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JOHN MUIR'S TRAVELS IN ALASKA
Excerpts from the book "Travels in Alaska" edited by Marion Randall Parsons and William Frederic Bade from Muir's own letters from Alaska written as a journalist for the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin. The book was published posthumously in 1915 the year after Muir's death.
Copyright, 1915, by Houghton Mifflin Company, 2 Park St., Boston, Mass. 02108
SOURCE: http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/

CHAPTER XII - "The Return to Fort Wrangell"
Paddeling southward down the east shore of the Lynn Canal, they visited the Auk tribe in the Juneau area declining the chief's offer to assemble the village for them. They proceeded to Taku Inlet and Sum Dum Bay, but the closeness of winter prevented exploration. "The pack was so close no open water was in sight, and, convinced at last that this part of my work would have to be left for another year, we struggled across to the west side of the fiord and camped...I ordered all hands to pack up and get out of the ice as soon as possible... Mr. Young regretted not meeting the Indians here, but mission work also had to be left until next season." The next season, 1880, the Silver Bow gold discovery was made in the Juneau area.

CHAPTER XIII - "Alaska Indians"
Of the Tlingits he says, "It was easy to see that they differed greatly from the typical American Indian of the interior of this continent. They were doubtless derived from the Mongol stock. Their down-slanting oval eyes, wide cheek-bones, and rather thick, outstanding upper lips at once suggest their connection with the Chinese or Japanese.

The Thlinkits are fond and indulgent parents. In all my travels I never heard a cross, fault-finding word, or anything like scolding inflicted on an Indian child, or ever witnesses a single case of spanking, so common in civilized communities." Of his loyal interpreter, killed while peacemaking between feuding tribes he says, "I saw Toyatte under all circumstances, - in rain and snow, landing at night in dark storms, making fires, building shelters, exposed to all kinds of discomfort, but never under any circunstances did I ever see him do anything, or make a single gesture, that was not dignified, or hear him say a word that might not be uttered anywhere. He often deplored the fact that he had no son to take his name at his death, and expressed himself as very grateful when I told him that his name would not be forgotten,- that I had named one of the Stickeen glaciers for him."

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CHAPTER XIV - "The Trip of 1880 - Sum Dum Bay"
Muir arrived back in Wrangell on August 8th, 1880 on the steamer California. "For those who really care to get into hearty contact with the coast region, travel by canoe is by far the better way. The larger canoes carry from one to three tons, rise lightly over any waves likely to be met on the inland channels, go well under sail, and are easily paddled alongshore in calm weather or against moderate winds, while snug harbors where they may ride at anchor or be pulled up on a smooth beach are to be found almost everywhere...you may be truly independent, and enter into partnership with Nature... These cold northern waters are at times about as brilliantly phosphorescent as those of the warm South...every stroke of the oar made a vivid surge of white light, and the canoes left shining tracks."

At the head of Endicott Arm he says, "Close alongside there was a lofty mountain capped with ice, and from the blue edge of that ice-cap there were sixteen silvery cascades in a row, falling about four thousand feet, each one of the sixteen large enough to be heard at least two miles...how glorious a song the sixteen cascades sang!" Venturing into Ford's Terror he says, "A grander array of rocks and waterfalls I have never yet beheld in Alaska...the cliff gardens of this hidden Yosemite are exceedingly rich in color. On almost every rift and bench, however small...we found gay multitudes of flowers, far more brilliantly colored than would be looked for in so cool and beclouded a region, - larkspurs, geraniums, painted-cups, bluebells, gentians, saxifrages, epilobiums, violets, parnassia, veratrum, spiranthes and other orchids, fritillaria, smilax asters, daisies, bryanthus, cassiope, linnaea, and a great variety of flowering ribes and rubus and heathworts...The tallest of the grasses have ribbon leaves well tempered and arched, and with no lack of bristly spikes and nodding purple panicles.

In this eastern arm of Sum Dum Bay and its Yosemite branch, I counted from my canoe, on my way up and down, thirty small glaciers back of the walls, and we saws three of the first order; also thirty-seven cascades and falls, counting only those large enough to make themselves heard several miles." Going into Tracy Arm he says, "no ice-work that I have ever seen surpasses this, either in the magnitude of the features or effectiveness of composition...glaciers are seen, still busily engaged in the work of completing their sculpture. I counted twenty-five from the canoe. Probably the drainage of fifty or more pours into this fiord." Everywere icebergs abound and he says, "The water spaces between the bergs were as smooth as glass, reflecting the unclouded sky, and doubling the ravishing beauty of the bergs as the sunlight streamed through their innumerable angles in rainbow colors."

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CHAPTER XV - "From Taku River to Taylor Bay"
"The Taku River is a large stream, nearly a mile wide at the mouth, and, like the Stickeen, Chilcat, and Chilcoot, draws its sources from far inland, crossing the mountain-chain from the interior through a majestic canyon, and draining a multitude of glaciers on its way. The Taku Indians, like the Chilcats, with a keen appreciation of the advantages of their position for trade, hold possession of the river and compel the Indians of the interior to accept their services as middle-men, instead of allowing them to trade directly with the whites." Canoeing onward to Taylor Bay, Muir, his trusty ice axe and Young's dog Stickeen go for an extensive trek on "Taylor Bay Glacier." Muir's harrowing survival experience on the glacier becomes the subject of his most popular book, "Stikeen". (Brady Glacier north of the modern coastal village of Elfin Cove.)

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CHAPTER XVI - "Glacier Bay"
Going into Glacier Bay, they went directly to the Muir Glacier, camping a safe distance from the massive calving face, Muir established a closer observation camp "where I could the watch the bergs as they were discharged and get night views of the brow of the glacier and its sheer jagged face...One night the water was luminous and the surge from discharging icebergs churned the water into silver fire, a glorious sight in the darkness."

Trekking the glacier's surface and climbing the surrounding mountains he finally appreciates the massive size, "There are seven main tribuaries... [and] secondary tributaries so that the whole... number upward of two hundred, not counting the smallest... and [the Muir Glacier] can hardly be less than seven or eight hundred [square] miles, and probably contains as much ice as all the eleven hundred Swiss glaciers combined... westward the magnificent Fairweather Range is displayed... and...Mt. Fairweather is the noblest and most majectic... of all the sky dwelling company. Upon close inspection he finds that, "The lower summits... are adorned and enlivened with flowers... the topmost a lavish profusion... so abundant that... the very thought of this Alaska garden is a joyful exhilaration."

Of his day and night observations he says, "the effect is indescribably glorious... [as] are the shows they make in the night when the moon and stars are shining... crowned with faint lunar rainbows in the up-dashing spray. But it in the darkest nights when storms are blowing and the waves are phosphorescent that the most impressive displays are made. Then the long range of ice-bluffs is plainly seen stretching through the gloom in weird, unearthly splendor, luminous wave foam dashing against every bluff and drifting berg... dashes the living water into yet brighter foam, and the streaming torrents pouring from its sides are worn as robes of light, while they roar in awful accord with the winds and waves, deep calling unto deep, glacier to glacier, from fiord to fiord over all the wonderful bay."

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CHAPTER XVII - "In Camp at Glacier Bay"
On June 14, 1890 on the steamer City of Pueblo he embarks for his fourth trip to Alaska. His third, in 1881, included, "northern and western Alaska as far as Unalaska and Pt. Barrow and the northeastern coast of Siberia." Transferring to the Queen in Port Townsend with 180 fellow passengers he arrives in Wrangell and says, "The shops were jammed and mobbed, high prices paid for shabby stuff manufactured expressly for tourist trade. Silver bracelets hammered out of dollars and half dollars by Indian smiths are the most popular articles, then baskets, yellow cedar toy canoes, paddles, etc. Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at. Great is the power of the guidebook-maker, however ignorant."

Steaming northward they arrive at Juneau, "on the mainland opposite the Douglas Island mills, is quite a village, well supplied with stores, churches, etc. A dance-house in which Indians are supposed to show native dances of all sorts is perhaps the best-patronized of all the places of amusement."

Northward up the Lynn Canal where he notes, "The mountains on either hand and at the head of the canal are strikingly beautiful at any time of the year...as they stretch onward in sustained grandeur ...each mountain with its glaciers and clouds and fine sculpture glowing bright..." He notes, "There are now two canneries at the head of Lynn Canal. The Indians furnish some of the salmon at ten cents each."

Venturing next into Glacier Bay the Queen sailes to the face of Muir Glacier where some passengers hike the vicinity and all watch, "happy, gazing at the beautiful blue of the bergs and the shattered pinnacled crystal wall, awed by the thunder and commotion of the falling and rising icebergs - a perpetual thunderstorm easily heard three or four miles away." He and a traveling companion Loomis are left in a well provisioned camp where he makes extensive scientific observations of the glacial environment, "Mirages are common, making the stranded bergs along the shore look like the sheer frontal wall of the glacier...Illuminated by the sun, the spray and angular crystal masses are indescribably beautiful...a rushing succession of thunder-tones combining into a huge, blunt, solemn roar."

On July 1 the steamer George W. Elder arrives at the face of the Muir Glacier with many tourists and Professor Harry Fielding "and six or eight young students who had come well provided with instruments to study the glacier...we have now a village." Muir finds the face of the glacier has receeded more than a mile on the morain in his 10 year absence. He says, "I found thirty-three species of plants in flower - a showy garden...watered by a fine stream...there are many butterflies in this garden." On July 7 the Queen arrives again with 230 tourists, "What a show they made with their ribbons and kodaks!"

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CHAPTER XVIII - "My sled-Trip on the Muir Glacier"
With a 3 foot long sled he fashioned to carry provisions, he sets out to explore the glacier, traversing "the forested part with its rich, shaggy beds of cassiope and bryanthus in full bloom, and its sumptious cushions of flower-enameled mosses. These garden-patches are full of gay colors...enlivened with happy birds and bees and marmots...and Ptarmigans that were as tame as barnyard fowls...and saw three wild goats fifteen hundred feet up in the steep grassy pastures...I thought there must be wolves where there were goats, and in a few minutes herd their low, dismal, far-reaching howling."

During a sunset he notes, "Even the snow and the grinding, cascading glaciers became divinely tender and fine in this celestial amethystine light...God's holy light making all divine." The going was sometimes very difficult, "crossing many narrow, nerve-trying, ice-sliver bridges, balancing astride of them, and cautiously shoving the sled ahead of me with tremendous chasms on eithr side." Alone, exhausted and cold, he warmed a cup of tea from a small fire made of wood shavings from his sled and notes, "it answered well enough as far as tea was concenred. I crept into my sack before eight o'clock and the wind was cold and my feet wet. One of my shoes is about worn out. I may have to put on a wooden sole."

He notices, "I have been sketching, though my eyes are much inflamed and I can scarce see. All the lines I make appear double. I fear I shall not be able to make the few more sketches I want tomorrow, but I must try." The next day he writes, "Nearly blind...on my back all day with a snow poultice bound over my eyes...I have had too much sunshine...waiting for the evening shadows to enable me to get nearer the main camp...only five or six miles away." He then falls into a crevass which is fortunately filled with water, "and after a hard struggle succeeded in dragging myself out over the farther side. Then I...made haste to strip off my clothing, threw it in a sloppy heap and crept into my sleeping-bag to shiver away the night as best I could." His eyesight improving, he is seen by his companions and they come ferry him over to the main camp where he, "had a good rest and sleep and leisure to find out how rich I was in new facts and pictures and how tired and hungry I was."

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CHAPTER XIX - "Auroras"
Several nights in a row spectacular auroral displays capture Muir's attention. The most profound display was an unwaivering, brilliant "silver rainbow" arching across the sky, enhanced by an endless throng of "electric auroral fairies" dancing in an endless vertical procession from east to west, "all keeping quivery step and time to music too fine for mortal ears...losing all thought of sleep, I ran back to my cabin, carried out blankets and lay down on the moraine to keep watch until daybreak."

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