Friday, February 17, 2017

Passing Through

As I wind down my time here at Rensing, I have been thinking about the value of putting down roots. South Carolina appears to be the sort of place where people have not only formed a deep connection to the land but are proud to have done so. People here even like to talk about genealogy, so, in the hopes of passing, I will give it a go.

I come from a long line of wanderers. On my father's side, we have in less than a hundred years made home in Moldova, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Baltimore, Berkeley, Albuquerque—I could go on, but I won't. Let it suffice to say that I am expanding on the tradition.

That I can do so is the realization of a long-held dream. Since the age of twenty or so, what I most wanted was to travel and write. Not separately, mind you, but at the same time. In this dream, I might park myself in a pension for a couple of weeks, writing furiously until it felt time to leave again. That I now manage to live this way and support myself feels like a minor miracle.

So why do I travel? The popular answers are wrong or shallowly right. The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page—so Saint Augustine tells us, but this is only true in the sense that people in one country have a big meal with wheat at midday and in the next country a big meal with rice at sunset. More importantly true is that the patient observer can learn everything there is to know about the world in each tiny village on the planet. You do not need to travel to know the world.

Twain writes, Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. This is nonsense. Donald Trump is an extraordinarily well-traveled man, and his prejudices are in robust health.

No, one travels not because it is virtuous or useful but because one likes it. Traveling is fun—for some, that is. Some would rather stay at home. And I think this gets to the heart of why I travel: it is on the road that I feel most myself. It's simply how I'm wired: I travel because I was born a traveler.

But to everything a cost: The more dead and dry and dusty a thing is the more it travels about, G.K. Chesterton writes. Fertile things are somewhat heavier, like the heavy fruit trees on the pregnant mud of the Nile. This is the cost of traveling. Living on the road, one has no time to let things settle and to let slow things happen. One becomes—and one starts to see—a world of speed and surface. Traveling isn't reading the book of the world—traveling is skimming.

Which puts me in a bind. I know that if I really want to see this world, I must pick a place and stay put until the land around me becomes a place of dreams, of scars, of birth, of tedium. But I know that I would not like it. To live that way would shut down a part of who I am. That does not mean I won't someday give it a try anyway, but I believe it does mean, regardless of how hard I try to put down roots, that I will eventually follow family tradition again and pull up stakes.

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