Reviews: Travel Writing
Short Reviews on The Nature of Travel.
The Worst Journey
in the World by Aspley Cherry-Garrard
you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long
as all you want is a penguins egg. This tragic book
is nearly universally acknowledged as one of the classics of adventure
writing, definitely considered the unparalleled apex of polar exploration,
and certainly does not need my approbation. Aspley Cherry-Garrards
writing style beautifully brings both the singular characters and
the Antarctic environment to life. In fact, this perfectly controlled
story of a disaster approaches not just great travel writing, but
Cherry-Garrard makes us feel the unfathomable cold of the polar
winter, as well as the lengths humans go for the smallest of gains.
But he also tells a gripping tale, an easy thing to do with a triumph,
but not with a disaster.
In a way, this book reads a lot like Moby Dick - both detailed and
realistic, giving total access to Captain Scotts failed expedition.
But it also plumbs the icy depths of the polar sea for meaning and
awareness. Aspley Cherry-Garrard is a man who has done what all
travelers hope to - live through an extraordinary adventure and
not only survive, but understand it.
Days and Nature in Downland by W.H. Hudson
carefully to dear, old W.H. Hudson. He will tell you of long days
rambling down country lanes, of ancient stone walls and green pastures,
of deep forests and crumbling cottages, of overgrown churchyards
and hidden villages. He will tell tales of rustic farmers and humorous
preachers, of skilled fishermen and innocent village girls. He will
sing to you of his special love, the birds: of wrens and plovers,
of geese and herons, of curlews and peewits, of cuckoos and swallows.
He will tell you of wild England as no other writer can.
Hudson is one of the last of the old-style, amateur naturalists,
but he is also a writer. His observations are accurate, but poetic
rather than prosaic, with just the right mix of fancy and science.
And Hudsons narrative rambles as he does. He will talk about
observations he made about bird behavior in the marshes, move on
to an incident in the forest where a spider killed a grasshopper,
and then to a meditation on death as he rests on an ancient barrow
on the heath. Hampshire Days and Nature in Downland are two of the
last good examples of how science and art once met on the page without
Cover Not Found
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
came to this masterpiece quite late in life. Im not sure why,
because I had seen it on library shelves since my childhood. But
then one of my other favorites, Peter Mathiessens The Snow
Leopard, referred to the famous Piper at the Gates of Dawn
chapter and so I found an ancient hardbound edition with the original
drawings. I carefully read it one Saturday afternoon in my easy
chair, with soft music playing and a cup of Earl Grey steaming next
to me. I was enchanted. The adventures of Mole, Rat, Badger and
Toad are timeless and fun, something I was prepared for from a childrens
classic. But I was not prepared for the wisdom, harmony, and depth
of the more reflective chapters.
The Wind in the Willows burns with the warm hearthfires of fellowship
and compassion. It concerns home and travel and the balance we must
strike between them. And so on a driving tour, two friends and I
read it out loud to each other, finishing on the last stretch of
highway heading for home. One of my life-memories will be reading
a chapter from this treasured tome on the windy top of Mount Mitchell
in North Carolina.
This is unquestionably a book for a certain kind of explorer - those
of us who explore our homes: the little fields and streams, the
groves and reed ponds, the paths and villages. And at the end of
the day, we enjoy sliding back into our easy chairs, boiling a cup
of tea, and wrapping up in a comfortable blanket. We may never discover
a hidden city or make the first ascent of a mountain, but you can
be sure we still hear the wind in the willows.
Prof Eric Lehman October 2003
Hamden, CT 06518
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