For many writers description can be painful or enjoyable. For me, it's a bit of both. When I read a beautiful passage I think, will I ever paint a picture as beautiful as that?
As I continue to research women from the 1800s I find myself transported by the writing of those early women. Is is verbose? Sometimes it is, yet there is a beauty to those words I admire. This post is composed of examples that have stuck a chord in me. All were written in the early 1870s as these women traversed the area between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. I hope you enjoy them as well.
From Isabella Bird in her book "A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains"
There was a most curious loneliness about the journey up to that time. Except for the huge barrier to the right, the boundless prairies were everywhere, and it was like being at sea without a compass. The wheels made neither sound nor indentation as we drove over the short, dry grass, and there was no cheerful clatter of horses hooves. The sky was cloudy and the air hot and still. In one place we passed the carcass of a mule, any number of vultures soared up from it, to descend again immediately. Skeletons and bones of animals were often seen. A range of low, grassy hills, called the Foot Hills, rose from the plain, featureless and monotonous, except for streams, fed by the snows of the higher regions, had cut their way through them. Confessedly bewildered, and more melancholy than ever, the driver turned up one of the wildest of these entrances, and in another hour the Foot Hills lay between us and the prairie sea, and a higher and broken range, with pitch pines of average size, was revealed behind them.
Grace Greenwood from her book "New Life in New Lands: Notes on Travel"
I suppose these lands of the Platte Valley can hardly be called "plains"; but though not arid and desolate, they are sufficiently lonely and somber. We learn that this was the very "Valley of the Shadow of Death" to thousands of poor immigrants in the early days of California emigration, and in the fearful cholera times. It may be that before the locomotive came to invade with irreverent noise and hurry this haunted ground, to mock at poor perturbed spirits, and whistle them down the wind, a seer might have beheld, any dreary, starlit night, ghostly trains, moving silently, slowly along by this low, dark river. Might have seen white, still faces looking out of ghostly wagons, drawn by ghostly horses and oxen, noiselessly treading over the old track — over the lonely graves.
Helen (Hunt) Jackson from her book "Bits of Travel at Home"
As I looked up the ford to the mouth of the canyon, I was reminded of some of the grand old altar-pieces of the early centuries, where, lest the pictures of saints and angels and divine beings should seem too remote, too solemn and overawning, the painters used to set at the base, rows of human children, gay and mirthful, leaping and laughing or playing viols. So lay this sunny belt of sparkling water, glistening sand, and joyous blue blossom, at the base of the picture made by the dark mouth of the canyon, where two great mountains had recoiled and fallen apart from each other, leaving a chasm, midway in which rows a smaller mountain of sharp rocks, like a giant sentry disputing the way. Forests of pines fill the rift on either side of this rock, and their dark line stretch high up, right and left, nearly to the top of each mountain. Higher and ruggeder peaks rise beyond, looking as if they must shut the canyon sharply, as a gate closes an alley; but they do not. Past them, among them, in spite of them, the creek took its right-of-way, the mountains and rocks yielded, and the canyon winds.
Each of these authors has a unique style, yet, you get the sense of being there with them. While most would find the excerpts too wordy, they each have a beauty of their own. For more about the amazing lives of these women, you can read about them here. Isabella Bird Grace Greenwood Helen (Hunt) Jackson
While perhaps not as lyrical, here is an excerpt from the novella "Angel of Salvation Valley", the story of a man who has made a deal to get out of prison, only to have second thoughts.
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Now here he was, looking at a piece of heaven. If he'd had something like this, he wouldn't have been riding around searching, in the wrong place at the wrong time, and ended up in prison. He'd do anything to have a place like this. Maybe someday, when all this was over he thought.
Moving back from the entrance, he headed for higher ground to get a better view of the whole valley. If he didn't strain too much, Drew knew he's make it to the top. A slow five days since leaving prison as they traveled over the mountains, avoiding towns and people. Drew puzzled over that, but figured Luke knew what he was doing. Fortunately the additional time gave Drew the chance get most of the poison Old Harold had given him out of his system. The intervening hours between the ingestion of the poison and his leaving prison, were one remaining mystery. Drew was not sure he'd ever know the truth. The pieces of memory didn't make sense. Luke, telling Harold that he's might have wrecked everything by his actions. The bump of his head against the walls. Harold screaming he was sorry as he burst into flame. None of these made any sense and only made the pain in Drew's head worse. Drew finally gave up trying to remember, and putting a damper on those thoughts when they surfaced.
Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners and
Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here
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Fantastic use of language and great imagery in the examples you used. It is a standard to work towards.ReplyDelete
My thought exactly. I just love the way these women write. DorisDelete
I agree. I have a book that contains the women's diaries that traveled on wagon trains. I also found beauty amid the words. These women were so brave! Great job, Angela.ReplyDelete
Barbara, Thank you. As we get further from that time, people forget what life was like. Thank goodness we have these words to remind us. Doris/AngelaDelete
Such beautiful evocative writing. They really painted a mental picture. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
You are so welcome. It does seem to be a lost art, and I wonder how many people would read through a book with prose like this. Still, I love it. DorisDelete