Virtues of Travel: Part 4

For my own part I am pleased enough with surfaces– in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of friend … the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind– what else is there? What else do we need?

– Ed Abbey, Desert Solitaire

For a self-proclaimed literary junky, for someone who enjoys diving deep into the inter-complexities of our existence and the nuanced subterranean explorations of how we function, this quote from Abbey probably resonates with me more than most anything else I’ve ever read. A genuine appreciation for surfaces is really all we need.

And in our travels through Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, Lindsay and I came to this realization time and time again. We loved to show-up to a city and wander its streets, marveling at the architecture, seeking high places to enjoy skylines and panoramas, indulging in street food, and sitting at a corner cafe, drinking a beer and watching the world go by.

Though rich with cultural centers, museums, and indoor activities, we found ourselves often avoiding these places, more driven by the surface of a city’s present moment than its relics and its past exposed in display cases. We preferred a $3 bus pass to some remote neighborhood that most travelers might not explore, in lieu of a $10 admission ticket to an exhibit crowded by tourists.

This is not to say that our way was better, or that it was the only way to travel … not by any means.  Instead, it’s to understand that we each have our own way of traveling and we must find what it is that we enjoy.  We define what we need for our wanders.  And so, for our own part, we were more than content with a city’s surface.

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Virtues of Travel: Part 3

Unfortunately, the adage, “live in the present moment,” has become cliche enough that we too often disregard it.  We move at lightning speed throughout our day, never taking the deep breath to fully enjoy where we are and who we’re with. And the “fully” here is a matter of recognizing that nothing else matters other than that person and that moment.

But the more we wait during travel, the more the energy of relishing in the present moment becomes habitual … a great habit to form.  Think of a young baby waking to an unfamiliar world: instead of disregarding that world, even if they’ve seen it before, they open their eyes wide to soak in all that they can.

My three-month old daughter opens her eyes in this way every morning.  It is miraculous to watch how everything is brand new to her, even if she saw it yesterday … and how excited she is as she recognizes the beauty of everyday objects like photos and picture frames, staircases, lights, and the patterns on the closet door.

The savvy traveler opens their own eyes in this way as well, relishing in each moment, glad that they are in this new place, looking out into the world with the eyes of a child.

Are you relishing today?


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Virtues of Travel: Part 2

chickenpatienceI’m standing in-line at the grocery store, a long line, the wrong line, (you know, the one you thought would move faster than the others, but it turns out to have the customers with the most items, credit cards that won’t process, and the clerk that loves to talk). And it hits me. All my life’s wanderings have resulted in learning a few things from travel that apply to everyday life … lessons to share with Brennan. Why not focus my monthly writings in 2014 on these virtues of travel?

For example, my last post looked at Brennan’s birth as the greatest journey, offering the first virtue of travel: we already possess the confidence, intuition, and will to thrive in this world. The hardest part of travel is taking that first step out the front door.  Once we do though, we discover that we have the ability to take the next step, and the next, and the next.

The second virtue then is still waiting in-line for me here at the grocery store.  In fact, it comes from simply that, the act of waiting. How many times while traveling do we wait for delayed flights? How often do buses not show-up?  Can you remember the countless freeways you’ve encountered jammed with traffic? Sure, having patience might allow us to endure all this waiting. But what if patience goes deeper? What if patience has more to do with transforming the waiting into arriving?


from Wikipedia Commons

I remember feeling stranded in Gryon, Switzerland, waiting for the funicular. While the Swiss might be known for their punctual public transportation, something had delayed them.  I was furious.  How could they be late?  We’ll miss our connecting train! It will take us an extra day to get back!

I ranted for some time.  Then Lindsay, in the way that she so often does, calmly said, “look, the clouds are clearing from the mountains.” Gryon is a stunning place, and in my impatience for our ride, I forgot that.  We weren’t stranded. We had been given a gift to sit and enjoy this stunning mountain panorama for a few more minutes, (or a couple extra hours as it turned out to be).  How fortunate!


from Wikipedia Commons

Okay, but the Alps are pretty different distractions from what’s around us during daily frustrations like waiting in line at the grocery store. Are they though? That clerk up there slowing everything down is genuinely interested in her customers’ stories.  Instead of purely transactional interactions, she’s creating moments of profound human connection. How often do we take time to create those? The snow falling outside is incredibly beautiful to watch … how often do we stop and soak in that subtle bit of nature? Patience doesn’t just help us persevere the waiting, it helps us see what’s available to us in the present moment.  I unwrap a chocolate bar from the shelf next to me and savor a few bites over the next five minutes, bites I usually consume haphazardly.

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The Greatest Journey

There is a life-force within your soul, seek that life.

There is a gem in the mountain of your body, seek that mine.

O traveler, if you are in search of That

Don’t look outside, look inside yourself and seek That.

— Rumi

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“The miracle of life,” and “life changing,” and “you won’t understand until you have one,” and “the most amazing thing ever.” These are the platitudes we’re likely to hear when discussing the birth of a child.  But they are not trite or meaningless; they are profoundly true. Unfortunately though, these statements also don’t entirely give justice to the experience of a baby traveling into the world.

A miracle, the noun most often used to describe birth, gives us the sense of a deep unknowing, of something beyond our understanding. What is incredibly miraculous to me about birth though is that the knowledge of how to make this journey is nestled deep inside humans’ DNA, and was hard-wired into our unconscious instincts evolutions ago. Birth is a dance between the mother and child, filled with awe-inspiring rushes of courage, strength, will, and a wisdom that emerges from both mom and baby about how to cross the threshold.

While only a few inches separates our existence in the womb from our first breaths in the world, the trip is complex, diverse, imaginative, and breathtaking: a perfect analogy for the entire life that follows. So we owe it to ourselves to confidently take the next step of our living journey, knowing that That gem of power, of happiness, of our will to survive and thrive, is already in us, and has been for eons.

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Additional Baby B Photos

This gallery contains 7 photos.

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If a man walks in the woods for his love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed as an industrious and enterprising citizen.  As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down.

— Henry David Thoreau, “Life Without Principle”

Where along the way did we lose ourselves?  Was just wandering through the world or in the wild ever something celebrated, honored, and recognized by our greater society?

I walk my dog, Deacon, two to three times a day, usually over a mile each trip. We’re restricted to our neighborhood, because the near-by parks are a bit too filled with smells and squirrels and goose poop for his hyper-aware, high-drive energy.  Since we tend to walk in circles up and down the blocks, I’ve started to wonder what my neighbors are thinking…

There that guy goes again.  

He must be a little crazy.

What else does he do all day?  

It must be some sort of therapy. 

What a waste of time.

The actual likelihood is that very few of them, if any, have really even noticed the abundance of our walks. But if they have, is this wandering, or any wandering, something we appreciate enough in today’s fast-paced lives?

These walks have opened Deacon and I up to the rhythms of the bird and animal life (including humans) in our immediate area: the geese flocks on migration … the cats’ hunting grounds … people coming and going from work … song birds feeding and roosting. And since we sometimes walk a few blocks at night, I’m also now more familiar with the phases of the moon, which stars are out, and what the weather pattern is up to. Will there be snow tomorrow?

Yet what is the point of this wandering?  Why do either Thoreau or I, and every other walking wanderer in between, care? The answer to that is probably for the individual to decide. But anyone who does have an answer knows the importance of nature connection, of having time to smile and breath and contemplate, of the rejuvenation brought by saying good morning to the day.

In 2014, I hope you discover the importance of wandering for yourself as well.

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Thoreau’s Walden, Muir’s Mountains of California, Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, and most recently, Brower’s Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run… I’ve been on a kick lately of reading authors’ intimate portrayals of their time in the natural world and the deep sense of place which they receive from wanderings and musings in the wild, and from their activism to save our wilderness.

From the infamous New England pond to the expansive Southwest, each author reminds us how important open space and a healthy planet is to our existence.  And even Thoreau’s words, written more than 150 years ago, offer the stark picture of how far we’ve removed ourselves from nature, and how hard we’ve worked to perfect the indoors. But don’t take my scribbling as an arrogant diatribe pointing a finger at others’ destruction of our nature connection.  For I sit in a perfected indoor space, staring at a blinking screen, sending thoughts into the invisible web that dominates our day-to-day.

Instead, though I’m not one to often feel the need to write book reviews, I wanted to offer a moment of thanks during this holiday week for David Brower, the once President of the Sierra Club, and the always Archdruid of the wilderness. His Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run, shouts a “call to those who would save the earth,” painting a crisp picture both of how desperately we need to get outside, and how much harder we need to work to protect the planet and the places we love.

So during your time off this week, if you’re blessed with a moment to spare, go and wander: stride alongside the water, listen to the mountains… return to the restorative space of nature which we too often abandon.

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