Saturday, July 16, 2011

Life is being on the road. The rest is just killing time.

There are moments when this is dangerously close to being true. I start to feel that I should pick up the rucksack and set out on a journey without a destination, without maps, without limit, without end, without any purpose but to be life itself. When the journey is life it doesn’t matter what you see, what you experience, or where you are. What matters is that you are somewhere, that it is never the same place, never the same events, that you see and appreciate it clearly, that you advance through it and along it. To nowhere.

Life doesn’t take us anywhere but to death. Life doesn’t culminate, there is no denouement, katastrophe or resolution. It just ends. When it starts we have no idea of when or where or how it will end. We do not live in preparation for death. We don’t think about it too much, or we try not to. We try to make the most of it while it lasts.

It makes sense to me that life should literally be a journey, and that the journey should be what matters, not whatever place it takes you too. When you arrive at your destination you stop travelling. It’s like death. And you have to reincarnate yourself (stretching the metaphor a little) and travel once more.

If this is so then why stop at all? Why stop anywhere? Journey constantly. All time is new, and the world is so large and our lives so short that all space can, in effect, be new as well. So why constrain yourself to one place, one set of circumstances, the daily repetition of arbitrary activities?

I can answer the question, at least with regard to myself. There is enough of the practical in me to recognise that I would not enjoy being lost in the Australian outback, with severe dysentery, a flat battery on the phone and no money after being robbed by Lithuanian bikers, to take a random example. It shouldn’t matter. The journey is important, the form it takes is not. But somehow I think the philosophy would then turn to dust and be blown about the sands.

There is another, more important answer. The journey is only part of life. Mrs Hickory, though happy to come walking in the mountains for a week or so when everything is planned and we know where we’re going and how far and which hotel we’ll be staying at, she would draw the line rather sharply at a journey without limits. In the absence of Mrs Hickory, the journey that is life would not be worth making. There are many paths we could choose. The trick is to choose right. And there are other parts of life, too, which are important enough to mean that an endless journey is not the only thing life can be.

Yesterday I was riding through the hills and along by the central lakes. The hills are dry, dusty browns and faded yellows and decaying greens that the opposite of lush. A fox wandered by and loped and bounced its way ahead of me for several hundred yards. I don’t know what his purpose was, but travelling was an important part of it.

There was nobody by the water. Even the bars and the swimming places were almost empty. The ducks and the fish prefer it that way, and the insects which provide the aural backdrop are easier to hear.


Vincent said...

I'm in great sympathy with this, as the description of my blog says:

“Days and months are travellers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road. I myself have been tempted by the cloud-moving wind---filled with a strong desire to wander.”—Bashō.

And yet increasingly I find that road is a journey of the mind, which goes through books and the ideas which arise in response to experience, however near to home. It's my wife who wants to see the world, having spent her first 50 years confined to one small island - Jamaica.

You ride a horse? That's one mode of travel I envy but being on foot is still the primordial simplest way - that and the bus pass!

CIngram said...

I think life is many journeys, and the pull of one is sometimes greater than the others, but it's good to be aware of them all, and not renounce them forever for one that seems best at one moment.

I'm afraid my 'horse' has wheels and pedals. Less romantic and harder work going uphill, but easier to control and cheaper to feed. Although I enjoy cycling, I do it mostly when I'm based in one place, like here on the farm, and need to go further to see something I haven't already seen many times. I would not have considered making the journey I was writing about two weeks ago any way but on foot, which, I agree completely, is the best way to travel.