Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Joy is in the Journey

White Trail is paved, the Red are Dirt paths.
I love maps.  I've said this before, numerous times, in fact.  I know three blogs ago I went on a rant against the uses of GPS, since it is much more exciting to get lost, to find your way home again.  And every time I come home from being cast adrift in this world, I get the map (which nowadays comes from Google's amazing map program) and I see where I've been. Then I know no matter when I arrive back at that place, I'll know where I am.  The GPS shows you only where you are going.  A map can also show you where you have been.  And more importantly, where you can go.  It puts the conditional tense into your life.  What path you can go down, and where will it ultimately take you.  For that, no GPS system will show you. 

Robert Frost probably best shows this in "The Road Not Taken," which if taken literally, is about someone walking a trail, and seeing it split in two, decides to take a path, to see where it leads.  Frost concludes that, while he must take one path, he will probably never take the other.  For either time or condition will never allow him to come back to that same spot, with those same leaves covering the ground. Or, if he would return, that he would not be the same traveller, having lived a life from the one fork to another.  I accept this, but I also know that I will return to that fork, and I'll take both paths, because a traveller looks down both paths, and takes one, and does not care where the other one leads.  I absolutely do care.  

It's almost like a case of OCD. Orson Scott Card wrote a character in The Children of the Mind who had a deep case of Obsessive Compulsive. She felt compelled to trace the wood grains in the floor of her room.  The trails in the map above look almost like the lines in a wooden grain, where roads follow rivers, where straight lines of electricity cross miles  of land, where brown trails of dirt split off like water droplets flowing down the side of the windshield.  There's an inescapable desire to follow that water drop all the way to the end, to see a path curving past your sight and want to know exactly where it goes.  I want to know.  And in the case of the trails I've been walking on recently (map above,) it means little how far the trail goes.... I want to see where it leads.  

Some people think walking is an method of exercise, as if going to the gym and walking around a track is going to somehow be a means to an end.  And I guess it is, if you're willing to sacrifice time for fitness.  Because walking around a circular track never takes you anywhere but where you already were.  You should never end up where you first began, as you as a person are not the same as when you first started the circle.  So go someplace different, walk a different path.  And when the path ends, continue it, step foot into the unknown and fell the branches in your way.  Take it to the lush openings of paradise that certainly exist, but never are seen because there is no paved walkway to it.  I should never walk a trail without a machete, never to turn back because a briar is in the way.  The explorers of the Amazon could not just stop because a plant blocked their path.  For the ends were fabulous riches, treasure at the end of their rainbow.  And even if they never found it, they must still keep going, as it was the journey that was just as important as the destination.  If the end is the same as the beginning, or if you are the same as in the beginning, then what is the point of starting out at all?  

It's the same about life, going from a literal trail to one of metaphor.  If you go to church, and you come out of the doors of that church at noon, and you have not changed, if nothing in your mind is different, then what was the point of walking down that path?  I would rather take my Bible, sit upon a rock in the middle of the South River and read from there, knowing that what is said would be something to think about, going to and from that rock.  And then my trip to the cafeteria will have been worth the effort.

So when I say I'm "going out for a walk," I have no intention of getting exercise.  That is but a fortunate side effect of my real intention.  I do what makes me happy, and that, at this point in my life, is to see where the trail goes (either literally or metaphorically).  I say that the Epicurean philosophy is the best one, as it measures happiness upon any choice.  Do I pick the ice cream sundae or the cheesecake? If knowing that ice cream will give me a sinus infection and make me ill for two weeks, I'll go with the cheesecake, for that is the path that provides happiness.  If being a teetotaler or going out and drinking every night are the decisions, and I realize that drinking will probably end up in some form of accident or grossness, or at the least, a headache.... I'll stick with my Mr. Pibb, thank you very much.   Because, as Candice from Phineas and Ferb has said, after a dream about going to the land of Oz and travelling to Bustopolis, the "Joy is in the Journey."  On a similar note, James Taylor wrote,  "The Secret of Life is enjoying the passage of time."  To me, that means walking down the trails of the gorgeous rural areas of Rockdale County instead of walking around some stupid track in a gym with a bunch of sweaty people.  And if I don't burn off 2,000 calories, well, that wasn't really my goal to begin with.  If at the end of that walk, if I happen to fall down dead, like the runner from Marathon to the gates of Athens, then I will have been happier walking down the paths of my own choosing.    

Monday, June 4, 2012

On My Own

Taken from a rock in the South River. North Side.
I'm very proud of myself.  I finished walking the entire section of the South Rockdale Community Park River Trail.  The northern end of the trail is even more beautiful than the southern half.  Think of a path covered with trees, sun shining through in spots, and the sound of a river flowing past, little rapids, the plop of frogs jumping into the stream.  Not to mention turtles... big ones.  Like the southern part, the Power Lines come into view and stretch to the horizon where a distribution center sends the power off to be used.  What an amazing world we live in, and it's all right here, in our own county.

I was walking under the power lines, actually veering off on a path that goes to the South River, and all I could imagine was the scene in Clifford D. Simak's Ring Around the Sun where Jay Vickers sees the power plants and industry units in the parallel Earth he was walking in.  He walked for days without seeing a person, surviving on his own abilities.  I tried to imagine walking down this path, and being the only person for miles, or even further, and this whole place was for me to enjoy.  I'm selfish, I admit that.  A part of me wants to delete all these blogs posts about the River Trails and not let anyone else know that there are wonders just down the street.  A part of me wants to be Will Smith (you know, but without the undead things around), or Thoreau sitting in his log cabin beside Walden Pond. Because there is the joy of being free from societal constraints, from bills paid and job schedules and aesthetic norms.  There is the freedom from the constant drone of people's conversation, of television banter, of political animosity.  There is the squirrel that jumps out into the pathway and looks at you, and sees just another animal, and hops along, trying to find a seed to munch on.

Below the Power Lines on the North side, a trail to the South River.

What if we did what Jean Craighead George did in so many of her works (may she rest in peace), and send a teenager out into the wilderness to fend for themselves, without the GPS systems and cell phones and ipods and everything that keeps him or her connected to this world.  And what if, instead of a week, some kind of ritual into adulthood, we only send him out for a couple of hours, onto these paths, and not let anyone else travel them.  They would be totally alone.  It would be Glorious.  At least for me it would be, although I don't know if today's teenagers could take it.  It would be akin, to them, as child abuse.  It makes me think that maybe with all the wires and data streams connected to their bodies, if they aren't actually less advanced than their ancestors, a mere three or four generations ago.  I long for those days when no data transmissions flew through the sky above me at the speed of light.  When the only way to communicate was through the mouth, to the listening ear.  And if there were no people around, then you listened to yourself, and understood.  How is it that the great works of literature, the marvels of human thought, most of them were created before the 20th century?  Those that are post-invention of the telephone, television, etc... talk about how communication between people has broken down.  T.S. Eliot talks of the people on the bridge in "The Waste Land," or the confused J. Alfred Prufrock, and for all the breakthroughs in communication, we spend less time knowing our neighbors and more time knowing our machines.  Could we name the people living next door to us?  I can't.  But let us relive a quest from World Of Warcraft or name our Sims characters, and we can do that readily.

Wooden bridge on the South Side. Amazing construction!
The greatest danger we face in today's world is never being alone.  It becomes a scary silence, as when someone turns off the lights in a school classroom filled with kids.  They immediately start yelling, because they must identify that there are other people in the room.  If not, they are left with only themselves, hearing or seeing nothing.  And then they must come face to face with their own being.  That is something, I fear, that few people want to deal with.  They have to be constantly fed stimuli. Data from computers, TV broadcasts, the flicker of screens with strangers faces, even far into the night, when they are asleep.  This is normal, they say. Those that want to be alone are crazy.  Why would they want to walk, outside, alone, with nothing but their own thoughts to keep them company?  It is unfathomable that, just a century ago, most people were like that for a majority of the day.  As they slept, only the cicadas and the frogs gave nightly reports.  The thoughts were of the day, or of the past, memories to bring sweet joy upon recollection. Now we can't even do that.  The present is consistently upon us, demanding that we assimilate data and respond, for the future is "coming up!" as the news reports say. 

View from a small trail on the North Side.
 Then let me be alone, and I will walk the paths of Rockdale County.  But I will not be alone.  I will have the understanding of Thoreau, picking blackberries on the hillsides of Concord.  I will listen to the 4/4 beat of my walking stick, and keep time with my steps.  And if I find a path that takes me off the trail, into the woods, to some secluded spot on the South River, then I will enjoy being off the trail.  I will find my way back; I am certain of that.