Tracks – Robyn Davidson

Another week, another travel book. This New York City summer is slowly killing me, as I cannot take in enough water compared to what my skin is putting out. You will find me in Brooklyn, a mere raisin of my former self.

So this book was fabulous.

If you don’t feel like clicking on that link, I’ll tell you the title (and give you the link again because I’m that generous): Tracks, by Robyn Davidson.

Three words for you, while I’m in such a generous mood:

Ladyperson. Outback. Camels.

That tells you all you really need to know for this book, unless you’re curious as to whether it’s modern or historical. (If you consider the late 1970’s historical, then it’s historical. Otherwise, mostly modern.)

Tracks is half prepping-for-journey/training camels and half actual journey. I was initially surprised and put off by this, as I had yet to read a travel book that didn’t have actual traveling occurring within the first two chapters. But I stuck with it and… somehow became okay with it, I guess? It ceased being a feature that bothered me mostly, I would venture, because that became part of her process–dealing with her procrastination, I mean.

Also, going on a massively long journey-via-camel is unique enough that the reader may want a lot of logistical information up front. I.E. “Where did you get these camels?” “Who trained these camels?” “Are you actually comfortable with camels?” “Where did you get camel gear?” “Why use camels?” “Where did these camels come from, anyhow?” “What do you feed a camel?” Which meant any questions that I might have had as the actual travel section of the book progressed had been answered many chapters earlier.

Which is ultimately nice, but not something I could do for my road-trip book, as most people can figure out how to drive a car across the country and back on their own.

Davidson is a delightfully personable writer. You like her. (Well, I like her.) I like her honesty, her approach to herself and her goals, her ability to describe her experience in the desert on not just a physical level, but a social and emotional one as well.

I like that she lets readers see the less “attractive” parts of her personality as well. Her bitchy moments, her bouts of anger, her increasing anti-social tendencies, her desert nudity and wild hair. Things that aren’t feminine, you know.

I’d say read it. Read it if you want to experience a true desert journey and what that does to a person. Read it if you want to learn about camels. Read it if you like reading. Read it if you’re interested in the social state of Aboriginals in Australia in the 1970’s. There’s many reasons to read this book, so figure out your own and… enjoy.

And now some quotes for your reading pleasure.

“There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns–small intuitive flashes, when you know you have done something correct for a change, when you think you are on the right track. I watched a pale dawn streak the cliffs with Day-glo and realized this was one of them. It was a moment of pure, uncomplicated confidence–and lasted about ten seconds.”

“I returned to my little dungeon in the wee hours of the morning to find a large, well-moulded lump of excrement on my pillow. As if it belonged there really. As if it had found its final resting-place at last. I had the most absurd notion that I should address it in some way–let my presence be known as if I were the trespasser. Something like, ‘Excuse me, I think you have the wrong bed.'”

“I wandered and roamed through my domain, my private space, smelling its essence, accepting its claim on me and incorporating every dust mote, every spider’s web into an orgy of possessive bliss. This sprawling, tattered old stone ruin, which was sinking gracefully back into the ground from which it had come; this delightful, roofless pile of rocks with tough thriving fig trees and tall smothering grasses; its permanent guests, the snakes, lizards, insects and birds; its dramatic patterns of light and shade; its secret rooms and recesses; its unhinged doors, and its nestling correctness in the Arunta rock complex; this was my first home, where I felt such a sense of relief and belonging that I needed nothing and no one.”

“It dawned on me that I was procrastinating, pretending, play-acting, and that was the source of my discomfort. If everyone else believed that I would eventually take the camels out into the desert, I did not. It was something I could put at the edge of my mind to play with when I had nothing better to do. It gave me a superficial identity, or structure, which  could crawl into when I was down, and wear like a dress.”

“She [Kate, the camel] had a ‘personal space’ of ten feet, and if any homo sapiens stepped inside that radius she would roar her head off until that person exited that space. She would stand placidly, great mouth open wide, and roar and roar like a lion, only pausing to draw breath. If you stood there for two hours, she would roar for two hours.”

“For many outback people, the effect of almost total isolation coupled with that all-encompassing battle with the earth is so great that, when the prizes are won, they feel the need to build a psychological fortress around the knowledge and possessions they have broken their backs to obtain. That fiercely independent individualism was something akin to what I was feeling now–the stiffness, the inability to incorporate new people who hadn’t shared the same experience.”

“Of course, then I understood–anything that smacked of mental struggle, any confession of weakness that might be termed ‘indulgence’ was bourgeois, reactionary, anti-political. Maybe this was why […] many politically oriented men–that is rational, clever, articulate, intellectual, competent, dedicated, revolutionary, verbally aggressive men–found it so difficult to face, or come to terms with, or admit, their own sexism. Because it involved the pain self-indulgence of turning inward of recognizing in oneself the enemy.”

“He drove round and round the bulls [male camels], so they couldn’t get at me, while I dashed out, feeling terrified out of my wits, and tied Zelly [lady camel] quickly to a tree. So far so good. Then I hurtled back to the settlement at the speed of light. Nothing like a bit of danger to get the blood flowing again. I grabbed my rifle and a couple of men and hurtled back again. I had hardly used the thing, and was still frightened of it, still shut my eyes involuntarily when I pulled the trigger. I rested my arm on the truck, shot, missed, shot, wounded, shot, shot, shot, shot, killed.”

“Richard described this as magic. I laughed at him for it, teased him for using such suspect language. But he was deeply affected. I look back on that time now with a kind of yearning disbelief. We were actually beginning to talk in terms of magic. Fate. We both of us secretly believed in an external power that one could tap if one were in tune with events. Oh dear.”

“The writing of letters out in the middle of nowhere may seem a little peculiar, especially since it would be months before I could post them, and I would probably see my friends before I ever got a reply. But it helped in recording events and emotions at the time. My diary was a mish-mash of these letters, most of them never sent, and uninteresting sentences like, ‘Is it July or August, anyway, lost camels this morning.'”