Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wanderlust or kick it root down?

I've never had a passport. I've driven to Colorado; driven to New Orleans for Mardi Gras; driven to Chicago; driven to Key West and to Maine. Put my feet in the Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz. I've hiked in the White Mountains of New Hampshire; I've finished a 50-mile foot race. I say all that as background so that it may make some sense when I say that if I die without having left the country, my life won't be less for it.

The Universe itself is the scripture of Zen, for which religion is no more and no less than the apprehension of the infinite in every moment. - Peter Matthiessen, "The Snow Leopard."

A zen guru, I am not. But Matthiessen is on to something, that I try to bring to my life. I've spent a lot of time running, trails, roads, mountains, around lakes. I've spent a fair amount of time on a skateboard, looking at my surroundings differently than someone who hasn't marveled at a painted parking curb, a loading dock, or an embankment. I try to experience places deeply. I can go running at Tuckahoe State Park, where I can't begin to count how many miles I have logged there, and still see things I've never seen before. There is always something new. Part of that comes with the idea of beginner's mind; of not assuming I've seen all their is to see.

All that said, I don't sit still well. I have always been one ready to throw a backpack, running shoes or hiking boots, a book or two and a notebook in a car and hit the road. I have convinced others and been convinced for road trips with zero planning or budget and poor designs. Sleeping in cars has never been a deterrent. Wanderlust and I have always been good friends. Wandering and roving about. The thing about roving is that it doesn't need a clear direction.

The fact that I can't stand flying could sway my form of pilgrimage. But I will fly when it's warranted. If I do pop my passport cherry, it could well be to go check out Finca Bellavista, a treehouse community a friend and former classmate founded in Costa Rica. Or maybe to hike England's Lake District, a la Wordsworth, and hang in taverns or catch a Liverpool match at Anfield.

There is a difference between me and a nomad: my restless soul has deep roots. My family has been connected to Maryland's Eastern Shore since the 1600s. I can feel a source of strength in being on the Tred Avon or Choptank Rivers. I feel most at home here. I've described it before, but coming across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, eastbound, is a daily euphoria, of feeling like I am coming home to a magical place, all over again; its newness doesn't disappear because of my familiarity. There are parts of the Shore that I will likely never tire of experiencing.

Running and skateboarding have both allowed me the opportunity to keep my body, mind and soul in motion. So has being on the water in whatever form. Oddly, they've also helped me explore my roots. Roots are an interesting phenomenon. When we look at a tree, we look up. Maybe we climb it. But there is a huge part of the tree not visible to us. Not without some digging.

If we always explore, looking up, looking ahead, moving to the next thing, we are missing a shitload of what is in front of us and underneath us. Sometimes maybe exploring the wilderness means delving into the things around you that you have left unexplored.

"Know thyself." For some people to know themselves, to understand themselves, they have to cover new ground, explore new terrain. And that is awesome. But it's also possible that the push to move on to explore new things, abandons life around you with only a skimming of the surface.

Trees and people, we all have roots. Occasionally we can learn a thing or two from trees. Just ask Herman Hesse:

When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk; in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured...

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward...

Hesse's wandering isn't an escape. It's a longing for home. And that's not the kind of longing that gets answered without going deep. You can't understand the tree, without knowing the roots. This kind of understanding came to folks like Aldo Leopold. Gary Snyder. Thoreau. It comes from depth and familiarity. And yet, it's hard to argue with Tom Robbins, when he reminds us:

People aren't trees, so it's false when they speak of roots.

Robbins of all people should understand metaphors. I dig being able to show Anna and Ava something of roots. Something of being connected to a place. Something of what home means. Sometimes it is a place. Sometimes it is a feeling, a state of mind. But it has to come from somewhere.

I will always have a backpack ready to go. My soul will always have restless legs and I've not traveled or explored my last mountains, trails, cities, towns. But if someone asks me how we're gonna kick it, I'll direct them to Mike D. (who just turned 49): we're gonna kick it root down.

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