Monday, August 24, 2009

The Kingdom by the Sea

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Paul Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea that notice something fundamental about why we continue, why we keep leaving our houses or apartments and travel out, wander out, blast ourselves out of where and who we are and into the unknown:

“The woods were full of singing birds, warblers and thrushes; and then I heard the unmistakable sound of a cuckoo, which was as clear as a clock, striking fifteen. The sun was strong, the gradient was easy, the bees were buzzing, there was a soft breeze; and I thought: This is what I was looking for when I set out this morning—though I had no idea I would find it here

“All travelers are optimists, I thought. Travel itself was a sort of optimism in action. I always went along thinking: I’ll be all right, I’ll be interested, I’ll discover something, I won’t break a leg or get robbed, and at the end of the day I’ll find a nice old place to sleep. Everything is going to be fine, and even if it isn’t, it will be worthy of note—worth leaving home for.”

It isn’t every day that we get to discover a cuckoo singing in bright sun, in a soft breeze, among warblers and thrushes. But the days we do find beauty or gentleness or truth or grace or lyricism or something quite blessed suddenly in front of us or all around us or partially revealed are the days that make us. Days that define us.

“Worthy of note,” he says. “Worth leaving home for.”

Well, yes. Yes indeed.

I’m thinking of my nephew as I write this. A young man who just completed a 340 mile paddle-sport race on the Missouri river a couple of weeks ago. I say paddle-sport because there were canoes and kayaks and things that were neither. He finished fourth, by the way, in the one-person-per-boat category. Day after day. Night after night. My hero! I just heard from his mother that he plans to do it again next year. Can you imagine?

My son just came back from a mission trip to Mexico with the youth group at his church. Remarkable experiences. Remarkable and wonderful changes in the young people who he helped to supervise.

My daughter just came back from a holiday in Puerto Rico. Had a lovely time frolicking in the sun and waves.

And I. Well I just came back from pulling weeds from my yard. A few sweaty hours of that. The earthworms clinging to the weedy sod. Smelling of. Well. As I knocked the worms and the clods from the weed-roots, the earth smelled like something I’d badly missed and now, like some weird olfactory gourmet, was deeply glad to smell again.

We’re all travel writers, in a sense, I think. Taking note. Discovering what chooses to reveal itself to us, which turns out more often than not, quite miraculously, to be what we were looking for.

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