The Soft Light of Sunset (Day 44)

Camera: Tru-View (vintage Diana clone) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64 (EPR) (expired 1989) (xpro)

Camera: Tru-View (vintage Diana clone) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64 (EPR) (expired 1989) (xpro)

The day is ending when our hobbits begin to miss the sunsets of the Shire.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p184 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Having traveled a great deal on my own I know a bit about the loneliness that takes over come dusk. I though this was something that only I experienced, that it wasn’t a nearly universal thing. Here, Tolkien writes: “The hobbits thought of the soft light of sunset glancing through the cheerful windows of Bag End far away.”

That longing can eat away at you if you’re not careful. You’d think that it would be worse if you stopped before dusk, but it’s not. Maybe it’s the business of setting up camp and fixing your evening meal that keeps away thoughts of home. All I know is that if I’m on the road when the sun dips too close to the western horizon, I feel an aching that can only be relieved by stopping.

I first read about someone else feeling this in Peter Beagle’s I See By My Outfit, a memoir of two friends traveling across the country on scooters. It’s fitting as I felt it more when doing my own cross-country scooter ramble.

‘In the late afternoon the sun comes out long enough to go down, and it begins to et lonesomely cold. We stop for coffee in East Stroudsburg [Pennsylvania] and consider. We have planned to camp out as much of the way as possible, but there is something sad and frightening to both of us in watching the day waitresses at the Dairy Queen going home. We would marry them right now, just to have a place to go. Other people have their own scary times of day and get married them.’

In another passage, Beagle expounds upon this:

‘We always stop driving before sunset, partly in order to set up camp while it is still light, but partly, I think, because the hour before dark is a strangely lonely time to be driving something as small and open as a scooter as far away as we are. The thin orange light is going away so swiftly, and yet our own lights seem so feeble against the thickening air.’

The Lord of the Rings, while being about light and dark, duty, honor, friendship and a slew of other things is, essentially a book about a road trip. In so many ways, it’s no different than any other account of hard and dedicated travel. The hobbits are walking all day, from just after sunrise to just before (or just after in today’s case) sunset. They travel the same way that I travel – with an unstoppable consistency. Also, we both camp. And while I’m on a Vespa (or these days, in a car) much is the same simply because of the very nature of travel.

I See By My Outfit is easily my favorite travel book. It was written by the guy who later wrote The Last Unicorn, which places it in the late 1950s. It was a different country then. And just as I can relate my present travels to their wandering of six decades ago, they related their own travels to Tolkien.

‘”It’s like The Lord of the Rings,” I say. The Lord of the Rings is a fantastic odyssey written by J.R.R. Tolkien, and it forms part of our private Gospels…. “The beginning of the journey,” I say, “the first night on the road to Mordor. This could be Bree, I guess, the edge of the wild country. What could Ann Arbor be?” We are detouring to Ann Arbor to visit friends.

“Rivendell, where the elves live,” Phil says happily, “if I remember what Kisa looks like.”‘

A Few Notes:

  • I cannot recommend this book enough. Oddly, it wasn’t this book, but my own whatever, that made me want to travel across the country on a Vespa. Before I even got a scooter, I longed for that journey. I finally did it in 2008, traveling over 10,000 on two 12″ wheels. I covered something like 28 states without a single breakdown (until the night I returned home to Pennsylvania, when my rear tire went flat).
  • I’m not sure I could do it again. But I hope someday that I will.
  • Usually, I write about Lord of the Rings or Middle-earth, but today I digressed. I like that. I’ll do it more often. Also, tomorrow I’ll talk about Trotter the wooden shoed hobbit. I think he’ll become a man. If you want to refresh yourself on the story thus far, click here, okay?

As an aside, I’ve been trying to think of other social media ways of getting word out about this blog. Mostly, I think it would help me stay on target, but also I think it would help me learn more about Tolkien through even more discussion. My first thought was Facebook, but as I know from personal experience, only about 10% of your followers get to see the stuff you post. There’s also Twitter, but it sort of annoys me. Should I not bother? Should I set aside my cranky misgivings and do one or the other (or both)? Thoughts, please.

About the Photo
Because most of my photos are taken on the Road, and because I stop before sunset, I have very few photos of the westering sun. This is one of the only ones, I think. It was taken in Frenchmen Coulee in central Washington. It was a long day and we were out too late, thus I was cursed by a lens flare


  • Miles today: 6
  • Miles thus far: 211
  • 30 miles to Weathertop Summit
  • 249 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,568 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: An encampment by a stream.(map)

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