In praise of wild camping – Robert Louis Stevenson with a donkey in the Cévennes

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson is best known for his novels ‘Treasure Island’, ‘Kidnapped’, and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.  However, before finding fame as a novelist, Stevenson wrote a marvellous travel book called Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.

The book follows the adventures of Stevenson and his donkey, Modestine,  as they make a 12-day hike through the Cévennes mountains in the south-west of France in 1878.

It’s a very funny and well-written book, it’s easy to see how Stevenson would one day become a famous story teller.

Here’s the opening paragraph just to give you a taste for the tone of the book:

Opening paragraph from the book

Makes me chuckle each time I read it!

At one stage on the hike, Stevenson camps outdoors and spends a page recounting his night under the stars.  It’s a lengthy piece but worth quoting in full as it accurately describes the joys to be found from wild camping:

Frontpiece from the first edition of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879)

Stevenson wild camping (frontpiece from the first edition of Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes)

“The trees grew thickly round the glade…and the encampment felt secure and private like a room. By the time I had made my arrangements and fed Modes-tine, the day was already beginning to decline. I buckled myself to the knees into my sack and made a hearty meal; and as soon as the sun went down, I pulled my cap over my eyes and fell asleep.

Night is a dead monotonous period under a roof; but in the open world it passes lightly, with its stars and dews and perfumes, and the hours are marked by changes in the face of Nature. What seems a kind of temporal death to people choked between walls and curtains, is only a light and living slumber to the man who sleeps afield.

All night long he can hear Nature breathing deeply and freely; even as she takes her rest, she turns and smiles; and there is one stirring hour unknown to those who dwell in houses, when a wakeful influence goes abroad over the sleeping hemisphere, and all the outdoor world are on their feet.

It is then that the cock first crows, not this time to announce the dawn, but like a cheerful watchman speeding the course of night. Cattle awake on the meadows; sheep break their fast on dewy hillsides, and change to a new lair among the ferns; and houseless men, who have lain down with the fowls, open their dim eyes and behold the beauty of the night.

I wakened thirsty. My tin was standing by me half full of water. I emptied it at a draught; and feeling broad awake after this internal cold aspersion, sat upright to make a cigarette. The stars were clear, coloured, and jewel-like, but not frosty.

I have not often enjoyed a more serene possession of myself, nor felt more independent of material aids. The outer world, from which we cower into our houses, seemed after all a gentle habitable place; and night after night a man’s bed, it seemed, was laid and waiting for him in the fields, where God keeps an open house.

I thought I had rediscovered one of those truths which are revealed to savages and hid from political economists; at the least, I had discovered a new pleasure for myself.”

Wild camping; ‘one of those truths which are revealed to savages and hid from political economists‘, I really couldn’t have put it better myself.

Notes in anticipation of the Jazz Appreciation course at the University of Texas

I’ve enrolled on an online course in Jazz Appreciation, run by the University of Texas.  The course starts in a couple of days so I just wanted to get a few notes down beforehand.

I have a poor history with Massive open online courses (MOOCs).  I’ve signed up for five or six in the past and completed none of them, which is not impressive.  I wonder what the overall drop-out rate actually is?

Hopefully, publically stating my intention to complete this course will encourage me to keep to my commitment:

I mean to complete this course!

Here are a few things I want to get out of the experience:

  1. In terms of jazz I’m a bit of a conservative.  I enjoy jazz of a set period: late 40s to mid 60s and that’s about it.  I’m happy to stay this way but perhaps the course can widen my perspectives a bit? We’ll see.
  2. I really hate any style of jazz that has a hyphen before or after the word jazz (jazz-rock, acid-jazz, etc etc).  I’m prepared to loosen up on this with the right encouragement.
  3. I can tell if Bird or Miles or Thelonious is playing just by listening but that’s about it, I’d love to have the skill to say, “oh, that’s Lee Morgan” or whatever.
  4. I would like to know the difference in sound between an alto and tenor sax
  5. I’m curious to understand how jazz actually works and come up with some vocabulary to explain just how jazz moves me so deeply, something a bit more descriptive than ‘it makes me feel good’.
  6. Can this course teach me to appreciate drum and bass solos?  At present I find both insufferably dull.
  7. That’s about it for now.

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