Being that I’m leading discussion on this entry, I paid extra attention to the author’s use of language. I find it difficult to understand Marx’s motives for writing this short travel log, as she doesn’t state clear reasons for going or redeeming events in the end. She altogether seemed bored and disappointed in her trip. This causes me to wonder if the disappointing nature of her trip overshadowed the redeeming qualities, to the point that I was hard pressed to notice them, or if there really were none. I felt that this article left much to be desired because she didn’t teach the reader a lesson, or tell us of one she learned herself. I kept waiting to get to the part where the entry had something interesting, but the entire thing really was just a description of her surroundings. She ended by quoting Robert Louis Stevenson, saying “Old and young, we are all on our last cruise” (McCarthy 164). I felt that this article was lacking any sense of meaning. This quote sort of captures that feeling to me, because the author fails to explain its relevance. Is she more at terms with her definite death than she was before? Perhaps this is because the entirely dreadful experience on the boat makes even death seem exciting – at least something’s happening. The beginning of the entry was also misleading to me, because she starts out with a sense of excitement, or at least a hopeful attitude: “Wouldn’t it be lovely to take a break from the hurly-burly of land lubber life and the oppressive, never-ending with everybody and everything?” (153). This left me ill prepared for what lied ahead: endless descriptions of her surroundings labeled as boring, dark, “neglected” (154), “clunky” and “non functioning” (155), etc. I understand that she wrote this in order to mirror her own disappointment, but with such a dramatic beginning, I wanted more to follow than what did.
This week’s set of readings were very interesting to me. I was particularly interest in Daughter’s of the Springs by Lauren Groff and Hail Dayton by Rachel Maddux.
Hail Dayton was interesting to me because it reminded me of Theroux, and how he talked about the south as being a place that feels familiar and like home. On page 152, the author says “soon friends began administering their rueful hearts and stars and thumbs-ups, just like I knew they would” (McCray, 152). Maddux here expresses a similar sentiment as Theroux; it doesn’t take much time in the south to feel its familiarizing effects.
Daughter’s of the Springs sparked my interest because of its uniqueness. The history of mermaids was interesting to me, as I never understood how mermaids could have existed despite historical “evidence”. Groff’s experience at “fish tails” was relatable because as the writer, she was good at relating to her readers. I felt like I really understood how she was feeling and experiencing the situations. When Groff told us how her experienced didn’t align with her expectations on page 126, I felt particularly understanding of how she was feeling. The ending lesson was also insightful: “Sometimes it’s lovely to float on the surface of things” (McCray, 127). Groff is not subject to the lessons her surroundings attempt to teach her, and the way she explored her experiences were intriguing to me.
Throughout this course I’ve grown a particular curiosity for the beginnings of travelogues. What triggers people to travel varies from traveller to traveller, and noticing these differences has become a pattern I notice when reading these travelogues. Reading McCarry’s The Best in American Travel Writing 2015 has allowed me to explore these beginnings in direct contrast with other pieces.
In Benjamin Busch’s piece, “Today is Better than Tomorrow”, we see that his main purpose for traveling is to travel to Iraq, a place he’s already been, but as an anonymous traveller rather than Major Busch. Through his anonymity, Busch is able to learn so much more about Iraq, and how it’s seen from a different perspective. His descriptions reminded me of a poem I read earlier in the semester, Love From a Foreign City by Lavinia Greenlaw:
Dearest, the cockroaches are having babies.
One fell from the ceiling into my gin
with no ill effects. Mother has been.
I showed her the bite marks on the cot
And she gave me the name of her rat-catcher.
He was so impressed by the hole in her u-bend,
he took it home for his personal museum.
I cannot sleep. They are digging up children
on Hackney Marshes. The papers say
when that girl tried to scream for help,
the man cut her tongue out. Not far from here.
There have been more firebombs,
but only at dawn and out in the suburbs.
And a mortar attack. We heard it from the flat,
A thud like someone dropping a table.
They say the pond life coming out of the taps
is completely harmless. A law has been passed
on dangerous dogs: muzzles, tattoos, castration.
When the Labrador over the road jumped up
to say hello to Billie, he wet himself.
The shops in North End Road are all closing.
You can’t get your shoes mended anywhere.
The one-way system keeps changing direction,
I get lost a hundred yards from home.
There are parts of the new A to Z marked simply
‘under development’. Even street names
have been demolished. There is typhoid in Finchley.
Mother has bought me a lavender tree.
Like Busch’s piece, this poem deals with the hardship that is found when living in a war torn city, and how it alienates its own citizens. The people in Busch’s encounters were feeling as foreigners in their own homes, and the way he described it caused me to stop and really think about what that must be like. This poem did that for me too, so I wanted to share it here.
In David Farley’s Ashes to Ashes, we see that his reason for leaving is “to engage with death” as well as to get away from turmoil at home, and gain new perspective. The latter of these reasons is one I find most often in travelogues; people seek solace from tragedy and troubles at home by going to a new place to learn new things. Engaging with death, however, was a new one for me, and one I found quite interesting. This piece was my favorite out of the four assigned for this week, because it provided a new perspective on traveling, life, and death.
All in all, I realized that people travel to learn. Whether it’s to learn about themselves, others, new perspectives, new cultures, etc.; the traveller seeks new knowledge. I’ve gained a new appreciation for travel writing because of this very thing. I love reading about what people are seeking to learn, what they end up learning, and how those two things differ.
As Heat-Moon is traveling in this last section, he seems to be encountering more and more individuals of religious descent. Not only are the people he is meeting religious, but they seem to be very outspoken about the beliefs and religious journeys, which influences Heat-Moons thoughts. There is not much reflection on Heat-Moon’s part when it comes to his own spiritual journey, but as I was ready felt that he may be revealing his inner thoughts and considerations in what he chose to reveal to the reader. There is obviously more to the people and the conversations in these scenes than is written down, and the parts that Heat-Moon chose to highlight are necessarily significant to his own being in some way or another. As I read this section, I payed closer attention to what Heat-Moon chose to reveal and why he might have chosen these things. What do they say about what stands out to him? Do they stand out to him because he has never considered them? Or because he has considered them a lot? Or, perhaps they stand out to him because they represent an aspect of hope or certainty that he doesn’t feel in his own life. He seems to find a common desirable aspect in each of the people he meets. This aspect, to me, is a sense of believing in something. I think Heat-Moon is searching for something to believe in throughout these chapters, and what he might believe could be hidden in the pages.
This section provoked a curiosity in me about how Heat-Moon regards nature. He seems to approach it with a more realistic, non-romantic view, which makes sense, given that it was written in the 80’s. Romantic literature was far moved past by that point anyways. He approaches nature with a certain attitude, though, that is not as much realistic as it is gothic, or at least pertaining to a dark nature. I think is is mostly a reflection of his inner self, and the feelings of depression and loneliness he’s fighting. He doesn’t explicitly say how he’s feeling or what he is thinking, but it’s noticeable in the subtle ways he describes his surroundings. Otherwise, why would he use words like “horrendously”, “twisted sharply”, “precariously”, “shaded depressions”, “the ashes of what it has been”, to describe his surroundings (167-168)? He also personifies nature, saying things like: “Way out here they have a name for win, the win they call Maria. They could, more sensibly, call it a son-of-a-bitch” (151), “The morning sun was the kind of day that makes a man doubt the reality of death” (167), “Nature in a zany mood…” (168), as if nature is an active agent in his life.
This reminded me of what Thompson said in last week’s about building trust/credibility with the traveller. It is necessary to understand that the traveller may not always see their environment objectively; things may be described as dark and deceiving, when really it’s just a desert. The literal deserts and valleys William finds himself in I think are metaphors for where he finds himself to be emotionally.
He seems to be coping with this by focusing on his surroundings. I noticed that more of this section was dedicated to simply reporting rather than reflecting, which is a change from the first section we read. He doesn’t write much about his inner self in these pages, which I think reveals to the reader that as he distances himself physically from his past, he is also distancing himself emotionally; focusing on the present rather than his agenda to heal from the past.
William Least Heat-Moon’s travelogue is by far my favorite we’ve read yet. He sees to have the perfect balance of self-representation and actual recording of his journey and experiences. I know enough about Heat-Moon in order to have the sense of trust that Thompson discussed in Chapter 4 of Travel Writing: “The audience to any traveller’s tale must therefore frequently defer to the traveller, taking on trust his or her report” (65).
Heat spent much of this section self historicizing, allowing us as readers to get to know him and understand his motives for traveling. I found similarities to both of the other texts we’ve read in this class: First, I found it similar to Deep South in that he’s choosing to travel the back roads and go places many haven’t seen, and also similar to Wild in that He’s traveling to seek solace from relational turmoil in his life.
This book is also full of beautifully written prose, which I admire simply for the way he strings words together. The language in this text, amongst other things, is huge reason for the genuine enjoyment I found in reading it. I came across several lines for which I had to stop and simply appreciate the language. An example of this is early on, on page 7: “I fought the past and wrestled memories of the Indian Wars. First night on the road. I’ve read that fawns have no scent so that predators cannot track them down. For me, I hear the past snuffling about somewhere close” (Heat-Moon, 7).
I love how he uses the words “Cherokee” and “Indian Wars” to refer to his wife and their quarrels. For some reason, I find it somewhat endearing. It seems as if despite the many fights they had, he still feels attached to her. He spends his evenings reflecting on the past, as it haunts him. I believe these reflections will be markers for his interior journey throughout the text.
This last section of Wild may have been my favorite. Here we see all of Cheryl’s journey come to purpose. Something that particularly stood out to me in this section was Cheryl’s writing about her mom in chapter 16. After her rants about how angry she was at her mother for dying to soon, and her exhaustive list on flaws in her mother’s life, we see Cheryl gains a different perspective: “By the night of my mother’s fiftieth birthday, I loved her again” (269). Once she’s expressed her anger and desperation, Cheryl seems to think more rationally about her mother. The moment she has “with” her mother as she is burning the pages of her PCT trail guide is truly beautiful. Cheryl talks about how her mother is always with her, both metaphorically and literally. This is shown in the part of the chapter where she’s saying her name as she burns the pages. This seems to be that moment of closure that Cheryl has been looking for sense her mother’s death, and offers a sense of completeness to Cheryl. She proceeds to reflect on what her mother’s death meant, and what it means in terms of her personal journey. I think she arrives at a peace because she knows that she hasn’t lived the life her mother lived; she has not spent her life doing what others told her to do, like her mother. She remembers when her mom told her that, and I think it’s in that moment that she realizes, her life is different. She’s arrived at one of her ultimate goals in pursing this journey on the PCT; she did what she knew was best and necessary for her rather than listening to what everyone else wanted her to do. Cheryl is beginning to realize the significance of this decision and how it shows who Cheryl has become because of her mother’s death; in her mother’s death, Cheryl has started to truly live.