John Muir, The Mountains of California
“A Wind-Storm in the Forests”
What are some features of Muir’s style? Does he make his point of view evident? What are some indications of his attitude toward the wind and wind storms?
Might he be guilty of a bit of hyperbole, and if so, does this detract from or heighten his message? (“we are compelled to believe that they are the most beautiful on the face of the earth,” 282)
Does he assume others will share his enthusiasm? (“the sounds of winds in the woods, which exert more or less influence over every mind,” 282)
What is the effect of his description of the individual trees? (have distinct identities) Which kinds of trees are the best “interpreters of winds”?
In what ways does the writer show a knowledge of geology? How do his own experiences enter the text? (clearly has experienced many storms, describes climbing tree, people with whom he has conversed)
How does he respond to a coming storm? (rushes out to enjoy it) According to Muir, is it dangerous to be out in the woods? What to him are its most important qualities? (sound; trees seem alive, 282, trees are interpreters, foliage glows, engage in loving relationships, each sings its own song; also admires subtle colors, 284; “wild exuberance of light and motion,” 285; enjoys scents, 285)
What emotions does he ascribe to the swaying trees? (wild ecstasy, 284, they enjoy the storm, 285)
What is unusual about the scent of the ocean? What incident does he record to prove his point? (286)
How does he describe the sounds of the waterfalls? (all chant in unison, 286)
What final comparison does he make between trees and men? Is this unexpected? (one wouldn’t usually think of trees as travelers, 286)
What does it mean to speak of “the cathedral of nature”? What religious language does he use to describe the forest? (“a devout audience,” listen to sun saying, “My peace I give unto you,” trees appear “immortal,” 287)
Does Muir give greater emphasis to the details of the scene or to the viewer’s emotions, or is there a balance?
“The Water-Ouzel” (now called American Dipper)
What are some of the features of the water ouzel which Muir finds attractive or admirable?
---found in all waterfalls; vigorous; sings all year; song varied; loves his environment; joyous; independent, 288; sings all year and even through storms; untroubled by winter and snow; glides fearlessly under water, even fairly rapid streams; follows route of glacial flow; usually found single, 291; identified with streams, 290
What is the ouzel's relationship to the writer? (has cheered him in lonely wanderings, 287, "my favorite," 289)
What characterizes the water ouzel’s songs? (varied, 290; undisturbed whatever the environment, 295; his songs interpret streams, 290; continued after immersion in water, 298)
How is the water ouzel contrasted with other birds?
What are features of his nest? What does Muir admire about these? (“charming little hut,” reflects “genius of the little builder,” 293, “the little architect,” 294, “romantic little huts,” 294, “the fairy establishment,” 294, “our blessed ouzels,” 294); nests built so as to be unobtrusive (295)
May Muir find an ideal of life in the water ouzel? (288, “he seems to live a charmed life beyond the reach of every influence that makes endurance necessary”)
What traits does Muir discern in their eyes? (“gentleness and intelligence,” 295)
How does Muir’s language indicate his relationship with the bird? (“my ouzels,” “our favorite,” “dearly welcome visitors,” “my favorites,” claims all who know him love him, 297) In what dangerous circumstance does the bird comfort him? ( possibly hemmed in by Arctic ice, 297) Are they afraid of him? (296, bird sings in his presence)
What evidence does he give that all persons are moved by songbirds even if dead to other forms of beauty? (297, man so charmed by bird that he refuses to shoot)
What seems his relationship to the Native Americans of the Sierras? Do we learn much about the aboriginal inhabitants of the region?
What is the effect of speaking of birds in the singular--e. g., “Such, then, is our little cinslus, beloved of every one who is so fortunate as to know him” 297)?
How does the ouzel seem the embodiment of his environment? Why do you think Muir finds a water bird of special interest? (seems to like elements in motion--wind, water)
To what does Muir attribute the beauty and grandeur that he sees in nature? (God’s eternal love, 298) Could Muir be characterized as a nature mystic?
What special abilities does Muir possess that enable him to appreciate the details of nature so deeply? (distinguishes scents, sounds, and other sensory phenomena very acutely)
Muir is of course a distinguished pioneer of environmentalism. What attitudes does he seem to be opposing in this essay?