I’ve never gone anyplace without an intention, though most often the intent has never been great in the typical sense of the word….no “finding myself” or walkabout for me. But neither has “going out there” been aimless. I’ve always gone out for a reason…..to see a place, visit family or friends or just to flee the city for a bit.
I often think I missed something. Maybe I should have backpacked through Europe in college or run off to the desert and ponder life during that time of life when you are supposed to discover yourself, but I missed the boat. I am of the age where I do not have the patience or time for long treks down European paths and as I’ve never been lost outside of the literal definition of the word (in which case I’ve plenty of experience) I have never had to go on a voyage of self-discovery.
I bring all of this up as we are now in autumn. I know the calendar says summer has another week and a half, but overnight temperatures in the low forties and the first hint of yellow on the leaves tell another story. It is Fall and our thoughts turn from our eternal summers where we are always “out there” to the everyday world of home and hearth.
During this time of year, I would be giving the idea of “going out there” little thought at all, if it were not for Telluride. Most everyone knows the place. It is nestled in one of those beautiful corners of the world which begs us to walk about taking in creation and it hosts one of the most prestigious film festivals to be found anywhere. This year that festival was of particular interest to me because the masters of new German cinema (Fassbender, Wenders, and Herzog) were there, but it was also where “Wild,” a story about great wandering had made its premiere.
Wild is the movie based on a book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. Actually the book is titled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. That the movie should premier in the mountains of the western United States is appropriate. Not too far from Telluride is real wilderness, not unlike what one would see on the PCT, where Strayed walked 1100 miles to reinvent herself.
I’ve no inclination to read the book, though it has been positively reviewed and to be real honest I have little desire to see the movie, though it too has been positively received. All of that is only because I cannot relate to Strayed’s story. Still knowing about the release of the film has begged the question as to what is the nature of “going out there,” specifically what is it to go out there in a way that we “wander.”
It is usually a methodical thing to go out into the world. We want to see the kids or spend a week away from the grind. That is your typical “going out there,” but wandering is an entirely different thing altogether. It is that thing we do when we are looking to flee ourselves or come home. It is when we realize our home is not in this world (pilgrimage) or when we realize we have to come home after our discovery of what home is (The Little Prince.) It is the story of immigrants and refugees who have to find a home. It is going out to accumulate experiences we can one day bring to a place called home, if we are ever to have a home.
Unlike our typical journeys, wandering is never safe as the landscapes are always fierce and the interior road taken in our minds is not well marked. Even if we have a physical route that can do little in the way of bodily harm, wandering will still touch our souls leaving us marked forever.
I wrote of my intentions in going out there at the beginning of this post. Intention is something we all travel with. Those intentions may be as great as doing ritual at Badrinath or seeing the countryside on a weekend drive. Those would be the “typical” things in such travels. It is when our travel becomes that which is not typical, then we are in the place we wander. To be clear in the matter: wandering is the process that changes those intentions into something greater. To paraphrase Christopher Monger it is “going up a hill and coming down a mountain.”
Wandering happens when we forget the purpose for our travels. This is what makes long walks and through hikes so perfect for the experience for after a while your reasons for these fade into the reality of just being present in a place. In spite of the connotation of the word, wandering always involves a certain stasis as it is as much about presence as motion. Wandering is most potent when accompanied by the arrival in a place, whether the place be literal geography or an interior mindset that changes everything. This is what makes expectation so dangerous when we choose to go out there, for the greater our expectations, the less opportunity we have to wander.
The common thing in all wandering is getting beyond oneself. In wandering one always goes to a place and that place is one of realization, in spite of expectation or distance. We wander to find something, though we do not seek to define it and when we wander we are rarely ever lost for a person lost is usually incapable of finding anything, but a way home.
What I am saying is only that we go out there to find something, but finding our self is rarely what we need. Rather we go out there with the clearest of intentions and knowing who we are, only to discover that which was not intended and making a discovery about who we can be in spite of who we are. This is what differs the one who wanders from one who travels. The one who wanders makes a discovery in spite of what they hoped to discover when going out there to begin with. What that is depends on the person, but that is a matter for another time. Besides it is autumn….the leaves are turning, the air cools and it time to cease wandering and come home where we can best reflect on what it meant to be out in the world to begin with and to think of whatever wandering we did and what it did for us.
Image: Der Wanderer in Scwarzwald by Hans Thoma, Public Domain