On Autumn, Memories and Change

Autumn in New England's Barnet, Vermont (Carol Highsmith, 1980, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Autumn in New England’s Barnet, Vermont (Carol Highsmith, 1980, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

 

“Clear vision goes with the quick foot. Things fall for us into a sort of natural perspective when we see them for a moment in going by; we generalise boldly and simply, and are gone before the sun is overcast, before the rain falls, before the season can steal like a dial-hand from his figure, before the lights and shadows, shifting round towards nightfall, can show us the other side of things, and belie what they showed us in the morning. We expose our mind to the landscape (as we would expose the prepared plate in the camera) for the moment only during which the effect endures; and we are away before the effect can change. Hence we shall have in our memories a long scroll of continuous wayside pictures, all imbued already with the prevailing sentiment of the season, the weather, and the landscape, and certain to be unified more and more, as time goes on, by the unconscious processes of thought. So that we have only looked at a country over our shoulder, so to speak, as we went by, will have a conception of it far more memorable and articulate than a man who has lived there all his life from a child upwards, and had his impression of to-day modified by that of tomorrow, and belied by that of the day after, till at length the stable characteristics of the country are all blotted out from him behind the confusion of variable effect….

“The sky was an opal-grey, touched here and there with blue, and with certain faint russets that looked as if they were reflections of the colour of the autumnal woods below….

“The spirit of the place seemed to be all attention; the wood listened as I went, and held its breath to my number of footfalls….”

– Robert Louis Stevenson, An Autumn Effect (excerpt, 1875)

To read more of Robert Louis Stevenson’s travel writing, read Essays of Travel.

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