“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”
– John Muir
The wild places are where we found the heart of humanity. Man was not born of the city, but rather of woods, and plains, and mountains. We expect so much from our modern life that it’s easy to overlook the simple pleasures of walking through the woods or tending your own garden.
As children, we knew the woods just up the street to be wilderness. We played in those trees, rummaged through the low underbrush, and identified insects, reptiles, and amphibians best we could. As we grow older, we stray off the sidewalk less and less.
This isn’t universal. In fact, there is a push for reentering nature the likes of which probably haven’t been seen since the sixties. People are in need of more wilderness if merely to combat that rampant modernization.
So it’s important to be outside. To forest bathe, or sit under the stars. Away from light pollution, and outside of walls. It’s where we found our heart once, and it can show us the way again.
I didn’t know him. I wasn’t familiar with his work, nor did I know I should be.
I first became aware of James A. Michener during a Twitter Q & A session with another author, discussing Thurber’s The 13 Clocks. Neil Gaiman had said that James Thurber’s book for children was quite possibly his favorite, and was then asked what would be second.
His response was Michener’s Poland. Being Polish myself, I looked this up straight away. Poland is a sweeping novel, spanning 700 pages. And despite my browsings at the library and used book stores, I’ve yet to come across a copy. (I did find it on Amazon, obviously, but I’ve not made the purchase.)
As I’ve been reading Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s account of traversing sections of the Pacific Crest Trail on a three-month through-hike, she mentioned both her mother’s love of Michener novels, as well as reading The Novel on her trek, one of Michener’s books. Again I’m amazed at the interconnectedness of it all – that I can go so long without a hint of one author, only to have him pop up in two very interesting places.
As a preparation, I’ve purchased Alaska on Audible, another of Michener’s epic tales. At 57 hours, I’m sure that I’ll be listening to this for quite some time.
Another week has come to an end, and before you know it the first month of 2020 will be over. New Year not so new anymore? I understand. But here’s what I’ve come across this week.
Reading: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I’m about half-way through, so it should get wrapped up, maybe this weekend. There’s a familiarity I feel when reading this. I’ve only done one solo hike – the Wicklow Way just south of Dublin – and that was mostly accidental. Much like how Strayed went from concept to hike in, I believe, six months. Becoming found by getting lost is a concept I think many, perhaps all of us are familiar with.
Listening: Let the Games Begin by Aloe Blacc. I heard this at work one day, and it ear-wormed itself into my head so I had to track it down. It’s uplifting while at the same time being catchy. I hadn’t really listened to Aloe Blacc since 2010 and his Good Things album.
Spending time: Watching a lot of Jeopardy. I’ve taken the test twice – once in 2016, and again last year. Neither time I was satisfied with my performance, and, since I’ve not been called by the show’s producers, I’m guessing they weren’t either. But I’ll try again next week, and testing is January 28-30.
Hello again, campers! Ready for your campfire tales? No? Not really?
I finished listening to the Camp Red Moon short anthology, and it took me a while to recognize the voice in the second story. Kevin T. Collins, who’s performed the audiobooks to the Sam Capra series by Jeff Abbot. Speaking of, it’s about time for another installment in that series.
Anyway, here’s what’s on my plate this week.
Reading: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Just getting started, and I haven’t seen the movie either, but I recognize the desire to travel, isolate, and found yourself. A lot of my library seems geared towards those sentiments, even if they all haven’t been read yet. A 26-year-old, reeling from tragedy, decides to make the 1100-mile solo hike.
Listening: You Learn from the Alanis Morrissette jukebox musical Jagged Little Pill. I had this in the nineties (it’s probably still floating around my cd collection somewhere). This ensemble number is really touching, and I enjoy it a lot.
Doing: Goal setting. I’ve been using a couple of resources – Designing Your Life, Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, & Tim Ferris. Before I start making cuts to some of my projects and interests, I want to make sure I’m doing it for the right reason. So having those goals set are important.
If nothing you’re doing seems to be working in the fight to regain your energy, maybe it’s time to take extreme measures.
I’ve tried several over the years. Once when I was fighting a severe bought of depression, I quit my job, moved out of my house, and was planning a move far away. I wasn’t sure where, but anywhere would have sufficed. For a month or two, I stayed with a friend on an air mattress. He didn’t mind, though his wife might have. Anyway, good friends will stick with you when shit hits the fan.
Deciding to take this trip to Alaska would be another opportunity to upgrade, even if only for the summer. But I foresee the time away allowing me to dissect my life in a way that I haven’t been able to do in Florida. Honest observations on what’s working and what’s not.
So it seems that upgrades are decisions that can either succeed or fail, whereby you remove yourself from one or more aspects of your life that are constantly draining energy. It’s why people seek better jobs, better housing, better communities. The hunt for better is about trying to upgrade ourselves.
But we must make sure that we’re doing it conscientiously, and not just throwing money at a problem or, worse, going into debt to be seen as “keeping up with the Joneses”.
What I’m reading: I read very little this week. Best of intentions and all, but time slipped away. I did start perusing An Innocent Abroad, compiled travel wisdom by Don George and published by Lonely Planet. But, not enough to actually call it reading.
What I’m listening to: Die Winterreise by Franz Schubert. I learned of this song cycle five or ten years ago, and I listen to it every winter. It’s 24 pieces, poetry set to music, following a man’s journey into the snow to rid himself of his departed, lost love. Quintessentially German.
What I’m spending time on: The Witcher on Netflix, starring Henry Cavill. I hadn’t followed the phenomenon that is The Witcher, from a fantasy franchise based on the series of books from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. But the show has garnered some attention, and I wanted to see what it was all about. A man fighting monsters in a world with wizards, elves, and dragons.
What I’ve shared:
I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
At last, the shopping is over. The family is gathered. The presents are unwrapped. The meals are eaten. And, at close of day, we go our separate ways back into the world. Maybe this holiday we spend with someone we only see once per year. Or less.
But as we depart, let us be reminded that Christmas is more than a day, or a celebration, or presents, or feasting. That Christmas is the opening of our hearts to those we know and those we don’t.
When the bells strike midnight tonight, do not let the doors of the heart swing shut for another year. Be open to possibility. To love and family and friendship. Find compassion throughout the year in all you do, and live Christmas not just today, but every day.
“If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.” – Jack Gilbert
In Light the Dark, Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Big Magic) wrote about finding the work of poet Jack Gilbert (no relation). Shortly after reading this over the past few days I came across a quote by Benjamin Franklin which stated, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” And the two seemed to complement each other.
Elizabeth writes, “Live bravely when you’re young, we say. And maybe again when you retire, if you play your cards right. Jack Gilbert refused that argument: No, I’m just going to live that way every single day of my life, thanks.”
What would that look like? To live bravely throughout our days? For Jack Gilbert, who worked at steel mills before becoming a poet, that looked like a Pulitzer nomination for his first book. Then, accepting relative obscurity, he went to live and travel in Europe and Asia. He published five collections in five decades, and two novels. But he stayed away from mainstream literature and academia.
But he lived truthfully, to himself, and to others. He experienced life and sampled all it had to offer. Fellow poet and lover Linda Gregg said of him, “”All Jack ever wanted to know was that he was awake—that the trees in bloom were almond trees—and to walk down the road to get breakfast. He never cared if he was poor or had to sleep on a park bench.”
Life is different for all of us, but bravely living it will leave a mark on those around us regardless of who we are or where we come from.
In other words, do something worth writing.
Another thought following the past two posts. Why books?
I was in Amsterdam two years ago, riding the tram across town, and there were passengers in large numbers reading books. The same was true in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, etc. Not when I take the bus or train here in the States. Why are books still so popular over there, while not so much here?
I may explore that in more detail when I travel over there next (not sure when).
But as for now, I know that I like my books. I like reading them. I like bookstores and libraries. And that’s not going to change.
Work, work, work. Every day this week was one job or another. But I had some good creative time too.
What I’m reading: Horizon by Barry Lopez. Spoiler: at over five-hundred pages of the main text, I’ll likely not finish this within a week. I hope I do finish it though. My thoughts on this: the cover shows plain-white text of title, author, and one achievement – “National Book Award-winning author of Arctic Dreams.” The cover photo wraps to the spine, and shows blue sea along the lower half, blue sky above. The horizon, a solid white line through the middle – it’s in this line where anything is possible. If, I suppose, you can judge a book by its cover. Lopez is a travel writer, humanitarian, and environmentalist. And everything about the layout of this book makes me want to read it.
What I’m listening to: Hadestown Original Broadway Cast Recording. Hit a deep dive of Andre DeShields for the radio show this week, and revisited this soundtrack. Really a wonderful compilation of music from Anaiis Mitchell.
What I’m watching: The Mandolorian. I was a few weeks late to the game, but I caught up. Good script, solid acting, great effects. A space-Western, reminiscent of Firefly. The internet went wild for Baby Yoda (who should have a non-Yoda name that, hopefully, will be revealed soon), and I’ll admit it’s a cute critter. Looks like Gizmo from Gremlins though. Behind the mask, Pedro Pascal is doing awesome work. I think I first saw him GoT, but have tried to follow his career since.
Other things I’ve sent to friends this week:
- Rolling Stone’s profile of Adam Driver. Gearing up for Star Wars Episode IX next week, the interview hints at the character arc for Kylo Ren and gives a revealing look at the actor behind the mask.
- Another one from Rolling Stone, this one an interview with Rian Johnson regarding Knives Out. Again, loved that movie.
- From NatGeo, a look at what happens to fresh water when mountain ice doesn’t reform on these water towers.
- SNOWBALL FIGHT! The John Wick director shot this video with the iPhone 11.