Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stickeen

Stickeen is a short memoir by American naturalist John Muir (April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914). It describes (in heart-pounding-nail-biting-edge-of-your-seat detail) a hike he took across a glacier in Alaska with a little black dog named Stickeen. It is a prime example of the profundity of the human/dog bond.

The adventure takes place in 1880, but Muir didn't write the memoir until 1897. And it was revised many times for decades after that. Muir once stated "in all my wild walks, seldom have I had a more definite or useful message to bring back."

I live less than 30 miles from the John Muir National Historic Site, Martinez, Calif. The 14-room Italianate Victorian mansion he lived in from 1890 until his death in 1914 is still there, but much of the open space Muir and his family enjoyed has been developed. Now Muir's home projects its original splendor on a small plot of land at the intersection of a major state highway and a busy city street.

I'm aware of Muir's significant contribution to the creation of the Sierra Club and to the establishment of the national park system here in the United States. I know he wrote a lot of books about hiking and wilderness adventuring. While I've read plenty of famous quotes from John Muir, Stickeen is the first work of his I've ever read. From a reader's perspective, his words transported me into the world of glacier hiking, vicariously from the safety and comfort of my armchair. Now I want to read all his books. I think his experiences will inspire me to develop a boldness of character when I venture out on wild walks with my two dogs.

Here's a link where you can read Stickeen online and explore a list of various versions: Stickeen: John Muir's adventure with a dog on a glacier

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