The exquisite chronicler of Scratch Flat, Massachusetts, rolls far afield in this gladdening excursion that follows the emerging of spring into summer from Spain to the Hebrides.
Mitchell (Trespassing, 1998, etc.) follows a bicycle journey he took in the early 1960s from Cadiz, Spain, to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, starting on the vernal equinox and ending on the summer solstice. The author is a sensualist, a lover of literature, deep time, and old night, and his ramble is tailor-made to feed those passions. He follows the lengthening days, the blessings of the sun after the winter months, and approaches the pilgrimage in the spirit of a pagan oblate—he is taken with “the richness of ancient rituals and primal gods and goddesses” and is well versed in the sun’s symbolism and myths; indeed, there are enough mythological tales here—Helios to Ra to Sol—to keep even Edith Hamilton happy, and his curiosity leads him down the strange paths of Mithraism, Aztec sacrifices, and stone circles. But it’s his willingness to stop and smell the flowers that makes him such a companionable writer. He’s always ready to stop for a coffee or to shuffle off into the greenwood just to poke around; always ready to take a long gander at a stonechat or chaffinch or jackdaw. He never met a bed of bluebells that wasn’t made the better by the taking of a nap in their midst, and there’s always time to investigate a megalith. Give him a good meal and a weird conversation, give him the back lanes (“At Crow I skirted the town of Ringwood, taking a little country road”—as if Ringwood were Calcutta), allow him to dally and be diverted: “It was here, during these short excursions from my excursion, that I came to better appreciate the landscape.”
Few won’t wish they were riding in Mitchell’s slipstream, sharing in all the sun and stories and places, the wine and the food.