7.06.02 – Friday
In a case like this, it would have been a godsend, I thought, had either of the three gentlemen, Captains Burton, Speke, or Grant, given some information on these points; had they devoted a chapter upon, ‘How to get ready an Expedition for Central Africa.’ The purpose of this chapter, then, is to relate how I set about it…
—H. M. Stanley (2002.38)
11.06.02 – Tuesday
When I was around five years old, my father took a sabbatical from the institution and drove the family in a brown Ford van throughout the western United States. We stopped at numerous national parks – Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, even the Badlands: you get the picture. My grandparents on my mother’s side happened to come along for part of the drive, and my grandfather, who had been a sailor and had a childlike sense of humor (how the two relate, I cannot say), decided to indulge in a prank. One night – in Yellowstone, I think – he drew bear tracks in the dirt leading from the scrubby forest to a hopping irregular waltz outside the tent walls. I cannot remember if I was fooled by the trick, though I do remember that my grandfather took great pride in the incident, which leads me to believe that perhaps I was.
As I was hiking up Hunchback mountain yesterday afternoon, though, I recalled that my grandfather was on the other side of the country, which led me to believe that the fresh bear tracks I saw in the mud were indeed the genuine article. I pondered them for a moment with some interest, then turned, walked back down the hill and out of the woods.
17.06.02 – Monday
The greatest pleasure I find in life is reading. In the past few weeks I have found much longed-for enrichment in such a quantity of books as I had thought myself unable to consume. Yet it is true that one hungry will, if possible, eat and the thirsty will, given the chance, drink – so I must slake that desire, that need, which for me is greater than all others. I am most content when reading, for then I am least and yet most myself.
‘What does that have to do with the urge of the senses?’ Ubertino asked. ‘It was a mystical experience, and the body was our Lord’s.’
‘Perhaps I am accustomed to Oxford,’ William said, ‘where even mystical experience was of another sort…’
‘All in the head.’ Ubertino smiled.
—Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose, trans. W. Weaver, p. 58)
And yet again it rains, the water beading on the wooden decks, the birds taking cover in the trees.
28.06.02 – Friday
‘I can always tell when you’re reading somewhere in the house,’ my mother used to say. ‘There’s a special silence, a reading silence.’ I never heard it, this extra degree of hush that somehow travelled through walls and ceilings to announce that my seven-year-old self had become about as absent as a present person could be. The silence went both ways. As my concentration on the story in my hands took hold, all sounds faded away. My ears closed. Flat on my front with my chin in my hands or curled in a chair like a prawn, I’d be gone. I didn’t hear doorbells ring, I didn’t hear supper time called, I didn’t notice footsteps approaching of the adult who’d come to retrieve me.
—Francis Spufford, ‘The Habit’
Granta 77, p. 143