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

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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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Wandering Wisdoms: V.2

Tears have kept on falling. History

has taught them its slanted understanding

of the human face.  At each last embrace

the snow brings down its disintegrating curtain.

The mind shreds the present, once the past is over.

— Galway Kinnel, from Goodbye

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Travel Impressions, Distinctly Modern

Though I’ve now done this drive across California to Colorado more than a dozen times, nothing beats the thunderstorms that roar over the San Rafael Swell in the middle of nowhere, Utah. Each adventure across the 1000 miles that wander me from my childhood doorstep to my adult life, takes on its own meaning, its own personality, its own beauty. This drive has something to do with transition, but also comfort and confidence. And the lightning strikes on distant mesas provoke a particular philosophical muse.

I set the cruise control to 79 mph, switch on the A.C. and turn the volume up on Nashville Skyline.  Most people take two or three days to complete this drive, but I’m driven to spend as much time with family on both ends of the journey, so I pack the entire route into one 18-hour period. Along the way, I’ll watch the sunrise above the Mojave Desert, breath deep the nostalgic smell of Creosote after the rain, ignore the lust and loitering in Las Vegas, slow down through the Virgin River Gorge of Arizona, enjoy the hospitality of a Colorado Brewery, and sing up the moon and the stars and the quiet as I whip over the Continental Divide into the lights of Denver.

In the end, I’ll have crossed through five states, burned 25 gallons of gas, and traveled farther than the vast majority of human beings alive today, or ever for that matter, will travel in their entire lifetime.  While these numbers aren’t usually important to me, the sheer amount of open space and beauty and even experience that I’m literally gobbling up in a small window of time, astounds me. Our modern world grants us access to consume at a rate which I’m pretty sure our brains can no longer keep up with.

Just in the act of writing this post, dozens of links and photos related to the scattered topics and places I’ve mentioned appear as potential source material, all created by other people consuming at similar rates. In a moment, I’ll hit save or publish or delete, and as rapidly as the lightning makes contact with the desolate desert of Abbey’s subtle poetry, this piece of “travel impressions” will lift into space with its garbled thoughts and incomplete neo- post-modern pontifications.

“Fatigued Drivers Pullover!”  The Utah Department of Transportation shouts at me from the other side of the white line.  I am fatigued.  I am on a wanderers overload.  Thank goodness for the rest stop, the view point… the little trail that leads to the edge of Devil’s Canyon.  For a few peaceful moments in solitude I can lean over the chasm and stare into the depths of the outrageous aesthetic that is 0 mph. I can laugh with the dark gray skies and float weightlessly on the wind with my friend the Raven, who really knows how to live.

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Wandering Wisdoms: V.1

“To me too has not unrest been ordained, have not I too been endowed with a heart which knoweth not repose? The story-teller’s star — is it not the moon, lord of the road, the wanderer, who moves in his stations, one after another, freeing himself from each? For the story-teller makes many a station, roving and relating, but pauses only tentwise, awaiting further directions, and soon feels his heart beating high, partly with desire, partly too from fear and anguish of the flesh, but in any case as a sign that he must take the road, towards fresh adventures which are to be painstakingly lived through, down to their remotest details, according to the restless spirit’s will.”

— Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers

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A Wanderer Looks at 30: Unabridged

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

— Stephen Hawking

I’m excited to celebrate the 100th post on this site with a meandering on life as I reach an age milestone that I find quite significant. I’ve learned a lot during my walk on this earth, yet I know very little. Yes, it’s cliche to say that the more I learn, the more I discover how much I have to learn, but it’s absolutely true.  And to that end, most of what I’ve learned are perspectives, ideas, and truths that other much greater minds have realized during their journeys. So instead of attempting to arrogantly develop my own philosophy, I want to take this opportunity to reflect on this statement from Stephen Hawking, one of the most powerful minds of our time. Continue reading

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A Wanderer Looks at 30: Part 3 – Imagination

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”

Stephen Hawking goes on to say, “Try to make sense of what you see, and always wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” Hawking’s call to wonder strikes a resonant chord in my being. Continue reading

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