How to Walk a Backyard Camino, with help from Robert Louis Stevenson

A sunny rainbow at mile 280 on our Backyard Camino. Photo: Steve Dudley

I recently read the Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson and wrote about it here. His essay, “On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places”, has some helpful insight for getting through the dull parts of a journey.

This week we passed the halfway point on our virtual Camino. We have been at it since April 1, averaging 10 km a day.

The first few weeks went by quickly. But now it feels a bit like we’re in the doldrums.

You can see how this can happen:

  • Most of the 280 miles walked so far have been logged along the same two-mile loop around the neighborhood lake.
  • The stay-at-home orders have increased the volume of walkers and bike riders sharing our path. It feels crowded.
  • The mild spring weather is giving way to summer’s heat and humidity.

1. Come to the place in the right spirit

According to Stevenson, when we are bored or gloomy about a place, it’s as much a factor of our own thoughts as it is of our environs:

“…Nor does the scenery any more affect the thoughts than the thoughts affect the scenery…..”

Robert Louis Stevenson
“On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places”

As travelers on the road and in life, we must learn to come to each place in the right spirit.

For example, I have a much more pleasant walk if I don’t automatically begrudge the heat, humidity, or the crowded sidewalks. Similarly, it’s much happier for me and my husband if dispose of any ambition to log longer, harder miles than our bodies or schedules permit.

Suspending my own expectations and ambitions helps me get my thoughts in the right spirit to enjoy the scenery of this Camino I’m on.

2. Counter boredom by taking more notice of our surroundings

One of the great outcomes of our backyard Camino is that we are honing our ability to “peep and botanise”, or more simply, to take notice:   

“We begin to peep and botanise, we take an interest in birds and insects, we find many things beautiful in miniature.”

Robert Louis Stevenson
On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places

A springtime Camino around Victory Lakes reveals an anstounding array of greenery. Blossoming fruits and flowers pop with color and perfume. A flock of ibises park themselves at a point on the lake, gathering among the gulls and egrets. Sometimes a roseate spoonbill swoops in along with a pair of pelicans. There are five different kinds of herons nesting in the stand of great cedar trees. New ducklings hatch in batches of 11 or 12, their numbers dwindling day by day as the turtles and ospreys and herons snatch them from their mothers.

It’s remarkable how many beautiful and amusing things can be found simply by taking careful notice.

3. Make up stories as you go

“I have seen many a spot lit up at once with picturesque imaginations…”

Robert Louis Stevenson
On Finding Enjoyment in Unpleasant Places

My husband is a fabulous walking partner in this regard. We make a game of assigning trail names to the people and places we encounter on our walk. We create backstories and scenarios, constantly vying to be the first to spy a development or to cleverly build on a story that only we will share.

Using our imagination definitely helps lighten the load on otherwise dreary or monotonous day.

It makes me wonder how many dreadful days Stevenson must have encountered on his way to becoming one of the world’s most prolific and imaginative storytellers.

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