In John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, Julie Danneberg has chosen a dramatic episode in the naturalist, writer and explorer’s life to illustrate his approach to the world around us. Moved by a growing desire to live “anywhere that’s wild,” Muir built and ran a small lumber mill in the Yosemite Valley in 1871. From there, he was able to explore and study the natural world around him. He filled his days with long hikes and a series of “experiments” to experience nature more and more intimately.
On the day in question, Muir climbs Fern Ledge beside Yosemite Falls. “For a moment John is perfectly content. But then he wants to be closer still.” This is a pattern that repeats throughout the day, wavering between contentment in the moment and wanting more — a feeling most of us can relate to. Taking advantage of a gust of wind, Muir steps between the curtain of water and the rock face. It’s not hard to imagine the danger he soon faces! Fortunately, only his hat is harmed in the escapade, but even Muir shaken by the event. “My wetting was received in a way that I scarcely care to tell. The adventure nearly cost all.” The trauma does not last, however. In later writings he describes waking the next morning “sane and comfortable, better, not worse, for my wild bath in moonlit spray.”
Even the most ardent free-range parent today would probably discourage their child from sleeping on a rock in the middle of a river or climbing a tree during a storm. The challenge of modern adults is how to nurture that same spirit of adventure and wonder in today’s children. Thanks to Muir’s legacy as founder of the Sierra Club and influencing President Theodore Roosevelt’s creation of National Parks and Monuments spaces for that exploration still exist.
John Muir and Yosemite Falls
Fern Ledge Trail (with a bold “You could die on this trail” warning)