Sleeping in a Graveyard

On a thousand-mile botanical journey on foot through the southeastern United States, the naturalist John Muir found himself in Savannah, Georgia with barely a penny to his name. Friends were supposed to wire him some money, but it had not arrived. His most immediate need was to find a safe, protected place to sleep in the out-of-doors, away from the malarial swamps, where no one would bother him…


The wind had strange sounds, waving the heavy panicles over my head, and I feared sickness from malaria so prevalent here, when I suddenly thought of the graveyard.

"There," thought I, "is an ideal place for a penniless wanderer. There no supersitious prowling mischief maker dares venture for fear of haunting ghosts, while for me there will be God's rest and peace…. I shall have capital compensation in seeing those grand oaks in the moonlight, with all the impressive and nameless influences of this lonely and beautiful place."...

I entered the weird and beautiful abode of the dead.

All the avenue where I walked was in shadow, but an exposed tombstone frequently shone out in startling whiteness on either hand, and thickets of sparkleberry bushes gleamed like heaps of crystals. Not a breath of air moved the gray moss, and the great black arms of the trees met overhead and covered the avenue. But the canopy was fissured by many a netted seam and leafy-edged opening, through which the moonlight sifted in auroral rays, broidering the blackness in silvery light. Though tired, I sauntered a while enchanted, then lay down under one of the great oaks. I found a little mound that served for a pillow, placed my plant press and bag beside me and rested fairly well, though disturbed by prickly-footed beetles creeping across my hands and face, and by a lot of hungry stinging mosquitoes.

When I awoke, the sun was up and all Nature was rejoicing. Some birds had discovered me as an intruder, and were making a great ado in interesting language and gestures. I heard the screaming of the bald eagles, and of some strange waders in the rushes. I heard the hum of Savannah with the long jarring hallos of negroes far away. On rising I found that my head had been resting on a grave, and though my sleep had not been quite so sound as that of the person below, I arose refreshed, and looking about me, the morning sunbeams pouring through the oaks and gardens dripping with dew, the beauty displayed was so glorious and brilliant that hunger and care seemed only a dream.

- John Muir, A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf (Houghton Mifflin, 1916), pp. 73-76.