Snippets 209. John Muir (1838-1914) was a celebrated naturalist known as “John of the Mountains”, a key figure in the push for the establishment of National Parks in the USA. Today’s quote is taken from his account of A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, from the 1916 edition edited by William Frederic Bade. Travelling through Florida, Muir was generously welcomed at the home of one Captain Simmons, “one of the very few scholarly, intelligent men that I have met in Florida”. As Muir was so interested in nature, Simmons recommended “a palmetto grove on a rich hummock” a few miles away, which was “the finest grove of palmettos I have ever seen and I have oftentimes thought that it would make a fine subject for an artist.”
After a hearty breakfast the next day, Muir set off, following Simmons’s instructions, as follows:
“Now,” said he, “at the other side of my farthest field you will come to a jungle of cat-briers, but will be able to pass them if you manage to keep the trail. You will find that the way is not by any means well marked, for in passing through a broad swamp, the trail makes a good many abrupt turns to avoid deep water, fallen trees, or impenetrable thickets. You will have to wade a good deal, and in passing the water-covered places you will have to watch for the point where the trail comes out on the opposite side.”
This was simple enough for as experienced countryman like Muir, and he found his spectacular palmetto (small varieties of palm trees) grove and was delighted with the enchanting sight, but when the time came to return to his host Muir ran into a problem:
In wading I never attempted to keep my clothes dry, because the water was too deep, and the necessary care would consume too much time. Had the water that I was forced to wade been transparent it would have lost much of its difficulty. But as it was, I constantly expected to plant my feet on an alligator, and therefore proceeded with strained caution. The opacity of the water caused uneasiness also on account of my inability to determine its depth. In many places I was compelled to turn back, after wading forty or fifty yards, and to try again a score of times before I succeeded in getting across a single lagoon.
At length, after miles of wading and wallowing, I arrived at the grand cat-brier encampment which guarded the whole forest in solid phalanx, unmeasured miles up and down across my way. Alas! the trail by which I had crossed in the morning was not to be found, and night was near. In vain I scrambled back and forth in search of an opening. There was not even a strip of dry ground on which to rest. Every where the long briers arched over to the vines and bushes of the watery swamp, leaving no standing-ground between them. I began to think of building some sort of a scaffold in a tree to rest on through the night, but concluded to make one more desperate effort to find the narrow track.
After calm, concentrated recollection of my course, I made a long exploration toward the left down the brier line, and after scrambling a mile or so, perspiring and bleeding, I discovered the blessed trail and escaped to dry land and the light. Reached the captain at sundown. Dined on milk and johnny-cake and fresh venison. Was congratulated on my singular good fortune and woodcraft, and soon after supper was sleeping the deep sleep of the weary and the safe.
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