July sun sets at Zephyr Cove, Lake Tahoe.
Photo credit E. Williams

In my happy place, the one I come back to again and again to refresh my spirit, I am closer here – Zephyr Cove, Nevada – to true self, centered on what is good, what is beautiful, what is joyful and what is pure. All at once, like a child again, I frolic on this beach at Lake Tahoe, drawing in the scent of pine after the cleansing rain downpour earlier today. Ambrosia.

The summer rain has calmed the surf, coaxing clear waters to reflect the brilliant sky above while the Sierra range itself acts as arbiter between heaven and earth. By sunset, the mountain peaks take shades of amaranthine, plum, cerulean and dun, the edges softened by the setting sun.

My heightened appreciation for the panoramic scenery this past week is due to finishing John Muir’s “The Mountains of California,” the first of his fourteen books (some published posthumously) devoted to the picturesque Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

Muir’s prose reflects his love and commitment to nature. A scientist by training, a naturalist in spirit and a writer prompted by the dire need for conservation, Muir emulated Emerson and Thoreau in style. But only his eye-witness to California and Nevada’s majestic treasure – the Sierra range – could inspire the voices of preservation that became the Sierra Club and gave birth to the national parks system.

The descriptions vary from the most minute — a example being the botanical studies of 20 species of alpine trees complete with their height, shape of cone, branch width and the animals each helps to sustain – to wide-sweeping grand representations such as of the mountain meadow ascribing the divine in nature. You are with him as he takes you by the hand for one of his walks in the Tuolumne Soda Springs:

“Bees hum as in a harvest noon, butterflies waver above the flowers, and like them you lave in the vital sunshine, too richly and homogenously joy-filled to be capable of partial thought. You are all eye, sifted through and through with light and beauty. Sauntering along the brook that meanders silently through the meadow from the east, special flowers call you back to discriminating consciousness. The sod comes curving down to the water’s edge, forming bossy outswelling banks, and in some places overlapping countersunk boulders and forming bridges. Here you find mats of the curious dwarf willow scarce an inch high, yet sending up a multitude of gray silky catkins, illumined here and there with the purple cups and bells of bryanthus and vaccinium.”

Reverential to nature, from time to time, Muir pokes fun at himself as his description of being stuck on a glacier, being entertained by a squirrel or hanging out in a tall pine in the midst of a blizzard. His writing comes from a genuine love for this glorious landscape. For Muir before me, captures the feeling I also have for mountain skies that their planes are painted with light, and symbolize for me, divinity. He often described his observations in terms of light. See here his description of the clouds dappled with sun:

“No mountain or mountain-range, however divinely clothed with light, has a more enduring charm than those fleeting mountains of the sky—floating fountains bearing water for every well, the angels of the streams and lakes; brooding in the deep azure, or sweeping softly along the ground over ridge and dome, over meadow, over forest, over garden and grove; lingering with cooling shadows, refreshing every flower, and soothing rugged rock-brows with a gentleness of touch and gesture wholly divine.”

My “Happy Place” is now irrevocably married in my mind with Muir’s prose that reflects our deep and abiding love of this western panorama.

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