Religion of Light

John Muir Trail

On John Muir, who’s name marks the trail Jolene is exploring above:

Of sensory perceptions and light

During his first summer in the Sierra as a shepherd, Muir wrote field notes that emphasized the role that the senses play in human perceptions of the environment. According to Williams, he speculated that the world was an unchanging entity that was interpreted by the brain through the senses, and, writes Muir, “If the creator were to bestow a new set of senses upon us . . . we would never doubt that we were in another world. . . “[41]:43 While doing his studies of nature, he would try to remember everything he observed as if his senses were recording the impressions, until he could write them in his journal. As a result of his intense desire to remember facts, he filled his field journals with notes on precipitation, temperature, and even cloud formations.[41]:45

However, Muir took his journal entries further than recording factual observations. Williams notes that the observations he recorded amounted to a description of “the sublimity of Nature,” and what amounted to “an aesthetic and spiritual notebook.” Muir felt that his task was more than just recording “phenomena,” but also to “illuminate the spiritual implications of those phenomena,” writes Williams. For Muir, mountain skies, for example, seemed painted with light, and came to “…symbolize divinity.”[41]:45 He often described his observations in terms of light:

“. . . . so gloriously colored, and so luminous, . . .[44]:4-5 awakening and warming all the mighty host to do gladly their shining day’s work…[34] to whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.”[34]

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