Mark Twain's Roughing It is filled with anecdotes that are so extraordinary, they seem farfetched. However, these tales are semi-autobiographical and the disbelief I experienced while reading was a result of my basic knowledge of the west during this time. I am from California, so we studied the big move westward in history class, but reading Twain's experience really made these tales come to life in a way that they hadn't for me previously. I thoroughly enjoyed the first hand experience of events that I'd only learned about briefly.
Twain describes dangerous encounters with wild animals, harsh weather, "savage" Native American confrontations, dialogues with Mormon travelers, and other unimaginable circumstances that are very hard to fathom. He paints a picture of the west as foreign land riddled with new experiences and new people. Although I cannot relate to most of his experience, being from the west and having been to many of the places described in Roughing It, I could connect fully with his vivid descriptions of nature.
In chapter five, Twain describes expansive land as he sees it first thing in the morning.
"It was another glad awakening to fresh breezes, vast expanses of level greensward, bright sunlight, an impressive solitude utterly without visible human beings or human habitations, and an atmosphere of such amazing magnifying properties that trees that seemed close at hand were more than three mile away."
He then describes his reaction to such beauty by saying that,
"...it thrills me through and through to think of the life, the gladness and the wild sense of freedom that used to make the blood dance in my veins on those fine overland mornings!"
I fully relate to his experience. Driving through many parts of California and Nevada have evoked the sensation that he describes as "blood dance [ing] in my veins," in me. When the land goes on for miles and miles without any sight of a town or civilization nature begins to feel infinite. It is exciting and terrifying to not know when you will see another human outside of the car you're in. The only things surrounding you are the greens and browns of the land. This is quite a humbling experience and I've felt vulnerable and out of control. I can only imagine that Twain experienced these feelings while traveling through the vast land in his wagon.
Also in chapter five, he describes animals that him and his travel companions encounter.
"we saw the first prairie-dog villages, the first antelope, and the first wolf. If I remember rightly, this latter was the regular cayote (pronounced ky-o-te) of the farther deserts. …. The cayote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth."
He goes on to describe the coyote for the rest of the chapter. He goes into such depth that one cannot help but wonder why. I feel like his description of the coyote as an unappealing and rabid creature is somewhat of a metaphor for the rough terrain that he encounters on the journey. At this time, the west was new and undiscovered and traveling through it was extremely difficult as Twain describes in later chapters. The newness and intimidating qualities of the coyote seem to accurately describe Twain's thoughts on the rugged terrain.
Again, being from California I have a lot of personal experience with this animal. They are vicious creatures that have attacked my dogs and eaten many a friend's chiuaua. If Twain is using this animal as a metaphor, I find it extremely accurate.
Throughout the text, Twain personifies nature, really bringing it to life. My favorite example of this occurs in chapter 13 when he describes mountains as,
"These Sultans of the fastnesses were turbaned with tumbled volumes of cloud, which shredded away from time to time and drifted off fringed and torn, trailing their continents of shadow after them; and catching presently on an intercepting peak, wrapped it about and brooded there-- then shredded away again and left the purple peak, as they had left the purple domes, downy and white with new-laid snow."
Describing the nature in this way allows the reader to really picture these mountains. Twain has a remarkable ability to bring the reader along with him on his journey. My mind goes to My Country 'Tis of Thee, and it's lyric "purple mountain majesty." For me, Twain embodies American culture and in Roughing It, one of the ways he does this, is through his experience with nature.