STICKEEN by John Muir

1161926Over the what-I-prefer-to-call Native American Indian Day weekend, my daughters and I headed to the John Muir House in Martinez, California. Aubrey had an opportunity to earn extra credit in her history class by learning more about John Muir and his work as a conservationist and naturalist and then writing a report on it. That’s when I discovered STICKEEN written by John Muir and illustrated by Carl Dennis Buell in the museum bookstore.


jomuHouse_1891_lgFrom the back cover of STICKEEN:

The year is 1880. One stormy Alaska day, John Muir rises before dawn, puts a piece of bread into his overcoat pocket, and sets out to explore a glacier he has recently found. A little black dog named Stickeen trots along behind him, launching an adventure that Muir will later call “the most memorable of all my wild days.”


f23-1282-muir-against-heavyTogether, Muir and Stickeen find a majestic ice-cascade two miles wide and a lake filled with icebergs. But when it comes time to turn back, they find themselves trapped on an island, surrounded by icy crevasses a thousand feet deep. The only way out is a narrow sliver-bridge that passes across a great crevasse and up a cliff of ice.



muir-standing-next-to-newly-planted-sequoia“A stirring tale, exquisitely told” is what Booklist says about STICKEEN and I couldn’t agree more. For one, though written in 1909 I found Muir’s language both accessible to a modern day reader, as well as beautifully, poetically descriptive in a non-over-the-top way. Secondly, I’m a huge fan of a good dog story and STICKEEN does not disappoint. But, most of all, Muir plants us on that sliver of a narrow ice bridge, and then with an ice pick chipping away at the ice cliff to form steps of all things to escape off of the ice island where he and Stickeen are trapped. It’s amazing Muir survived minus the kind of gear I suspect teams today would require before embarking on such an adventure. And with just a piece of bread in his pocket for nourishment no less!


john-muir-tree-todayMuir often talked about the little black dog and their adventures at parties and lectures. It is said that waiters, porters, and others would hide behind curtains or even under tables just to hear Muir share it. And I can understand why, having just read STICKEEN. It’s the kind of story that pulls you in from the first page and holds onto you until the very last word. I would highly recommend STICKEEN for both children and adults. Thankfully nobody need hide behind a curtain to enjoy Muir’s adventure with Stickeen.


If you’re a John Muir fan and happen to be in the San Francisco Bay area, I’d also recommend a visit to the John Muir home in Martinez. Be sure to visit the Giant Sequoia tree that John Muir planted in 1898 as a sapling he brought back from a trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Today, the former sapling is about 70 feet tall and is infected with the fungus Botryosphaeria dothidea, a vascular disease that causes branches and tips to die. Seeing what is not native to the Bay area was a huge highlight for us, as you can see below.





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All materials © 2018 Annemarie O'Brien. Web site by Websy Daisy. Illustration © 2013 by Tim Jessell