Learn of the Green World: A Taste of Colin Fletcher
Here’s a paragraph, yes it’s a long one, from the Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher. I haven’t read any Fletcher for several years now although his books have a permanent spot on my bookshelf. On a whim, I opened one up last night at this passage, which struck me as particularly poignant in the way that it conveys the memory of hiking and backpacking.
“When I open my mind and let the memories spill out, I find a many-hued mosaic. I remember the odd excitement and the restricted yet infinitely open world I have moved through several times when I have clambered up, very late at night, and following the little pool from my flashlight beam, to the flat grassy summit of the hill on which I wrote, at last, the opening chapter of this book. I remember a three-day walk along an unspoiled beach with the wind always barreling in from the Pacific and the sand dunes always humping up to my left; and I remember the ceaseless surging and drawing back of the sea, with its final, curving excursions into smooth sand, excursions that sometimes left stranded, high and almost dry, little fragments of transparent protoplasm (which set me thinking, “This is the stuff we came from”) and sometimes cast up a bottle that I could peer at (laughing at myself for being so childlike) in the hope it might contain a message. I remember standing on snowshoes outside my half-buried tent after a four-day storm, in a newly gleaming white world, and watching the guilty, cloud-bearing southwest wind try to reassert itself; I remember a northeast breeze spring up, and almost hearing it take a deep breath and say, “They shall not pass,” and then begin to blow in earnest; and I remember watching, thankfully, as the line of dark clouds was held along a front, horizon to horizon, and then was driven back, slowly but inexorably, until at last it retreated behind the peaks and the sky was left to the triumphant northeast wind and the warm and welcome sun. I remember trying to clamber up a steep woodland bank after dark, somewhere in the deep South (I think it was in Alabama), and finding myself in an enchanted world of fireflies and twisted tree roots and fireflies and clumps of grass and fireflies and wildflowers and fireflies and fireflies and fireflies, a world suddenly filled with a magic that I had not glimpsed since I was ten, and had almost come to disbelieve in. I remember striding down a desert road as dusk fell, with the wind catching my pack and billowing out the poncho like a sail and carrying me almost effortlessly along before it; and I remember how, when the rain came in, it stung my bare legs, refreshing without hurting. I remember, in a different sagebrush desert, coming to the edge of a village and passing a wooden building with three cars that said PENTECOSTAL CHURCH OF GOD, EVERYONE WELCOME; I remember that the church door stood open to the warm evening and that I could hear a piano and the congregation following along, with only a hint of exasperation, a half-beat behind a contralto whom nature had endowed with the volume, tempo, rigidity, and determination of a brass band. In another desert village, a long-dead ghost town, this one, I remember a clump of wild blue irises growing inside the worn wooden threshold of a once busy home. I remember red, red sunsets in a small desert valley when I was not alone. I remember, further back, a dead native cow in a clearing in the dry African bush; and, in the blood-softened soil beside its torn-out entrails, a single huge paw print. I remember the small, round, furry heads of the hyraxes that would solemnly examine us from the boulders just behind our 13,000 foot camp up near Lewis Glacier on Mount Kenya. Further back still, I remember three otters cavorting across a moonlit Devonshire meadow; a stag on a Scottish moor, silhouetted, elemental; and a shoal of small fish swimming slowly over a sloping bed of brown gravel that I can still see, stone fitting into stone, down a seventy-year tunnel. And now, vaulting back into yesterday, I find I’m remembering an elk that stands regally among redwoods trees and the last tendrils of morning mist, and a surprised beaver that crouches almost at my feet and eyes me for clues, and a solitary evening primrose that has prospered in a desolation of desert talus, and a rainbow that arches over a dark mountain tarn, and the huge and solemn silence that encompasses, always, the buttes and mesas and cliffs and hanging terraces of the Grand Canyons of Colorado.”
Colin Fletcher’s Books
Colin Fletcher published many great books which celebrated backpacking and the natural world. His epic Complete Walker IV (co-authored with Chip Rawlins) was the first time anyone reviewed a lot of backpacking gear in one place. While it is dated today, it’s an interesting glimpse into what outdoor gear was like in 2002 (the publication date of the 4th edition) and how to inspire backpacking enthusiasts by reviewing it.
However, most of Fletcher’s other books are about the long solo backpacking trips he took in the natural world. They’re timeless descriptions of the landscape and history, grounded by gritty descriptions of his journey and routine. Fletcher was the first person to write about going backpacking for an extended period and being self-sufficient. This is best exemplified in his classic, The Man Who Walked Through Time, which helped establish his legacy as the father of modern backpacking.
- The Man Who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip aFoot Through the Grand Canyon
- The Thousand-Mile Summer: In Desert and High Sierra
- The Secret Worlds of Colin Fletcher
- River: One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea
- The Man from the Cave
- The Winds of Mara
The Colin Fletcher Biography
Robert Wehrman has published a meticulously researched biography of Colin Fletcher, called Walking Man: The Secret Life of Colin Fletcher. but I’d encourage you NOT to read it because it will forever change your mind about Fletcher, and not in a good way. The guy definitely had a few issues and reading about them may forever snuff the pleasure you’ll obtain when reading or re-reading Fletcher’s books. I wish I’d never read Walking Man because it tainted the well for me. Make up your own mind, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and some sellers may contribute a small portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
Most Popular Searches
- section hiker blog