African Skies

We swung over the hills and over the town and back again, and I saw how a man can be master of a craft, and how a craft can be master of an element. I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know — that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.

The aviator-adventurer Beryl Markham was born on this day in 1902. West with the Night, Markham’s 1942 memoir, is No. 8 on the National Geographic list of “100 Greatest Adventure Books.” It describes her record-making flight across the Atlantic and her life in Kenya, where she belonged to the same expatriate colony as Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton:

Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just “home.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.