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The Man and Dog Relationship in John Muir’s Stickeen

Essay on “Stickeen”

“Stickeen” by John Muir is an adventure essay written in 1909. This subject of this essay is the relationship between a man and a dog he meets on an expedition to Fort Wrangel and their journey through an intense storm on a glacier. “Stickeen” was written simply to be an adventure story. It’s a simple adventure story yet there is so much more intertwined: the essay not only describes the relationship between a man and a dog, but the depth and power shown in the relationship. Nature plays a secondary role and a large portion of this essay is devoted to descriptions of nature. Long descriptions of nature with a focus on accuracy of detail are often associated with the Naturalist movement, of which John Muir was a part. Muir’s focus on descriptions of nature also most likely stemmed from an eye injury which left him blind for a month. After his sight returned, he resolved to observe and explore the natural world. He was one of the most prominent members of the Naturalist movement and worked to preserve many famous national parks such as Yosemite and Mount Rainier. Muir is often referred to as the father of our national parks system.

Muir writes in very long, detailed paragraphs filled with specific descriptions down to the tiniest detail. “…I could see, down fifty feet or so beneath, the margin of the glacier mill, where trunks from one to two feet in diameter were being ground to pulp against outstanding rock-ribs and bosses of the bank. About three miles above the front of the glacier.” This attention to detail characterizes nature. In fact, nature becomes a character in the story where it develops and changes alongside other characters. It also reveals Muir’s great love and devotion towards nature. His attention to detail of nature is also a characterization of the naturalist style of writing. Muir also considered himself a protector of nature; therefore, the better he described these beautiful places, the more he proved his point of the importance of preserving them.

“…he spent the dull days in sluggish ease, motionless, and apparently as observing as a hibernating marmot. But I discovered that somehow he always knew what was going forward. When the Indians were about to shoot at ducks or seals, or when anything interesting was to be seen along the shore, he would rest his chin on the edge of the canoe and calmly look out. When he heard us talking about making a landing, he roused himself to see what sort of place we were coming to, and made ready to jump overboard and swim ashore as soon as the canoe neared the beach. Then, with a vigorous shake to get rid of the brine in his hair, he went into the woods to hunt small game. But though always the first out of the canoe, he was always the last to get into it. When we were ready to start he could never be found, and refused to come to our call. We soon found out, however, that though we could not see him at such times he saw us, and from the cover of the briers and huckleberry bushes in the fringe of the woods was watching the canoe with wary eye. For as soon as we were fairly off he came trotting down the beach, plunged into the surf and swam after us, knowing well that we would cease rowing and take him in.” here Muir is describing the dog Stickeen who, at times, almost seems human with his complexity of personality traits. This could be one of Muir’s genuine observations from his keen eye and many travels. And it seems in line with his devotion to nature where he is giving a loving eye to animals, almost as an extension of nature.

Muir was a successful naturalist writer. His works would be enjoyed by anyone who likes naturalist writing. Muir has a very important role in American history, as he is responsible in large part for the preservation of many natural resources and was a major force in establishing the Conservationist movement.

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