Monday, March 11, 2013

Mother Nature's Son

I really enjoyed this piece by Muir for two reasons: first of all it was short, sweet, and to the point; second, it was beautifully articulated. It put me in mind of early travel journals by explorers, with an extra sort of wisdom attached. I especially liked how Muir seemed particularly in touch with Nature, more so than any other adventurer we've read so far (with the possible exception of Norgay, though his connection is more to the spiritual side of Nature while Muir's is more to the physical). In the pivotal scene of the story, where Stickeen follows Muir out into the storm, Muir makes numerous reference to Nature's ability to be at once "beautiful an awful", and to "make us do anything she likes". He eventually accepts Stickeen accompanying him  because he recognizes that Stickeen too is under Nature's control, and that Nature must intend to teach them both a lesson.
Not only does Muir understand Nature's power and ability to control, but he also respects it. One of the footnotes to this story references another work by Muir (which Anna also references in a preceding post) in which he climbs to the top of a tree in the middle of a violent storm in order to "[study] the habits of the trees under such conditions"(footnotes). Muir also cautions within "Stickeen" that if travelers are "careful to keep in right relations with [storms], we may go safely abroad with them, rejoicing in the grandeur and beauty of their works and ways" (Muir). Thus, it is not Muir's intent to conquer Nature by surviving her storms, but to be educated by them. I feel like some of the other adventurers we've read could learn a lot from Muir, particularly those who are entirely focused on summiting (and equate this with conquering) the mountains without appreciating their treacherous beauty.


  1. I agree with you, Kim, about Muir’s new, more respectful approach to the extreme nature he explores. I think it’s refreshing to see and read about an adventurer that doesn’t seem to be prone to summit-fever. We got a taste of this change from the stereotypical Western conqueror attitude with Tenzing Norgay, but Muir seems to simply enjoy being in nature for nature’s sake, and doesn’t feel the need to assert his will over his surroundings the way so many Westerners we’ve read have felt thus far. This was definitely my favorite aspect of the Muir piece.

  2. We already talked about this a bit in class, but the fact that there is no summit or end-goal adds a new dimension to our discussion about how to define "adventure." If we define adventure as "attempting something even though you don't know the outcome," then this most definitely is an adventure. Muir wanders off impulsively and with no set destination, drawn out by the storm. However, I tend to think of an adventure as some sort of quest in which something is sought. I think it's interesting that people throw around the word "adventure" everyday, but very few would be able to offer an articulate definition. It is something that we think we understand but that is, in fact, very difficult to conceptualize.

  3. I agree with Nicole that part of what I enjoyed most about this story was the absence of summit fever. Until reading this I had not really noticed the absence of nature (wilderness, landscape, surroundings, whatever you want to call it) in each of the texts we've read. There are references to the beauty of the mountains. For example, at one point in Tabor's book, he describes how when one person on the expedition gets rescued from a crevasse, he expresses a desire to have been able to take a picture of the beautiful shades of blue. In other texts the detail of the climb itself, the altitude, the gear, the route are much more detailed than the mountainous landscape. However, in "Stickeen" Muir focuses much more on describing the landscape itself, pairing both its beauty and power together to create a refreshing portrayal of nature.

    In response to Caroline's comment, I absolutely agree with your conclusion that adventure is difficult to conceptualize. While I agree that Muir doesn't know the outcome of his excursion in the sense that he is unsure of what obstacles he will face, and at some points is unsure of whether he and Stickeen will even make it back to camp, I feel like he does leave camp with a purpose in the first place. He writes, "when I heard the storm and looked out I made haste to join it; for many of Nature's finest lessons are to be found in her storms..." It seems to me that he is going out in the storm to learn something from Nature, and that he is seeking this new understanding. My question then becomes is an adventure limited to physical activities like walking about in a storm or climbing to a summit? Can you have an adventure where what is sought is not a physical accomplishment, but a mental one?