Book Reviews

Our National Parks - John Muir 

Although this book is about American National Parks and Forest Reservations, and was written over 100 years ago, it will be of interest to a lot of people. Interwoven into each chapter are John Muir’s views on why it is important for people to get out into nature and wilderness and why it’s important to preserve these areas.

 

In the description about the Bitter Root reserve, when Muir is persuading people to spend time there, there are these wonderful words: ‘The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal. Nevermore will time seem short or long, and cares will never again fall heavily on you, but gently and kindly as gifts from heaven’.

 

The first chapter is an outline of the various parks and forests with wonderful descriptions of the scenery, trees, plants and animals found in each one.  There are chapters devoted to the Yellowstone and the Sequoia and General Grants National Parks while Yosemite gets five chapters, each looking at a different aspect. Muir is very at ease in the wilderness and his love for nature shines out of his wonderful descriptions. He had quite remarkable powers of observation. For those who are timid about venturing deep into the countryside he has these words. ‘When an excursion into the woods is proposed, all sorts of dangers are imagined – snakes, bears, Indians. Yet it is far safer to wander in God’s woods than to travel on black highways or to stay at home. No American wilderness that I know of is so dangerous as a city home with ‘all the modern improvements’. One should go to the woods for safety, if for nothing else.

 

Muir believed that the wilderness areas were best preserved by people visiting them and appreciating their beauty. The final chapter of the book which is about the American forests is considered by many to contain some remarkable comments. However, for me the most powerful piece of writing comes at the end of the Yellowstone chapter: ‘Stay on this good fire-mountain and spend the night among the stars. Watch their glorious bloom until dawn, and get one more baptism of light. Then, with fresh heart, go down to your work, and whatever your fate, under whatever ignorance or knowledge you may afterward chance to suffer, you will remember these fine, wild views, and look back with joy to your wanderings in the blessed old Yellowstone Wonderland.’

 

Through reading Our National Parks you can experience these wonderlands vicariously until you are able to visit them in person. The book will inspire you to do so.

 

Available from Amazon

Steep Trails – John Muir

 

I loved this book although it took me a little while to become accustomed to the writing style. I normally read fast moving novels, Steep Trails was written over 100 years ago when the world moved at an entirely different pace. Once I had adjusted it was wonderful to be immersed in Muir’s detailed, lengthy descriptions. He had a remarkable ability for noticing his surroundings in detail and recording what was around him. Those descriptions meant that as I read about him weathering a storm in a snow hole, I could feel my body getting colder.

 

The book was originally created a few years after John Muir’s death from newspaper articles and letters. Each chapter stands on its own so you can dip in and out of the book at whatever chapter takes your fancy at the time. The first chapter contains a lengthy discussion about the comparative merits of wool from domestic and wild sheep. Muir uses it as a means of highlighting man’s destructive approach to nature and this is a theme that runs through the book.

 

My favourite chapters were the ones about his trips to Mount Shasta. Summer Days at Mount Shasta captivated me and I now want to stand on the edge of Strawberry Meadows to see the view that Muir described. A Perilous Night on Shasta’s Summit left me in awe of the man. On the way down from the summit a storm comes in and Muir settles into what he describes as a nest in the snow and is quite content to sit out the storm for days on end writing in his journal. A man totally at ease even in a very hostile environment.

 

There are 24 chapters spread over 127 pages, I savoured every one.   Available from Amazon

Trekking Beyond – walk the world’s epic trails

Damian Hall, David Costello and Billi Bierling. Photography Alex Treadway

 

 

 

The first thing to say about this book is that the photographs are absolutely stunning. These alone will make you want to walk some of the routes to see the views for yourself. Trekking Beyond describes some of the most iconic walking routes in the world. Many you may already be aware of but I am sure for most many will be new. The book does indeed cover the world from remote Scotland to Australia and New Zealand via the Alps, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

 

There are several routes described in most areas. In a book that covers such a vast range and contains lots of photographs there is not enough room for detailed route descriptions. There is enough narrative, which is very well written, to give you a flavour of the route. You will be able to judge how arduous or easy it will be for you. How remote it is, when is the best time to visit and how to start planning your trip.

 

The only trail I have walked for its whole length is the Cape Wrath Trail; its description matched my experience of the route. Others I have read about when friends have completed them; the accounts match.

 

This is a great book to whet the appetite and will allow you to decide which will come first on the ‘to do’ list.

 

Available from Amazon