Scraps of Wool

By Bill Colegrave

An anthology of the finest of travel literature

In 1960 at the age of 58, John Steinbeck set out with his French poodle Charley and his camper pick up truck – Rocinante – on a journey across America. It took him through almost 40 states.

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am 58 perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum, always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself . John Steinbeck; Travels with Charley 1962; (chosen by subscriber Clare Maxwell Dickens)

East of Erzerum the road is very lonely. Vast distances separate the villages. For one reason or another we occasionally stopped the car, and spent the rest of the night outdoors. Warm in big felt jackets and fur hats with ear flaps, we listened to the water as it boiled on a primus stove in the lee of a wheel. Leaning against a mound, we gazed at the stars, the ground undulating towards the Caucasus, the phosphorescent eyes of foxes.

Time passed in brewing tea, the odd remark, cigarettes, then dawn came up. The widening light caught the plumage of quails and partridges….. and quickly I dropped this wonderful moment to the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again. You stretch, pace to and fro feeling weightless, and the word ‘happiness’ seems too thin and limited to describe what has happened.

In the end, the bedrock of existence is not made up of the family, or work, or what others say or think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love. Life dispenses them parsimoniously; our feeble hearts could not stand more. Nicolas Bouvier, The Way of the World (choice of Rory MacLean, Author Stalin’s Nose, Berlin-Imagine a City and subscriber Rob Wilson Wright)

It isn’t just the forests, the seas, the rivers, the deserts, the paths and the daybreaks that teach you things; it isn’t just the monuments and the museums: it’s also the men, the women and the children who live by those paths and in those deserts. It’s important to travel when you’re young: you travel light and cheap, and your heart is like a sponge. Ana Briongos, Black on Black (choice of Tony Wheeler, Founder Lonely Planet)

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