Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 February 2017
Sometimes words flow out of you, rushing and pouring out of your heart and soul like a waterfall that can´t be stopped.
Other times ideas and thoughts trickle down into words upon a screen like a desiccated desert drain from which only gasping drops remain.
And then there are moments when what one wants to say has to be chewed over thoughtfully, ruminating in the sauces of one´s consciousness, digested and processed like the cud of some bovine creature grazing soundlessly on some empty barren prairie.
For three weeks thoughts and feelings have remained close to me, unsaid, unwritten.
It took the dying of an innocent man to bring fingers back to keyboard and courage back to expression.
Learned recently of a man I only knew of through another person.
He was only 40, a husband and father of a newborn, killed instantly by a lorry while riding his bicycle outside the Kunsthaus in Zürich.
Above: Kunsthaus Zürich
He leaves behind a shocked and grieving widow and an orphaned child who will never know his daddy.
That morning when he rose from the warm bed of his bride he did not imagine the day ending in his death.
He had a lifetime to look forward to.
Watching his son grow into a man, holding his wife in warm embrace as they grew old with one another.
Now all that he was, all that he could have been, is no more.
Death stalks us all, yet we mortal fools deny that death would ever happen to us.
We fight against the dying of the light.
We burn bright against the gathering shadows and we either decide to live life to the fullest, determined to wrestle with mortality with our last breath, or we keep our heads down and slowly sip the waters of life, hoping that a quiet life will keep the Grim Reaper’s attention focused on others.
We are all fools.
I am reminded of my foster parents.
They pinched the Canadian penny until the beaver upon it pissed blood.
They scrimped and saved with plans to see the world and travel one day.
Cancer cheated them of these hopes.
She died first of ovarian cancer, he a heartbeat later of intestinal cancer.
I would later learn of my biological mother dying of breast cancer when I was but a toddler.
All three had made their plans.
They would travel.
They would see the world.
They would have adventures.
I was determined while I had my health, whether I had money or not, I would travel, see the world, have adventures.
I have tried in the humblest way I can to learn and understand the world beyond my own limited experience.
The older I get, the more I realise there will always remain much to learn.
I first sought to understand my home and native land of Canada.
Then I travelled to the US and Europe and a wee bit of Asia hoping to understand more about people and places I had only heard about.
I hope, life and health willing, to see the Middle East and Africa and more of Asia and, maybe one day, the rest of the Americas south of the US border.
Limited by love and responsibilities I am not so free as I was when I was single.
Though I have encountered the poor in my travels I have never witnessed 3rd World poverty.
I have always preferred peace to war, though I have never been in war conditions to fully understand the fear, horror, sorrow and hate that war produces.
Above: The ruins of Guernica, 1937
I have been truly blessed by accident of birth and the shelter of my limited experience not to have seen the things that children of men should never have to see.
And I suspect that having never seen these things that I am a fool to believe that I will understand these things without direct experience.
But if I could see a world where these things no longer exist…that is a world worth experiencing.
Christopher McCandless in a letter to his friend Ron:
“I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt.
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.
The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.
The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.
But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.
And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road.
I guarantee you will be very glad you did.
But I fear that you will ignore my advice.
You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me.
You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life.
But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day.
I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover.
Don’t settle down and sit in one place.
Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.
You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.
You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships.
God has placed it all around us.
It is in everything and anything we might experience.
We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.
My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life.
It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it.
The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.”
An adventure is only an adventure in the telling.
You are 27 miles from Anywhere in the middle of a black night with the cold rain drenching you.
You have no tent.
No cover can be seen.
You are sick.
You are tired.
Loneliness has struck you sharper than any dart could.
You crave people, light, warmth.
No one stops.
No one cares.
You are in the guts of an isolated landscape.
You have no idea of precisely where you are or how you will leave this vale of sorrow and suffering.
Welcome to the adventure.
Are we having fun yet?
Perhaps I have painted a picture of roses and sunsets and intense happiness that I encountered in my own travels.
But suggesting that all of travel is an endless array of joy and harmony is not at all the full story…
As I have already suggested in previous posts I have done a wee bit of travelling…walked thousands of kilometres in Canada and abroad, hitched tens of thousands of kilometres in North America and Europe…journeys sometimes lasting months.
The longest hitching trip I made was a year’s journey from Ottawa to Newfoundland to Key West to California to Vancouver back to Ottawa.
And as many great times as there were, there were also moments of fear, worry and sorrow.
It would take a lifetime to describe them all…
– being shot at in appropriately named Winchester, Ontario
– being caught out on the side of a mountain in the dark and the rain with no shelter
– violent encounters with other residents of men’s shelters in Montreal and Strasbourg
– stranded for three days and nights in Death Valley
– arrested and jailed for two weeks in Phoenix
– a boy threatens me with a rifle in my face in Collingwood
– followed for miles by a person whose intentions were unclear in the night streets of Memphis
– the same evening an old man dies in the bunk across from me in the men’s shelter
– drivers stoned, drivers drunk, uncertainty of arriving at final destination alive
– unwelcome overtures by those eager to share the night
Any one of these moments made me question the wisdom(if any) of the journey I was making.
But, take heart, would be nomad or present nomad, wondering if the darkness really means that dawn is fast approaching…
There were many more moments that more than compensated for the dark times.
Just a few…
– Sharing meals with migrant Mexican workers in the bunkhouse of a winery on Pelee Island
– Landscapes too beautiful for words
– Generosity offered by strangers more precious than gold
– Women whose beauty and character reminded me of why I am alive and stand in awestruck wonder and amazement at the luck that brought them into my life if even for a moment
– Lying on a hillside sharing a bottle of wine and looking up at a sky full of stars by a campfire round which the homeless of Kingman were gathered
– Lying under the stars by the mighty Ottawa River until the next morning’s ferry would depart
– Witnessing the Northern Lights from a snow covered field in the middle of Alaska
Above: Frederic Church, Aurora Borealis (1865)
Is travelling risky?
Is it worth the risk?
I recently read the news of a young lady who after exploring 5 continents and more than 33 countries was found dead on an island off the coast of Panama strangled with her own sarong.
A few months ago a young woman was murdered in Nepal by a host whose mental state had been impossible to predict by the website that they had both registered with.
A few years ago a young man who wanted to experience the true wilderness of Alaska died in the attempt.
All sad stories and the fuel of cautionary warnings about the folly of travel.
And if you are looking for more reasons to never leave your country of origin just follow a newsgroup or listen to the fearmongering media or follow the advice of state departments and ministries of foreign affairs.
But before you put bars on your windows and gather the family in the basement waiting for the end times, consider the following…
Who is guaranteed a long and healthy life?
What’s the point of living if you don’t feel alive?
Making a living and ensuring your loved ones have a loving and stable life and a promising future is worthy of merit and respect.
Without this kind of love and devotion, civilisation would not be possible.
But waiting until the time is “right” is no guarantee that when the time arrives you will have the ability to travel.
Were the above mentioned victims of their travels foolish?
But while they lived, their lives were filled with great moments that are unique to travelling.
Too many people live lives of quiet desperation.
Too many people sell their souls in the name of material wealth.
The young ladies lived their lives to the fullest.
Chris McCandless felt the passion of life until a fatal error of eating poisonous berries ended his life too soon.
But while they breathed they lived.
And isn’t that the point?
If you are looking for guarantees, there are none.
But all that life is, the good and the bad, will be magnified beyond all that you have known when you travel.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things (and experiences) than are dreamt of in your (present) philosophy.
I have struggled these past three weeks, save for a few Facebook posts, to sit down in front of my computer and create.
And it has not been that there is nothing to write about, but rather the reverse.
I found myself wondering if anyone is interested in what I think and whether my writing is less inspirational than it is egotistical.
Granted to write is to believe that what one thinks is worthy of communicating.
But recently I have been reminded of George Orwell/Eric Blair and his classic 1984…not because these modern times are Orwellian…but because of the reasons why Winston Smith – the protagonist of the novel – began keeping his journal.
Smith doubted anyone would read his words, whether anyone who did read his journal would understand him or the reality he was writing about.
But I am inspired by what Smith concluded…
Smith wrote to express himself, to put into words what was real, in an age where reality was regulated to fit the wishes of power rather than what Smith knew to be true through his own experience.
To express with courage the reality of 2+2=4, rather than what someone else insists that 2+2 must be.
Why do I write?
A number of reasons…
By putting an experience into words, I begin to better understand the experience.
Socially, I try to follow two statements:
1) Every person is my superior that I may learn from him/her. And I am superior to everyone that they may learn from me.
This keeps me both humble while it maintains a healthy feeling of self-worth.
2) Do no harm.
I do realise that I will never please everyone all the time, but I continue to try and not hurt anyone with my words or actions.
Travelling has taught me so much and I hope my words offer confidence and comfort to any who have chosen to read them.
I have seen so much and yet there is so much left to see.
I have learned so much and yet there is so much left to learn.
In Africa it is said that when an old man dies, a library is destroyed.
I am not sure, if I live to a ripe old age, whether that will be the case for me.
But in the grand symphony, the great adventure, of Life, if I can know in my own small way I have contributed a verse, then I think my life will have had some meaning after all.
It was suggested to me that when one shares one’s experiences that this is an expression of an overinflated ego with delusions of one’s value in thinking that his experience actually matters to anyone else.
And I can’t deny that this bothers me.
Speaking only for myself, it has bothered me when I have tried to share some of the feelings and thoughts that travelling has generated to find those who have not travelled only marginally interested.
So often those you love neither understand nor care about what you have felt and learned as it has little to do with their own lives.
So why write?
To express myself.
To relate reality as I perceive it to be.
To shout out loud the truth of experience and the certainty of conviction.
In an age where presidents can lie boldface and critics cower and avoid confrontation…
In an age where dignity and respect are secondary to messages transmitted loudly and repeatedly until the listener simply surrenders…
Where a lie becomes truth if spoken by power in a never ceasing cacophony of intimidating relentlessness…
An age where we are taught to be afraid of the future, dissatisfied with the present and unconvinced by the past…
Where thought is discouraged, dissent repressed, emotions controlled and hope is crushed…
We rush through reality without looking at it, eyes downward cast in submission to electronic gods we have fashioned for ourselves.
But those who can think, those brave enough to feel and speak…
I encourage you to travel and to speak your minds…
While you still can…
I travel and write to help myself understand…
I hope my words encourage others to do the same.