July 14, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

Norwich, Vermont
July 14, 1931

Dear Mate:

The Meserveys brought over your letter yesterday, and I was very glad to have it, even if it was a rather sad sort of letter. Although I still doubt whether the gods are “equal to anything,” I know they are equal to a hell of a lot, and I’ve been worrying about “you-all” a great deal. I’m awfully glad that E. is getting better. Doctors, I think, are generally pessimistic. They are rather interested in their infernal fees, and they are quite pleased when somebody springs a strange new disease or combination of diseases that nobody has ever heard of before.

I do hope Phoebe won’t crash up next. Or you. I don’t see how you manage to avoid it, with all the mental and physical stress you must be under. Of course, if one can keep from losing one’s head, that’s the main thing.

I suppose you are right about B. R., if he really is that way. I hadn’t thought of it in just that light before. Still, I think he’s wrong; but if that’s how he is he can’t help it of course. I wish, for the sake of all the R.’s, that he weren’t quite so much of a Stoic, or had quite so much of a hankering for self-dependency. Of course I know he wouldn’t want to be “hovered over and looked out for and taken care of and protected”—and he isn’t exceptional in that, because I don’t think any man who is a man wants that. It isn’t exactly a question of “hovering over,” in my mind. Of course a great many women can’t do anything but “hover” (that’s a wonderful word!), but you aren’t like that. I can’t rid myself of the feeling that you could do him more good than harm; but probably you know better. That’s just my feeling.

Anyway, I hope that the “psychological moment” comes soon, when he will be a little bit swayed by his feelings. I do want to see him swayed by his feelings. Everyone ought to be, once in a while. A. and I were discussing that in our sage transcontinental manner just before he left, and we came in perfect accord to the conclusion that you can’t build an intelligent life solely on a foundation of either Reason or Passion. It’s a question of blending them and getting the most out of each, and shedding the husks and putting them in the garbage can. And when A. and I come to a decision—well, it’s a Decision, that’s all!

Please don’t think I’m trying to tell you anything, because I’m not. But I’ve worried a great deal about you, and wanted to say some of the things I’ve felt. And one of the things I feel most strongly about is that separation is Dire. It seems that most of my life I’ve been parted from the people I’ve most wanted to be with. It’s a kind of doom that hangs over me. But it’s a dire kind of thing, that I oughtn’t to yield to. I think togetherness is the best way of fighting sadness and despair, just as cleanishness and good Ivory soap is one of the best ways of fighting drab poverty. I think even you once said that if people were together that was half the fight. I think that holds good. I mean, of course, if the people are congenial, and happy to be together. I merely assume that that holds true of the R.’s.

As you say, it is rather a “weary, futile world.” There isn’t very much to be said for it most of the time, A.D.R. It’s a disappointing Jinx. And the only way of beating it is just not to let it weigh you down. What I should like to do is to pack B. R. up in a crate, labelled conspicuously “FRAGILE. PERISHABLE. HANDLE WITH CARE.”, and address him to No. 2001 via Airmail. This might be utterly the wrong technique, I can’t pretend I’m right, but somehow I’d refuse to let the old Jinx cheat you out of everything. It’s bad enough as is, without all these damned infernal separations.

It’s strange that I should be given a physical endurance, at least, that is nigh unending, and yet that I can’t come out and scrub pots and pans and do the cooking, or tend the store in the desert and help Phoebe out. I’d be very good at that sort of thing. I’m getting quite Practical. But I have my own little circus, and have to run it. It’s only a one-ring one, but it’s all I can handle, as sometimes the elephants are rather unruly, and come near squashing me against the wall.

This summer won’t grant much of a respite, but it is a grand change. I do ninety-five per cent of all the work that is to be done, which is considerable of a job in a camp. But I don’t mind that. What I do mind is an article I’m still trying to write for Harper’s. I’ve decided that that is going to be done this summer, whether or not I get much ahead of “Lost Island” (which I probably shan’t). But “Lost Island” is pretty well started, and I don’t think it will miscarry now. Three long chapters, and the story well under way. The next thing really is this Harper article, and it’s going to be done.

This little cabin really is very enchanting. It’s up in a pasture, on a hill, with sumac in front, and hemlock and woods stretching indefinitely behind. The hermit-thrushes sing nearly all the time, and are quite tame. The field is white with daisies, and alive with big orange butterflies. The steeplebush is soon coming out. There is a huge patch of rhubarb down below the cabin a little way, so we have a continual supply of super-excellent rhubarb sauce. The hemlocks make a grand harp to the wind. And it’s good to be wearing old black pants again. They have shiny streaks on them which is varnish remover from the Marsodak; they have spots of engine-room oil on them; they have a streak or two of whitewash from A.’s large brush aboard the Vigilant—in fact, quite an atmosphere.

There’s nothing like these northern woods and hills and wild flowers, anyway. We have the cabin full of wild flowers, just ordinary ones, like daisies and buttercups and meadowsweet and Queen Anne’s lace; but they have a delicate and subtle Something about them which isn’t to be equalled in a Fifth Avenue florist’s window. And I am also peacefully reading “Coniston” for the first time.

So you saw W.F.—well, well. If he gets much sourer, A.D.R., he’ll turn into curds, and have to be combined with a good deal of baking soda and made into gingerbread…. I made a perfect one last night, with some milk that was terribly sour, so sour I had no faith in it whatsoever, since it was solid—but the gingerbread was superb, which just goes to show that you can’t daunt a gingerbread.

I believe that W.F. has become the prince and king of all Fools. I think that probably the reason he and M. turned against A. and were so utterly mean to me about him was that they were somewhat afraid of him because he was upright and honest and aloof and didn’t approve of them. He’s ten times the man W.F. is, and maybe W.F. sensed that—you sometimes do—and naturally would resent it.

Anyway, A.D.R., don’t you lose your sense of humor, whatever happens. If you have that, you can keep your head above water—just. Sometimes it’s by a hair’s-breadth, but still it’s above water. Without it one may as well lay down and die. That you still have plenty of yours is evidenced by the last headline you sent me. I can’t make anything out of it at all. It does sound somewhat vacationy, though I can’t define the reason for it. What masterpieces that headline fella does pull off!

I certainly don’t think there is much to be said for this so-called civilization. It’s barbarous, that’s what it is. The primitivest of the primitive were never capable of such outrages as this Jinx civilization. That’s one of the things “Lost Island” is about—sort of a fling, a kick, a dig at the world. Not a nasty one, just a grieved one. I wish we were back to the cave days. Even nowadays there are some tribes that are happy. Look at the Polynesians, for instance. Naturally we can’t be happy in their surroundings, but that’s not the fault of the surroundings. It’s our fault—and civilization’s. Damn, damn!

But lest you think I’m becoming very despondent myself of late, let me assure you that this is my normal state of mind, when I allow it to come to the surface. That is, I always am grieved at the world. But I usually don’t allow it to come to the surface. I sink it. And I do love listening to those hermit-thrushes. They are divine. And there are a few beings whom I love a great deal, and who make most of what there is of Good in life. But I don’t believe in God. God got discouraged and gave up long ago, and I don’t blame him, I’m sure!

A.D.R., I do with all my heart hope things will come somewhere near right for you soon. If you would come east this winter, even if you still felt that you should keep away from B.R., we’d adore to have you. Why don’t you come anyway? And then if the “psychological moment” arrived, you’d be that much closer. I think that’s a good idea. I think we could find a certain amount of peace, and might really get a lot of masterpieces done. I feel all energy at the very thought. And cocoa is an inspiring drink. You see, friends have to stick together in the face of the Jinx.

Yours with love,
B.

Hermit thrush singing in Maine, by Garth McElroy.

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.

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.