Table of Contents
1. Will a Whipping Make You Learn?
2. Off for the New World
3. To Kill or Not to Kill?
4. Plenty of Harrd, Harrd Work
5. The Creatures of God
6. John Begins to Study
7. John's Inventions Win Him Fame
8. A Stay in Canada
9. From Indiana to the Atlantic Ocean
10. Florida, Cuba, and a Surprise Decision
11. John Chooses California
12. What Formed Yosemite Valley?
13. John Begins to Write
14. John Speaks for the Forests
Epilogue - John Made His Mark on History
Map of California
Map of Alaska
Will a Whipping Make You Learn?
The boys in the little school in Scotland chanted, "Couldst, wouldst, shouldst." "Amo, amas, amat," and "Je va, tu vais, il va." The English, Latin, and French verbs were to be memorized like poetry.
Mr. Lyon, their teacher, said firmly, "Whipping improves a boy's memory." And he demonstrated his opinion on any poor pupil whose recital was less than perfect.
Three languages and spelling, arithmetic, history, and geography besides, and that's not all. Then I have to go home and memorize Bible verses for Father, thought eight-year-old John. He was feeling sorry for himself. He dreamed of roaming the fields and the seashore, of climbing among the ruins of Castle Dunbar.
"Dreaming of the fields are ye, John?" Down came the rod on his fingers. Mr. Lyon had caught him out again. John bit his lip. He must keep a stiff face else the boys would mock him out on the playground. If he so much as whimpered, he'd have to challenge each boy to a fight to prove himself.
Next recess, John was roughest of all when they played the switch game. The boys made whips out of braided weed stems and switched one another's legs. The one who gave up first from the pain lost the game.
The boys tried to take Mr. Lyon's blows and the punishment they gave one another without flinching. "I'm Robert the Bruce, King of Davel Hill," one would crow. The others would try to drag him down from the hill. Each boy's ambition was to be the best fighter. Each wanted to go for a soldier when he grew up. They looked on the thrashings and battles as part of their training.
John would not have dreamed of skipping school, but he escaped from the yard each Saturday in spite of his father's warnings and his beatings. "Ye will not be leaving the yard the day. It's learning bad thoughts and bad words from yon vagabonds, ye are." Father, a strict Scotsman, was certain that bad boys were to be punished in the world hereafter. He made sure that they were punished in this one. But Nature called, and John answered.
On their Saturday wanderings, the grammar school boys scoured the beach for shells. They watched eels, crabs, and other odd creatures of the tide pools. Sometimes they swam in these pools, after they had poked in a stick to check for boy-eating monsters. They ran great distances, jumped, wrestled, and climbed.
Often the boys played in the ruins of the 1000-year-old Castle Dunbar. One day they were playing prisoner's base at the castle. Some boys from a neighboring school appeared.
John challenged one of them, "What are ye staring at then, Robert?"
Robert replied, "I'll look where I have a mind to look. Just keep me from it. I dare ye."
"I'll soon let ye see whether I dare or no!" yelled John, and he gave Robert a right to the face. It took this little to start a grand fight.
When they were all sore and weary, they made peace. No great harm was done, except for a few bruises. But one of John's blue eyes was now black and blue.
"You're going to catch it, John. You can't hide that shiner."
And sure enough, Father have him another thrashing when he got home. "Gude boys are to stay and play in the yard. Gude boys are not to fight."
"It's not fair," John grumbled to his younger brother, Davie, when they were safely in their bed. "Father can thrash us for our own good. Mr. Lyon can thrash us for our own good. But when we just want to thrash one another, they punish us again."
This harsh upbringing made John Muir into a sturdy boy. Perhaps the thrashings did help his memory. But the repeated whippings did not keep him from the fields and woods. Those stolen Saturdays were the beginnings of John's wilderness wanderings.
Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2001
Also by Patricia Topp: This Stange Quantum World and You