I do love road movies – Thelma and Louise, Kalifornia, Bonneville, to name a few. Christopher McCandless, the subject of Sean Penn’s brilliant film, Into the Wild, gave his savings to charity and opted out of ordinary life altogether, just like some of the people in American Nomads, a documentary I saw last weekend on BBC4, written and presented by British writer Richard Grant.
Richard – who’s a bit of a nomad himself – meets and hears the stories of people living itinerant lifestyles in south-western USA, and I think it’s true to say that there are as many stories as there are people. From the ex-Wall Street banker to the travelling preacher, from the rodeo riders to a mountain man known as Yogi. There was certainly nothing ‘typical’ about any of them, and the romance of the open road was tempered with its inherent dangers, most movingly in the case of teenage Comfrey riding the freight trains.
As Richard drove through the desert, I pictured another car making its way along those same roads 50-odd years earlier – a 1949 Ford topped with a pair of antlers and carrying Maureen, Celia, Gwenda, Pat and Molly. Like Richard and like some of the characters in his film, they, too, dared to step out and venture into the American wilderness for a while rather than just admire it from the window as if it were simply some majestic painting.
Several of the friends they made during their wanderings had something of the nomad in them (not really surprising in a land where people have always been on the move): the teachers who headed for the wilds during the long summer vacation, the hunters off to find game in Alaska. Some of them are still wandering now, in their seventies and eighties.
This post is a celebration of the wandering spirit and is dedicated to all the nomads out there, and to anyone with restlessness in their soul.
(Ghost Riders: Travels with American Nomads by Richard Grant is published in the UK by Abacus. In America the book is published by Grove Press as American Nomads – Travels with Lost Conquistadors, Mountain Men, Cowboys, Indians, Hoboes, Truckers and Builders)
I love travelling adventure books and films too. Have you read ‘Just a Little Run Around the World’ by Rosie Swale Pope? It’s brilliant. I’m happy to have found your blog as I’m much more interested in narrative non-fiction than fiction, and your book sounds fascinating.
Thanks for your comment, Ali. I knew I’d heard of Rosie’s book (though hadn’t read it) and having looked it up I now remember why – I was trying to interest her publisher in Bedpans & Bobby Socks 4 or 5 years ago! Will definitely put it on my list of summer reading! Would be interested to know how you came across my blog if you don’t mind my asking. Looks like you work with books too. Bye for now.
Hi Barbara, I clicked through to yours from one of the blogs on my blogroll I think … but I can’t remember which one! Thanks for visiting mine 🙂
Think it was Kathryn at Crystal Jigsaw!
I don’t think I could have ever been a nomad myself. I’ve always liked my home comforts and never really enjoyed travelling afar. It’s a fascinating way of life and one where people obviously find a great deal of satisfaction. Love post, Barbara xx
I’m sort of halfway between the two. I’ve done some travelling in the past though I can’t imagine living that sort of lifestyle now. The romance of the open road still has its appeal – but mainly from the comfort of my armchair! Thanks for stopping by. xx