I've spent two glorious summers living in the Sierra Nevadas, and have only come to admire their mystique and grandeur more and more. Others have felt the magic of the mountains as well and have written more eloquent words than I can ever think of. John Muir sure had a lot to say about this area, yes, but there are others too who felt the awesome power of this landscape. Here, I share some of my favorites, with some visual aids.
This article excerpt, by John Muir, is long, but describes the Sierras in a more complete way, explaining the unique features of this beautiful range:
"Of all the mountain ranges I have climbed, I like the Sierra Nevada the best. Though extremely rugged, with its main features on the grandest scale in height and depth, it is nevertheless easy of access and hospitable; and its marvelous beauty, displayed in striking and alluring forms, woos the admiring wanderer on and on, higher and higher, charmed and enchanted. Benevolent, solemn, fateful, pervaded with divine light, every landscape glows like a countenance hallowed in eternal repose; and every one of its living creatures, clad in flesh and leaves, and every crystal of its rocks, whether on the surface shining in the sun or buried miles deep in what we call darkness, is throbbing and pulsing with the heartbeats of God. All the world lies warm in one heart, yet the Sierra seems to get more light than other mountains. The weather is mostly sunshine embellished with magnificent storms, and nearly everything shines from base to summit — the rocks, streams, lakes, glaciers, irised falls, and the forests of silver fir and silver. "
-John Muir, article in The Atlantic, 1899
The Sunny Top of California by Norman Schaefer
Dew gathers on the meadow grasses.
Deneb takes its place in the center of the sky.
Step by step around Rockslide Lake,
keeping my eyes on the radiant moon,
I call out the names of old Chinese poets,
who instruct me by saying nothing.
All my life I’ve loved high lonesome places.
Odors of moss and bark
and cones and twigs and snowmelt mud,
I feel like I’ve been coming to the Sierra
for a thousand years.
A human life is no more than a flicker of lightning,
but to die on a glacier
my bones would be pure forever.
Watching the moon begin its slow descent,
my mind quiets down
until there’s scarcely a ripple.
In the morning I’ll look for a campsite
somewhere green and steep and wild
where a wolverine might feel safe.
I talk brave,
but all I want is an autumn alone
with books and tea
and Bugler cigarettes rolled-your-own,
to be deeply enjoyed without hurry
on the sunny top of California.
And now a poem about working in the Sierras, by Gary Snyder:
Above Pate Valley
by Gary Snyder
We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen—sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
A glitter, and found a flake
Black volcanic glass—obsidian—
By a flower.
Hands and knees
Pushing the Bear grass, thousands
Of arrowhead leavings over a
Hundred yards. Not one good
Head, just razor flakes
On a hill snowed all but summer,
A land of fat summer deer,
They came to camp. On their
Own trails. I followed my own
Trail here. Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack, and sack
Ten thousand years
I hope these words inspire you to think about the unique landscape of the Sierras, as it has for me. This land has so much to offer, and it has the ability to move and change us in unexpected ways.