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John Muir's "Calypso Borealis"
Transcript of John Muir's "Calypso Borealis"
Muir describes his venture to locate the Calypso borealis.Muir details his triumphs of man versus nature. During his “grand excursion” he faced many environmental obstacles that left him “faint and hungry” but he did not allow them to deter his path. Muir realistically details the harshness of the forest he travels through. Though he faced many external and internal obstacles that would leave him in the forest through the night he was still driven to locate the flower. This relates to his physical and mental strength, his determination.
Using their formal names, Muir lists the different types of trees and plants he discovers in the beginning of his journey. He enjoyed botany and being in nature. "Rejoicing in their bound wealth and strength and beauty…" His encounter with the natural environment brings him great pleasure. Climbing trees and appreciating flowers, becoming one with nature like a child again.
After earning a few dollars working on my brother-in law's farm near Portage [Wisconsin], I set off on the first of my long lonely excursions, botanising in glorious freedom around the Great Lakes and wandering through innumerable tamarac and arbor-vitae swamps, and forests of maple, basswood, ash, elm, balsam, fir, pine, spruce, hemlock, rejoicing in their bound wealth and strength and beauty, climbing the trees, reveling in their flowers and fruit like bees in beds of goldenrods, glorying in the fresh cool beauty and charm of the bog and meadow heathworts, grasses, carices, ferns, mosses, liverworts displayed in boundless profusion.
The rarest and most beautiful of the flowering plants I discovered on this first grand excursion was Calypso borealis (the Hider of the North). I had been fording streams more and more difficult to cross and wading bogs and swamps that seemed more and more extensive and more difficult to force one's way through. Entering one of these great tamarac and arbor-vitae swamps one morning, holding a general though very crooked course by compass, struggling through tangled drooping branches and over and under broad heaps of fallen trees, I began to fear that I would not be able to reach dry ground before dark, and therefore would have to pass the night in the swamp and began, faint and hungry, to plan a nest of branches on one of the largest trees or windfalls like a monkey's nest, or eagle's, or Indian's in the flooded forests of the Orinoco described by Humboldt.
But when the sun was getting low and everything seemed most bewildering and discouraging, I found beautiful Calypso on the mossy bank of a stream, growing not in the ground but on a bed of yellow mosses in which its small white bulb had found a soft nest and from which its one leaf and one flower sprung. The flower was white and made the impression of the utmost simple purity like a snowflower. No other bloom was near it, for the bog a short distance below the surface was still frozen, and the water was ice cold. It seemed the most spiritual of all the flower people I had ever met. I sat down beside it and fairly cried for joy.
It seems wonderful that so frail and lovely a plant has such power over human hearts. This Calypso meeting happened some forty-five years ago, and it was more memorable and impressive than any of my meetings with human beings excepting, perhaps, Emerson and one or two others. When I was leaving the University, Professor J.D. Butler said, "John, I would like to know what becomes o you, and I wish you would write me, say once a year, so I may keep you in sight." I wrote to the Professor, telling him about this meeting with Calypso, and he sent the letter to an Eastern newspaper [The Boston Recorder] with some comments of his own. These, as far as I know, were the first of my words that appeared in print.
How long I sat beside Calypso I don't know. Hunger and weariness vanished, and only after the sun was low in the west I splashed on through the swamp, strong and exhilarated as if never more to feel any mortal care. At length I saw maple woods on a hill and found a log house. I was gladly received. "Where ha ye come fra? The swamp, that awfu' swamp. What were ye doin' there?" etc. "Mony a puir body has been lost in that muckle, cauld, dreary bog and never been found." When I told her I had entered it in search of plants and had been in it all day, she wondered how plants could draw me to these awful places, and said, "It's god's mercy ye ever got out."
Oftentimes I had to sleep without blankets, and sometimes without supper, but usually I had no great difficulty in finding a loaf of bread here and there at the houses of the farmer settlers in the widely scattered clearings. With one of these large backwoods loaves I was able to wander many a long wild fertile mile in the forests and bogs, free as the winds, gathering plants, and glorying in God's abounding inexhaustible spiritual beauty bread. Storms, thunderclouds, winds in the woods—were welcomed as friends.
Muir spends time with the flower reveling it and his experience until he is able to make the journey back to the cabin. He shares his story and it is not met with understanding. The lonesome, treacherous, and tiring adventure to find the Calypso borealis was worth it. The experience with the flower rejuvenated him and changed his perspective on his return journey.
Muir compares his experience with the flower to those he has with humans. Finding and viewing the Calypso borealis is more meaningful to him than the interactions or relations he has with most people. Muir’s experience changed him and his view of others. The flower was distinct amongst the forest, and now, so were a few people against the population.
1838 - 1914
Muir finds the flower, describes it against its surroundings and the emotion it brings out in him. Muir shares his admiration for the Calypso borealis, not only for its existence but also for it to bloom, survive, and be so profound amongst such bleak surroundings. Being “the most spiritual of all the flower” and “fairly cry(ing) for joy” beside it renews and confirms his inspiration.The description of the flower’s environment mimics his adventure to find it. It’s ability to exist and survive as he did. It’s strength, his strength. The flower is inspiring because even at the darkest hour and amongst gloom it is or proves to be a shining star, the silver lining on a dark cloud.
What is Naturalism?
From the late 19th and early 20th century, many people used the style of naturalism in their writings. "Naturalism involves the study of nature as a way to connect all things in the world. Naturalists believe that human beings are also part of nature and should be studied as they interact with their natural surroundings." Naturalism portrays life as it is brings psychological depth or profound meaning from experience and more about determination and lack of free will.
"John Muir: A Brief Biography." John Muir Biography - John Muir Exhibit. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2014.
Hunt, Jonathan, "Naturalism." Dictionary of American History. 2003, "naturalism (in Literature)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed.. 2013, and "naturalism." World Encyclopedia. 2005. "Naturalism." Encyclopedia.com. HighBeam Research, 01 Jan. 2005. Web. 09 June 2014.
John Muir, a Scottish-American, was a famous naturalist writer. He traveled the world and often wrote about his experiences. Muir was in Canada in the mid-1860s and yearned to locate a rare and endangered fairy slipper orchid known as the Calypso Borealis. He later wrote a short story about his adventure titled "The Calypso Borealis" depicting the circumstances he faced in his search and his encounter with it. This was his first published writing.
"The Calypso Borealis." John Muir and the Calypso Borealis - John Muir. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 June 2014.
"Muir and Naturalism." Florida Virtual School. English I, n.d. Web. 09 June 2014.