Apr 3, 2018

Stickeen

by John Muir

This stunning novella is about a walk John Muir took on a glacier, accompanied by a small spitz type "lap dog" named Stickeen. Muir was on an exploratory expedition and had been advised not to bring the little dog along, as it was considered by others a "worthless" animal. The tough little dog certainly kept to himself, wandering in the woods and catching up to their boat at the very last minute. He was nothing special to Muir until the day they explored the glacier.

I have long admired Muir's conservation efforts in helping establish our national parks, but I had no idea he was such an intrepid, adventuresome and daring man. He deliberately walked out onto this glacier in the middle of a raging storm, just for the thrill! went on through wind and driving snow with only the dog as companion, no ropes or special shoes or any other tool than a hatchet it seems. Jumping crevices and nearly getting lost. In the end to make it back to camp, he had to cross a narrow bridge of ice over a deep crevasse and the dog was barely able to follow. It was in the moment of seeing the dog's terror at crossing the bridge, and its delirious joy at making the hazardous crossing safely, that Muir realized that Stickeen had more emotion and intelligence in his little furry head than he ever let on. (At the time animals were considered automatons of instinct by most scientists, so this revelation into the dog's emotional state felt groundbreaking to Muir). The dog was ever after devoted to him. Sadly, it was stolen from their company shortly after the expedition and he never heard of it again.

I was shocked to read of the dangers Muir faced on the glacier just for the thrill of it. I am astonished they got out of there alive. The writing is wonderfully descriptive, the personality and deportment of the bold little dog vividly drawn. It's an amazing piece of writing that anyone who enjoys outdoor adventures or who loves dogs might enjoy. The afterward of the particular copy I read has a timeline highlighting key events in Muir's life, which opened my eyes to what an incredible individual he was.

Borrowed from my sister.

Rating: 4/5              73 pages, 1916

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