A la sainte terre
In this special edition update, I'm going to take you on a long road-trip to explore the wondrous Sierra Nevada mountains. Lucky for you, there's no 30-hour car ride that you have to endure to experience what John Muir called "God's first cathedrals." I will refrain from any more complaints, after all, Mr. Muir himself (famed naturalist and poetic writer who initiated America's environmentalist movement during the last quarter of the 19th century) made the vertical trek down California on foot with no company other than his pet donkey. I, on the other hand, had the comfort of a scenic car ride accompanied by various podcast hosts and my mom's 80's music.
Back to Muir. Notorious for disliking the term "hike", Muir would prefer to refer (a new nature inspired tongue twister I'm working on) to his travels as a "saunter." Hence the title of this post, which is a French translation meaning "to the holy land." The nature worshipper himself was quoted as saying that people should not dismissively hike through the natural landscape, but saunter and take in the beauty and wonder of their surroundings. Apparently, Muir would then continue on with what seemed to be a reoccurring bit of his about the etymology of the word saunter. When doing research for this post I found accounts from both Muir and Henry Thoreau and how their interpretation of the word might be a little biased towards their preferred definition. That's the cool thing about words, is it not? Their meanings can change over time and context.
As I mentioned before, "a la sainte terre" was used during the middle ages to describe people making pilgrimages to holy places. However, the original use of the phrase may have had a pejorative connotation, often describing these saunters as wanderers who roamed about asking for charity to fund their travels. Muir went with a more romanticized definition of saunter, and I say let's go with it. The next time the word is used in conversation, you are now equipped with a nice anecdote about the history of the word saunter. Whoever is the receiver of your detailed account may be wholly uninterested, but if you find the right audience (nature buffs and/or French linguists) the pay-off will be big!
To learn more about Muir, check out this timely piece as we head into the fall season.
Above are the three redwood species. They share characteristics such as reddish wood and fibrous bark, as well as general cone shape. Their bark is highly resistant to rot and fire. Fire resistance may be weakest in the dawn redwood based on what I could find about their growing habits (In China they're usually found in wetter areas, which is not true for the two other redwoods whose roots cannot tolerate continuously saturated soils). The dawn redwood is also deciduous, meaning it loses its foliage annually. Image source.