Headed to the farm on Cape Breton to lay the foundation for my Thoreau-not writer's shack, and to finish writing up the last of the Ledyard walk. And yes, you're right. Walking it was a snap compared to writing it...
Ledyard bleeding out upon the sands of Egypt. A quick flashback montage of Dartmouth College, Captain Cook, John Paul Jones, Jefferson in Paris, those seductive ladies of the night, Joseph Banks, the Nile (“Do you know the river Connecticut? Of all the rivers I have seen it most resembles it in size.”) The sand.
But I’m finished with Ledyard, long before his final, fatal African adventure. Now it feels as if the man had only been an excuse – a typically preposterous one – for dragging myself out of the house into the … what?
Well, maybe not “into” or “out of,” either. All I did was climb up on my hobby horse - as I had seen Ledyard do, as he had learned to do from his writing teacher Laurence Sterne - and clop down the road following the American Traveler and his dream of becoming “the Man” (his words, 1786), who was on the heels of Sterne, who was following his wry vision of the “sentimental man” through Europe, discovering new modes of seeing, feeling, being. I trudged through small towns and shopping malls, imagining the lines linking Ledyard and his dream of crossing the American continent to China Trade fortunes, to the railroads, to the telephone, to the computer, to precisely those shopping malls in their clownish iterations - as hot on the trail of a fantasy as Ledyard or Sterne - all this while, I say, doing nothing more than, or nothing so much as, tracking my own life. Not to see what got me here, but to understand, to the extent I could, what “here” was.
Thus the river in her many guises, my beautiful highway, and the kingdom of my departed loved ones, culminating in an improvised and heartfelt post ribeye whiskey and cigar ceremony behind a crummy Days Inn, landing me in the post wilderness wilderness America had become, as savvy and tough, I hoped, as Daniel Boone ever was in the forests of his day. Thanks, Mister Ledyard. I feel better now.
I am not speaking in any figurative, metaphorical, or poetic way. I believe in my beautiful highway and the wilderness it traverses as much as I believe in the chair in which I am sitting, or the computer upon which I am typing – it has gigs and ram and megahertz whatever. I believe in it and can use it. I do not understand it.
Which brings us to the problem confronting me as I begin this essay. I might be done with John Ledyard, the American Traveler, 1751 – 1789, but I have by not yet completed my walk along the Connecticut River, tracing his famous escape from Dartmouth College to his family in Hartford in 1773 (and meditating, as I walk, upon America in his day and America in my own, etc., etc.). I still have about thirty miles to go from West Springfield, Massachusetts to Hartford, Connecticut. But it's really more like forty because, as I have already suggested, crows do not fly as the crow flies. Nor do I.