Work And Play In Later Years
Two essays especially interesting to young readers were written by
Mr. Burroughs at Slabsides in 1899 -- " The Art of Seeing
Things," in Leaf and Tendril, and "Wild Life about my
Cabin," in Far and Near. That spring, when happy in his woodland
cabin, poking about the woods, burning brush, rowing on the Shattega,
and nibbling betimes at his pen, there came a disturbing proposition
-an invitation to go on the Harriman Alaskan Expedition. With all his
curiosity about new lands, he shrank from such a departure from his
quiet life, but after debating the question, finally turned the key
in the door of Slabsides, journeyed across the States, and, on the
last day of May took ship at Seattle for Alaska.
Mr. E. H. Harriman and family were joined on this expedition by about
forty well-known scientists and artistsbotanists, geologists,
zoologists, ornithologists, and so on. There was John Muir, the Great
Ice Chief, Dr. Fernow, the Tree Chief, Dr. Grinnell, the expert on
Indians, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, the bird portrait painter, and many
others eminent in various fields. Mr. Muir knew so much about
glaciers, and so considered them his special property, that he hardly
allowed anyone else an opinion concerning them. Perhaps of all the
thrilling experiences on that expedition of so many thrills, the
chief was that early encounter with the glacier named after their
fellow voyager. Approaching its front to within two miles of its
crumbling wall of ice, which towered two hundred and fifty feet above
them, they dropped anchor near the little cabin where the Great Ice
Chief had dwelt some years before when he discovered the glacier.
They heard the deafening explosions as enormous masses separated,
were submerged, then slowly rose like monsters of the deep, their
blue forms gradually emerging from snowy clouds of foam. One day
while near the Muir, a half mile of the front detached itself,
arising again in floating bergs as blue as sapphires.
They visited greater glaciers later, the greatest of which was the
Malaspina, one hundred and fifty square miles in extent, with a
fifty-mile front on the sea, and running back thirty miles or more to
the Saint Elias Range.
At Port Wells, the extreme northeast arm of Prince Williams Sound,
they entered another great ice-chest of glaciers. There were, he said:
Glaciers to right of them,
Glaciers to left of them,
Glaciers in front of them, which
Volleyed and thundered.
To many of these they gave names-Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Amherst,
Radcliffe, Smith, Bryn Mawr, Vassar, and Wellesley.
While exploring in the vicinity of the Barry glacier, where a ship
had -never gone before, they encountered a mighty obstacle
effectually barring their way, later named the Harriman glacier. It
was while there that their vessel was caught in a strong ebbing tide,
and, hesitating to respond to the helm, seemed for a brief period to
be making directly for the lofty wall of ice on their port side; but
happily the ship soon came about, and on they sailed merrily.
The Seal Islands, the paradise of Kadiak, the Kadiak bear and cub
which Mr. Harriman shot, the woods upholstered ankle-deep with moss,
the winsome flowers, these and much else are engagingly described in
Far and Near. In the New York Zoological Park and also in the Peabody
Museum at Harvard University are totem poles which- they brought back
from that expedition.
Of course the bird life in Alaska especially interested Mr.
Burroughs. Will he ever forget the humming bird he saw on the Muir
glacier, carried by its tiny wings three thousand miles or more? Some
birds there were which set him to rhyming-the Oregon robin, the
golden crowned sparrow, and the Lapland longspur, the last-named
reminding him strongly of his boyhood bobolink:
On Unalaska's emerald lea,
On lonely isles in Bering Sea,
On far Siberia's barren shore,
On North Alaska's tundra floor,
At morn, at noon, in pallid night
We heard thy song, and saw thy flight,
While I, sighing, could but think
Of my boyhood's bobolink.
He never tired of watching the albatrosses which followed their ship
in effortless flight, or the Arctic terns, as with sickle-like wings
they reapt the air. There they saw the little water ouzel, and the
golden plover with its soft and plaintive call. The familiar barn
swallows in that land without barns, seemed at ease; song sparrows,
though nearly as large as catbirds, were much like those of the Catskills.
In Bering Sea, while making its perilous way toward Siberia through
night and fog, the George W. Elder suddenly grated on the rocks. She
trembled from stem to stem. Terrified, all on board sprang to their
feet in mute alarm; but the engines were quickly reversed, a sail was
hoisted, the ship's prow soon swung to the right, and they were again afloat.
In speaking of this trip Mr. Burroughs often says that he travelled
two hours in Asia, and was tempted to write a book about it, but
thought better of it. When we read what he did write of that first
glimpse of Asia, "crushed down there on the rim of the world, as
though with the weight of her centuries, and her cruel Czar's
iniquities," we wish he had not checked his impulse.
Of all the live stock that went aboard the ship at Seattle -steers,
sheep, chickens, turkeys, and horses-nothing remained at the end of
the voyage but one dependable cow which had gone with them to Siberia
and back, and given milk all the way.
Since 1900 Mr. Burroughs has led a more varied and eventful life than
theretofore. His son had entered Harvard two years previously, which
in itself took him frequently to Boston, and, the "habit of
gadding" once established, frequent jaunts became customary. He
entered eagerly into the college life, going with Julian to football
and baseball games and rowing contests.
During the hours he spent in the library at Harvard while editing his
Songs of Nature, he became inoculated with the germs of the rhyming
fever, and made many rhymes himself, the most of which he gathered
later into Bird and Bough.
The fall of 1901 was. a memorable one to the writer, in that she then
made the pilgrimage to Slabsides which resulted in her friendship and
long association with John o' Birds. Mr. Burroughs, then working on
the Life of Audubon, for the Beacon Biography series, was finding the
work, not self-elected, irksome indeed. It* dragged. Finishing
touches on Literary Values were also occupying him. He wanted much to
strike work and run away to Jamaica with a friend and his son. At
length he did run away, entrusting the writer with some of the
mechanical work on those volumes, and with seeing the Audubon through
the press. Hence it has come about that of the last twelve volumes
which have come from his pen (and of three more nearly ready to see
the light), the writer has had the privilege of cooperating with the
author, relieving him, by typing, proof-reading, and attention to
some of the drudgery connected with bookmaking. Twelve books from the
age of thirty to sixtyfour, and fifteen since he has passed the
four-and-sixtieth milestone! Dr. Osler's much-quoted dictum as to the
comparative uselessness of a man after forty is hardly applicable to
The West Settlement pupil taking honorary degree
Mr. Burroughs has said that when (in February 1902) he went to
Jamaica, he lost February and found August. And in his "Lost
February," his reader finds that he has, on the whole, little
admiration for that land of perpetual summer. In fact, we sometimes
find him railing against the barbaric Nature encountered there-Nature
without the lure of spring, the repose of autumn, or the sternness of
winter! Nature with her spikes and spines, her stings and stabs, her
rustling and tattered foliage varnished by sun and tropic heat, her
fleas and her sand-ants and mosquitoes, her lairs and her
jungles-brilliant, barbaric Princess-too ready with her fangs, too
chary of tenderness and charm.
And yet we find him saying a good word for the Blue Mountains, the
limpid streams, the morning-glory colours of the Caribbean, the soft,
luminous nights with the Southern Cross hanging low on the horizon;
and above all for the shy solitaire, or "shine eye" -- a
bird seldom seen but often heard, whose melodious and plaintive
strain -"a series of tinkling, bell-like notes," with an
appealing, flute-like ending -- entirely won his heart.
And barbaric Nature treated him to many a novelty he would not have
missed-the flying-fish with their mechanical flight, the curious
behaviour of the "shame lady," or sensitive plant, the clownish-looking
tody in suit of green and massive yellow beak, the mongoose, the
queer-looking East Indian oxen, the nearly black humming bird with
the two long plumes in its tail, the lubberly pelicans diving for
fish, the giant fireflies, so large the travellers thought their
lights to be those of the elusive town they were seeking, and then
that strange Cock Pit Country with the rough-hewn rocky bowls
hundreds of feet deep and a thousand or more feet across.
Nevertheless, on his return to familiar scenes, the robins he heard
carolling in the treetops at sundown pleased him better than anything
seen or heard in Jamaica.
The bark study and summer house
During the spring of 1902 our author had keen
delight in helping his son get out stone for the foundations of his
cottage built at Riverby, a few yards to the left of the Bark Study.
Then the excitement of discussing the building plans, and the
pleasure of watching the house grow, and the joy in the fall when the
young couple moved in and set up house-keeping in Love-cote,
as the cottage was at first named!
After the Jamaican trip, some winters or parts of winters have been
spent in Bermuda, in Washington, North Carolina, Georgia, and
Florida, some on the Pacific Coast, some yachting around Cuba, in the
Sialia (The Blue Bird) with Mr. Henry Ford, while some have also been
cosily spent in The Nest at Riverby, or in the luxurious simplicity
of Yama Farms Inn, in the Shawangunk Mountains.
In 1903, our veteran literary naturalist became disturbed over the
growing tendency of certain writers to misrepresent Nature-romancing
about her when purporting to give straight natural history. With
fiction undisguised as fiction, he had no quarrel, but for fiction
disguised as natural history he had 'the utmost scorn, so he put on
the gloves, entered the arena, and delivered knockout blows to the
traducers of his mistress. The first bout was in an essay in the
March Atlantic, in 1903, "Real and Sham Natural History."
Many another followed for a year or two, the records of which are
mostly to be found in his volume called Ways of Nature. It was all a
contention for clear seeing and honest reportingin other words, a
demand for a square deal with Nature.
John Burroughs with Theodore Roosevelt in Yellowstone
Seeing a scrap on between Oom John and those whom he dubbed Nature
Fakers, the valiant Roosevelt soon came bounding in the ring,
striking out right and left with the Big Stick, belabouring the
offenders unmercifully, almost skinning them alive! Their joint
efforts laid many an offender low, and many another, convinced that,
after all, honesty is the best policy, straightway reformed. In time
the belligerents cooled off and shook hands, and nature faking became
as a tale that is told.
Back in his ranch days Theodore Roosevelt had written ardent letters
of appreciation to Mr. Burroughs about his books, and they had met on
various occasions-when Roosevelt was Civil Service Commissioner, when
he was Governor, when Ted had been to Slabsides for a day or two, and
Ted's father had wanted to go but had been too busy setting right
certain places in the political world that were out of joint. But it
was not until 1903 that the intimate friendship between these two
men, so opposite in type, age, character and training, began. They
had one passion in common-love of Nature, though courting the Dame in
such diverse ways.
In the spring of 1903, when that Big Boy who was playing the game of
being President, and playing it for all he was worth, began to pant
for the wilds, he decided to take a vacation, Congress or no
Congress, in Yellowstone Park, and asked John Burroughs to take it
with him. The yellow newspapers, getting wind of the trip, made much
of it, calling it a hunting trip, assuming that the President was
going into the Park to kill the elk and moose and caribou. Some of
the correspondents of Mr. Burroughs hoped he would rebuke the
President by refusing to go with him. A Vermont woman wrote urging
him to restrain the Hunter as much as possible, and teach him to love
the animals as he did. "She little knew," confessed Mr.
Burroughs, "that I myself was cherishing the hope that I might
shoot a cougar or a bob cat. But as a matter of fact, the President
did not go there to hunt. He did not once fire a gun in the Park."
In each city along the route there was a round of handshaking,
dining, and speech-making for the Strenuous One who, though declaring
it needed the strength of a bull moose to stand it, seemed to thrive
on it, keeping fit as a fiddle all through.
The boy in the President came out continually on this trip, and the
elder boy concluded that was why they "took" to each other
so readily. Roosevelt's unfeigned delight at the hearty
demonstrations along the way was refreshing. And when in St. Paul, as
their carriage was slowly creeping along in the crowds, they spied a
band of schoolgirls carrying a banner-" The John Burroughs Club
"-and a blushing maiden pushed her way to the President's
carriage and timidly thrust a bouquet on the lap of Mr. Burroughs,
the President was greatly tickled.
On this trip Roosevelt gave the name of Oom John to our friend.
Saying that he felt like a hen with one chicken, he lived up to this
feeling and scratched around and hovered over his lone charge with
kindly care. As for Oom John, being a Slabsider, and not having
hobnobbed with presidents before, he was at a loss how to address his
host. Should he call him Your Excellency, which they say Washington
exacted, or Mr. President, or what? As His Excellency was much averse
to that epithet, they compromised on His Transparency-as having at
least the merit of accuracy!
One day at luncheon, while passing a little settlement in Dakota,
they saw a teacher and her pupils watching eagerly as the train
passed. Jumping up, with napkin in hand, the President rushed to the
platform and waved to them. "Those children wanted to see the
President of the United States," said he, "and I couldn't
disappoint them-they may never have another chance."
T. R. bubbled with joy when the former foreman of his Elkhorn Ranch,
a cowboy friend, boarded the train and rode with him a ways. He
bombarded them with questions, recalled events and people they had
long since forgotten, remembering even the names of their dogs and
horses. At twilight, as the train entered the Bad Lands of North
Dakota, he stood on the rear platform and gazed wistfully on the
scene. The Bad Lands, over which he had tramped in all seasons,
evidently looked very good to the one-time Rancher.
When they entered Yellowstone Park a fine saddle horse was waiting
for the President, but an ambulance drawn by mules for Oom John.
Somewhat chagrined at being met by such a vehicle, he nevertheless
stepped inside as though accustomed to ambulances. With an escort of
officers, soldiers, and cowboys, the President, tickled at leaving
reporters and politicians behind, started gaily off, the ambulance
following. And it immediately followed at such a lively pace, swaying
from side to side, that Oom John, grabbing the seat with both hands,
said to himself, " This is a Wild West send-off in dead
earnest." Faster and wilder grew the ride. Tossed about, he
rubbed his bruises with one hand, and clung to the seat with the
other. Presently, looking out, he saw the cowboys scrambling up a
bank, and the President on his fine stallion, scrambling up there,
too, and looking back fiercely as the ambulance thundered by.
"This is certainly the ride of my life," thought Oom John.
" I seem to be given the right of way-we have even sidetracked
the President!" On they tore for a mile or more till, on
reaching Fort Yellowstone, he learned that the mules, excited by the
presidential cavalcade, had been running away, the driver's only
course being to keep them in the road till the hill at that point
should give them pause.
The Mammoth Springs in the Park were all that they were "cracked
up" to be. The columns of vapour, the sulphurous odours, the
unearthly beauty of colour - were all things of which Oom John had
never seen the like before. In one of the steaming pools, about an
acre in extent, they saw a pair of mallard ducks swimming, the ducks
moving to the warmer waters as the party came near. At length, the
waters getting too hot for them, they took to their wings, else the
travellers might have had boiled mallard for dinner. In a certain
pool they caught a trout, and without changing their position, cast
the fish into another pool and cooked it.
For Mr. Burroughs the novelty of the geyser region soon wore off. He
says that steam and hot water are the same the world over, and he
hated to see so much of it going to waste. The Growler, he said, was
only a boiling tea kettle on a huge scale. Old Faithful was another,
with its lid off, and its contents thrown high in the air. In fact,
he cares little for Nature in her spectacular moods. I remember how,
in the Hawaiian Islands six years later, he tired of the lurid
spectacle of Kilauea long before the rest of the party did.
Eventful was every hour in the Park-whether listening to Townsend's
solitaire, or to the singing gophers; catching sight of black-tailed
deer, or blue grouse; whether meeting with the Duke of Hell-roaring
Creek, or treeing the pigmy owl -- a bird not much larger than our
bluebird -which the President was as happy to get in range of his
opera glasses as though he had bagged some bigger game.
One day while making their way down a valley on horseback, T. R.,
ahead, saw a band of elk a few hundred yards away. Wheeling to the
left, he beckoned Oom John to follow, then tore after them. Now Oom
John had not been in a saddle since the President was born, but he
followed as fast as he could, over rocks and logs and runs. T. R.
would now and then look back and beckon impatiently for him to follow
faster, as though saying to himself, "If I had a rope around
him, he would come faster than that!" At last, his horse
puffing, Oom John came up with the President, tarrying at the brow of
the hill; and there, scarce fifty yards away, their heads turned
toward their pursuers, their tongues hanging out, stood the panting
elk, by their whole bearing seeming to beg for mercy. And there sat
the President laughing like a boy, delighted at this near view of the
noble creatures, and glad to have Oom John see them with him.
Later in the day, from an elevated plateau, they looked down upon
fully three thousand elk at one time. In that sightly spot they
dismounted and stretched themselves in the sunshine on the flat
rocks. The President had his elk, but around Oom John, if the truth
must be told, there skurried tiny chipmunks, half the size of those
of his native hills, toward which he was drawn far more than to the
horde of noble animals they had come so far to see.
One day at Tower Camp, when Billy Hofer, the guide, shouted that a
band of mountain sheep were plunging down a sheer wall of trap rock
to the creek to drink, all rushed to see the sight. The President,
coat off, and towel on neck, had one side of his face shaved and the
other lathered when Billy shouted the news.
"By Jove! I must see that," he cried -- "the shaving
can wait," and T. R. ran with the others to the brink where they
saw the sure-footed creatures leaping down the rock, loosening stones
as they went, pausing on narrow shelves, then plunging down, down,
without accident, to the stream.
Their jolliest times were evenings around the fire when Roosevelt
talked of his ranch days, of the world of politics, of books, of his
travels, of everything under the sun, moon, and stars. Once in a
never-to-be-forgotten talk he took his hearers with him up Kettle
Hill, recreating the scene for them. They saw the Leader's face
blanch, as he confessed it did, when, on looking across an open
basin, he realized that they had to charge up that hill. They saw the
storm of bullets, they heard the shout, "We'll have to take that
hill!" They saw the lines of the Ninth Cavalry part, as their
officer in command, waiting for orders, let Roosevelt and his men
charge through, their intrepidity causing the coloured troops to
swing into the charge also. And, finally, they saw the crest of the
hill swarming with Rough Riders and coloured troopers.
One of the jolliest stories that Oom John remembers is of a Rough
Rider who once wrote to the President for help and sympathy from a
jail in Arizona: "Dear Colonel," the letter ran, " I
am in trouble. I shot a lady in the eye, but, dear Colonel, I did not
intend to hit the lady -- I was shooting at my wife." And over
the tree-tops rang the "dear Colonel's" laughter as he told
The President did not use tobacco in any form, to the delight of Oom
John, who so loathes tobacco smoke that, while it is enveloping him,
he loathes the smoker also.
Although Roosevelt kept his word about killing big game in the Park,
there was one wild creature that fell a victim to the hunter's
instinct. As they were riding along in a sleigh one day he suddenly
jumped out and, with the help of his sombrero, captured and killed a
mouse running over the ground. It was a rare variety. He skinned and
prepared the pelt and sent it to the National Museum. Oom John
crosses his heart and says this is the only game the Great American
Hunter killed while in the Park. A week or two later, in Spokane,
this incident gave Oom John a sleepless night, for after having told
a crowd of people about the capture of that mouse, he got to worrying
for fear a malicious reporter, or a stupid typesetter, might change
the u to an o, so quoting him as saying that the President had killed
Racing with Roosevelt on skis in the Park was attended with mishaps
and ignominious plights for both, until they "got the hang of
the pesky things." Once, gaily passing T. R., floundering in the
snow, Oom John called out something about the Downfall of the
Administration, only to come to grief later and hear T. R. call out,
"Who is laughing now, Oom John?"
The correspondence of J. B. and T. R., extending over the years, is
of value, not only for its natural history interest, but in its
portrayal of character, the President turning easily from affairs of
State to tell of the arrival of the whitecrowned sparrow on the White
House lawn, a purple finch's nest at Sagamore Hill, the
identification of the Dominican warbler, or of putting a half-fledged
flicker back into its nest -- "What a boiling there was when I
dropped it in!" Writing of reluctantly shooting the rare
warbler, and sending its skin to the American Museum, T. R. said,
"The breeding season was past, and no damage came to the species
from shooting the specimen, but I must say I care less and less for
mere 'collecting' as I grow older."
One day at Sagamore Hill Roosevelt showed Mr. Burroughs a bird
journal which he had kept in Egypt, when a lad of fourteen, and a
case of African plovers he had set up at that time. That day they
examined the skin of a gray timber wolf, and especially its teeth,
barely more than an inch long, and had a good laugh at the idea of
such teeth reaching the heart of a caribou through the breast with a
snap, as a certain nature writer, over his affidavit, had shortly
before reported one to have done. Oom John said he doubted if they
could reach the heart of a turkey gobbler in that way; and T. R. said
one might as well make an affidavit that a Rocky Mountain pack-rat
could throw the diamond hitch. As they discussed this and kindred
other impossible statements concerning the wild creatures, one can
imagine T. R. fairly snapping his teeth while declaring he would like
to skin alive the deliberate perpetrator of such lies. Boys don't
mince matters, nor always choose their language with extreme nicety,
and this boy, who knew what he was talking about, not only delighted
in showing up the nature fakers publicly, but in private also let off
steam in such expressions as, "What a pestiferous liar that
The last outing T. R. and Oom John ever had together was down at Pine
Knot, a secluded place in the woods of Virginia, about a hundred
miles from Washington, where they went to name the birds without a gun.
The night before leaving Washington, at dinner in the White House,
one of the guests being an officer in the British army, stationed in
India, Oom John was amazed to see the extent of the President's
knowledge of Indian affairs, for all the world as though he had been
cramming for a Regent Examination on the subject. But the next
morning, India, England, and even affairs of the United States were
given the cold shoulder, as the bird lovers took an early train for
The spring migration of warblers being on, Roosevelt was not content
to ride the ten miles to the cabin, so both boys jumped from the
wagon and began the race of identifying the warblers. The younger boy
with his "four eyes," two of which were not first class,
kept up with Oom John's sharp eyes, matching a black-poll with a
redthroated blue, and a Wilson's black-cap with a pine warbler. After
reaching the cabin, they started off on another bird hunt, T. R.
walking as if for a wager, through fields and briers and marshes. At
last, pausing and mopping their brows, they turned back, having seen
Mrs. Roosevelt evidently took the Strenuous One to task for rushing
their guest about in that fashion, for he came around apologetically
later and said, "Oom John, that was not the way to go after the
birds-we will do differently tomorrow," and the Saunterer who
never makes a dead set at the birds, admitted that he had never gone
a-birding just that way before.
On the morrow they named more than seventy-five species of birds, of
which Mr. Burroughs knew all but two, and the President all but two,
the President having taught J. B. the prairie warbler and Bewick's
wren and J.B. having taught him the swamp sparrow and one of the
rarer warblers. If T. R. had found Lincoln's sparrow, which he
usually found there, he would have gone Oom John one better. They
loitered in a weedy field a long time, while the President kept his
eye peeled for that sparrow, but the sparrow may have been keeping
his eye peeled also, for he never came in sight.
One evening at Pine Knot as they sat around the table reading, Mrs.
Roosevelt busy with needlework, Roosevelt occupied with Lord Cromer's
book on Egypt, and J. B. deep in the horrible account of the
man-eating lions of East Africa (the lions carrying their victims
into the bushes, and purring as they crunched their bones), suddenly
T. R.'s hand came down, on the table with such a bang that Mrs.
Roosevelt fairly jumped from her chair, and J. B. thought a lion had
"Why, my dear, what is the matter?" asked Mrs. Roosevelt in
a slightly nettled tone.
" I got him!" triumphed the Slayer-he had killed a
mosquito, expending enough energy almost to have demolished an
When on the return trip, his secretary boarded the train, the
President was soon deep in the dictation of letters and the
consideration of many weighty matters-wrens, warblers, and the
sparrow he did not find, side-tracked for the business of the Administration.
In Yosemite with John Muir
When in February, 1909, Mrs. A- and I went to the Pacific Coast in
company with Mr. Burroughs, and on to the Hawaiian Islands, we
considered ourselves two of the luckiest women in the United States.
Mr. Muir was to meet Mr. Burroughs in Arizona, and conduct him
through the Petrified Forest region, in and around the Grand Canyon,
camp on the Mojave Desert, tarry awhile in Southern California, and
pilot him through Yosemite Valley.
As usual, Mr. Burroughs hesitated about going, telling himself he
might better court Nature from his own doorstep, but the Call of the
West won the day.
My friend and I wondered how Mr. Muir would relish two women tagging
along, but were assured by Mr. Burroughs that it would be all right
so long as we were good listeners!
That night when we got off the train at Adamana, a voice called out
from the obscurity:
"Hello, Johnny, are ye there?"
"Yes, Muir, and with two women in my train."
"Only two, Johnny?" Then to us, "In Alaska there was a
whole flock of women hovering around him, tucking him up in rugs,
bringing him a bird or a flower to name, putting a stool at his feet,
and sitting there in rapt admiration to catch the pearls of wisdom
which did not fall from his lips -- Oh, two is a very moderate
number, I think, Johnny!" And the tall, grizzly, teasing Scot
led the way to the little inn. And the next day he led the way across
the trackless desert, he and the silent driver in the black sombrero,
Mr. Muir talking all the way, the most racy talk I ever heard; talk
of lonely wanderings on mountains and glaciers; of his long walk from
Wisconsin to the Gulf; of trees and ferns in foreign lands; of his
boyhood home in bonny Scotland; talk of storms, earthquakes,
avalanches, waterfalls; talk of men and women; of scientists, of
poets; of everything under the sun; talk grave and gay, sidesplitting
anecdotes one minute, tear-provoking recitals the next. On and on we
rode, and on and on he talkedunless, haplessly, some one introduced a
question, and then, thrown off the track, the monologist would find
difficulty in resuming his theme, and the luckless questioner would
be treated to a jibe or a hectoring remark.
Mingling with his racy monologue were the impressions being
continually borne in on us of the illimitable, desertlike expanse
stretching away on all sides-the gray-green vegetation, an occasional
leaping jack rabbit, a band of wild horses flying in the distance,
and far, far away the curiously carved pink and lilac and purple mountains.
We lingered for days in those petrified forests where the giant
trees, which had swayed in the wind millions of years ago, now lay
stretched out for many acres over the sand, or projected from the
brilliantly coloured. buttes and mesas. Some of them were one hundred
and fifty feet long, and five to seven feet in diameter, straight and
tapering, no branching as in the trees of to-day. Many were as though
sawed into stove lengths. The sand about was strewn with white,
glistening chips. We ate luncheon from one of those prostrate trunks
whose beautiful wood had been changed to beautiful stone, and from
the fissures picked out specimens of jasper, chalcedony, and agate.
One of the three forests which we visited had been discovered by Mr.
Muir and his daughter Helen while riding over those plains some years before.
The morning we reached the Grand Canyon, Mr. Muir preceded us to the
rim, and waving his long arm said, "There! empty your heads of
all vanity, and look"' In awed silence we gazed upon the great abyss.
Mr. Muir jeered at us for wanting to make that perilous descent into
the Canyon on muleback. "Why need you straddle a mule and go
down that steep winding icy trail, just to get a few shivers down
your backs, when you can see the sublimity and glory here from the
top?" Thus he talked, but when, on that mild March day, we did
go down Bright Angel trail he, too, straddled a little mule and went
down with us, though, save for occasional comments to
"Johnny" on the geology of the canyon, his remarks were,
for once, few and far between. I think he was only a few degrees less
frightened than we were. We ate luncheon four thousand feet below the
rim, and looked down another thousand or more upon the Colorado whose
hoarse voice we could hear from the Cambrian plateau.
One day while standing at Hopi Point and getting a new and vivid
realization of the glory and magnitude of the "Divine
Abyss," and of our incalculable privilege, I exclaimed to my
friend, " Think of having all this, and John Burroughs and John
Muir thrown in!"
"I sometimes wish John Muir was thrown in," retorted J. B.,
"when he gets between me and the Canyon!"
Mr. Muir told us that when he first saw Yosemite, he and a young man
walked most of the way from San Francisco, traversing the great San
Joaquin valley, scaling mountains, conquering almost impassable
heights and depths, and how when at last they stood and looked down
into the chasm, the intrepid youth, who under Muir's guidance had
balked at nothing, exclaimed, "Great God! have we got to cross
that gulch, too?"
As we drove into the valley from Chinquapin Falls, and first saw
mighty El Capitan guarding the entrance, Mr. Muir called out,
"How does this compare with the Esopus Valley, Johnny?" But
his bantering soon ceased, for in the presence of that beauty and
sublimity he became reverently mute. Later he told us that when
Emerson was in the Valley, he had said that of all the wonders of the
West, Yosemite was the only thing that came up to the brag. The sheer
granite walls, over three thousand feet high, topped by majestic
trees, the thundering waterfalls, the level grassy floor, the placid
river, which on its way thither had been so turbulent-what a
While in the Valley Mr. Muir told us of his struggle as a lad to get
his education. He lived on fifty cents a week while going through
college, and jealously counted the crackers and watched in dismay his
candles dwindle. "But," said he, "all that ended when
I got in the Valley. I was still poor, but there were things here to
fatten my soul." He described his glorious Sunday raids on the
heights, tracing waterfalls to their sources' eating and drinking
beauty and sublimity, and descending the perilous cliffs by night to
be on hand Monday mornings for work in the saw-mill.
While we were there he was much exercised over the question of San
Francisco levying on the lesser Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy, for its
increased water supply. Though unwilling to give up the fight to keep
the utilitarians out, he admitted that the desecration might have to
come in time, adding, "The Lord himself couldn't keep the Devil
out of the first reservation that ever was made."
When we lamented that we must leave without going to Glacier Rock,
Mirror Lake, the Mariposa Grove, and so on, Mr. Muir tauntingly said,
"Yes, I pottered. around here ten years, and you think you can
see it all in four days. You excuse yourselves to God Almighty, who
has kept these glories waiting for you, by hurrying away 'I've got to
get back to Slabsides,' 'We want to go to Honolulu!"'
It was something of a triumph to get Mr. Burroughs to embark on the
Pacific for Hawaii-it seemed so far away from home -- although when
there, he lost his heart to the happy isles, the rainbow sea, the
"liquid sunshine," the warmhearted people. He liked the
look of the childish natives with their leis of flowers; liked the
courteous Japanese; the charmed valleys; the weird Hawaiian music;
yes, and he liked the sweet-fleshed papayas (melons which grow on
trees) and the luscious mangoes. He drew the line, however, at taro
and poi -- the latter, which he tried at a native luau (feast)
tasted, he said, like sour library paste.
One day a teacher in the public schools, thinking to impress upon her
pupils what Mr. Burroughs stood for in literature, gave them a little
talk about him and his work, ending, by saying, "And this
well-known author is now a guest in our city-you may see him on the
street; he has a youthful step and young looking eyes, though his
hair and beard are white-"
" I know," piped up a little lad, " I saw him
yesterdayhe was in our yard stealing mangoes."
Mr. Burroughs enjoyed the great extinct crater, Haleakala, on Maui,
more than he did the great active volcano, Kilauea. He soon tired of
that boiling, tumbling, everchanging lake of fire which threw its
fountains of molten lava sixty or more feet high.
After six weeks of lotus-eating in those tropic isles, we embarked on
the Manchuria, laden with fragrant leis, and with a basket of the
beloved mangoes; threw back our leis to the waiting friends on shore
(in obedience to the tradition that, so doing, one insures his return
to those isles); while the tender strains of Aloha came floating to
us, outward bound.
In the winter of 1911, Mr. Burroughs again went to California, Mrs.
Burroughs accompanying him. Out of the previous trip grew the essays,
"The Divine Abyss," "The Spell of Yosemite," and
"Holidays in Hawaii."
- In 1914, when his son moved away, the cottage, rechristened
The Nest, became the home of the writer, with whom Mr. and Mrs.
Burroughs came to live - (Return)