Aging is the great leveler in our lives that is marked by moments. The act of traveling seems to parallel its progression; the silent character that stands in the wings, patiently waiting for one or two lines during different acts. The scrapbooks, the shoe boxes of tattered, fading images, or digital photos on our hard drives are the bills of information gathering dust in attics, desk drawers and disk space. Many times I have questioned the reasons for my own travel; the escape of my mundane life out into the openness of the urban and rural spaces. When I was young, it was just a routine programmed into our summer breaks, when my parents were free from summer school duties. It was a luxury for a middle class family but I learned that it was a fun adventure. I really didn’t understand its’ value to my quality of life until I turned forty. That year marked a threshold in my life; one of deep speculation and reflection about my life’s choices. And traveling, journaling has been part of my tool kit to deal with the most difficult and precious moments in my life.
For four years I have been traversing the Scottish landscape, exploring on a dime and shoe string budget when my hectic schedule allowed. I sought the openness for solitude from difficult tasks and frustration, stimulation from endless hours of self imposed seclusion, and a need for inspiration. I escaped to know that I am still human, not this ghostly entity typing away at a computer or entrenched in the dusty stacks of the university library trying to complete a doctoral thesis. When I become lost in Scotland, I begin to become aware of my spirit and who I am.
I think our encounters in life are spiritually orchestrated, loops in the great cycle of life that gives us insight, enlightenment about the missing pieces of knowledge and understanding. On my fortieth birthday I found myself sitting in Inverness Bus Station waiting for a connection to my next destination. An older gentleman traveling alone took a seat beside me. Our smile exchange invited conversation. We talked of our travel plans; he returning to his home in Lochaber and me continuing on to Ullapool. Eventually my bus arrived and I had to say farewell. In such a short span of time we had become symbolic friends in travel. As I got up to leave, the man got up, hugged me and said in parting something peculiar, something about ‘gifting me with a bit of magic.’ I boarded the bus and waved a second goodbye. I felt like I was saying goodbye to my own grandfather who had passed away twenty-years ago on this same date. A date I still try to forget because of the deep friendship we shared. I worried for my new friend, hoping for his safe return home. As I sat on the bus I recorded our farewell in my small journal, wanting to remember it, wanting to pocket the gem for safekeeping. Something to be reconciled later when I understood what it meant. Eventually it helped me to remember one of my biggest mistakes in life.
Life isn’t about passages, memories filed away, marked as completed. As a student and teacher I should have remembered that the lessons are just a portion of what I truly learn. School imbues you with the technical skills to face life but your complete education is your sole responsibility. And every moment is part of that education. The magic the man gifted me I feel was the ability to finally ‘see’. I finally realized how to strip away the emotion, the logic, which powered my frustrations, my drive to succeed to envision my true self. I understood what it was to live in the space and time that travel and life embodies.
Life is a series of moments between our birth and death. How we choose to live that life is shaped, defined by the landscape and culture we grow in. There is a natural balance in nature, in our world that may not be entirely understood. And each of us has a serendipitous opportunity to explore and understand that balance. We are custodians of the background. We are stewards of our heritage. Recognizing and admitting to the inherent faults of humanity only makes us stronger. Only then can we become more in tune with its’ genuineness and retain the fragile balance.
The jewel moments of our lives can sometimes be measured not in the time we spend away from home but in the time we take in returning. How odd it is that time seems to slip slowly when we travel forth out into the open and how time speeds up when returning to familiar ground, familiar routines. What do we cherish most? Are the roads that take us further a field more important than the roads back home?
Scotland has a unique texture. My experiences have led me to the towering authority of Glencoe, stand in silence beside the mercurial edges of Loch Ness, and glide along the expanse of Loch Lomond. I have found nature humbling even from my small bedroom window in Glasgow. The value I derive from my experiences are solely my own; not a commodity easily bought by someone else. It is the individual in experience that I cherish; the uniqueness I create. And I long for the next exploration into the unknown, the unfamiliar tracks of moor and woodland. I want to develop an intimacy with the landscape and the culture; I want to learn about myself through my immersion in the different.
I don’t’ want to speak for Scotland; I want Scotland to speak for itself. I want to sit patient in a corner and chronicle the multitude of voices. I want the sharpness to punch through the gauzy cloud of my existence and give it clarity. I want the warmth of the hospitality to cloak me in a strong embrace when my self confidence hesitates. At the beginning of our relationship, I only knew the subtle hints of potential love. It existed; it was known and with time has grown in depth helping me to become a better person. I believe in its potential just as it believes in mine. The evidence is pasted in the twenty plus journals I continue to write and examine. Finding the hidden clues that I might have missed the first, second, or third time.
A year ago I traveled to Skye. I have a great picture taken of the Five Sisters of Kintail from atop a small mountain that overlooks Loch Duich. The temptation to escape feels like a constant hunger with each repeat viewing of the memory. I am mistress to several task masters, predominately to finish my writing responsibilities and the want, the desire to escape into the wild. It is the hardest in the evening when the setting sun can turn the skyline of Glasgow into fiery orange glow. And I know for certain that I am missing the same light uncovering intricate details in the rock face further north or crystal blue inlets and white sand beaches of Stornoway and South Harris in the Western Isles.
Evening has a certain softness about it; a moment where the edginess of the day melts away and reveals the beauty of the world. The world breathes, sighs from the mechanisms of every day life. At those moments it is easy to ignore the outside noise, the static and focus in on the true details, focus in on myself and what is important. I have ignored those opportunities that swiftly pass by forgetting to reach out and try and grasp them, make use of them.
I have drifted from point to point at times without the benefit of a road map, without a useful plan. I thought I had examined the details, surveyed the options but I have for the most part failed. I have lost those details of importance examined in childhood, young adulthood and found worthwhile. I allowed others to govern, no influence my ultimate actions because of ideals set by traditions. Those traditions now I realize are those aforementioned mechanisms. My journey to date has been parallel if not, embossed upon the former footsteps of those that have come before me. I have lingered in their shadow without emerging in my own true light. How can I step from this well worn path, escape their reality and into my own vision? What is that vision? What story am I going to tell and how should I tell it?
Here in Scotland at least I have found some form of comfort, knowing that half the fun of any journey is getting there. Getting lost should not lead to too much anxiety. The simplicity of an answer sometimes is hidden within the complexity of a question. And sometimes it takes getting lost to merely ask the question. I know humanity creates its own complexity, emphasizing the exactness of detail, without taking a moment to enjoy the beauty of each layer. Unraveling the core of nature reveals its many layers and I feel at times that I have forgotten to appreciate each facet, each color, and each shape. That day above Loch Duich or dusk in Glasgow was a day where the simplicity of nature revealed itself and I may have only recognized a portion of it.
I love embarking on new adventures; the planning, the packing, the skips, the tugs, the pulls into a new and different scene. I now savor the interaction with other people, seeing different architecture, opening up myself for experiencing new things. I value my journey home because I am not blind for the purpose of my travel.
I can mark the passage of my adult maturity with the number of times I’ve returned to my parent’s home, to my own home. I am a traveler. To suggest such things may even suggest that I have no home at all. And at times I feel as if I have no permanent boundaries in my life. No legacy in which to pass on to my family, my friends. Home is not a structure with four walls, and a roof. It is a place of security, safety, familiarity, comfort, and openness. Today with our modern technologies, there are no boundaries. Yet, civilization clearly defines lines on a map. My home is a pin point, a dot on a piece of paper. I can easily calculate mileage out and back. I would rather not. My legacy is the fact that I travel and I chronicle my life for others to eventually read, to see. I continue to find myself but more importantly I continue to get lost.