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Daily archives for August 7th, 2018

Home Again, Home Again

Lughnasa                                                                        Monsoon Moon

Traveling is such sweet sorrow, to paraphrase Shakespeare. Yes, it involves parting and parting and parting, but it contains within its partings a going to and a coming from. We cannot travel without a departure point, a destination, and, for most us anyhow, a place to return. I say most because I know my brother Mark and I’m sure there are more of his tribe, who depart, arrive, then depart and arrive again, only to be ready to leave again, perhaps never to return. I know he broadly considers the U.S. home and so does come back here from time to time, but that’s different from having a house, three dogs and a wife.

When I go, I leave the familiarity of the daily routine, the comforts of, especially, my own bed, the easy knowledge of local destinations and short drives for hours, sometimes days on the road, for strange pillows and bathrooms, for a place, even a familiar one like the Twin Cities metro, changed in unexpected ways. I’ve only recently learned that for some travel and the strangeness it brings is unpleasant.

My family of origin traveled some, a lot for an average income 1950’s family, including several trips to the then very exotic land of Canada. My brother and sister have seen a lot of the world and I’ve seen my share though less than them. It is the strangeness that attracts me. The language I can’t read. The foods I don’t know. The countries filled with citizens of another loyalty than my own. The places where history’s long arc has unfolded, often over spans of time much longer than that of the United States. Art that can only be seen in particular museums like the Uffizi, the British, the Louvre. Buildings and ruins of buildings. Somehow in that strangeness my own particularity becomes highlighted, more clear.

I suppose you can travel only to assure yourself that your place is best, finding the aspects of another land less than your own. If you do, then the real opportunity of the traveler is lost. It is the other, the literally billions of others, living their lives, loving and hating and hoping and dreaming, in places distant from our own in miles and cultural assumptions that offer us humility, new ways of considering old ways. What can you eat? How can you prepare it? What’s beautiful? What’s important? How does design affect daily life? How can you get from here to there? The great lesson of travel is that the other is not really other, only a different expression of the same creature, of the same species.

Travel could, I would even say should, erode if not eliminate our sense of superiority, of uniqueness, of being better than, say, Mexicans or Bolivians or Taiwanese or Koreans. These are all just folks trying to get through the day, figure out some purpose to existence, loving their families, making mistakes. Different, perhaps, in clothing, language, music, food, but at bottom, human. Like you and me.


Last Day on the road

Lughnasa                                                    Monsoon Moon

On the road until 7:15 pm last night. Got misdirected (by myself) making the turn south toward Hot Springs. This time, even with maps and a phone that was still charged, I ended up further west than intended. No matter. I drove down 385 on the west side of Paha Sapa, seeing the gigantic Crazy Horse carving on the east side of the road.

Drove through Wind Cave National Park. I took the tour there long ago. There were buffalo right by the roadside and a huge field of prairie dogs. They stood up, looked alert, scampered away on prairie dog business.

I passed into the mountain time zone outside Rapid City, regaining the hour given away on the trip east. At some point I also passed the 100th meridian, too. Until climate change began inching the line eastward the 100th was the point marking the change from the humid east to the arid west. West of the 100th precipitation averages less than 20 inches a year. That’s often not enough for agriculture.

Passing the 100th means a return to my home region, no longer the northland I had just left, but the American West, land of corporate mining, ranching, water wars, and well-armed citizens.

In a few minutes I’ll hit the road again, this time heading out through South Dakota, then Wyoming on blue highways. Along these particular blue highways there will be, off the road aways, small rectangular patches of land protected by high fencing, motion sensors and cameras. Within the fencing lies a missile silo. This land is the contemporary field of dragon’s teeth sown by the ancient king Cadmus. Up from them will emerge mechanical warriors, tipped with nuclear bombs and already targeted for some enemy or the other. I don’t find them reassuring.

There is a freedom to the road, a disaffected and depersonalized freedom though, one populated by unfamiliar landscapes, unknown people and the slight sense (at least in the U.S.) of being far away from help. In this cone of the strange (to us) we carry with us the intimate familiarity of our body and our mind, the memories and quirks that make us who we are.

Been thinking about an article on personalism offered by Tom Bugby, new Woolly whom I met Sunday at the Black Forest. Written by David Brooks, it positions personalism as a middle way between radical individualism (the enlightenment) and collectivism (evil socialists and communists).

It occurred to me that each of these positions commits what Whitehead called a fallacy of misplaced concreteness. That is, each would claim to be the way things are. We are radically individual, unknown to others and knowing others only through their persona, darkly. We are in relationship, cannot know ourselves outside of relationships. We are simply one of the many, important, yes, but the many takes precedence.

No. We are, in turns, a radical individual, highlighted right now for me while I’m on the road, a person in relationship, intimate ones, friendship, casual acquaintances, and, a member of a town, a religious community, a state, a nation. We move along this continuum every day, this activity emphasizing the individual, this one relationships, and this one the larger communities to which we belong.

Totalizing perspectives, we are only individuals or we are only in relationship or we are only part of a broader group, are really finger pointing, blaming this point on the continuum for the problems we face. In fact life is complicated, made up of diverse moments when this facet of ourselves or that one gets to shine.

OK. So I had a long time to think about this.


August 2018
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