As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (Atheneum, 1969)
Moment of War: A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War by Laurie Lee (New Press, Reprint Edition, 1994)
I delivered newspapers as a kid, a morning paper – The Oregonian. In winter it was pretty scary in the dark with the wind whipping off the Pacific Ocean, the tall shore pine blowing crazily and casting shadows from the street lights. I used the lighthouse on the point to the north as a beacon and kept my eye on it, timing my stride to the count and rhythm of the light. Thirteen steps, light, one-two-three-four, light, then thirteen steps again.
As I walked and delivered my papers, sometimes half asleep, that lighthouse hypnotized me. I would fall into a fantasy world, literally, dreaming about traveling the world by airplane, boat, train, bike, or on foot. Don’t ask me where this dream came from as I had never been farther from the Oregon coast than Los Angeles or Salt Lake City.
Out of that dreamland, though, came a fascination with travel and with travel narratives. I suppose the need to read travel narratives of others has to do with trying to interpret the travel experience, trying to understand what it’s all about.
Whatever the case, besides my own travel adventures, I’m fascinated by those of others to the point that I found Laurie Lee’s title, As I Walked out One Midsummer’s Morning, irresistible. Irresistible because at age nineteen he was headed first to see the sea, which he had never seen, then to London, and ultimately to walk across Spain, diagonally, from the northwest as far as he could go, to Malaga and then beyond, another sixty miles to the village of Castillo.
Laurie Lee set out in 1933, spent a year in London and then at the end of the next year found himself stranded on the far side of Iberia at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He carried his fiddle with him, lived by the music he played on the street, and described his journey in a memoir some thirty years later.
His volume on the Spanish Civil War, A Moment of War, describes his return to Spain in December of 1937 to join the International Brigade in its effort to help the duly elected Spanish Republican movement retain its power. He failed in his effort to join any serious resistance movement against Franco and his troops and barely escaped, just months later, with his life.
Lee became an established poet, known throughout the United Kingdom, and later became well known for his prose works, including his autobiographical trilogy of which these two volumes are a part. He writes with an economy of words typical of a poet that makes him easy to read. Indeed, his prose flows so smoothly and effortlessly you’d think he was composing an epic poem as this description of his mother, standing and watching as he walked away that midsummer morning attests (the phrasing is mine):
Both these books are interesting. I found Midsummer Morning more interesting, though, than Moment of War, because the personal narrative lends itself better to the story of a lone twenty-year old walking across Spain. The war narrative, also quite personal, leaves the reader wondering about historic context. The genre of the personal narrative doesn’t easily accommodate documentary history, though, so the reader is often left wondering just where Lee’s personal experience fits in the grander picture of the Spanish Civil War.
Now that I’ve read two-thirds of his autobiography, I’ll go back and read his first volume, Cider with Rosie, about growing up in the Cotswolds during World War I and in the 1920s. Who knows, maybe I’ll get hooked and we’ll start walking tours there!
Note: Laurie Lee’s autobiographical triology was combined in one volume entitled Red Sky at Sunrise (Viking Press,1992) . Check your library or online booksellers to buy Red Sky at Sunrise secondhand or any of the three volumes that comprise it.
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"She stood old and bent at the top of the bank,
silently watching me go,
one gnarled red hand raised in farewell and blessing,
not questioning why I went".