Thursday, February 26, 2009

Born too late to cross the Plains ....

Robert Louis Stevenson. He traveled across America.

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Robert Louis Stevenson
From: "Requiem"

From Scotland to San Francisco & beyond ....

I finished a book a few days ago and was reminded yesterday (coincidentally, not intentionally) that I had not started another. So, I pulled out a book I purchased a few months ago, but had not yet opened: "The Travels and Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson." It is proportioned into three sections, "The Amateur Emigrant," "Across the Plains" and "The Silverado Squatters." The book first appeared in print in 1892. My copy is a later edition -- 1899. (Love old stuff.)

My assumption is there should be no need to explain what Robert Louis Stevenson is primarily noted for, but many people do not realize he was a prolific traveler as well as a prolific writer. In fact, he died far away from his birthplace in Scotland, on Upola, one of the Samoan islands. He is buried there. Between birth and death, Stevenson's travels included crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship and journeying from New York to California by train and stage coach.

There should be no doubt this trip across America was made in part from the love of traveling, but Stevenson also was on the trail of a married woman, and that involved an even deeper love. While exploring France in 1876, Stevenson met Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne at the artists' colony of Grez. She was ten years older than Stevenson, and from San Francisco. (That city just keeps showing up out of the blue.) It was apparently love at first sight for him. He returned to England, but promptly went back to France, where they began "their life."

(Break time: Lynyrd Skynyrd with "Free Bird" came on the radio. Stop. Time out. Listen. Close eyes. Drift on the clouds.)

Back again: Fanny returned to America in 1877. Stevenson did a walking tour of Europe. By 1879, Stevenson must have decided that enough was enough (that expression is my personal property), and he set out after her (so is that one). She was divorced by the time he arrived in San Francisco. They married in 1880. The book I am about to open is Stevenson's account of the sea voyage (Amateur Emigrant), of traveling the breadth of America (Across the Plains) and of a summer-long honeymoon at an abandoned mining camp (Silverado Squatters).

In 1888, the Stevenson family began three years of cruising the Pacific Ocean on a chartered yacht. He suffered from bad health, which was the primary reason he bought property and settled on an island in the Samoan group. No winters. (Yes-s-s-s.) Stevenson died in his home in 1894 at the age of 44, probably from a cerebral hemorrhage.

The reason I bought this book is because I particularly wanted to read the "Across the Plains" segment. (I think I will start in "the middle" of the book with that story.) I keep a lookout for first-hand accounts about 19th Century travel from the Mississippi River to Montana or to the West Coast. You see, I want to know what I missed by being born too late to experience the Plains country wild and natural.

Music Note: Still have the radio on a classic rock station ....

14 comments:

The Fabulous Diva said...

Ooohhh sweet thing, one is never born too late, maybe born at the wrong time but never late.

To learn from the past creates several things; learning from it to be better in the future, and also longing for the past where things seemed simpler, easier, cleaner or was it?

I seem to remember---maybe it was you---that mentioned that there was a fire on the plains and the fire uncovered a section of the route taken west---Was it the Oregon Trail? I'm not sure, but such things remain there, deep, embedded, to be re-discovered.

A part of us wants to live in the simpler past, away from the cluttered present, but can we live away from modern indoor plumbing, modern medicine and dentistry? I think not.

But I am happy that more and more people are doing their best to preserve it.(purr)

Fram said...

The Diva returneth. Good, thank you.

People have different reasons for preferring the past to the present. Mine are not to be living in it, but wandering through it, and glimpsing the sights, sounds and smells of it. It is to gain an understanding the people who were there, in it. I want to "link" with it, and to travel through it as best I am able. Which generally means books. In some ways, it is no more complicated than wanting to see an endless plain of prairie grass and a million buffalo walking through it.

In other ways, it is more complicated. The Oregon Trail is there, as you mentioned, names carved in stone; unbelievable ruts worn into solid rock from the passing of thousands of wagons. You or I can see those names and touch them and be part of them. When there, only a moment of time separates us from those who carved their names 150 and more years ago. They are just ahead of us, around the bend. It would be fascinating to catch up with them.

My thoughts center on curiosity. I'll write more about this sometime but, right now ....

Katy said...

Strange that you should mention Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" today.

I first heard that on my wonderful trip to the mid-west a few years ago. We were driving across and through an eternal endless landscape of dust and red rocks in an old minibus. It was a perfect fit, as if the scenery had chosen the song.

That song, and "Sweet Home Alabama" are two of my favourite singing-along-driving songs.

Fram said...

Hi there, Katy ....

Some people become bored while driving across places like the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana. I enjoy it, and bypass the interstate highways whenever it is practical so that I am able to see more. I also prefer being a passenger so that I never have to keep my eyes on the road. I like to stop in small towns and walk around, and maybe talk to a few people. Traveling like that without a schedule to keep is great, I think.

TheChicGeek said...

Hi Fram :) I love how you said
"it is no more complicated than wanting to see an endless plain of prairie grass and a million buffalo walking through it." I love that. It's made a beautiful picture in my mind :) I want to sit by a beautiful steam and watch them pass.
The book sounds really fabulous. I'm going to have to look for it. Stevenson has a fascinating story to be told.
Have a great day :)

The Fabulous Diva said...

Oh sweet yummy Fram,

I can understand the sense of "immediacy" in seeing the ruts carved into the ground by the hundreds (thousands?) of wagons ladden with people, goods and hopes across the plains, seeing their words carved into rocks, and the remenants of their dreams, and yes it does feel like they are just "ahead of us, just over the hill or around the bend".

They speak to us as if time has no limitations, no barriers.

I will look for that book by Stevenson, I did enjoy his popular fiction works, "Kidnapped", "The Black Arrow", "Treasure Island" I know they sound like "boys books" but little girls love adventure too. Hmmmm? (Meruoo)

Fram said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fram said...

Greetings, Kelly ....

I once made the acquaintance of a 20ish Dakota who participated in the buffalo hunt shown in "Dances with Wolves." He said it was the pinnacle of his life, both in a spiritual/ancestral sense and for just plain exhilaration. I think I would be content to join you at streamside to watch the buffalo pass. (He did not have a speaking role, incidentally, but shows up in several scenes.)

Stevenson seems to be a fascinating story in himself. I've never thought to look if anyone has written a biography about him. Then again, he was so prolific, maybe he told all there was to tell himself

Fram said...

Greetings, Diva ....

The wagon ruts I've seen are on the Oregon Trail in Nebraska and Wyoming. If you should see them, you would be amazed a wagon could even pass along them in some places because they are cut so deeply into solid rock. I haven't seen figures for a while, but my recollection is that it is estimated as many as a half-million people passed that way during a span of about 30 years. How many wagons does that equal?

Incidentally, I've tossed my canoe into eight or nine rivers in Nebraska or Wyoming, and followed the trail for a few days via water in some instances.

So, little girls "love adventure." At what point do the stop loving it?

The Fabulous Diva said...

Mmmmm sweet yummy thing---In truth, Never.

But as one is growing up things in life interfere, or take a new direction, or the adventures come from new directions.

The pirate ship can really be a small sailing boat or a canoe or a car in search of a different kind of treasure; to recapture or regain one's "rightful inheritance" can be to gain rights for those in need, or to save something from being forever lost; or one can wield a revolver, or a first aid kit to save a life or capture a 'villian'.

There are some who prefer to climb mountains, and there are some who prefer to take pictures or paint mountains; there are some who take on the adventure of raising a child and seeing the world again through the child's eyes as the child seeks imaginary adventures; there are some who help those who are approaching the end of their lives, but with dignity as they 'wing' on to their own special adventure into the unknowable and unseeable~~~and so many more.

Mmmmm the adventures are there, they just "change a little", but they never really stop.

Fram said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fram said...

You are out and about rather late this evening, Diva.

Re-reading the comments, I see I made a typo. I hate them. I never have been able to proofread my own stuff. There should be a facility here to make corrections after the fact. Whining done.

I cannot disagree with anything you said in substance, but I think my definition goes beyond your definition. Adventure, to me, is both mentally challenging and physically exhilarating. I think your definition would more likely fall under the category of challenge, of doing good, of serving a purpose. Interesting to discuss. What is your personal activity involving adventure these days, if you would, please, explaining it by my definition

The Fabulous Diva said...

Hmmmmm~~~~that is what I just looove about you sweet thing, you enjoy making people think. (purr)

Well I do have to confess I wasn't up too late last night, I believe that you are 2 hours ahead of me, so what would show at 2 p.m. on the post for you, is really 12 midnight on the Pacific Coast for me.

I was a little restless last night, a mental problem that I finally found the answer, it takes an hour or so to unwind, then to sleep. I do drink wine on occasion, but I don't like to make it a habit or sleep aid.

Hmmmm what would constitute an "adventure" by your definition---I am presuming physical? Or physically exhilarating? Or a combination of both physical and the mental?

Or would you like me to break it down into several catagories and then combine them? Mmmmmm----(Rowl)

Oh sweet thing that would be a very, very long comment post. Let me think on it and I will post it on my Web Log (bLog).

Because for me "adventure" is also overcoming adversity, both physical and mental.

But once I have my answer, come on over and see; you know where I "live". Watch out for the sidewalks and streets they are very wet, the little bits of sunshine we've had has not entirely dried things out. And even in the canyons of S.F. we have pockets of fog, the city's own, making of it's own weather.

Fram said...

I know my own definition, Diva. My interest is in learning your definition.

Something special ....