A Sense of Place (called Idyllwild)

Different Modes of Exploration – Experience # 3

I love to write rambling passages about being in motion: the things that pass through Italian train windows  like moving photo albums, the bumpy raucous nature of all-night bus rides through Vietnam, the glory of America’s road line yellow buzzing beneath us at 80 miles an hour. But travel, and certainly writing about travel, is actually a rather stationary act.

How can this be? We travel from one place to the next, but it is often those times when we move less, or not at all, that allow us to relish in the moment, to reflect, to take deep breaths and soak in all that is around us. No where does the possibility of motionless travel become more abundantly clear to me than when returning to the town of my youth.

Somewhere in the middle of Southern California, high above the heavy-metal smog, the mile-high village of Idyllwild loiters away the hours. People come and go from this island in the clouds. But mostly, they come and stay. Or at least come and then return, because something draws them back. The freedom from traffic lights and traffic?  The lack of ski resorts and tourist trap destinations? The quiet, gurgling Strawberry Creek falling off into the rushing roar of its grotto?

Or is it the massive bed of quartzite granite that forms Tahquitz Rock, a monolith that rests god-like in the hills, overlooking and protecting the town? Unlike Sedona, there aren’t any vortex swirls drawn onto Idyllwild maps, but many locals will tell you that the mountain granite has the same power and influences as Arizona’s Red Rock country.

I tend to believe in the mountain’s magnetic forces. When I tell people I’m from Idyllwild, one of two things happens:  1)  They respond by saying, “oh, you’re a mid-westerner” (maybe it’s because I mumble, but they think I said Iowa), or 2)  “Oh, Idyllwild,” they respond in awe, “it’s beautiful up there.” And they know exactly where it is, and they have a fond memory about traveling there during their childhood.

And it’s that magnetism that forms Idyllwild’s community of people (in grade school, they were fondly called hillbillies . . . lifers, full-time and fully committed idyll-the-wild enthusiasts). There are friends and family who have been on the hill for three and four and now sometimes five generations. Children become friends with other children whose parents were all friends, forming a sense of interconnectedness that seems rare in the fast-lane of today’s society.

Even for me, a part-timer, an ex-inhabitant who only has the chance to visit occasionally, there are a handful of places I go where everyone knows my name, or at least my family’s name.  And yes, that interconnectedness comes with its challenges and its complications, but in a world that seems to leave us more and more alone, it’s a pleasant feeling to be known, and to know others.

So travel to Idyllwild over the holidays, became less about movement, and more about emotion and nostalgia, about familiar love, about  spiritual travel . . . that travel which shakes our core, that fundamentally changes the way we view our world and live our lives.

And at the end of it all, isn’t that why we travel? Whether eight steps or eight thousand miles, we go to be challenged, to see new things, to be spurred, motivated, inspired towards new perspectives.  Like the Hero’s Journey understood by Joseph Conrad, we leave in order to return, changed.  Without this process, we resist a fundamental need of existence, a primal cycle of life that’s key to our survival, a rhythm that we cannot deny.

If given an open-mind, and a willingness to pursue adventures of the intellect and heart, we can experience a unique mode of travel: that rare pursuit of immobility, the journey through the great familiar. Nothing can replace the familiar scent of pine trees, high mountain air, and wood fires.  Nothing can replace climbing familiar rock routes, or hiking trails that you first traveled before you could walk.

And nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace sitting on the deck of your family’s home that you grew up in, watching the sun set on a horizon you’ve known since your youth, while raising a toast with friends that have laughed with you since you were 11 and can laugh even harder with you today. There is nothing more important, more paramount, more critical to our survival, to our thriving, to our life force, than a sense of place, a sense of family, a sense of friends, a sense of that little four-letter word we call home.

About mlgray

Heading out on adventures, building community, eating delicious cuisines, supporting the local food movement and enjoying walks in the wild . . . grateful to be wandering in the world with you.
This entry was posted in At Home in California, Different Modes of Exploration, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Sense of Place (called Idyllwild)

  1. Gary "the cowboy" (tracker) says:

    Wow! Do you want to co-teach the class on a sense of place with me at IAA next year or at least be a guest speaker?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nice Matt! I am now subscribed to your wanderings. : )

  3. Erin Latimer says:

    This is lovely, Matt. Thank you.

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