© 2017 Steve Campsall

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controlling idea / theme / message

This famous piece of descriptive writing was written by American John Muir over 140 years ago. He is describing his journey across California towards the Yosemite Valley. As you read, look for his use of figurative language such as metaphors, similes and personification. Also consider his use of sensory description - images that allow you to see and feel what he saw and felt at the time.

Muir's theme or controlling idea (i.e. the message 'behind' the writing) is not 'on the surface' - which is a description of what he sees on his journey - but a little deeper or more elusive. It is probably the wonder of nature untainted by civilisation.

'On the first of April, 1868, I set out afoot for Yosemite. It was the bloom-time of the year over the lowlands and coast ranges the landscapes of the Santa Clara Valley were fairly drenched with sunshine, all the air was quivering with the songs of the meadow-larks, and the hills were so covered with flowers that they seemed to be painted. Slow indeed was my progress through these glorious gardens, the first of the California flora I had seen. Cattle and cultivation were making few scars as yet, and I wandered enchanted in long wavering curves, knowing by my pocket map that Yosemite Valley lay to the east and that I should surely find it.

Looking eastward from the summit of the Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously coloured and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city. Along the top and extending a good way down, was a rich pearl-grey belt of snow below it a belt of blue and dark purple, marking the extension of the forests and stretching along the base of the range a broad belt of rose-purple all these colours, from the blue sky to the yellow valley smoothly blending as they do in a rainbow, making a wall of light ineffably fine. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range but the Range of Light...'