King Sequoia! Behold! Behold!
John Muir's euphoric love letter to the world's largest trees
This one is for Earth Day. It’s a beautiful thing and can be found in the second volume of Letters of Note. Scroll all the way down to see a picture of the letter itself, written with sap. And subscribe to this newsletter if you haven’t already.
Born in 1838 in Scotland, John Muir was 11 years old when his large family uprooted and moved to Fountain Lake Farm in Wisconsin, USA. It was whilst growing up on that farm, now recognised as a National Historic Landmark thanks to his work, that Muir fell in love with the wilderness and decided to dedicate his life to its preservation and promotion, later becoming the country’s most famous conservationist and the “Father of the National Parks.” Muir held a particular affection for Yosemite National Park and spent months of his life wandering amongst its giant sequoias, a majestic species of tree, larger than any other, to which Muir felt a spiritual connection. This incredible letter, written to friend and mentor Jeanne Carr as he took such a trip, was penned by Muir with ink made from the sap of those same, beloved redwoods.
Dear Mrs. Carr, Do behold the King in his glory, King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! seems all I can say. Some time ago I left all for Sequoia and have been and am at his feet; fasting and praying for light, for is he not the greatest light in the woods, in the world? Where are such columns of sunshine, tangible, accessible, terrestrialised? Well may I fast, not from bread, but from business, book-making, duty-going, and other trifles, and great is my reward already for the manly, treely sacrifice. What giant truths since coming to Gigantea, what magnificent clusters of Sequoiac becauses. From here I cannot recite you one, for you are down a thousand fathoms deep in dark political quagg, not a burr-length less. But I’m in the woods, woods, woods, and they are in me-ee-ee. The King tree and I have sworn eternal love – sworn it without swearing, and I’ve taken the sacrament with Douglas squirrel, drunk Sequoia wine, Sequoia blood, and with its rosy purple drops I am writing this woody gospel letter.
I never before knew the virtue of Sequoia juice. Seen with sunbeams in it, its colour is the most royal of all royal purples. No wonder the Indians instinctively drink it for they know not what. I wish I were so drunk and Sequoical that I could preach the green brown woods to all the juiceless world, descending from this divine wilderness like a John the Baptist, eating Douglas squirrels and wild honey or wild anything, crying, Repent, for the Kingdom of Sequoia is at hand!
There is balm in these leafy Gileads – pungent burrs and living King-juice for all defrauded civilization; for sick grangers and politicians; no need of Salt rivers. Sick or successful, come suck Sequoia and be saved.
Douglas squirrel is so pervaded with rosin and burr juice his flesh can scarce be eaten even by mountaineers. No wonder he is so charged with magnetism! One of the little lions ran across my feet the other day as I lay resting under a fir, and the effect was a thrill like a battery shock. I would eat him no matter how rosiny for the lightning he holds. I wish I could eat wilder things. Think of the grouse with balsam-scented crop stored with spruce buds, the wild sheep full of glacier meadow grass and daisies azure, and the bear burly and brown as Sequoia, eating pine-burrs and wasps’ stings and all; then think of the soft lightningless poultice-like pap reeking upon town tables. No wonder cheeks and legs become flabby and fungoid! I wish I were wilder, and so, bless Sequoia, I will be. There is at least a punky spark in my heart and it may blaze in this autumn gold, fanned by the King. Some of my grandfathers must have been born on a muirland for there is heather in me, and tinctures of bog juices, that send me to Cassiope, and oozing through all my veins impel me unhaltingly through endless glacier meadows, seemingly the deeper and danker the better.
See Sequoia aspiring in the upper skies, every summit modelled in fine cycloidal curves as if pressed into unseen moulds, every bole warm in the mellow amber sun. How truly godful in mien! I was talking the other day with a duchess and was struck with the grand bow with which she bade me goodbye and thanked me for the glaciers I gave her, but this forenoon King Sequoia bowed to me down in the grove as I stood gazing, and the high bred gestures of the lady seemed rude by contrast.
There goes Squirrel Douglas, the master spirit of the tree-top. It has just occurred to me how his belly is buffy brown and his back silver grey. Ever since the first Adam of his race saw trees and burrs, his belly has been rubbing upon buff bark, and his back has been combed with silver needles. Would that some of you, wise – terribly wise – social scientists, might discover some method of living as true to nature as the buff people of the woods, running as free as the winds and waters among the burrs and filbert thickets of these leafy, mothery woods.
The sun is set and the star candles are being lighted to show me and Douglas squirrel to bed. Therefore, my Carr, goodnight. You say, “When are you coming down?” Ask the Lord – Lord Sequoia.