Why do we explore? Beyond the obvious relaxation of leaving behind the familiar for the fresh freedom of non-routine, why do we travel? What is it about discovery that produces connection in our hearts and minds?
I have noticed of late that in contrast with the travels of my youth, thirty years or more ago, today's world is less diverse and more incrementally universal in character and habit. I am sure the same might be said thirty years before that, as we slide the marker backward. Somewhere in the distant past we would discover the once true diversity of the world, large and strange, that now, in the acceleration of the electronic web, creeps toward a newly homogenized blend mixed with flavors and echoes of the old.
The idea that the present is always settling toward homogenous stability. A stability altered by any exogenous factor that challenges, and stirs; that when rooted in time, evolves itself into a new homogeneity. And thus evolution occurs, over and over, spark to stability, old to new. We change because of what is new. We absorb change by making it part of who we are.
Travel is our window into the history of humanity, bookmarked in time. The Athens I visited in 1981 is not the Athens of 2015, nor the Athens of 400 BC. The ancient relics of classical antiquity loom, dormant; yet are erasing themselves, stone by cracked stone, from the present future. Travel draws for us the shadow of history, the footprint of the world in all its past uniqueness contrasted with the familiar present from which we translate our understanding. We are always of both then and now. Points in a continuum of events that loop infinitely through points of time. In journeys of exploration we frame our understanding of an evolving world.
I am both saddened by the erosion of global differences and heartened by our elbow-to-elbow humanity. We are, despite events in the headlines, losing many of the sharp-edged facades of nationalism even as we confront the deeper conflicts in human nature and behavior. As if humanity is collectively regressing through time from the many cities, to the one village, to the family. Fractious, occasionally peaceful. We are becoming more one even as that oneness is a larger collection of us.
Travel is a way to root in historical narrative. To contemplate ancient classical arts and dramas and the stories of human history through a great sieve. What might Antigone whisper within the dreams of Shakespeare? What faith and ambitions echo in the bog burials of the Vikings, travel the Silk Road, were won and lost in the battles of the Caesars? What familiar fear would we find in a soldier's journal during the trench warfare of WWI? What tribal art echoes in the cut-outs of Matisse, what dreams of flight from Icarus to the Wright brothers? Can we taste the connection between the milled bread of Roman Ostia Antica and the brioche of revolutionary Paris? The world is a kaleidoscope of intersecting evolutions, of invention busting out randomly and intermittently - the seeds of history scattered on the wind.
As we explore we sense the patterns that weave together all things and places and behaviors. We begin to see the potholes, the tears, the unraveling across time in the grand design. We also perceive the repairs, the transmutations, the inspirations. We are weavers seated at the fire - the ever-burning flame of human history. Our narrative traversing the seasons, displayed in the cycles of the constellations overhead as we weave. We weave, we endlessly weave.
I give you this remarkable poem by Richard Siken with this thought: Might history be all that which is already here?LOVESONG OF THE SQUARE ROOT OF NEGATIVE ONE
by Richard Siken
I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves
tremble but I am invisible, bloom without flower, knot
without rope, song without throat in wingless flight, dark
boat in the dark night, pure velocity. As the hammer is
a hammer when it hits the nail, and the nail is a nail when
it meets wood, and the invisible table begins to appear
out of mind, pure mind, out of nothing, pure thinking.
Through darkness, through silence, a vector, a violence,
I labor, I lumber, I fumble forward through the valley as
winter, as water, I mist and frost, flexible and elastic to
the task. I am the hand that lifts the rock, I am the mind
that strings the worm and throws the line and feels the tug,
the flex in the pole, and foot by foot I find the groove,
the trace in the thicket, the key in the lock, as root breaks
rock, from seed to flower to fruit to rot, a holy pilgrim
moving through the stations of the yardstick. I track,
I follow, I hinge and turn, frictionless and efficient as an
equals sign. I flip and fold, I superimpose, I become
location and you veer toward me, the eye to which you
are relative, magnetized for your revelation. Hook and bait,
polestar and checkmate, I am your arrival, there is no
refusal, we are here, you see, together, we are already here. Read More