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In August 1911, at the age of 73, John Muir embarked on an eight-month journey to South America and Africa to realize a lifelong dream. He was insistent on traveling alone, and concerned friends and family tried in vain to talk him out of going. Others hoped he would forget the notion altogether. "Have I forgotten the Amazon, Earth's greatest river?" he wrote to a concerned friend. "Never, never, never. It has been burning in me half a century, and will burn forever." Indeed, as early as the 1860s Muir had begun planning a trip to South America, and he could wait no longer.
Arriving in South America via the Caribbean, he went a thousand miles up the Amazon, explored the Atlantic coast, and ventured into the Chilean Andes. He then sailed east and explored the jungles, forests, and plains of south and central Africa and the headwaters of the Nile at Lake Victoria before sailing back to New York via the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and the North Atlantic--a 40,000-mile journey in all.
Though best known for his conservation efforts in California and his creation of the Sierra Club, Muir considered his final journey the most rewarding, writing while in Africa in 1912 that "on this pair of wild hot continents I've enjoyed the most fruitful year of my life." These letters and journal entries further prove that his interests as a naturalist and conservationist extended to the entire world; he calls a section of the Amazon the "most interesting forest I have seen in my whole life" and refers to an experience with rare baobab trees in Africa as "one of the greatest of the great tree days of my lucky life."
These writings, published for the first time here, also reveal a different side of Muir, one that editor Michael P. Branch believes is essential to achieving "a full understanding of his accomplishments as a person, writer, and naturalist." Branch explains that Muir's allegiance was not to California or even America, but to Earth, and his view of the planet as a single organism only strengthened as he matured: "The more I see of our goodly Godly star the more plainly comes to sight and mind the truth that it is all one like a face, every feature radiating beauty on the others," he wrote to a friend in 1911. Even in the twilight of his life, Muir never lost his spirit of adventure or sense of wonder for the natural world. --Shawn Carkonen
In 1911, at the age of 73 (just three years before he died), John Muir embarked alone on a 40,000-mile journey to South America and Africa, during which he kept extensive journals and wrote considerable correspondence none of which has been published until now. Edited by Muir scholar Michael P. Branch, associate professor of literature and environment at the University of Nevada, Reno, John Muir's Last Journey: South to the Amazon and East to Africa Unpublished Journals and Selected Correspondence is a rich and fitting tribute. The revelation of Muir's aspirations as a world traveler and, in particular, his fascination with the Amazon, asserts Branch, completes the understanding of a naturalist best known for his founding of the Sierra Club and his conservation efforts in the American West. B&w illus.
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