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Saturday, November 23, 2013
Time Traveling with friends. And Pynchon.
I've taken up time traveling. It's not a new adventure, really, I've been doing it for some time. At St. James School, we would run trails at the Antietam Battlefield. My mind would drift, wondering what it would have been like, rewinding time, what they went through... but then a turn in the trail, a friend running past, something would bring me back to the present.
As someone who reads and writes, time travel is a vocational habit. Walking through the Natural History Museum, the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, my mind is anything but stationary.
In this case, time travel takes a couple forms. It is going back in time with Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Traveling to their world through the imagination of Thomas Pynchon and his historical novel, "Mason & Dixon," and through traveling with a group of friends/adventurers to find stone markers and walk the trail that Mason and Dixon surveyed and marked, the border of Maryland and U.S. history called the Mason-Dixon Line.
On Nov. 17, nine of us set off through early morning fog (there is always fog involved in time travel) to the Millington Wildlife Area, on the border of Maryland and Delaware. A couple folks in our group knew the park and we had GPS coordinates for where there was rumored to be a Mason-Dixon marker, off trail, somewhere in the woods.
Our group includes a couple of marine biologists and a card-carrying naturalist, who is working to catalog all the living things in Maryland. It's a fascinating band of vagrants to walk through the woods with, especially for me, who is fascinated by everything I encounter on a hike or a trail run, but no very little about what it is.
Following our directions, we hiked in on a marked Millington trail, then went off trail, blazing thick, blood-thirsty briers, log-crossing a stream, and wandering until we found the stone marker in question.
Finding a stone in the woods may sound unremarkable. But a stone that was laid in the 1760s during a survey/expedition that has become mythical in its own right; a stone put there by two men whose names any Marylander has heard practically since birth; a stone whose boundary has become synonymous with the Civil War; a stone about whose setters I am embarked on a literary journey with via the fantastic mind of Thomas Pynchon, well, that to me transforms it to remarkable. Then again, bourbon may have factored into that alchemy.
This was the "official" kickoff to our Mason Dixon Pynchon adventure. As we contemplated the stone and Mason and Dixon, I read the opening passage of Pynchon's novel aloud. That may be as far as a couple members of our group get in the book. ;) But as much as the book itself, and traversing one of the great writers of our time, for me the adventure is equal parts reading, experiencing the physical artifacts of history, experiencing the natural world and landscape around us that I haven't explored enough, and doing it with a group of friends equally disturbed enough to meet at 6:30 a.m. on a foggy Sunday morning to go look for a rock in the woods.