Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mason Dixon Existential Adventure

The Mason-Dixon Line is a tractor beam for Marylanders. When I went to college in Raleigh, N.C., people called me a yankee when they heard I was from Maryland. When I've gone north, people call me a southerner. No one knows what to make of us. Geocultural shapeshifters defined by our proximity to Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon's line.

We drive over the line on Route 70, crossing into Pennsylvania when we visit my wife's family outside Pittsburgh. I've always been fascinated by the thought of it. I was downright giddy when I found out that there is a 193-mile Mason Dixon Trail, which connects the Appalachian Trail to the Brandywine Trail. We've even tread on some of it at White Clay Creek State Park in Newark, Del. There are different sections mapped out and detailed for hiking trips. It doesn't take much to get me amped for a trail adventure.

Then there is the me who digs being down a literary-historical-philosophical rabbit hole read of an adventure. Imagine how cool it would be to tie together an in-the-world trail adventure with an in-the-mind imagination-bending quest. Enter Thomas Pynchon.

Tom Robbins, a literary hero of mine, called Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon" essential reading for the enlightened. Pynchon's novel imagines the lives and work of the surveyors who would divide the north and the south. I've been looking for a reason to dig into Pynchon and "Mason & Dixon" in particular. And I've been searching for some kind of in-the-world adventure to get back on the trails that have fueled and filled my soul. It's time to make a you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter Reese's Peanut Butter Cup hybrid.

We've got a core group of willing existential adventurers who are going to read "Mason & Dixon," and then go experience the trail. Logistics are still being worked out, whether we will cover the whole trail, section by section over the course of a year, marking where we stopped and picking up there later, or just hit some of the most scenic stretches. Our current crew includes birders, teachers, a former rugby player, historians, trail runners, marine biologists, writers, among other semi-arbitrary labels. The roster is expanding.

Mason Dixon immersion. Deep, cool, fun experiences. Thought-provoking stuff to read. Soul-searching adventures to ponder and write about. Meaningful ways to connect with great people and experiential ways to connect with American history and landscape.

Details, progress reports, updates and further Mason Dixon Pynchon trail musings to follow. The adventure is just beginning.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On Lightheartedness and Vocation

Chesapeake Bay Bridge construction worker is not a job I'm suited for. It's the whole height thing, that lurch in my stomach when I look down over the edge of a bridge or while ridge-walking along a mountain. I'm okay with it, but not for a long stretch.

At the same time, it's hard not to feel more alive than normal when driving across the Bay Bridge: racing heart from the height, from the freighters on the water, from the color palette, from the whole panorama, just a bit more than I can soak into my soul at one time. Whether a bridge or a mountain, a super-sized helping of the awe of the experience is based on being up high. You're not going to feel that alive sitting in a cubicle.

It's a kind of lightheartedness. I've cultivated that kind of lightheartedness as long as I can remember. But sometimes I go for long stretches forgetting about it. Who has the time? But being high doesn't always involve being up high.

Lately, I've had that feeling reading Frederick Buechner. Reading Barbara Brown Taylor and Wendell Berry. Watching our eight-year-old daughter kick-save a shot on goal in her first experience playing field hockey goalie. Running. Writing.

I've been doing more writing for Eastern Shore Savvy, and if you follow along at home, I'll have at least an article each month, which is keeping me writing and looking for new things in our shared Eastern Shore backyard to explore and write about.

A lot of my Buechner, Berry, Brown Taylor reading has been about vocation. Everybody needs a vocation. A friend of late was wondering what her purpose was--beyond being a mother, teacher, friend, laughing, enjoying life. What is that larger purpose that calls us beyond ourselves? It's not by accident, or maybe it kind of is, that the Three B's above are all spiritual seekers, question askers, who have all thought outside the vocation box. All are clearly doing what they are called to do, and have left us/me a road map as to how they discerned what that is.

I think Snoopy has the right/write idea. Find a place with a sweet view to call home and sit up there, take it all in and write it all down. And this time of year, hang out in pumpkin patches.