The meandering naturalist.

Author:Howarth, William

A Wanderer All My Days: John Muir in New England - Book review


A WANDERER ALL MY DAYS: John Muir in New England. By J. Parker Huber, Green Frigate Books, $23.95

We commonly associate John Muir with the Far West, yet he was born in Scotland, raised in Wisconsin, walked from Indiana to Florida, and, in a long, bustling life, toured all the earth's continents, save Antarctica. Muir was a rover who craved movement, writes J. Parker Huber, and travel gave him his wholeness, a buoyant energy that generated scores of writings and made him the great evangelist for converting American wilderness into public lands or national parks.

Huber, a scholar who has written on Henry Thoreau as traveler, spent nearly two decades tracing John Muir's visits to New England. Between 1893 and 1912 Muir made five trips there, each time using the railways to journey from his California home. With Boston as a base, he toured the New England states and the eastern seaboard from New York to Florida. Muir was in his 50s and 60s and a well-known author, thanks to his essays in The Atlantic Monthly and his books published by Houghton Mifflin of Cambridge, Massachusetts. On his trips east, where most of his readers lived, he conferred with editors and such fellow public figures as John Burroughs and Gifford Pinchot.

While on these trips, Muir kept a daily journal and wrote letters home to his wife. Those are Huber's primary sources, but he notes in a prologue that the "absences in [Muir's] writing arouse curiosity" about people or places he did not record. Huber attempts to fill those gaps with extensive research--and ample speculation. Often this method yields impressive results, as when we read the notes Muir wrote in his editions of Dana, Emerson, or Thoreau. But when the evidence is missing or inconclusive, we must trust to our pilot to keep us on course.

Huber has a comprehensive knowledge of the cultural history of New England, which he generously shares at every opportunity. If we pass near the home of Frederick Law Olmsted, we read about his life and work--whether Muir met him or not. On a stroll through Cambridge, we feel every moment of June 10, 1893, and...

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