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A John Muir Trail Poem

Live your life as if it were impossible to fail,

said a warrior-poet on the John Muir Trail.

I’m a meal for mosquitos, an ape without a tail,

a real spicy Cheeto in the belly of a whale.

Going over hill and dale,

up the switchbacks and through the shale.

Pelted by the hail to the pass, where the clouds part the veil,

and the peak shines clean as a fresh white sail.

It’s mostly humpin’ and a-schepplin’.

With this big old pack, I’m either dumb or intrepid.

Didn’t bring a weapon; there’s no half-steppin’,

it’s a long way to Whitney and my dignity I’m reppin’.

Zig-zag, wag-bag, thru-hiker stew:

sometimes what I’m cooking tastes like an old boot.

Isn’t that the truth? I ain’t never lie.

I’m a stinky bandicoot with a twinkle in my eye.

Old John Muir must have got real lonely.

Lying on his blanket thinking, “No one’s here to hold me.

My biscuits got moldy, socks all holey,

what I wouldn’t do for a bowl of guacamole.”

But Muir never quit and I won’t neither,

even when I’ve got the shits or a mighty high fever.

See, I’m a believer that the mountains are the medicine.

They open up and let us in and never let us go again…

—Because the story has no end.

This ‘pale blue dot,’ well, it’s home to all my friends.

Every soul that’s ever been up in the high Sierra

where the tribes lived for eras

hears their prayers in the wind.

This land belongs to them. Go ask Alice.

The New Americans must restore the sacred balance.

It’s our generation’s challenge—what could be more valid?

You can’t eat cash, you need salad.

What’s the eagle got in its talons?

The snake of transformation, the winding path of patience.

Every place I put my boot is in the footsteps of the ancients.

Before these maps were made,

these peaks and passes all had names

in other languages with sacred connotations.

So, what are we out here chasing?

Some sort of lost relation?

A connection severed within the walls of civilization

where overpopulation and phony innovations

have us duped into living so complacent.

We traded strength and wisdom for safety and information.

Indeed, it was a miseducation.

But it’s not too late to change,

no matter what age,

the trail is less professor than a sage

who shows you you’re the architect of your own cage.

Back at home, you couldn’t see. You had to get away.

Up where blue jays fill the bristlecones with praise,

every lake is like a mirror for your smiling weathered face.

And if that’s not the case, then you must be here to race.

I’ve seen folks clocking mileage like their boss will dock their pay.

But I’m not here to judge with my toe jam thick as fudge

and these three liters of water heavy as an old grudge.

You got to let it go, travel light, and keep laughing.

Think of all the poor suckers down there stuck in traffic.

It’s a privilege just to be here.

So, thank you John Muir.

So far it’s been worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears.


James Collector is a writer, music producer, and ecological consultant living in San Francisco. He was born in Boulder, Colorado and continues to traverse the West and its literary tradition. This rhyming anthem was composed on the tongue, on the trail, on the way south 220 miles from Yosemite to Mount Whitney in 2019.


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