Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 27, June 6, 2022
A zero day (did not walk except from the campground to the service station/ cafe then to the Kinlochewe hotel). Had breakfast at the cafe run by wonderful people with a nice set-up and great sausage and bacon buns. As usual with people in this country, the Kinlochewe Hotel staff treated me with great kindness, letting me check into my room hours before official time, and my weary bones appreciated it.
No great sights to report. Instead I spent much of the day arranging for some travel later in the summer. Starting to think past the trail, including the classes I’ll be teaching in Oxford starting later this month. Some of that preparation took me to a book I’m currently struggling with— just trying to think through my reticence. It’s a book about walking trails recently published by an author much younger than I am. I kept wondering what it was that didn’t feel right, and then remembered a comment I once read about Peter Matthiessen’s Snow Leopard, a book written at a moment when nature and travel writing was both enjoying an upsurge and was being redefined (at least at that particular late 20th century moment— much has changed in the 21st). As Robert MacFarlane has pointed out, Matthiessen’s book was published just a year after Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, John McPhee’s Coming into the Country, and Nan Shepherd’s Living Mountain. The last remains to my mind the finest nature book ever written. I’m not sure if I imagined this comment or actually read it, but the claim was that the first person singular pronoun rarely appears in The Snow Leopard (don’t have a copy so I cannot check). The book was always about the world described and not so much about the describer (of course one could do a psychoanalytical read on that, though it would be of little interest). I’ve always been struck that much of the best nature/walking writing is about the place(s) and not the narrator.
It seems I’ve internalized that ideal, even as I constantly fail to live up to it as the first person singular proliferates on these web pages much to my dismay. But the crux of the matter is a sense that really good walking literature is not about the walker but instead about the walk.
T. Hugh Crawford