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.

May 23, 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

150 Claremont Avenue
New York
May 23, 1932

Dear A.D.R.:

There has been a terrific long gulf, hasn’t there? It is hard,when all’s said and done, to keep in touch with people who live thousands of miles away, no matter how much you love them. I do want ever so much to know the news—whether anything is wrong, or anything right, or whatever there is and has been.

Spring! That means leaves and fragrances and warm winds and—an Arctic-bound schooner.

The only really exciting piece of news is that this summer I and three very good genial friends are going to tramp down the Appalachian Trail, which runs over mountains clear from Maine to Georgia, a matter of twelve or fifteen hundred miles. Maybe I told you about that before, though. I can’t seem to remember—it’s all been so deathly long, anyhow.

Helen’s book comes out on June 7; mine is in second draft form at last, and I hope to thrust it bodily under Mr. Saxton’s nose sometime in June. It will be interesting to watch the reaction. It may turn straight up in the air—the nose, I mean.

I have decided that there are a good many big and fundamental things wrong with the world, and that nothing can be done about it; furthermore, that one must revolve quietly along with the world instead of trying vainly to buck it. If you compromise enough—to outward appearances, at least—and if you fully realize what a messy world it is, and are reconciled to certain facts, such as continual change and permanence in nothing—why, then you can have a surprisingly good time. That’s what I’ve discovered anyway. I’m having a better time of it these days than I’ve had for ages—almost approaching gaiety sometimes, in fact.

But I confess to being a bit worried about you and yours. Things seemed so rather shaky and precarious for you anyway—always have, in fact. Do let me know if there’s anything wrong. Not that I could do anything. I may be seeing you before the year is up. Quien sabe? It’s a mysterious life.

I’m going to Delaware Water Gap over this coming Memorial Day week-end—at least, I think I am. In which event I’ll convey your greetings to the general countryside. Oh, the beauty of that country in spring! How is spring you your way now?

My love to everyone, but specially to you.

Your Barbara

May 31, 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

150 Claremont Avenue
New York
May 31, 1932

Dear ADR:

I’m relieved about You, at least, through your last grand letter, although the news about B.R. is anything but good, certainly. I don’t know what to say about that, so I won’t say anything.

And there WAS some good news, wasn’t there? It sounds to me as if the little gods were smiling for a change on the desert. I’m quite thrilled over that. Also, it’s good—damn good—to hear that P. is nearly through. What happens after that? “And Life Goes On,” I suppose. Funny old life, isn’t it? A very devil of a complex circular affair.

The book—this time I mean mine—has suddenly sprung a disconsolate discovery. I find, much to my disgust and up-noseishness, that I shall have to write another chapter to round out the thing properly. My nose is still so much turned up that I can’t get after the chapter yet. Of all exasperating things to find out after you’ve written a book—to think it’s All Done, and then to see some untucked frazzles hanging out the tail end! However, that’s but a temporary set-back. I expect to have the whole thing done before I go away for the summer. In fact, I MUST. I’ll try to get a copy to you, and I want your opinion including all the hard slams you like.

As for the AT (Appalachian Trail) we considered taking along “a second-hand burro,” as one of the boys put it. But after all, there will not be any very long stretches of total wilderness, and we can easily carry enough on our own sturdy backs to eke out during those stretches. After all, the east coast—even its mountains—are pretty well civilized in spots—too much so, in fact. The best parts will be the extreme north and extreme south—that is, the Maine and New Hampshire woods, and the North Carolina country to Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia. We were discussing plans just this week-end, when three of the party got together “Beside and Open Fireplace,” to talk.

Yes, Anderson went north again. He is now first mate of the schooner, and rather happy about that, of course. He is doing awfully well, considering everything. I MAY see him next fall—but don’t you breathe a syllable about that, even to yourself! I’m keeping it a very strict secret from myself. If you know what I mean. I mean there are some things in this world that don’t happen if you so much as admit that they’re possible. Perhaps they sometimes happen if you keep your eyes tight shut and don’t think at all.

Oh, I was in the woods yesterday. I’m sure of it, because I’ve a sunburn. It was beautiful. Light green leaves with gold light breaking through them; wild geraniums, birds singing, a lake to swim in, grand companionship—the wild open spaces—but principally sunlight. I know from that taste of it that I couldn’t by any hook or crook stay here very much longer.

Next month I’m going to spend a short week-end in Hanover with some old friends—that will mean another taste of the out-of-doors. And it won’t be so very long after that before we’re off on the grand old trail! One of the boys sent me a couple of the AT trail markers the other day. I keep one of them on top of my office typewriter, where I can see it all the time. It cheers my soul.

Well, now I’ve got to turn to and tuck the shirt-tails of my story into its pants. Do you see what I mean?

GOOD luck to you—oh, Lord, good luck to everybody! God help us—not whelp us any more!

Yours for sunshine,
B.

Travels Without a Donkey

In the summer of 1932, eighteen year-old Barbara Follett and her “semi-platonic” friend Nickerson Rogers quit New York City and headed to Maine with the plan of following (or semi-following) the nascent Appalachian Trail from its northern terminus at Katahdin as far south as they could get before winter set in. To make matters tricky, the AT had not yet been cut in Maine, so bush-whacking and guesswork were in order. Travels Without a Donkey recounts their adventures from Katahdin to Lake Umbagog on the New Hampshire border. They then continued their walk over the White Mountains and down Vermont’s Long Trail to western Massachusetts. They had been planning to hitch-hike to Tennessee to continue their journey along the AT, but something changed their minds and they sailed to Majorca instead, spending the winter of 1932 and most of 1933 exploring southern Europe.

Barbara camping on the Appalachian Trail, summer of 1932, photo by Nickerson Rogers

“It’s spring,” Nick said.

In the very shadow of New York’s skyline, one solitary white crocus had blossomed in a scrawny patch of grass.

“What shall we do about it?” he demanded.

“What does anybody in New York do about it? Grin and bear it.”

“Come on, Bar–show a spark of life, old gal. I’m getting out of here this summer.”

“But — ”

“Getting out. Leaving the office. Going into the north woods. Mountains. It’s spring, child!”

I looked at him to make sure he was serious. In these depressed times, one didn’t leave good jobs in order to run away to the north woods. His brown eyes sparkled. But then, they always did. He was the one person in New York whose eyes always sparkled.

“All right — I wish you joy.”

He fished in various pockets and finally produced a little square of white metal, with a monogram and the words: “Appalachian Trail – Maine to Georgia.”

“That’s what I’m going to do,” he explained. “I haven’t had a walk for ages. Well, I’m going to have a real one now.”

“Not from Maine to Georgia!”

“Why not? It’s only two thousand miles or so.”

“It’ll take all summer.”

“Can you think of a pleasanter way to spend the summer?”

I looked at the solitary white crocus in the scrawny patch of grass. “No,” I said. “I can’t.”

Over lunch that day, he told me about this Appalachian Trail. It is a footpath, starting at Katahdin, that grand old mountain in Maine, and ending at Mount Oglethorpe way down in Georgia, after having crossed the highest and handsomest country of all the states between. Now, owing to the diligence and energy of walking clubs in various parts of the country, only a few miles of trail remains to be broken. But two years ago, when Nick told me about it over our luncheon, a large part of the trail, especially in Maine, was still theory–a dream, an ambition. Where it had become an actuality, it was marked with metal squares like the one he had shown me.

Quite a grand project, it sounded. I just sat staring and smiling, while he talked.

“Bar,” he began again, “I think I’d like you in shorts.”

“Shorts!”

“With your hair cut, flying in the wind–your swell red hair.”

“Cut my hair!”

“Your freckles are out-of-doorsy. You belong out-doors.”

“I haven’t got freckles,” I protested.

“Yes you have–very swell ones.”

“I know I belong out-doors,” I agreed. “I get mountain-fever. Got it now–something awful. I want to climb Wildcat.”

“We will,” he said happily. “I didn’t want to walk all the way to Georgia alone, anyway.”

“Are you asking me to come with you?”

“Of course! What else?”

“But I can’t — ”

“Nonsense. We start up north the first of July. You give ’em notice.”

“But, Nicky — ”

“‘But’ isn’t worthy of you, Bar. Not in spring.”

*
*     *

Some friends had a camp on a New Hampshire lake. It was there that Nick met me, promptly on the first of July. He was sunburned and smiling, comfortable in old clothes. Without stopping a minute, he deposited me and my pack in a borrowed canoe.

We paddled vigorously into the sunlit late–magic to someone parched from too much New York. After a while I saw white beach ahead of us, and the green canoe scraped sand gently.

A small green island. A pine dipping graceful branches over a flat boulder that stood half in the rippling lake, half on land. A tiny stone fireplace on top of the boulder. Golden rippled reflections wavered on the sand at the lake’s edge; silver ones shimmered on the under sides of the pine branches. The world smelt of sun, and bay leaves, and pine-needles. The brightness was almost unreal. The sun wrapped us in gleaming shawls of warmth.

We drew the canoe up. Nick parted the bay-bushes and revealed a little path, hardly more than would be made by a rabbit. Five or six yards back, on a knoll screened with bushes, was our house–a brown tent, not more than six feet square.

“This is it,” Nick announced. “This is home.”

I wanted nothing so much as to swim, although I soon found that muscles that had been in the city for two years had forgotten some of their rhythms. Then I sat, dripping, on the big boulder, long hair cascading down my back. I felt very white in this summer-time world where the human body ought to be brown.

Nick brandished a pair of scissors. “Off with it!”

I put up my arms in self-defense. “No — no!”

“Yes! Absolutely! You can’t walk two thousand miles with that yard of hair, child. It’ll get wound up in the blackberries. It’ll collect whole hay-ricks. Bats will nest in it.”

“But, Nicky, I like my hair. And I don’t object to bats.”

“I like it, too. But I don’t like what you do to it–tying your face to the back of your neck with it. I want to see it wave in the wind. That’s really why I married you. And anyway, you can grow it again.”

I wavered. “It would be more comfortable, of course …”

Snip!

“Don’t, Nicky — !”

“Too late now. Got to go on with it.”

Snip! Snip!

The air was full of flying fragments. Reddish fluff covered the boulder. A great weight was vanishing from my head. What hair I had left began to stand on end in the joy of its freedom. For the first time in years, it was waving in the wind.

*
*     *

mid-late October, 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

℅ Howard Crosse
834 DeGraw Avenue
Newark, New Jersey
[undated, but ca. mid-late October, 1932]

Dearest ADR:

You wanted to hear from me promptly—right away, return air mail and all that. But, you see, in the rather odd kind of life I’m living right now, such things can’t be done. When your letter was forwarded to me, I was—well, where was I, anyway? Williamstown Mass., I guess—just in from a week’s stretch of Green Mountains. The next day we pulled out, hitch-hiking. I’m in New York now, at the apartment, but only till about tomorrow. Then I light out again.

Now I’m in Brookline, Mass., clearing up a few earthly details before sailing for a little island off the coast of Spain—if you can believe that! No wonder you are puzzled. The reason I didn’t try to go into any sort of detail in my first letter was that I wanted—well, to sort of feel around first, if you see what I mean.

However, before I go any further with this, I want to tell you how tremendously I was pleased with your news, which is at least as exciting as mine, only in a different way. That is, the good heart sings for you. Oh, how I hope nothing will go wrong this time! And then to hear that E. and M. have had no more devastating catastrophes, and that Phoebe is fairly happy, and that you yourself are surviving so well, head above water and all.

I don’t enjoy going into terrific detail about myself, by mail. It seems so rather brazen and cold-blooded. And I’ve been writing fewer letters than ever. But to put it briefly, New York irked me past endurance, and I had an opportunity to quit it all. I thought about it pretty hard for a while, and then decided that in spite of certain complications, “obligations,” and whatnot, I would chase them to the four winds and take my chance. So I did. I and a comrade escaped to the Maine woods (Katahdin, in fact) and then started off tramping south down the footpath that runs intermittently all the way from Maine to Georgia—the Appalachian Trail. It was a tremendous summer. There were mountains and forests, rivers and fields, sunlight and starlight, fir boughs and birds singing. But it was not only a summer. It will go on.

Those are the brief facts—which, of course, are not a satisfactory offering. You see how hopeless it is to give you a good idea of what it’s all about, and why. Besides, it’s all based on such subtle intangible things—except the boat to Spain, which is fairly tangible. I’ve tossed a lot of things to the winds, of course. I mean, I’m gradually getting to be a fairly “shady” character, but it’s worth it. When it isn’t worth it any more, I’ll change it some how. There’s always a way out, if you have courage—there was even a way out of New York!

Sometime my devious paths will lead me to you. I know that. Then there can be a real discussion, and real understanding. Right now i’m living in kind of a golden ethereal mist, and I haven’t typewritten for a long time, either! So I’m handicapped, more or less. Besides, the things I want to say are too new. They are still seething and surging around in my heart, but they haven’t been able yet to take their shape and wings and fly into the sun. It’s all pretty experimental, anyway. This I know—life is better than I thought. It can continue being good, if one only knows how. I’m trying to learn. I am learning, a little.

Helen has both backed me up and condemned me. Of course, it’s hard on her. A very subtle and complex question of ethics is involved—whether ’twere better etc. I’ve found this out—you can’t arrange your life so that everyone is satisfied, including yourself—unless you are a very uninteresting person. And the break had to come. I’m not claiming I’m right (how foolish it is for anyone ever to claim that he’s right about anything!), and God knows I may end up in an awful mess. Still, all I can do is follow the best I know—take the greenest and most verdurous trail that I can see. If it ends in a desert or a swamp, maybe I can go back and try another one. And that makes a cosmic adventure of if all.

We sail within a couple of weeks, probably. This was quite unexpected and out of the blue—we meant to go to Florida for the winter! I think you would like this person who has been constantly with me since the first of July, and intermittently for about a year before that.

Anyway, maybe I’ll drop you a few lines from Majorca or Minorca or somewhere!

With much love, and the best of luck to you.

Yours,
Barbara

[postscript in pencil]

Thanks for transmitting that letter. I’m glad I wrote it, whether he answers or not.

Above address holds good.