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First Page

81

Last Page

103

Document Type

Article

Abstract

[First paragraph] One would be hard pressed to find a book more significant to the modern American environmentalist movement than John Muir’s seminal My First Summer in the Sierra. It gathered support for Muir’s fledgling Sierra Club and raised Muir’s national profile as he influenced Teddy Roosevelt on the creation of the National Park Service, thus serving a key role in perhaps the two most influential environmental organizations in the 20th century. Muir’s work is interesting, though, for another reason, as well: the way that Muir deals with the reality of his own physical body. Muir’s body is almost completely absent from the rhetoric of My First Summer in the Sierra, and when it does make an appearance, it does so only long enough for Muir to make a brief complaint about the necessity of feeding it. Moreover, the absence of Muir’s body is in stark contrast to the remarkable presence of the shepherd Billy’s body. This dichotomy, I think, is indicative of a broader gnostic trend in Muir’s work, in which he casts the pure, the divine, the natural, as a spiritual presence, and the impure, the profane, the human, as a purely physical presence.

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