Green Lake, Seattle

Green Lake, Seattle

“The moon and the sun are travelers of a hundred generations.  The years, coming and going, are wanderers too.  Spending a lifetime adrift on boat decks, greeting old age while holding a horse by the mouth — for such a person, each day is a journey, and the journey itself becomes home.”
— Basho

We are all journeying through life, whether covering vast distances on the road or staying close to home.  I love hearing about where friends, family, and colleagues are going on their vacations, and sometimes I have trip envy.  I’ve never traveled for such extended periods that the road became my home.  All my life, I’ve had deadlines to return home and resume my job.

Perhaps these time limits are why I really love to travel when I get the chance.  While I appreciate my travels, I do like spending time at home, too.  I can rationalize the advantages of staying home and making a rich life of my ordinary days.  That’s why this poem by Billy Collins brings a smile of recognition to my face:

Consolation

How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.

There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon’s
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.

How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyes camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?

Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.

And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car

as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.

 

I love that we have complex and sometimes competing rationales for traveling or staying put.  Here is another poem that asks whether we should have stayed at home:

Questions of Travel
by Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
– For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
– Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
– A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.

– Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages
– Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
– And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

‘Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there… No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?

 

I’m glad that there is room in my life for occasional big trips and also comfortable days at home.  I can find beauty and interesting things almost anywhere.

So here are a few photos from a local jaunt to Tacoma, just 40 minutes from Seattle:

Chihuly glass chandelier in Union Station, Tacoma

Chihuly glass chandelier in Union Station, Tacoma

Chihuly Bridge of Glass, Tacoma

Chihuly Bridge of Glass, Tacoma

Staircase by Tacoma Glass Museum

Staircase by Tacoma Glass Museum

 

Double tulip

Double tulip

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our doorstep once again.  It starts much earlier and is really never over, because the film of memory continues running on inside of us long after we have come to a physical standstill.  Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable.”
— Ryszard Kapuscinski, Travels with Herodotus

I have reached my doorstep again after nearly a month away.  Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing some of my experiences with you.  I took almost 2,000 photos and my mind is still reeling from an almost overwhelming archive of images, scents, sounds, and thoughts about the destinations — Iceland, the Netherlands, Israel, and France.  It will take some time for my memories to settle.

Like most journeys, this one began with an invitation.  About five or six years ago, my sister, who lives in Israel, invited me to visit her.  I began making tentative plans to go, but then was derailed by the economic crisis that hit the country and, because my husband works in construction, our family.  With so much financial uncertainty, my trip was postponed.  I suppose it is a sign of gradually increasing optimism that I finally pulled off the trip this year.  This time, along with the invitation to visit her in Israel, my sister wondered if we could also travel together to Holland to see the tulips in bloom.

So my trip began to take shape, starting with my booking roundtrip airfare from Seattle to Amsterdam, April 2 – 28th.  These were the bookends.  Within their constraints, my sister and I would find the best times for me to fly to Israel to stay with her and to spend a few days vacationing together in the Netherlands.

At the time I booked my airfare to Europe, Icelandair offered the best price.  And this airlines allows its passengers to disembark in Iceland for a short stopover at no additional cost.  I’d never been to Iceland, so I decided to spend two nights there on my way to Amsterdam.

Eventually my sister and I decided that I would fly to Israel on April 8th, stay with her family until April 16th, when we would both fly to Amsterdam for five days together.  That meant I had two additional nights in Europe before my flight to the Middle East, and I decided to stay in Haarlem which is not too far from the Amsterdam airport.  After my sister flew back home on April 21st, I had about a week of uncommitted time in Europe, so I cast about for something to do.

I had on my life’s “List of Things to Do Before I Die” hiking a special trail in southern France along which are installed the largest collection of works by the land artist, Andy Goldsworthy.  Serendipitously, a local guide, Jean-Pierre Brovelli, was offering a six-day guided hike that fit my timeframe perfectly.  That experience now anchored my trip plans.

I will be sharing my impressions from my journey in the days ahead.

“. . . travel provides not confirmations, but surprises.”
— Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

I traveled with open eyes, trying to be receptive to what these many and varied destinations offered.  And yet, I suppose I had certain expectations as well.  For example, I thought I would see tulips in bloom in the Netherlands in April.  But Holland was caught in an unseasonably cold Spring, just like much of this country, and the tulip bloom was late.  When I passed through on April 5th and 6th, I saw only a few daffodils and crocuses; nary a tulip in sight.  When my sister and I returned to the Netherlands on April 16th, everyone was still waiting for the tulip fields to show color.  We went to the famous Keukenhoff gardens on April 19th, and while the estate had much to offer, the beds of tulips still showed just sword-like green leaves and no flowers.

Still, the demonstration beds in the Willem-Alexander pavilion, indoors, displayed an exuberant array of tulips in full bloom.  And it was a photographer’s paradise.  Here are some photos of my favorite tulip at Keukenhof, the double parrot, truly a most photogenic flower:

IMAGE_EE8A4C4F-F1FA-4BA7-A75A-1E773EFE6D0AIMAGE_C3DFB2E4-DE87-47FC-910B-C9AF259C98B1IMAGE_12F41F58-D963-4D48-B78E-14029AD56CA5IMAGE_49500A3E-272F-4EB3-A6EF-2A7A73E27BADIMAGE_05EFA76E-C858-4AB8-B2CE-75CFE8684C10And then, a lovely send-off on my journey back home — looking out of the airplane window as we took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I saw (finally) ribbons of color in the tulip fields below.

Tulip fields in the Netherlands, April 28, 2013

Tulip fields in the Netherlands, April 28, 2013

 

 

“No place can be real emotionally unless we’ve imagined the life there, and our imagining is not likely to be very substantive if not informed.”
— William Kittredge, Southwest Homelands

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty

New York City architecture

New York City architecture

Flag refection in revolving doors, Times Square

Flag reflection in revolving doors, Times Square

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
— Mark Twain

“Travel is not altogether an indulgence.  Going out, seeking psychic and physical adventures, can reawaken love of the shifting presence of the sacred Zen ‘ten thousand things’ we find in the wiggling world.  Travel, then, is a technique for staying in touch, a wake-up call, not a diversion, but a responsibility.”
— William Kittredge, Southwest Homelands

I’m back home again after my first trip to New York City.  Now, when I read a novel set in NYC, or see a movie that takes place there, or hear news of the big city, I will have a better sense of the geography of the place and my responses will be more grounded.  I know now how walkable the city is, and that despite its size and population, NYC is manageable because it feels like a collection of small villages.

I do feel that tourist travel is an indulgence, but for me, it is a necessary one.  Any travel is mind-broadening.  And it’s good for the spirit to feast on new sights and experiences.  The challenge is to hold on to that sense of wonder and adventure as I transition back to the familiar geography of my home and workplace.

I can see that traveling on vacation is, on some levels, an escape from my “real” life.  I do partly agree with this comment:  “Looking, consuming with the eye and producing nothing, can never be a genuine life.”  (Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Not Now Voyager)  Schwartz goes on to reflect on the risk of traveling as an escape from the struggles of making a meaningful life at home:  “Nonetheless, when we’re gripped by uncertainty, travel feels like a ready solution to the problem of What next?  What to do, what to think, what to be? . . . On a trip, there’s always another monument, another excursion, another natural wonder to visit, to prove to ourselves that we’re doing something.”

My time in New York City felt like that — always another sight to see.  I couldn’t have sustained that level of sightseeing for too many more days.  After four days in the city, I felt full, and glad to return home to digest and make sense of all that filled my mind.  New York offers such richness, and I can see that it is easy to overdose.

And now it is time to learn once again how to be at home:

” . . . the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive a the ground at our feet and learn to be at home.”
— Wendell Berry