March 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

Saturday
March 1932

Dear A.D.R.:

You really needn’t feel so ashamed of yourself in the matter of correspondence, since you surely didn’t owe me much of a letter, judging by my last two or three!

You are right when you surmise that I have been rushed and busy—more so than ever, since the beginning of 1932. My life is getting almost crowded, in fact. The job, of course, takes eight hours a day straight out, and everything else has to be jammed into the fringes. Since I can’t satisfy mind, soul, or body with the job, I have to jam into the fringes almost as much as another person would put into an entire day.

You want TALK. Well, I’ll try my best, and as there are a few more news items now than usual, maybe I can fill the bill a bit.

First, Helen’s book is getting to that thrilling point. She has received proof of the illustrations—great illustrations they are, looking like very clever woodcuts—and Macmillan has done a surprisingly good job of the reproductions. But since she will doubtless tell you all about this herself, maybe I’d better concentrate on other things.

The more important thing I have to contribute is that Lost Island creepeth onward, in spite of God and the Devil (represented by various personages, of course!). In fact, I’ve gotten to that delectable point where there remains only about a chapter and a half—or possibly two chapters and a half—to be written. That will complete the first draft. Then to sail into a good thorough revision, editing, chopping, piecing, cross-hatching, weaving, repairing, tearing, rending, boiling, steaming, and general subjection to energy. I think I can have it in Mr. Saxton’s hands—willing or unwilling hands—by June 1 at the latest. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyhow. And I still have faith in the old thing, which is quite a point, you know.

When all this energy is accomplished, I’m going to bat out about three copies, of which two will be passed around among a few individuals. You are going to be one of the fortunate (?) recipients. I shall want your criticism—I mean, if you are willing, and want to give it—rigorous and stern and unsparing. There will be four or five other people, who will probably all contradict each other. Then it will fall to my lot to Think It Over, and do some more pounding. Among these selected critics, I’m going to pick out at least two entirely impersonal ones. For instance, a Professor of English at Dartmouth whom I encountered last summer.

After that job is all completely finished, and the black spring binder reposes under Mr. Saxton’s nose, I’m going to sail into another job I have in mind—not such a lovely job, but an even more important one, because my entire existence rests upon it. It will the introductory material for another book—a book about an adventure I think I shall have this summer. Woods and mountains. A. D. R., I’m going to tell you about it, and you must rise to the occasion, because I’m terrifically excited over the whole thing.

I’ve gotten together a party of four congenial brave souls—of which I am one (I hope)—and we may add two more members. Then, starting about the middle of July, we’re going to Maine—Ktaadn—Thoreau’s country—and from there we’re going down the Appalachian trail, two thousand miles, Maine to Georgia, camping out, and carrying upon our sturdy backs the necessities of life. It will take between three and four months, and be the greatest release imaginable.

Well, I’ve even higher ambitions than that. I’m not just going to take money out of the bank, leaving a hole, to indulge my pleasure. I’m going to struggle to make the thing pay for itself, and the only way I know how to do that is to write about it. And as I said I’ve some ideas for the introductory materials which can be put into words before ever the adventure takes place. And that’s what I’m going to do after Lost Island is carefully finished. All four of us are very much together on this. We’re going to cooperate to the nth degree, and I think that among us all we’ll succeed. You couldn’t imagine a more congenial party. We are getting together this spring for house-parties at intervals, during which we paw over hundreds of maps, draw up provision lists, talk, laugh, anticipate, and in general have a grand time.

The party consists of an amiable lad with occasional unsuspected depths whom I met last summer when H. and I were living in the Vermont cabin; a pal of his, who has a remarkably good head on young shoulders; and a girl who is really a grand scout, with whom I get along quite beautifully. In fact, we all get along with each other beautifully. No friction anywhere, as far as we have been able to discover. There may be two others aded to the Grand Expedition, as I said; and we would like of course to have an elderly leader, than whom no finer could be imagined than Meservey of Hanover—only I’m afraid Meservey of Hanover is tied up.

Well, that’s the general idea. It may crash completely. Nothing is certain about it. But we’re all hoping, and pulling together. We’re all slightly rebels against civilization, and we want to go out into the woods and sweat honestly and shiver honestly and satisfy our souls by looking at mountains, smelling pine trees, and feeling the sky and the earth.

We went up to Bear Mountain this last week-end, for the Appalachian Trail strikes through there, and we explored ten or fifteen miles of that section of it. It gave us a tremendous thrill. I can’t tell you what it meant to our world-weary souls to have our feet on that narrow, bumpy, winding footpath that goes clear from Maine to Georgia, marked out by little silver monograms on the trees, which change to yellow-painted arrows over rocks and ledges. Over Easter we’re all gathering the clan again, for another expedition somewhere. These short trips help us to get personally adjusted and strengthen the congeniality still more. It also helps to give us an idea of what we need by way of food and clothes, and also puts us in training, more or less.

It will be a terrific trip, of course. There will be times when we’ll probably be cold and wet and uncomfortable and grumpy. But we’re ready for that—almost covet it in fact. Pitting one’s strength and personality against the wilds—the greatest sort of opportunity on earth…. Well, there it is. My room is plastered with trail maps even now!

All this time I haven’t so much as mentioned A., have I? Well, I’ve had him in the back of my mind—in reserve, so to speak. Luckily, the C. S. Holmes job holds. I guess he’ll be going north again next summer—the third time. There really isn’t anything else to do, with conditions as they are all over the world, especially along the waterfront. His life is odd and stern—verging on tragic, at times. He feels that now and then, and has down-spells, during which I am hard put to it to be cheerful and cheering. I am pretty sure, though, that next fall we shall actually be together, and discuss everything from moths to meteors, including money and mice and merriment and misery and—but that almost exhausts the m’s I can think of at this Moment. That discussion will doubtless decide a good many points about this universe and the nature thereof. Right now he is a little sad, and alternates between letters about the futility of life with humorous epistles about politics in Seattle and other things.

As for being eighteen—well, I don’t think there is anything especially momentous about that. It doesn’t thrill me a bit.

Your mention of spring makes my mouth water. There hasn’t been much around these parts. In fact, Bear Mountain was covered with snow last week-end, and there was driving mist and it was pretty dern cold. However, one can’t stop the seasons, so I have hopes.

I’m so glad to hear the good news about Elizabeth. What an ordeal—or rather, what a series of ordeals—she has plowed through. Phoebe is apparently still toeing the mark, with her nose much to the grindstone. Darn these grindstones—I mean, damn them. And so B. R. is actually going west in the summer—actually, this time? He west, A. north, I Appalachian Trail. Funny world, isn’t it?

You know, I’m ashamed of myself, but it took me several seconds of puzzle to figure out “Miller.” Then I remembered. Wonderful creature that he was! Supercilious, spruce, disdainful creature!

Thanks for letting me see the two pictures of you and P. in the desert. I return them herewith. They are sweet.

TALK? Will these pages do at all? If it’s egocentric talk you were looking for, I should think maybe this would be slight over-dose! On the other hand, you are so devoted and the lapse has been so long, that maybe it will be endurable this time. You know, I’m still hoping to see you sometime. I have a philosophy of life—one which has been evolving for many years, but which has suffered interruptions and repressions and smashes. Now it has taken root again—or, rather, I realize that its root are not dead, but just beginning to be powerful. If it grows and thrives and survives the vile climate of trouble and difficulty and set-back, it may take me to almost any part of the old earth where I want to go. What is this philosophy, you ask? Well, I’m testing it warily, leaning on it cautiously, exploring it tenderly, thinking about it profoundly; and if I come to the conclusion that it’s any good, I’ll tell you sometime. Not until it has proved itself a little, though. I’ve lost faith in a number of things—or, rather, I’ve withdrawn from them the crushing weight of my faith. My philosophy aims now to stand upright. Tree-like….

I expect the next year to decide a number of important points. Beginning this summer. I think this summer will tell me a good deal. Being in the woods, standing on mountain-peaks—time to meditate and dram and get a perspective on life. There is nothing more soul-cleansing than to stand on a mountain, when you are inclined to feel hopelessly sure that the world is 99 100ths mankind, and see that vast tracts of it are blankets of forest and trees, after all!  Mountains affect inward matters in the same way—reassure one about inward things in the same way as they do the visible things. So I expect to find out several things during the Appalachian Trail expedition—assuming and praying that it works.

Then, coming back from that to this—the complete contrast, the need for instantaneous adaption, and the fresh perspective on this—these things are also going to tell me a good deal. I mean, I shall be ready then to make certain decisions, about philosophy and about life.

Then I’ll remedy the inner workings of the universe!

My love to you and all the Russell clan.

Yours,
B.

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