Sunday, November 22, 2009
I wasn't buying into the whole "this is a journey" thing that I would hear other people use to to describe going through difficult situations. Part of my denial process. Today, at the Milwaukee airport's used book store I purchased a book on one of my favorite subjects--exploration back in the day when men ate their boots to survive. The book is called "Exploration" and is a series of entries in the explorers' own words, taken directly from their journals. Arctic and Antarctic voyages, expeditions through Africa, the Orient, all that good stuff. Months, even years long, some of those journeys. It took me most of today to travel from Wisconsin to Texas, 2 flights, 3 airports, etc. But silly fast compared to the olde days.
One chapter in this book is part of the journal of John Dundas Cochrane (1793-1825), a Scotsman who walked across Russia. Yes, walked. Well, it seems he hitched an occasional ride on a hay wagon. Anyhow, he was apparently kind of a dreamy, sensitive sort, a military man put out of work and adrift due to the end of the Napoleonic wars. Below is his account of the beginning of his journey, which I read on an airplane while traveling faster than Captain Cochrane could ever have dreamed possible. Heck, he wouldn't have cared anyway. He walked places, dammit:
I quitted the hospitable habitation of Sir Robert Kerr Porter, on the 24th of May; and, having had a lift in the carriage with four horses of Sir Robert, I, with my knapsack on my back, set out, and trotted over a partially cultivated country. A pretty avenue of birch trees lined the road, as if to accompany me as far as possible on my departure from the precincts of civilized man. Nature here got the better of a tolerably stout heart; and, as I turned round to catch a last glimpse of the capital I had left, and of the friends to whom I had bade, perhaps, a last adieu, I could not suppress my grief, and, had not my honour been committed, should certainly have returned. A sigh escaped me as I ejaculated a last farewell, till, startling at the expression of my weakness, I resumed my journey with slow and melancholy steps.
It was ten o'clock, (for I had now a watch), and I had reached six miles. The night was beautifully clear, though rather cold from the effects of a northern breeze; while the moon was near her full. I looked at the beautiful luminary, and actually asked myself whether I were, as had been asserted, under the baneful influence of that planet. Smiling that I received no reply, I then considered my projects and intentions, and the conduct I ought to follow; and, sitting down at a fountain on the Poulkousky Hill, I read to myself a few lessons, which the time and the occasion seemed to inspire.
"Go," said I, "and wander with the illiterate and almost brutal savage!—go and be the companion of the ferocious beast!—go and contemplate the human being in every element and climate, whether civilized or savage—of whatever tribe, nation, or religion. Make due allowance for the rusticity of their manners; nor be tempted to cope with them in those taunts, insults, and rudeness, to which the nature of thy enterprise will subject thee. Contemn those incidental circumstances which but too often surprise mankind from their good intentions, and deprive the world of much useful and interesting information. Avoid all political and military topics, and remember, that the proper study of mankind is man.
They didn't send text messages back then, they freakin' WROTE STUFF DOWN. Longhand. With big, fat, complete words, LOL. And they wrote in a manner that required you read it slowly, or twice or three times, to understand it.
Why am I boring you with this? I'm not sure. It just caught my attention. A crazy dude and his knapsack, wandering in an easterly direction across Russia, on foot, refusing to "contemn" any curveballs the universe might throw at him. Along the way he was robbed multiple times. He lost everything--even his clothes! Yet at every downturn he was saved by the kindness of the average people he met along the way. And he made it all the way across that huge and open country, just like he planned.
P.S. He wrote "ejaculated." Hee hee. Sorry. My deepness has a shallow end.
P.P.S. Captain Cochrane later died while trying to walk across South America.