Friday, February 11, 2011

Getting Lost is the Fun of Travel

Time to renew the passport. Hard to believe it’s been 10 years since I first left the shores of America to travel over seas to foreign lands.

The passport application provides a box to note your travel plans. Where are you going?

Good question.

When I worked downtown I often saw tourists strolling the sidewalks. They proceeded slowly in a sort of meandering way, gazing up at street signs, scanning the storefronts, peering into windows. They seemed a bit lost.

The streets so familiar to me were to them quite strange. As Ray Bradbury says, “Half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness.”

Like motorcycling. My favorite way is just to turn onto any road that looks intriguing. Like that back road in West Virginia with the river on our right and sheer cliffs to our left. The smell of pine needles, the scent of water, the aroma of rhododendrons. The cool and warm spots in the air.

We stop at a rickety roadside store and sit on the porch drinking Pepsi and iced tea. This is Frost, we discover.

Frost. I pull out the map, unfold it and lay it on the gas tank. My finger follows the last road I know to where we turned off. Trace it through the mountain pass. Ah, there’s Frost. And there’s that sense of satisfaction of discovering where I am.

On my bicycle, as an adolescent on suburban Long Island, I often rode out of my neighborhood and away away. I loved getting lost, the adventure of it. One day I followed a creek through several housing developments—it was not easy to keep it in view, turning up and down streets to do so—to a small woods. I leaned my bicycle on a tree, walked along the grassy bank and sat down.

What a wonderful place. I had no idea where it was.

On my feet, the last time I was in Northern Ireland, I walked the towpath for several miles along the River Lagan. I’ve been to that area enough times to know my way around, yet experiencing it from the river transformed it into a new and strange to me place.

In a canoe on the Shenandoah River, I had this same experience just paddling from Elkton to Shenandoah. I lived in that area for 15 years, yet traveling on the river gave me a whole ‘nother view of fields and forest. I could not tell where I was or even when I was, a delightful feeling. River travel, of course, was the norm at one time, evidenced by the occasional old house that fronts the Shenandoah.

By train a familiar place feels strange, too. This summer, I took the Long Island Railroad from my hometown in Suffolk County into the city. When I was young this is how I always traveled to NYC, but I’d not done it for many years. Passenger railroads tend to run through the poorer sections of towns—having pre-dated much of the highway system—and so the tracks are a bit distant from the shopping malls, tall office buildings and better residential areas.

Lost has many definitions. I am referring to “unable to find the way,” yet it is not a permanent state. Apparently I was able in all these cases to find the way, else I’d not be here to write about it.

Lostness is a feeling. It can be panicky or it can be supremely peaceful, exhilarating.

Faith is like that. You set out, not sure of the path, yet knowing it will take you somewhere. In the meantime, the journey takes you through unfamiliar territory. You have the feeling of lostness: “For we walk by faith, not by sight …,” writes Paul in 1 Cor. 5:7.

My life feels like that right now. With the economic upheaval, it seems in a larger sense to be happening to many other people, too. Where are we going?

We’re in the same place, the USA, but we’ve gotten off the familiar highways. We’re seeing it all from a different view. It’s an adventure!

“It’s a dangerous business, going out your door,” said Bilbo Baggins. “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Where am I going? I don’t know, but that road there with the trees leading into a cool forest? I think I’ll turn there and see where it takes me.

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