We happened on a reference to Mark Twain’s management of a donkey in my grandfather’s journal from 1914 which sent us to the library where we discovered Twain’s travel book Roughing It. A review describes the book as “semi autobiographical.” His trip to Nevada with his brother who had been appointed Secretary of Nevada Territory is historical. We find our daily dose of laughter in his descriptions, and you can judge for yourself how literal and factual they are–or aren’t.
Roughing It traverses quite a bit of country familiar to us, especially in Nevada and California. We enjoy comparing his views with ours over 140 years later.
While we were building our home, living on site without utilities, we cooked over a small grill using sage brush, which was free and at hand, instead of charcoal. Here’s what Twain writes about similar cooking:
When a party camps, the first thing to be done is to cut sagebrush, and in a few minutes there is an opulent pile of it ready for use. A hole a foot wide, two feet deep, and two feet long is dug, and sagebrush chopped up and burned in it till it is full to the brim with glowing coals. Then the cooking begins, and there is no smoke, and consequently no swearing…
Sagebrush is a very fair fuel, but as a vegetable it is a distinguished failure. Nothing can abide the taste of it but the jackass and his illegitimate child the mule. But their testimony as to its nutritiousness is worth nothing, for they will eat pine knots, or anthracite coal, or brass filings, or lead pipe, or old bottles, or anything that comes handy, and then go off looking as if they had had oysters for dinner. Mules and donkeys and camels have appetites that anything will relieve temporarily but nothing will satisfy.
Mark Twain then interjects the tale of a camel eating his overcoat in Syria, where he visited before he wrote Roughing It:
…he tried the velvet collar, and smiled a smile of such contentment that it was plain to see that he regarded that as the daintiest thing…
One of these days I’ll compare his view of Mono Lake and the tufa towers with ours.