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Monday, May 12, 2014

The Heart of a Natural Traveler Beats Slowly

When the mode of transit limited distances of travel to 20 or 30 miles a day, the journey surely must have revealed much more elemental detail along the route. Considering that during a journey requiring considerable time, the traveler must have encountered, acquired, contemplated, and practiced so much of the true design of the trip along the way, one can appreciate the pace of the past.

Of course, depending upon the condition of the animal, the terrain of the environment, and the weather, a traveler in the past often faced dangerous hazards. Yet, these perils must also have added enormously to the meaning of the passage. What could place a person more "in the moment" than fighting stiff resistance?

Speed. We crave the ultimate fleet arrival to most all of our destinations. Caring little about the journey -- be it short or long -- we desire the speediest completion of travel. Part of this is certainly due to our limited resources, yet more is due to our impatience and to our indifference to what we encounter along the way. Today, it seems as if we are programmed to expect instantaneous access to nearly everything. We could care less about details that require the consumption of our time. We want to live in "the fast lane."

How much more attune to life our ancestors must have been merely because almost everything took longer. With less convenient appliance available and modes of transportation dependent upon horse and foot, they were denied much of the rush afforded to us. Their lives brought them "close and personal" with the natural environment, and in these encounters, their understanding of the land became deeper and more fulfilling.

Yes, I know old methods were often tedious and difficult, but the perseverance of those who employed these designs graced them with patience and resourcefulness -- two human qualities now rarely found. We might do well to look back and consider how those before us learned so much in their struggles. In fact, we might need to embrace struggle as an ally to our improvement.

Consider the words of Henry David Thoreau ... in 1861!

"It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,--prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again,--if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."

From his essay "Walking" 
Henry David Thoreau 

Thoreau professes the need for adventure and for commitment to discovery even in a human's shortest walks. Doesn't this seem ironic that he would write these words during a time over 150 years ago when walking was one of the primary means of travel? He denounces utmost efficiency as a goal. And, today, this paragraph seems revolutionary in its construction. It is a plea that stretches the ages from Horace's Odes and "Carpe Diem" in 23 BC past Thoreau's pedestrian crusade in 1861 to the 21st century: continue the slow walk of discovery while seizing each day.

Why should we care about slow and detailed traveling? How else can we better utilize the tremendous resources readily available in any itinerary? I realize that this challenge will likely result in little change of habit. Time and money loom as important determiners of how best to reach the points we desire to go. Still, it may be a thought of "taking one's time" that allows some reader to find happiness foreign to the hurried and the hare-footed.

As I consider the journeys made long ago on horseback or on foot, I am drawn to their slow pace. Maybe as I get older I gain more respect for a trip that took all day in its careful preparations and delivery. These expeditions were like the novels of travel which have become shortened to the stories and even to the brief synopses. Our walks and drives are all about the "get there" and nothing about the "how we arrive." Even the consideration of an animal instead of a machine as a means of conveyance points to the tremendous humanity afforded by those travelers of long ago.

Nearing the final destination, a human is drawn to slowing life down. Could we in all our haste as younger individuals be missing what we should be experiencing in slow deliberation all along? I know this is true.

This society holds onto a speeding centrifuge that offers little time for the details of the journey. The modern world is highly impersonal and in need of allowing time to explore and to reflect. They used to call it a "rat race." Now, the participants in the vermin-making culture don't even compete on a prescribed course; they merely engage themselves in a continuous Demolition Derby.

Slow down and find new knowledge. Natural gifts can only be fully appreciated with an eye for detail and a desire for thorough investigation. And, begin to take more time to digest these delicious fruits of life so readily available.


by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a fond mother, when the day is o'er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know

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