Friday, February 26, 2010

Travel, Travail, Wandering and Wondering

Continuing to read William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, his assessment of the value of travel and exploration keep hitting home, in spite of---or even because of---the inherent contradictions of his words.

Just this morning, after waking up and meditating for a few minutes as the low clouds greeted the New Mexican morning sun, I read "If a man can keep alert and imaginative, an error is a possibility, a chance at something new; to him, wandering and wondering are part of the same process, and he is most mistaken, most in error, whenever he quits exploring." This passage hits home, reminding me of the fact that our endeavor to eschew our former lives and explore the country in pursuit of a new place to call home is indeed an endeavor of wandering and wondering, and moments of error and miscalculation are also moments when possibilities open which may have otherwise gone unseen. 

Interestingly, several pages later Heat-Moon quotes Homer: "Nothing is harder on mortal man than wandering", adding that the English words "travel" and "travail" share a common etymological origin. 

Our dear friend Paul Woodward from Connecticut has written a wonderful self-published book entitled "Years Wandering and Wondering", and it seems that it's a common denominator of human existence to look back on one's life, assess the extent of one's errors, miscalculations and successes, and draw conclusions based upon that assessment. 

I imagine that, one day in the not too distant future, Mary and I will sit back on the sunlit porch of our new happy abode, reviewing and assessing the circuitous path that led us there. Perhaps from that vantage point of hindsight informed by experience, we'll see where we may have turned left instead of right, where we were misguided, when we were trying too hard, where we were totally tuned in, and when we simply allowed the journey to happen without our attempts to direct its course. How I would love to have a glimpse of that hindsight now---just for a second---but then again, that might ruin the game and rob us of the opportunity to commit even more errors that simply need to happen in order to get us where we truly need to go. 

At times, the uncertainty of our journey weigh on me, and I long for that glimpse of what the future holds. At other times, I'm keen to continue wandering and wondering with great curiosity and openness to the future. 

Our journey has indeed taken many twists and turns. We've gone off the beaten path quite frequently, exploring corners of America not seen from the relative safety of the interstate. We've been lashed by winds on the Mississippi coast while camped on the ruins of a house destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. We've sloshed through the red mud of Palo Duro Canyon, slept in a hotel parking lot, and relied on the kindness of strangers and friends alike. 

Now, we're safe in the home of our son and daughter-in-law on this mesa outside of Taos, and the low-lying morning clouds ride the winds, floating over the distant adobe homes and casting shadows on the fields of sagebrush below. 

Today I'll stay home and nurse the cold, cough and sore throat that have taken hold of my respiratory tract at a time when being sick is the last thing I would ever want. In fact, I had a nagging cold for the first nine or ten weeks of our trip, and it's only the last six weeks that I've felt basically healthy (aside from the chronic pain that's simply part and parcel of life in my particular middle-aged body---for now anyway). 

Soon enough, alight from Taos towards the south, and perhaps our new home is simply waiting for us to find it. Perhaps a few "wrong" turns and miscalculations will be all that it takes to get us there. If it's true, as Heat-Moon says, that our worst mistake would be to quit exploring, then there's nothing for us to do but to continue on according to plan, and hope that we can remain open and flexible enough to allow the future to happen without too much help from us. 

Traveling and travail may have the same etymological origin, but that origin from the Middle Ages may indeed be due to the fact that travel at that time in history was fraught with dangers unknown to the 21st century traveler. Our "wheel estate" has most everything we need, and with ATMs, cell phones, WiFi and credit cards, the sky is truly the limit (or is it our credit limit?)

No matter the travails of travel, it's a wonderful way to "reboot" our lives and begin our third decade of marriage. As the singer Conor Oberst once sang, "there's nothing that the road cannot heal", and it seems clear that the road ahead will offer even more healing, adventure and discovery than we can now imagine. One day, we'll write a final blog post from that sunlit porch and reflect on the road that delivered us there, and it's then that we'll truly know that we've arrived. 


1 comment:

  1. Pilgrim, pelegrina, peregrine.
    When Home is the Compostela of the Quest.
    "It's that you each, to shorten the long journey,
    Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
    And, coming homeward, another two,
    Stories of things that happened long ago.
    Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
    The most amusing and instructive tale,
    Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
    Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
    When we come back again from Canterbury."

    For years now, I, the inveterate traveler, have found my Penelope, just a wee south of Taos, in hills of a more nurturing heart the confluence of Cow & Bull Creeks, my love, my muse, my very Penelope.
    Here’s to hoping you find yours.