Thursday, July 23, 2015

Learning how to dwell

I have always been frustrated with how easily my stakes bend when planting them in hard ground. This time I finally realized: maybe they bend because on rough ground it really is better to peg your tent to a pair of tree trunks or other fixed objects. So I took my knife and shaved the bottom branches off a tree. In the middle of the clearing, there was a root sticking out on which to tie the other end.

I had modified my small environment in other ways: built a fire pit with rocks from the road, dragged deadfall for use as fuel and sacrificed a birch sapling for a staff as protection from wild animals. This is the only way humans can survive, really. It was quite a revelation really, wandering through that big woods. Why did I always have this impetus, this urge to wander into empty places, to seek the unknown, to find the most remote wilderness I can? Yet here I was and it was not what I expected.

The canopy closed in on me and while the terrain was steep, I was never afforded a view. Peering into the dense brush, I realized that were it not for the narrow trail on which I was walking and cycling, I wouldn't last three days, couldn't make it more than maybe ten kilometers in a day. There was nothing out here: just trees and bugs and about a thousand different ways to die. It was intensely claustrophobic. The wilderness deserves respect.

Travel, whether to remote wilderness areas or large cities, is so often cited as a means of opening the mind: to learn about new cultures, to explore different landscapes. I still remember, two years on during my second stay, walking around taking photos in the Bremen downtown. I felt that I was finally appreciating the full beauty of this city.

What if we travel, not to see new places, but to return to where we started and see it for the first time ever? What if we travel, not to learn how to move, but to learn how to dwell?

I also remember hanging my coat on the door in my room at a zero star hotel. The proprietor seemed nervous: this was Quebec and I had seen a lot of bikers--not the self-powered kind like me, but the one's with motors. The act seemed somehow symbolic: a gesture of both protection and trust. Here in this lonely clearing all I could do was arrange the fire, my staff and my tent in the shape of a triangle. Somehow that got me through the night.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


In that tiny clearing in the woods I lay in my tent. Had I push myself outside and stood up, as was my impulse, or even just poked my head out, I would have seen the vast expanse of stars. Now only visible, of course, in empty places like these. Instead, I just tossed and turned and listened to the wind.

I did not contemplate what brought me to the edge of this giant forest, now shaved and pockmarked by the clear-cutters. Those thoughts were passed, now supplanted by worries of attacks by bears or wolves as I always worried when sleeping alone in a tent in the middle of the woods. And the wind blew and blew and blew. A restless, wayward spirit. The scientist in me knows that it is simply the result of differential heating during the day, now being equalized through the motions of the air. But I cannot help, especially at times like these, hearing the work of spirits in the shifting winds rolling over the hills.