Friday, April 7, 2017

The Traveling Experience

Travel is an experience, and experience is perpetual, a bell whose pure ringing tone eventually quiets but never leaves our matter, arriving closer and closer to the asymptote of our existence in a soft exponential curve, always vibrating.
After hours of stressing through schedules, over baggage, from one connection to another down long airport hallways, we disembark into the American Northwest, breathe oddly dry air, and wonder how we ever did without the hugs of certain family and friends.

It has been six and a half years since we were here last, a time when one of us was pregnant with another, although it is like we never left—like we are back home.
The differences between here and where we come from are vast: waking in the morning several hours before the residents; our always clear sinuses vs. random allergy sneezing; and, when we look out at the Earth expecting the familiar horizontal abyss to which we're accustomed, rather than a lazy sea of relaxed corn and soybean fields we instead find we are navigating an arid bowl sculpted by walls of hills formed by a deep river valley—which at first seems to be getting smaller and smaller to our foreign perception, closing in confrontationally, but soon seems protective like an enormous cupped hand. Beyond, rising within haze, younger versions of those same tectonic gestures appear on guard: mountains. It’s then we're suddenly reminded, feeling especially small, how the planet isn't always so open and inviting, so nurturing as a parent or lover can be.

See, there is actually more space here. It’s angular, though, folded up—even perfectly vertical sometimes. In the more compromising hills it waves luxuriously like a paused ocean of ground. But out there in the Cascades it snows even in June, the jagged plates freezing and eating cold oceanic clouds for every meal. It’s all very deceptive and confusing to our Midwestern brains. Here as everywhere, the aviator lifeforms pick a destination and move toward it in a direct line, whereas we humans when grounded are confined to mobilize up and down continuously, clinging to the heaving planet and accepting its crumpled path.

The energy in a realm like this is punctuating; it makes periodic bold statements which demand to be acknowledged. If it were music it would be rock ‘n’ roll, or perhaps more so punk: every hill a striking, overdriven electric guitar chord and every valley a caesura between. It’s no wonder grunge music came from these parts. Slow and calm land in a prairie state renders no noise like that; the analogy even fails then, because an infinite expanse of fields has no sound at all: it is perceived with other senses—almost like a corpse it is placid, sleeping silently as a fertile open heart. Nearly anything grows in Illinois if you push enough into that dense fertilized past. Here the introduced apples orchards are heated and irrigated between stiff grasses and pine trees.
Everything Northwest is based on a philosophy of immediate intervention, geologically and emotionally, an asking for attention. There is an intense determination here that life and this sphere continue despite the rising, falling, and clashing of the terrestrial fabric. It’s a stubbornness. Anything like that is an adaption, naturally, and adaptation is how we function when we go from place to place. If we stay still long enough, relatively speaking we are less provoked to adapt. In that way, the American Northwest is a metaphor for change itself, a microcosm of its parent continent. Almost everything in North America is here, after all—forest, rivers, lakes, desert, ocean. It’s all just condensed, and it’s intense.
The universe happens regardless, our plans for it notwithstanding. That’s the resignation we feel while traveling. The delight is in planning successfully and experiencing the unplanned joyfully, of course, if we can. We plan for mountains and hills, and maybe we stand on a peak sometimes, shallower in the atmosphere of our world than we ever thought we could be and still take a breath, or maybe we decide to stay in the valleys, safer in a wealth of oxygen and resigned. In a sense, we are travelers whether or not we choose to be. We move through time, and oblivious to most of us our star and planet are exploring our galaxy, too, and that same Milky Way is exploring the cosmos. We might close the door to whatever is outside and remain sequestered—sheltered, imprisoned, domesticated, lonely—however we see the effects from one second to the next. Or, we might open the door and go out, taking more chances, experiencing travel.

Looking out over Selah, WA, April 6th, 2017.