January 20, 2013

Wild adventures and misadventures: a book review

Extreme adventures can be invigorating, but obviously they also often bring great peril. If you're a natural risk-taker, you know this firsthand.

Some of us prefer to balance a few personal adventures with a healthy mix of reading or watching movies about others' exploits. A well-written account of a great adventure can almost make you feel like you've been there...as in the book, "The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures."

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: The Yosemite Association
Amazon price: $9.36









Muir often found himself in perilous situations, and nearly lost his life numerous times! For example:
  • After walking from the Midwest to Cedar Key, Fla., he developed malaria and typhoid, and was bedridden for three months.
  • When hiking a glacial peak in Alaska, Muir's companion slipped and dislocated both shoulders. Muir placed himself precariously underneath the man on a precipice to rescue him and drag him to safety.
  • During a windstorm in California's Sierra mountains, Muir climbed to the top of a 100-foot Douglas Fir for a better view of the storm. He remained in his "lofty perch for hours," dismounting only after the storm had passed.

Photo by Francis M. Fritz [public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons.

Crazy man. Here is Muir's reasoning for his risky tree-climbing adventure:

"...when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions, nature has always something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof."

As nutty as this type of behavior may sound to those of us who are more cautious, it also brings benefits. Muir's essay about his experience at the top of that tree was published in Scribner's Monthly and was republished many times. And it helped establish him as a respected nature writer for the major magazines of his day.

"...my eye roved over the piny hills and dales as over fields of waving grain, and felt the light running ripples and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to ridge, as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air."

"...the colors were remarkably beautiful. The shafts of the pine and libocedrus were brown and purple, and most of the foliage was well-tinged with yellow; the laurel groves, with the pale undersides of their leaves turned upward, made masses of gray; and then there was many a dash of chocolate color from clumps of manzanita, and jet of vivid crimson from the bark of the madroños, while the ground on the hillsides, appearing here and there through openings between the groves, displayed masses of pale purple and brown."

Throughout the book, short explanations set the scene for each of the 22 highlighted adventures. Lovely black and white scratchboard illustrations help tell the stories. If you enjoy the adventure genre, you'll enjoy these true-life essays about John Muir's most harrowing experiences.

(Note: Patricia of Woodlouse House mentions that many of Muir's books are available for free download as Kindle books on Amazon. I also noticed that many are also free in text format on the Sierra Club's website.)

I'm linking this post to Holley's (Roses and Other Gardening Joys) Garden Book Review meme. Check it out!

30 comments:

  1. John Muir sounds like a great adventurer of the old school, hard to come by these days! Sounds like a book for my very long list of books I should read :-)

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    1. I know...there are just so many books! But if you want to know a little about John Muir, and you want a quick read, this is a good source.

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  2. Sounds like a great book. Muir is quite an eloquent writer which is always a plus when reading adventure stories.

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    1. So true, Patty. His words are so colorful--even the bits that don't describe colors. ;) He has a keen way of setting the reader in a specific time and place.

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  3. I am not a risk taker - at all - but I do admire others with a more adventurous spirit. Thus, I would love reading about all of John Muir's adventures. I do admit to going outside to see storms come up, and I love sitting on the porch while it's raining, but I would never have ever entertained the thought of climbing a tree in a storm! Sounds like a book that will open my eyes! Thanks so much for the review, and for linking in!

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    1. I'm not a physical risk-taker, either. I do like adventures and I take risks in other ways--but not physical risks! So reading about high adventure is about my speed. I LOVE to sit on the porch during a rip-roaring thunderstorm! The earth and the plants really come alive, and everything smells incredible. Fortunately, I don't think the storm Muir describes from the tree was a thunderstorm. But it was a powerful windstorm, and he was at the top of a 100-foot tree!

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  4. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Muir Woods in California. It was spectacular; I'd never seen such grand trees, other than in photographs.
    -Karen

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    1. I'm so glad we were able to take the kids there a few years back when my son was visiting colleges. I agree, it's an amazing place, and the huge Redwood trees give you a peaceful, surreal feeling.

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  5. I never realized he was such a risk taker. I always imagined him as a quiet, introverted type. It just goes to show that I know significantly less than I think I do. ;o)

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    1. I'm guessing from what I've read that he was a mix--he spent a lot of time alone, but he also seemed somewhat gregarious and outgoing. And he certainly took a lot of physical risks!

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  6. That should make for some interesting reading. I live near the Sierras and Yosemite and have been to several lectures about the famous naturalist, but I have never read any of his books, but this sounds like one I might enjoy. Thank you for reviewing the book!

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    1. This book is a quick read. It includes excerpts from his writing, and also explanations at the beginning of each chapter that help describe the situations. You could probably read it in a couple of days.

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  7. I thank heaven for people like Muir, while praying that my children are not too much like him!

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    1. Ditto. I spent a lot of time (and still do) telling my kids to be careful. I can't imagine having a child like John Muir! Wow.

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  8. I like John Muir and his adventures but had not read much about them...I will check this out Beth!!

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    1. A lot of the stories are set in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Of course, California was the love of Muir's life. Fascinating guy. It's a quick read, Donna. I'm sure you would enjoy it!

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  9. Interesting man. Such a wonderful style of writing - you could almost hear the wind in that storm through his repetition of the 's' sound then the description of the light was magical. Thanks for the mention.

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    1. Yes, I can't get enough of his writing. I'm embarrassed that I haven't made it a priority to read his books in the past. Now it's time! Thank you, Patricia, for the info!

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  10. It makes it that much more real to me when I realize that these people tackled those obstacles without the equipment, and knowledge that we have now.

    Not even a good warm coat, if you think about it.

    Jen

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    1. So true, Jen! I'm shivering just thinking about it. As you know, I'm a winter wimp!

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  11. Interesting post, very interesting. Here I thought I was taking a risk making my way out to the mailbox via an icy street.

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    1. Ha! Me, too, Donna! I guess we have to be a little hardy to live in the north, but at least we have warm houses, cars, and offices to go to! (The ice is dangerous, though--do be careful!)

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  12. I love a good adventure, but I can't imagine climbing to the top of a tall tree to watch a storm! My immediate thought was of lightning. But then, I don't have to climb that tree because John Muir already has, and he has left us with his wonderful descriptions so we can live it vicariously. Thanks for the book recommendation!

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    1. I thought about the lightening, too, but from the description it sounds like it was a windstorm--maybe not a thunder/lightening storm? If there was any lightening involved, then his actions were truly stupid. If not, he was somewhat crazy and very brave. ;-)

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  13. I am not particularly adventurous, but I do love to read about the extraordinary people who are! They encourage me to make small forays into being adventurous in my own small life, as well as giving me a buzz.

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    1. Me, too. I'm extremely unadventurous during the winter, and a little more of a risk-taker during warmer weather. But reading about wild adventures is fun any time of year!

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    1. Hi Glenda: I hope to join in the meme in the coming months! Yours sounds like a very fun meme, so I will check it out. Thanks!

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  15. I find bios of adventurers very inspiring, I am not sure I could get into all of that troubles, but it's about life and it tells there are many ways to live and enjoy, it's safer to read te books though ;-)!

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    1. So true, Lula. I'm not so brave, but I do appreciate those who are! And reading about their adventures is fantastic!

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