Stickeen, John Muir, 1909
In the summer of 1880 I set out from Fort Wrangel in a
canoe to continue the exploration of the icy region
of southeastern Alaska, begun in the fall of 1879.
After the necessary provisions, blankets, etc., had
been collected and stowed away, and my Indian crew
were in their places ready to start, while a crowd of
their relatives and friends on the wharf were bidding
them good-by and good-luck, my companion, the Rev.
Young, for whom we were waiting, at last came aboard,
followed by a little black dog, that immediately made
himself at home by curling up in a hollow among the
baggage. I like dogs, but this one seemed so small
and worthless that I objected to his going, and asked
the missionary why he was taking him.
“Such a little helpless creature will only be in the
way,” I said; “you had better pass him up to the Indian
boys on the wharf, to be taken home to play with the
children. The poor silly thing will be in rain and snow
for weeks or months, and will require care like a
His master assured me that he would be no trouble
at all; that he was a perfect wonder of a dog, could
endure cold and hunger like a bear, swim like a
seal, and was wondrous wise and cunning, etc.,
making out a list of virtues to show he might be the
most interesting member of the party.
Nobody could hope to unravel the lines of his ancestry.
In all the wonderfully mixed and varied dog-tribe
I never saw any creature very much like him. At
first sight his only noticeable feature was his fine
tail, which was about as airy and shady as a
squirrel’s, and was carried curling forward almost to
his nose. On closer inspection you might notice his
thin sensitive ears, and sharp eyes with cunning
tan-spots above them. Mr. Young told me that when
the little fellow was a pup about the size of a
woodrat he was presented to his wife by an Irish
prospector at Sitka, and that on his arrival at Fort
Wrangel he was adopted with enthusiasm by
the Stickeen Indians as a sort of new good-luck
totem, was named “Stickeen” for the tribe, and
became a universal favorite; petted, protected,
and admired wherever he went, and regarded
as a mysterious fountain of wisdom.
After we had explored the Sundum and Tahkoo
fiords and their glaciers, we sailed through
Stephen’s Passage into Lynn Canal and thence
through Icy Strait into Cross Sound, searching for
unexplored inlets leading toward the great fountain
ice-fields of the Fairweather Range.
I planned a far-and-wide excursion for the morrow.
I awoke early, called not only by the glacier, which
had been on my mind all night, but by a grand
flood-storm. The wind was blowing a gale from
the north and the rain was flying with the clouds
in a wide passionate horizontal flood, as if it
were all passing over the country instead of falling
on it. I had intended making a cup of coffee and
getting something like a breakfast before starting,
but when I heard the storm and looked out I made
haste to join it; for many of Nature’s finest lessons
are found in her storms, and if careful to keep in
right relations with them, we may go safely abroad
with them, rejoicing in the grandeur and beauty of
their works and ways, and chanting with the old
Norsemen, “The blast of the tempest aids our oars,
the hurricane is our servant and drives us whiter we
wish to go.”
Stickeen left his bed in the tent and came boring
through the blast after me. “Now don’t, Stickeen.
You must be daft. This wild day has nothing for
you. Go back to the camp and keep warm, and be
sensible for once. I can’t carry you all day or
feed you, and this storm will kill you.”
But Nature, it seems, was at the bottom of the
affair, and she gains her ends with dogs as well as
with men, making us do as she likes, shoving and
pulling us along her ways, however rough, all but
killing us at times in getting her lessons driven
hard home. After I had stopped again and again,
shouting good warning advice, I saw that he was
not to be shaken off; as well the earth try to shake
off the moon.
At length our way was barred by a very wide and
straight crevasse, which I traced rapidly northward
a mile or so without finding a crossing. In all this
distance there was only one place where I could
possibly jump it, but the width of this jump was the
upmost I dared attempt, while the danger of
slipping on the farther side was so great that I was
loath to try it. One is liable to underestimate the
width of crevasses where the magnitudes are
great. I was eager to go on. But this wide jump
was a dreadful obstacle.
At length, because of the dangers already behind me,
I determined to venture against those that might ahead,
jumped and landed well.
But poor Stickeen, the wee, hairy, sleekit beastie,
think of him! This was the first time I had seen him
gaze deliberately into a crevasse, or into my face
with an eager, speaking, troubled look. That he
should have recognized and appreciated the danger
at first glance showed wonderful sagacity. At last,
with the courage of despair, hushed and breathless,
he crouched down on the brink in the hollow I made
for my knees, pressed his body against the ice as
if trying to get the advantage of the friction of every
hair, gazed into the first step, put his little feet
together, and slid them slowly, slowly over the
edge and down into it. Here he halted in dead
silence, and it was here I feared he might fail, for
dogs are poor climbers. Then suddenly up he came
in a springy rush, and whizzed past my head, safe
And now came a scene! “Well done, well done, little
Boy! Brave boy!” I ran ahead, calling him, for we had
far to go and it would soon be dark. Neither of us
feared another trial like this. Heaven would surely
count one enough for a lifetime.
Muir, John. Stickeen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Hardcourt, 1909. Gutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg. Web. 4 May 2016.
Which of the following statements best describes the style and content of the first paragraph (lines 1-14)?