Monday, February 1, 2010

Gavin Maxwell. My fascination

For 6 months I was a drafted peacekeeping soldier in the Sinai. Age 21. English speaking world. Alone. Without friends or family. Alone without someone who could hold my hand and tell me once in a while “you are OK and don’t worry”. Going to the Sinai was something I volunteered to. I wanted to test myself. I deliberately wanted to be alone in a world of strangers/ others and see, feel what it would do to me. It was a great time for me! I read a lot of books. I met a lot of interesting people. I saw a lot of Egypt and Israel. Above all I loved to be alone and to overcome my fear everytime I met others.

When my service as a drafted airforce soldier was over I went to the university. Somewhere in the first few months at the university I stifled against the writer Gavin Maxwell (1914-1969). He made me realize that in Europe there are still remote places where individual ’homo sapiens’ can be alone. That was a big surprise for me - I thought that they had gone  more than 500 years ago. I must have read his ‘Ring of bright water’ at least 15 times. How I love(d) his life alone with his otters on the remote spot ’Bay of Alder’ (in gaellic ‘Camusfearna’). On the map ‘Sandaig’ in Scotland. His modest house where he could write books, plan his travels and lick his new wounds was a #dream and #travel destination for me. It was something I wanted to have myself too one day.

Wanted”? Yes! It’s not something I want for myself anymore. I’m perfectly happy with my wife, my four healthy kids, my books and the place where I live. I discovered – while living my life - that Camusfearna is not a physical place but a place that can be everywhere. I live in a quiet little village on the countryside in The Netherlands. Far away from the big city noise I can be alone. Read my books. Write a little. Walk alone for hours. My own big old house is my own “fortress from which to essay raid and foray, an embattled position behind whose walls one may retire to lick new wounds and plan fresh journeys to father horizons.”

For me personally ‘The House of Elrig’ is Gavin’s best book. It’s about his childhood and adolescense. It’s about the house of his parents where he grew up and longed for deeply while he was at school. Elrig was his kingdom when he was in exile far away. In a way Elrig and Camusfearna are two aspects of the same man: the longing for a fortress. Someone who never grew up and always stayed a kid, full of wonder and the need of exploring our surrounding world.

P.s. I wrote a guestblog at @kirsty_wilson's Travelplustips on Sandaig. You can read it here.

1 comment:

  1. A lovely Post Jean. I must now try to get my hands on Gavin Maxwell's books! I too, love solitude. There is nothing more joyful than to sit upon a mountain, taking in the quiet and the view before me. Some of my favourite places for this includes; Mt Sinai, Egypt; Mt Bogong here in the State of Victoria and our highest peak in the State; Uchisar, Turkey and probably lots of other places I've found during my years. Thanks again for your guest post at