Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. Photographs by Ansel Adams, and selections from the works of John Muir, edited by Charlotte E. Mauk. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948. 132 pages, 64 plates. Price, $6.50.
John Muir will doubtless remain, for another century at least, the foremost interpreter of Yosemite Valley and the region above and beyond it known as the High Sierra. But, except for enthusiasts, the very extent of his published writings might in the end obscure his influence were it not for the intervention of selections such as this volume provides. Here we have Muir at his best, presented in a form hardly to be surpassed. From Muir’s writings extending through half a dozen books, Miss Mauk has chosen passages which, when sympathetically pruned and rearranged, succeed, as is her intent, in revealing “his sensitive response to beauty” and in presenting “a fairly complete description of the Yosemite country and a reasonably continuous narrative of Muir’s exploration of it.”
Not only is this book highly successful as a presentation of Muir’s writings, but it is made doubly valuable by the equally successful selection of illustrations from the work of Ansel Adams. Mr. Adams, who has attained the stature of one of the world’s great photographers, is at his best in his Yosemite work. It was in Yosemite that he began his photographic career, and it is there that he returns for continued inspiration after his ever-widening excursions into the rich scenic areas of America.
There are many parallels in the artistic achievements, as well as in the underlying techniques, of Muir and Adams. Each is profoundly affected emotionally, but not sentimentally, by the concentrated arrangements of massive mountain scenery as well as by the delicacy of its detail. But with the emotional experience there is also a comprehension of the underlying causes that finds expression in the case of Muir through his pursuit of the sciences of geology and botany, and in the case of Adams through his study of the quality of light and of the physical techniques of the photographic art.
The book that Ansel Adams and Charlotte Mauk have produced, with the most sympathetic cooperation of publisher, engraver and printer, is one, not only of importance, but of very wide appeal. A word should perhaps be said of its special appeal to mountaineers. In the first place, patient study of the details of Ansel’s pictures followed by a period of contemplation upon their general aspect should enable the mountaineer, when next he walks in the highlands, to see and understand things that may not previously have received his attention. Pause, for instance, at Glen Aulin (No. 57) and watch the movement of water through light and shadow; examine the glacier polish in the Upper Merced Canyon (No. 49) and consider the origins of forms and markings; or look off towards the High Sierra from Sentinel Dome (No. 42) and absorb the sunlight as it is reflected from gleaming granite and distant snow fields. And in the text one may turn to almost any page for an example of John Muir’s exalted concept of the meaning of mountains or for the sublimation of his emotions in physical enjoyment. His experience at the brink of Yosemite Fall (p. 63) should produce a thrill of admiration in the heart of even the most marginal of modem rock climbers; and, for a more spiritual experience, a quo ration (p. 47) may suffice:
“And so this memorable month ends, a stream of beauty unmeasured, no more to be sectioned off by almanac arithmetic than sun radiance or the currents of seas and rivers—a peaceful, joyous stream of beauty … this June seems the greatest of all the months of my life, the most truly divinely free, boundless like eternity, immortal, … never to be blotted or blurred by anything past or to come.”
Francis P. Farquhar