Somewhere I had scribbled down some notes on the opening pages of Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy. I live in such a spartan home, I would think I could keep track of a couple of sheets of paper. The notes were from several commentaries on DH Lawrence’s observations of crucifixes and how those representations of Good Friday changed as he moved from earthy and stoic Germany to warm and passionate Italy. I remember most had to do with the ways a German peasant would see the body of Jesus on the cross opposed to how the more regal would see Him. That a man like Lawrence would spend so much time on religion may be somewhat surprising, but not entirely.
I had taken up reading Lawrence because Campbell speaks so much of his influence and when I read that the travelogue of his trip to Italy took him and Freida von Richtofen over the Alps, it picked my interest. They had the wanderlust or literally the desire to hike, though I think the German word fernweh or far sickness is more telling. They must have been fascinated by the prospect of Italy, so different from the cold Germanic places of their daily living.
This lust or sickness is a beautiful but taxing thing.
It is still pleasant on this Chicago day. The forecast called for rain and of now there is none to be found. I had plans to be on my way today….time in the only nationally protected grassland east of the Mississippi, but did not want to deal with rain. The last time I went it was sunny but there had been a large amount of rain the night before. I had not worn boots and soaked my running shoes so badly on a washed out trail I was left barefoot on what was often very tough prairie grass. Not yet invested in a new pair of hiking boots, I did not feel it was worth it today.
So I was left having breakfast with a friend and a morning walk in the neighborhood that led me to think of Lawrence and von Richtofen and all those ways in which we experience love during the times of far sickness. I thought of the road trip, so quintessential to America and of Germany’s “wandern kultur.”
I have come to know that we wander in three different ways. We do so for the love of geography but the way we do it is always for the love of others, the love of another, or the love of solitude. Friends, lovers, and mystics can never keep their feet planted.
I return to Lawrence and his crucifixes. My second great experience of wandering came when I was eleven. It was an example of wandering for the love of another. I did not know it at the time, but I was there to learn. On the slopes of the German highlands I saw the stoic Mary carved into weathered wood. I was also under the protection of my father who never valued himself as protector, but was the best example of this I have ever known. He also never worried about where he was at, which caused some moments of after the fact humor which was never too humorous at the time, especially to my mother.
I don’t know why we put our trust in people, but it is imperative we do. At eleven I could never find my way to a ruined castle, but he could and I had only my trust in him to get me there. Of course it may have not been the most direct route, but I was a child and I would not have known. I am sure my mother could tell similar stories differently.
During those German hikes, I was fascinated by scenery that was alien to me. Lawrence looked on the crucifixes with a fascination that any English Protestant would. I was the same when I saw Mary. More than three decades have passed and I still think of that. I think of it too when I look at those things that remind me of other times I have gone into the world to wander and one of those things does bring me to Mary, though that is an accounting for another time.
So it is now almost 36 years since I walked in those German highlands, a story of fascination for me, but an act of love to my father. And I think it is unfortunate not to be at Midewin today where I have once wandered in thought and solitude, but perhaps it is not so bad. It belonged to the summer of hunger and longing. My return would be to give that previous wanderlust new meaning, but who knows if such a thing is guaranteed. Besides it is not so bad to sit in a small apartment and wait for the rain and to remember all those other times when I have wondered in the world and the meaning of those journeys has been love.