Walking distance.

After a while in the wilderness, he wanted get back to his wife and son. He’d been wandering along the Mississippi valley in southern Illinois. About a hundred and sixty-five miles from his home in Henderson, Kentucky. For this guy, that was walking distance.

He set out at his usual steady pace, cutting diagonally across the state through forests, fields and swamps. There were bears, snakes and maybe some dangerous people. He had a gun and knew his way around rough country. But he hadn’t expected so much water. It was ankle deep much of the time.

He said later that his shoes kept slipping off, and this slowed him. Still, he was a tireless walker, doing 45 miles in a twelve-hour day. On dry roads he could walk for stretches at about 8 miles per hour, a running speed for the rest of us.

If you hadn’t known this, you might’ve pegged him for a foppish French dude. He had those manners. And the accent. Yet he was tough.

He slept in the open, and by day kept up the steady pace, making notes about wildlife and birds as he went. He was interested in the pinnated grouse, or Greater Prairie Chicken. And once described a bird he’d seen as a “carbonated warbler,” whatever that might be.

He reached the Ohio, found a ferry to take him across, then walked home. Three and a half days and a hundred and sixty-five miles later, he was in the arms of his wife and son.

The next day, he got up and went for a walk in the country. Why not? He was a hard guy. A two-fisted birdwatcher. They hadn’t heard that phrase yet, back in 1811. They hadn’t heard of this guy either, at the time. But they would eventually know his name: Audubon.

This account is more or less true, based on information in Chapter 6 of “John James Audubon,” by Richard Rhodes. The biography’s long, with details about details. But every once in a while there’s a glimpse into the ruggedness of this character and his times.

One Response to “Walking distance.”

  1. Norm S. says:

    … At one time it was believed Audubon was missing European Royalty. The particular aristocrat in question is fuzzy. NOW I will have to do some research. Yeah, he was an amazing guy.