The Nature of God

John Muir, the famous environmentalist, encountered his own Mysterious Ways in the wild.

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Yosemite Half Dome

There’s a quote on the back cover of this month’s Mysterious Ways from John Muir, probably the most eloquent and passionate writer about nature there ever was: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The quote is from “My First Summer in the Sierra,” Muir’s account of his 1869 trip to Yosemite, supervising a herd of sheep in the mountains:

“No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of what in manufactories is called rubbish or waste; everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons. This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests Him may well interest us.”

While on his wilderness trek, Muir often felt part of a larger divine plan. In the chapter “A Strange Experience,” he details an unexpected encounter near El Capitan:

“As I was busily employed thinking only of the glorious Yosemite landscape, trying to draw every tree and every line and feature of the rocks, I was suddenly, and without warning, possessed with the notion that my friend, Professor J. D. Butler, of the State University of Wisconsin, was below me in the valley, and I jumped up full of the idea of meeting him... Leaving my work without the slightest deliberation, I ran down the western slope of the Dome...

After a little, common sense stopped me and explained that it would be long after dark ere I could possibly reach the hotel, that the visitors would be asleep, that nobody would know me, that I had no money in my pockets, and moreover was without a coat. I therefore compelled myself to stop, and finally succeeded in reasoning myself out of the notion of seeking my friend in the dark... I succeeded in dragging myself back through the woods to camp, never for a moment wavering, however, in my determination to go down to him next morning.”

In the morning, after inquiring at the hotel, Muir hiked back up the mountain. “I caught sight of him in the brush and rocks, half erect, groping his way, his sleeves rolled up, vest open, hat in his hand, evidently very hot and tired... I stood directly in front of him, looked him in the face, and held out my hand. He thought I was offering to assist him in rising... I said, 'Professor Butler, don't you know me?' 'I think not,' he replied; but catching my eye, sudden recognition followed, and astonishment that I should have found him just when he was lost in the brush and did not know that I was within hundreds of miles of him. 'John Muir, John Muir, where have you come from?' ”

The professor’s travelling companion was baffled. "This man, you know, came down out of these huge, trackless mountains... to find his friend Professor Butler here, the very day he arrived; and how did he know he was here? He just felt him, he says. This is the queerest case of Scotch farsightedness I ever heard of.”

“Scotch farsightedness”? John Muir called it something else. So do we.

Share your Mysterious Ways encounters with us. Your story could be in a future issue.

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