Category Archives: Extraordinary Vagabonds

Robert Louis Stevenson and David Kalakaua

Robert Louis Stevenson – Writing Vagabond

Robert Louis Stevenson was an explorer, writer, poet, essayist and speaker. Stevenson was one of the great literary geniuses the world has produced, and everyone knows him because of his most famous works Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Of course, who can forget two of the strangest characters ever, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, who were created by R L Stevenson.

Robert Louis StevensonThose three examples would suffice to introduce the creative genius that Stevenson was. He was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson on 13 November, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to parents Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Isabella Balfour. His father was a lighthouse engineer, which was their traditional family profession as well.

Stevenson was the only child in the family. He was considered to be a bit odd by his friends and schoolmates because his behavior was eccentric, to say the least. In his younger years he made only a few good friends. As a result, he turned to writing, publishing his first ever work at a young age of sixteen with help from his father, who himself was fond of writing. Stevenson’s writing genius was recognized right away and his work found an audience of all ages. However, rather than writing, Stevenson was more interested in traveling, and he visited a cousin in England in 1873 and subsequently he settled there for a while.


Further Reading on Grandma Gatewood

A Life: Bigoraphy of Robert Louis Stevenson
Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson
Travels in Hawaii
An Inland Voyage and Travels with a Donkey
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
A Tale of Two Roses
Treasure Island
Kidnapped
Travel to Samoa, Hawaii, San Francisco, or the UK

Stevenson met his soon-to-be wife, Fanny Sitwell while in London and she shared his enthusiasm towards the fine art of writing. Stevenson visited his parents back in Edinburgh from time to time, and meanwhile he became more and more popular in London academic circles. In 1875, Stevenson visited France to take medical treatment because of weak health. He liked the French environment very well, and visited France several more times during his life. In 1879, he went to San Francisco and he also stayed there for a couple of years, all the time writing accounts of his travels and creating new stories.

Stevenson’s family suffered from a long history of weak health, and for this reason he searched for a suitable place to stay that would suit his weak constitution. He traveled to many places in Scotland, England and the US, but the environment didn’t suit him in any of these places.He needed a warm tropical climate, and he found it in the Pacific. Not only did he go to Hawaii and Samoa but also to Tahiti and many of the smaller islands of the pacific islands.

Robert Louis Stevenson and David Kalakaua
Stevenson hosting King Kalakaua in his home
Stevenson resided in the Kingdom of Hawaii for a time and became great friends with King David Kalakaua and his sister Lilioukalani (who subsequently became the last monarch of Hawaii before she was overthrown by a consortium of U.S. businessmen and missionaries.) There were rumors of a romantic affair with the beautiful Hawaiian Princess Victoria Kaiulani but one thing for certain is that they became great friends and had a wonderful friendship. He penned this poem for her before he left.

[Written in April to Kaiulani in the April of her age; and at Waikiki, within easy walk of Kaiulani’s banyan! When she comes to my land and her father’s, and the rain beats upon the window (as I fear it will), let her look at this page; it will be like a weed gathered and pressed at home; and she will remember her own islands, and the shadow of the mighty tree; and she will hear the peacocks screaming in the dusk and the wind blowing in the palms; and she will think of her father sitting there alone. – R. L. S.]

FORTH from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.

Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.

As the ship left King Kalakaua brought the Royal Hawaiian Band to play farewell to his good friend Stevenson.

death of Robert Louis StevensonStevenson finally settled on the island of Samoa, where he also breathed his last, on December 3, 1894. Though he lived for just 44 years, Stevenson has become immortal through his works which have inspired travelers, vagabonds, and adventurers .

this land was made for you and me

Vagabond Folk Singer – Woodie Guthrie

While perhaps not a world traveler, Woodie Guthrie’s songs and music have been the soundtrack to more than a few vagabond adventures. Because of that, he is truly extraordinary. In fact, it’s almost unthinkable to have a trip in the USA without singing or humming “This land is your land…this land is my land…from California…to the New York Islands…”

One of the best known folk singers ever, Woody Guthrie was born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, on July 14, 1912 in a small town called Okemah in the state of Oklahoma. His parents, Charles Edward Guthrie and Nora Belle Tanner named him after the then governor of New Jersey, and future President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.

This machine kills fascistsCharles Guthrie was involved actively in local politics, and that could be one reason the family was so influenced by Woodrow Wilson. Guthrie spent most of his childhood and teenage in Okemah itself, where his father had quite a lot of land, and various other interests as well. Charles, however, was living in Texas because his wife was finding it hard to stay in Oklahoma with a few medical conditions from which she was suffering.

At the age of 19, Woodrow Guthrie was sent for by his father, and he met Mary Jennings, his first wife, whom he married and fathered three children with. Guthrie’s love for music was kindled right in Okemah, where he used to listen to old ballads and folk songs that were sung at festivals and traditional days.

this land was made for you and meGuthrie used to practice by singing an occasional song or two around town, and his flair for music was evident right at that stage. He stayed in Texas till the late 1930s, when he joined thousands of fellow Oklahoman people who were moving to California in search of better jobs and earnings. Guthrie traveled with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California and learned traditional folk and blues songs. Many of his songs are about his experiences in the Dust Bowl era during the Great Depression, earning him the nickname the “Dust Bowl Troubadour”

It was in California that Guthrie tasted his first hand at fame, by performing traditional folk music that was broadcast over the radio, on the radio station KFVD. While working here, Guthrie began writing and composing his own songs, most of which revolved around the current political situations in the country and region.

Woodie Guthrie Resources
Woodie Guthrie – A Life
Dust Bowl Ballads
This Machine Kills Fascists
The Asch Recordings

almanac singersGuthrie was forced to come out of KFVD in the early 1940s, his politics made him unhireable as he was rumored to be a communist since his guitar said “This machine kills fascists” and he wrote for the communist newspapers. In fact though, he never joined the party but finding no other employment, he returned to Texas along with his wife. But Guthrie was not meant to stay there because as he soon received a call from a former colleague asking him to come to New York to work on his musical career.

So, at this point, Woody moved to New York where he soon started performing. An unlikely place for a cowboy singer, but it was in New York City where his career really took off. His musical life took him to Los Angeles, Washington, Oregon and Coney Island, in all of which places he performed, composed songs and achieved fame. Perhaps the most productive time was with the Bonneville Power Association building the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State. IN one month he wrote 26 songs.

“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built.

I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”

His career was at its peak when he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, which led to detoriation of his health. He finally breathed his last on October 3, 1967. Though he is no more, his music has been carried through generations, mainly by the likes of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer and Tom Paxton, all of who have acknowledged Woody as one of the greatest singers of all time.

Peace Pilgrim Grandma Gatewood

Vagabond Granny – Grandma Gatewood

Every once in a while you come across someone that inspires  the hell out of you. Emma “Grandma” Gatewood is one of those people.

Peace Pilgrim Grandma GatewoodGrandma Gatewood was born Emma Rowena Gatewood on October 25, 1887, in Guyan Township, Ohio. and was a very able hiker who mastered the art of hiking and dedicated herself to world peace. Better known as Grandma Gatewood, Emma was the first woman in history to hike the Appalachian Trail solo, from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. She completed the 2,168-mile hike in just one season. The best part, she did it at age 67, giving her the nickname Grandma Gatewood. Grandma Gatewood was also a pioneer in ultra light backpacking, a term used to define backpacking that is done with the minimum number of things necessary to make the hike.

Grandma Gatewood’s backpack during her hike on the Appalachian Trail included an army blanket, sneakers, a raincoat and a shower curtain made of plastic. Just a look at this list is enough to show what kind of woman she was. This is the main reason she is called one of the best ultra light backpackers to have ever lived. This particular hike landed her in national attention, with mentions in Sports Illustrated and appearances on the Today Show. Why?

Because she was one kick ass old lady. She  got her inspiration to go on the Appalachian Trail from a issue of National Geographic Magazine in which she saw the pictures of the trail, and assumed it would be a pleasant hike. She was later known to have told the media that it was not that pleasant after all.


Further Reading on Grandma Gatewood

Walking the Appalacian Trail
Grandma Gatewood Walks Across America
Travel to Appalacia

Grandma Gatewood became so fond of this particular trail, she hiked it not once, but three times! The final time was at the age of 75, making her the oldest person to have hiked the Appalachian Trail. Her other hikes include a hike on the Oregon Trail, which began from Independence, Missouri and ended at Portland, Oregon, and lasted 2,000 miles. Grandma Gatewood was a person of immense energy and passion for adventure, as hiking thousands of miles is a feat some people would not even dream of! Never mind as a senior citizen.

Peace Pilgrim Appalacian TrailHer last hike was at the age of 83, and took place at the Appalachian Outfitters, Oakton, Virginia. Grandma Gatewood was survived by eleven children at the time of her death, at the age of 85. The next generation includes 24 grandchildren, the one after that has 30 great-grandchildren, and the fifth generation had one great-great grandchild, at the time of her death.