounding waterfalls and many small soothing river voices in sweet harmony! And the dawns and sunrises of these mountain days,—the rose-light creeping higher among the stars, changing to daffodil-yellow, the level rays springing forth, streaming over the ridges, touching ridge after ridge, waken and warm all. Divine, lasting, unfathomable wealth. Our first pure mountain day, warm, calm, cloudless – how immense it seems, how wildly peaceful! I hardly remember its beginnings. Along the river, over the hills, in the earth, in the sky, the work of spring is going on with joyous enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, rolling out in glorious overflowing extravagance, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere.

Excited by the mountain air, I feel like shouting this morning with an abundance of wild animal joy. My first view of the highest peaks is in itself enough for a very memorable day of days – enjoyment enough to kill if it were possible. Now away we go towards the highest mountains. Many still, small voices, as well as the thunder, call, “Come higher.” Goodbye, forests, gardens, cities and a thousand others. Goodbye. Goodbye. It’s time to go high.

Thousands of tired, jittery, over-civilized people begin to find that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity. We all need a little money these days, but there’s nothing about getting it that should rob us of our sanity. Gold-digging is but a tedious task, and no sensible man will allow it to blind him and draw him away from the real blessings of life. A lifetime is so little a time that we die before we get ready to live.

Too many people are in the world, not of it. No amount of wordsmithing will ever make a single soul *know* these mountains. A day’s exposure to mountains is better than a truckload of books.

I’m glad I’m not good enough to be missed in the busy world. I may yet become a properly cultivated plant, cease my wild wanderings, and form a so-called pillar or something in society. But not yet. I would rather stand in what all the world would call an idle way, literally wide open with all mouths on soul and body, demanding nothing, fearing nothing, but hoping and enjoying immensely.

And so, go east, young man, go east! Go any direction; only go! You only have to walk a few kilometers to be happy. City workers, whose lives are almost choked by the weeds of care that have grown up and run to seed around you—leave everything and go, and you cannot escape a cure for all care. Wherever we go in the mountains, or indeed in any of God’s wild fields, we find more than we seek.

*This post, compiled from Muir’s quotes, appeared on Living adventurously.

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