Waking Uncivilized Travel

Managed another two week hiatus, my sincere apologies . . . getting back into the groove, rejuvenating the tale . . .

Just because we travel, are there stories to share? How many moments while on the move do we keep to ourselves, not because they’re not beautiful, or stunning, or enlightening, but because there’s not necessarily a tale to tell? Or are we just not awake enough, or observant enough in those moments, and the reflective moments thereafter, to realize a story in the subtle, quiet experiences?

Recently, I’ve engaged in several conversations about the art of storytelling, about the weaving of a good tale, about the explication of experience. It has made me think about these questions and travel writing and this blog.  As I approach the one-year anniversary of storytelling here on graywanderings, I’ve begun to reflect on the purpose of my weekly posts. Originally, I began this blog as a way to update friends and family about our travels through Southeast Asia.  But it quickly became much more than that.

My father, a recent guest author on here, shared a website, The Dark Mountain Project, that focuses on the concept and project of Uncivilized Writing. I’m not sure I’ve entirely grasped the idea quite yet, but it’s clear to me that Uncivilized Writing is about putting into question our existence as a human society, and the contrived separation we’ve established between that society and the constructed notion of nature.

After a year of stumbling around with graywanderings.com, I’ve discovered that in some ways, this notion of Uncivilized Writing is exactly the type of storytelling, questioning, and meaning-making I hope to achieve.  I want to take those travel moments that quickly become tales, and examine them, so as to examine my own beliefs and understandings about the world, and in-turn encourage, even inspire, the reading community to do the same. I suppose it’s the same goal of most writers and artists: to spark conversation.

But my weariness arises with the original question . . . just because we travel, are there stories to share? Am I contriving my experiences just to start this conversation? This became very apparent to me over the last month as Lindsay and I spent our weekends traveling, camping, and beer tasting here in Colorado.

When I arrived in Colorado four years ago, I discovered that Native Coloradans are not always fond of “transplants,” (folks moving here from other states, particularly California).  This is certainly understandable.  California is known for taking more than its share of Colorado River water, often used to water golf courses, lawns, sidewalks, and random landscaping along California’s many freeways . . . I certainly resent myself as a Native Californian for the atrocities of this water theft.

So as I observed more and more cars with the Colorado “Native” bumper stickers, (I assume most folks boasting these stickers know this state inside and out), I felt a sense of responsibility to overcome such resentment by exploring Colorado from end-to-end, getting to know the depth and nuance of its beauty. Though I can never rightfully put the “Native” sticker on my car, I can at least know Colorado like a local.

In the middle of my first summer here, I went down to the Tattered Cover and purchased several books on the flora and fauna of Colorado, and guidebooks about interesting places in the state.  One book in particular, “Scenic Driving Colorado,” became my bible.   It covers 30 scenic drives (most of them nationally recognized byways), stretching from Dinosaur in the northwest corner to the Comanche Grasslands in the southeast corner, (two of the drives I have left to explore), and everything in between.  I’m type-A enough, and such a travel enthusiast, that I set the goal to complete all of the drives in five years.

And we’re getting really close to achieving that goal.  Last weekend we made the trek through the eastern San Juans, from Alamosa to Lake City. Three weeks ago we explored the Flat Tops Wilderness Area between Meeker and Yampa (talk about remote). Both weekends were filled with great experiences: hiking on sand dunes and around waterfalls, tasting delicious beer, seeing historical sites (the location of Alfred Packer’s cannibalistic survival feast, and the injustices trespassed upon the Ute Indians).

We experienced the glorious feelings of dirt road solitude.  We enjoyed the rise of the super-moon one weekend, and the abundance of stars on a moonless night the other weekend. We tracked elk through sage brush, and meditated on the banks of the Arkansas and Rio Grande rivers. We stared up at towering peaks, and looked across rolling horizons. We laughed.  We relished. We traveled.

But I’m not so sure there is a story to tell about either of these weekends.  I’m not so sure there are questions to ponder, that there is Uncivilized Writing to be scribbled onto the computer screen.  Does that mean I don’t write down these thoughts?  Does that mean I don’t pack-up the gear and head for the hills again this weekend? Does that mean I don’t post this entry?

It might.  Maybe I should have hit delete instead of publish. Yet I didn’t. I feel compelled to be a transparent writer, to reveal my discourse and struggles with the writing process. To make known the questions asked at the beginning of this essay.  To make known my commitment to re-awaken, to realize the story, to discover the uncivilized.

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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.
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4 Responses to Waking Uncivilized Travel

  1. mmmccarthy34 says:

    Most of my travels have been done in solitude and upon my return from places I’m expected to share stories. While I don’t always have stories to share, I have feelings. Sitting on a beach for 2 hours and swimming in the ocean doesn’t make a great story…but what made the experience great was the freedom and the overwhelming sense of calm I experienced. I guess what I’m trying to say is that to make a great story you don’t have to have a revelation or an anecdote, i think just an awareness of how you felt and why you felt that way is a story in itself.

  2. The Cowboy says:

    After reading the Dark Mountain Manifesto it has pushed me to question some of the environmental movements and in general how we do things in our society. Next I have gone back and re-read some writers/thinkers from a different perspective…ie Emerson, Thoreau, and Ed Abbey. This has definitely moved my thought process back in the direction of my youth and being more irreverent towards the “norm” in my thinking. Abbey for instance has lots of travel stories in his books and articles, but there is almost always something to make you pause and question. Maybe because his thinking seems so counter to the norm, but that’s not the point, the point is that he got me to stop and think about something in a little different way and question my comfortable norm that I had arrived at. “Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top”. Is this a part of what Uncivilized Writing should be…?

  3. mlgray says:

    No doubt, excellent reflection, Meghan! I think emotions, and major emotional changes/shifts/transitions are a huge part of travel. But don’t you sometimes want these elements kept to yourself? Don’t such expectations of others put pressure instead of motivation onto the storytelling? I think Uncivilized Writing asks that we question the society-nature construct, and that we do that questioning publicly. Interestingly enough, one of the original Uncivilized Writers, Thoreau, did that, while also bringing into question his own emotions and identity.

  4. mlgray says:

    Most definitely. I think Abbey is at the heart of the Uncivilized movement, and would be radical enough to say that the questioning and fighting against today’s “norms” and paradigms should be so aggressive that we should question that movement itself, not to the point of paralysis, but to the point of most serious and thoughtful action. But action none-the-less. Monkey Wrench!

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