This week’s mystery passage was from “the hiker’s bible:” The Complete Walker, by Colin Fletcher. This was a favorite book of mine in my boyhood; I enjoyed the energetic, cheerful, pragmatic prose, the thoroughgoing organization, as much as I enjoyed hiking, and indeed under Mr. Fletcher’s influence I relished assembling my kit before an expedition. I remember following his lead by tearing the labels off tea bags to save weight. Truly, as the Amazon reviewer says: “800+ pages of the most useful, precise information i’ve ever read anywhere … eloquent, realistic, CLEAR, and mildly humourous…”
Yet Mr. Fletcher is also capable of the following (from the book’s coda):
When I open my mind and let the memories spill out, I find a many-hued mosaic. I remember the odd excitement and the restricted yet infinitely open world I have moved through several times when I have clambered up – very late at night, and following the little pool from my flashlight beam – to the flat, grassy summit of the hill on which I wrote at last the opening chapter of this book.
I remember a three-day walk along an unspoiled beach with the wind always barrelling in from the Pacific and the sand dunes always humping up on my left; and I remember the ceaseless surging and drawing back of the sea, with its final, curving excursions into smooth sand – excursions that sometimes left stranded, high and almost dry, little fragments of transparent protoplasm (which set me thinking “This is the stuff we came from”) and sometimes cast up a bottle that I could peer at (laughing at myself for being so childlike) in the hope that it might contain a message. I remember standing on snowshoes outside my half-buried tent after a four-day storm, in a newly gleaming white world, and watching the guilty, cloud-bearing southwest wind trying to reassert itself; I remember feeling a northeast breeze spring up, and almost hearing it take a deep breath and say “They shall not pass,” and then begin to blow in earnest; and I remember watching, thankfully, as the line of dark clouds was held along a front, horizon to horizon, and then was driven back, slowly but inexorably, until at last it retreated behind the peaks and the sky was left to the triumphant northeast wind and the warm and welcome sun. I remember trying to clamber up a steep woodland bank after dark, somewhere in the deep South (I think it was in Alabama), and finding myself in an enchanted world of fireflies and twisted tree roots and fireflies and clumps of grass and fireflies and wildflowers and fireflies and fireflies and fireflies – a world suddenly filled with a magic that I had not glimpsed since I was ten, and had almost come to disbelieve in…
The peripatetic Mr. Fletcher, in his mid-80s, is still walking and writing, despite a 2001 encounter with an SUV (according to Wikipedia). He has acquired a co-author, and The Complete Walker is now in a fourth edition (I have a 1972 reprint of the original 1968 edition).
We should not part the prosaic Mr. Fletcher, nattering about how he stores his flashlight, from the rhapsodic Mr. Fletcher, cataloging mountaintop experiences. He descends in a nearly straight line from that other chronicler of homemaking and nature as a means of mental and spiritual enlargement, Henry David Thoreau.