John Muir, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (1914: Barnes and Noble electronic edition, 2011), 119 pages.
In 1867, after recovering from an industrial accident that left him temporarily blind, John Muir left Indiana for the Gulf of Mexico. Taking only a small sack, his possessions included a flower press, a change of underwear, a comb, a brush, a towel, soap, a flower press, and a few books: Burns poems, Milton’s Paradise Lost and a small New Testament. Taking the train to the border, he set out walking through Kentucky, where he visited Monmouth Caves. When visiting an old Planter who questioned taking off as he was doing. Muir called upon Solomon and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for support of God’s interest in creation and suggested that if the Heavenly Father was interested in flowers, he too should be interested. (19)
Muir continued on through Tennessee where he saw the destruction from the Civil War and found through the tip of North Carolina, stopping in the town of Murphy before pushing into Georgia. There he swung eastward to Savannah, where he was resupplied with money sent from his brother. His description of his trip through Savannah shows the condition of the South following the war, with its many abandon and ruined homes. He also has opportunities to talk with many people, black and white, who warn him of the dangers of traveling alone. He seems welcoming to interact with those of all races, even though he shows some of the prejudices of the day, remarking about “an energetic white man could pick more cotton than half a dozen sambos and sallies.” (32)
Muir’s travels slow down once he reaches Florida. This is partly due to coming down with malaria while at Cedar Key. But he also seemed more interested in the strange plants unlike anything he’d seen in the Midwest or Scotland. He notes that the further south he traveled the more he felt to be “a stranger in a strange land. (90) Although the Florida coast isn’t at all like the Scottish coast of his childhood, Muir found that the salt air would draw out his memories of his earlier life. While in the swamps of Florida, Muir had time to ponder the relationship between humans and nature. Although Muir holds the Creator in high esteem, he questions the concept that man is the pinnacle of the Creator’s creation. Some of his thoughts are rather humorous as he questions why, if we’re on top, there are animals and insects that feed on men (72) and that “venomous beasts, thorny plants and deadly diseases” prove that the world was not made for men (74) Muir finds himself being in sympathy of the animal world:
Let a Christian hunter go to the Lord’s woods and kill his well-kept beasts, or wild Indians and it’s as well; but let an enterprising specimen of those proper, predestined victims go to houses and fields and kill the most worthless person of the vertical god-like killers, -oh! That is horribly unorthodox and on part of the Indians atrocities murder. Well, I have precious little sympathy for the selfish propriety of civilized man and if a war of the races should occur between the wild beast and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathize with the beast.” (64)
Muir also questions some of the traditional views on animals and evil:
Some people think alligators are created by the devil, “but these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God.” (43)
Muir spends a couple of months in Cedar Key, recovering from fever, before heading on a ship to Havana. He spent time in Cuba, but had not recovered his strength and so he gave up the idea of exploring the island or traveling to South America and exploring the Amazon. After Havana, he book passage on a ship hauling oranges to New York (for $25) where he hoped to find his way to California. Having traveled from Indiana to Florida on foot and then on to Cuba, Muir appears overwhelmed in New York and although he sees street cars for Central Park, decides to stay near the docks out of the fear of getting lost in a throng of people.
From New York, Muir sails for California via Panama (for $40). The last quarter of the book is devoted to his time in California, especially his first trip into the Sierras where he finds himself “Bapitized” in nature’s font. (107) From what I read of this book, Muir had typed his journal that include the walk and added a letter with it to make the book which was compiled and published after his death.
Final quote: “