Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I find in a used bookstore in Coos Bay, Oregon, having pulled into town while they are advertising their going out of business sale, an anthology of travel writing called Journeys, ed. by Charles Nicholl. Here are a few random samples:

Fire on the mountain:
the image of the wanderer.

—I Ching

He who wishes to explore Nature must tread her books with his feet. Writing is learnt from letters, but Nature from land to land. One land, one page. Thus is the Codex Naturae, thus must its leaves be turned.
—Paracelsus, from Sieben Defensiones

To jungles and gravestones. . . . Reading torn 100-year-old newspaper clippings that come apart in your hands like wet sand, information tough as plastic dolls. Watched leopards sip slowly, watched the crow sitting restless on his branch peering about with his beak open. Have seen the outline of a large fish caught and thrown in the curl of a wave, been where nobody wears socks, where you wash your feet before you go to bed, where I watch my sister who alternately reminds me of my father, mother and brother. Driven through rainstorms that flood the streets for an hour and suddenly evaporate, where sweat falls in the path of this ballpoint, where the jak fruit rolls across your feet in the back of the jeep, where there are eighteen ways of describing the smell of a durian, where bullocks hold up traffic and steam and the rains.
—Michael Ondaatje, from Monsoon Notebook

Midway on life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter,
And yet, to treat the good I found there as well

I’ll tell what I saw . . .

—Dante, from The Divine Comedy

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