Cabin fever? Try some horizon therapy
1) In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin As poets of empty places go, Chatwin takes some beating. At the beginning of his South American odyssey, upon leaving the town of Bahía Blanca near Buenos Aires – “the last big place before the Patagonian desert” – he writes: “as we drove through the desert, I sleepily watched the rags of silver cloud spinning across the sky, and the sea of grey-green thornscrub lying off in sweeps and rising in terraces, and the white dust streaming off the saltpans, and, on the horizon, land and sky dissolving into an absence of colour.”
2) Strands, by Jean Sprackland The coast of north-west England might not seem like an obvious place to go horizon-hunting, but – thanks to the huge tidal range of the Irish Sea – when the tide goes out on the windswept beaches around Blackpool, things can look positively lunar. In Strands, Sprackland charts the varying moods of this dramatic landscape: “It’s a squally day of dangerous skies and sudden, daggering light. A navy blue horizon where the Welsh hills should be. On the ground, a smirr of glittering wormcasts, each packed with fragments of white shell.”
3) The Living Mountain, by Nan Shepherd Has anyone ever captured the vertiginous feeling of reaching a mountain summit as well as Shepherd does in her love-letter to the Cairngorms? “As I reach the highest part of my dark moor, the world seems to fall away all round, as though I have come to its edge, and were about to walk over. And far off, on a low horizon, the great Cairngorm group look small as a drystone dyke between two fields.”
4) Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery The pioneering pilot may be more famous for his descriptions of flying through immense canyons of cloud, but he’s also good on vast, featureless North African desert vistas: “At our feet lay our valley of sand, opening into a desert of sand whose brightness seared our eyes. As far as the eye could see lay empty space. But in that space the play of light created mirages... fortresses and minarets, angular geometric hulks.”
5) The Solitude of Thomas Cave, by Georgina Harding In which a 17th century whaler makes a bet that he can survive a winter alone in the Arctic. As spring finally arrives, so too do the false dawns: “At that same hour for each of the past three days, he has climbed the mountain at the edge of the beach and looked, and he has thought he has seen the tip of the yellow disc of the sun on the horizon, only to have it flicker and waver like a mirage and disappear.”
6) Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger No shortage of big skies in Thesiger’s classic account of crossing the Empty Quarter: “Hour after hour, my camel shuffled forward, moving, it seemed, always up a slight incline towards an indeterminable horizon, and nowhere in all that glaring emptiness of gravel plain and colourless sky was there anything upon which my eyes could focus.”
7) Beyond the Sea, by Paul Lynch In Lynch’s tale of two men lost at sea after their fishing boat loses both its engine and its radio, the sky – their only source of drinking water – almost becomes a third character. “He closes his eyes and opens them. Soon again the sky and the ocean begin to flatten, distance falling away. Colour and space merging now into a single, vertical plane.”
8) My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir Muir’s later writing may have been more accomplished, but there’s no beating the enthusiasm of his early experiences in the Sierra Nevada: “All the vast sky dome is clear, filled only with mellow Indian summer light.”
9) Island Home, by Tim Winton Wide open spaces Down Under? You betcha. “Even out in the shimmering distance, where the horizon slips and crawls implausibly in the heat, the land twitches and ticks, forever threatening to foreground itself and take over the show.”
10) On the Road, by Jack Kerouac If Kerouac’s intoxicating, stream of consciousness yarn about criss-crossing America doesn’t inspire you to take a road trip the second lockdown is lifted, nothing will. “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
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