When you think of the short phrase â€śroughing it,â€ť what comes to mind? For some it may be some sort of weekend long, deep woods camping excursion. For others it may may mean a summer abroad in Europe going from hostel to hostel. Yet others may think roughing it means having to stay at a three star hotel, rather than a five star place in Honolulu. Regardless of what it means to you all of us have a spirit inside that longs to get out there and do some roughing it once in a while.
Of course for some people, it is buried deeply beneath the tech- savvy, quick fix, easy machine driven world many of us live in here in the United States of America. But if you have the time to dig deep into your primal soul, there is a wanderlust in all of us. It probably comes into us from our nomadic ancestors, who had the drive to survive tightly tied to the necessity to move about for food, fresh water and shelter from Mother Nature. Whatever the root may be, it is in us all. Roughing it is a way of life for many humans still.
Our book today is entitled Roughing It by Mark Twain, modern version published by the Penguin Group and originally written by Twain in 1871. Many of us know this world renown American author from some of his more popular later books, like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. This book is a semi-autobiographical collection of short stories covering an adventurous time in Twainâ€™s life from 1861, when he found himself choking and gagging on the prospects of being a Confederate soldier in the US Civil War, to 1867 when Twain arrived in New York City as a somewhat well-known lecturer and writer. He describes in a very readable and entertaining way, a large variety of Far West, (read Nevada, California, and even Hawaii) places, and the people he came across in those places, as he vagabonded about picking up any sort of work he could muster up.
Mark Twainâ€™s brother Orion had recently been appointed the Secretary of the Territory of Nevada, and at the very same time the mining frenzy that had been sweeping the West slithered into the Nevada region, into places like Carson City, and manifested itself in the form of silver, and lots and lots of it! Twain who was really quite disgruntled with the southern philosophy at the time migrated west with his very Unionist brother to see what he could see and do what he could do. He recounts in this book many interesting tales of vigilantes, mining fortunes won and lost, oddball characters that ride the Pony Express for a living, and captains of the sea who are bizarre and long-winded in their ideas about what America is and should be.
Twain is really a funny person, and his humor is really evident in Roughing It. He bumbles through many little adventures himself, setting a campfire ablaze into a forest fire, gaining a million dollar silver mine only to find no one will work it for him, and zany adventures as an inept sailor on the way to Hawaii. He also describes historical events with exaggerated flair. For instance the difficulties the famous Brigham Young had with his many wives is quite entertaining in Twainâ€™s eyes and description. This book is not trying to be an historical account of any sort, but it does give the reader a good taste, tongue in cheek understood, of what life was like for the emerging American identity of Abraham Lincolnâ€™s time.
Having lived a life full of many interesting and zany adventures myself, the hook in this book for me was hearing that surf bathing, Hawaiian style, with boards below their feet, was described by Mark Twain for one of the very first times in human history in this book. He describes a little bit of the sport and goes on to say he tried surfing himself, but found his board on the beach, and himself on the bottom of the ocean with lungs full of barrels of water in about three seconds flat. He noted that only true natives ever master the art of surf bathing thoroughly. Wonderful to know that was written over 140 years ago, and we still ride our boards with varying degrees of mastery today.
Twainâ€™s prefatory to the book lets us know that the book is really just meant to help the â€śresting reading while away an idle hourâ€ť, and I would suggest that you take the opportunity to do just that this summer as you sit on the beach, on the porch, or out in your â€śroughing itâ€ť campsite on the Appalachian Trail. The book is available online or at your favorite bookstore. Enjoy, and read on!
Kerry Wholey is a freelance writer from Narragansett.