A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Adventure’

Birth of a Pilgrim

In Adventure, Memoir, The Examined Life on February 6, 2013 at 6:00 am
Mountain Man, Jeremiah Johnson. (No Robert Redford.)

Mountain Man, Jeremiah Johnson. (No Robert Redford.)

I am fond of the word pilgrim. For instance, I used it here just yesterday: “Travel, for a pilgrim on the road to the examined life, can be as important as the books you’ll read.” Recently I closed a correspondence with: “I’m not sure if any of what I’ve said is true or even accurate–I’m just a pilgrim.” The first time I recall hearing the word used not in conjunction with Thanksgiving was in the Sydney Pollack movie, Jeremiah Johnson. That was 1972 and I was seventeen years old. It is meaningful that I remember. The movie had a profound impact on me. In it a grizzled old mountain man named Bear Claw Chris Lapp (played perfectly by Will Geer), upon first meeting Johnson (Robert Redford) says, “You’re the same dumb pilgrim that I been hearin’ for twenty days, and smellin’ for three!” And later, toward the end of the movie: “You’ve come far pilgrim.” To which Johnson replies: “Feels like far.” Bear Claw asks, “Where it worth the trouble?” “What trouble?” Johnson replies. (The movie is based on the life of mountain man, John Garrison Johnston–or, as he was better known, Liver-Eating Johnston.*)

I was so captivated by the landscape portrayed in the movie that I sat through the credits to note where it had been filmed. I had to go there, wherever there was. The Unita Mountains of Utah. The following summer I took my first plane trip, leaving home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and landing in Salt Lake City, where I made my way into the mountains. Consequently everything changed for this pilgrim. Everything. A life of curiosity pursued was hatched.

As an aside, the word pilgrim is related to the word peregrine, from the Medieval Latin, peregrinus, meaning wanderer, or migratory. It is the word we attach to our fastest falcon and is, in my imagination, a visage of feathered purpose and ability.

George Santayana said, “The mind of the Renaissance was not a pilgrim mind, but a sedentary city mind, like that of the ancients.”  This captures the spirit and intent of the word for me. The “sedentary city mind,”  it would seem, is a mind that knows it’s place, recognizes the task at hand, and moves toward accomplishment. That is how things get done. The mind of the pilgrim, however, is restless and its profile is one of longing, of motion, perhaps aimless motion, advancing toward a grail of the imagination. To the kid  in the theater in Ft. Wayne, the message was clear: You are not a Renaissance man, you are a pilgrim, and it is time to cast off the fetters of suburbia and its expectation of confinement.

My worldwide perambulations have tapered off, but the mind remains unfettered and still roams widely. There is no rest for the pilgrim. Perhaps, I hope, you understand this?

_______________________

* Johnston as scout led a party through Crow sacred territory. (Some accounts say it was Sioux territory.) Consequently, the Crow Nation declared war on him and sent its best warriors to kill him. Despite repeated attempts, year after year, the Crow braves failed in their mission. Johnston killed them all. The legend holds that he would slit open the dead warrior, remove the liver and take a bite out of it, leaving the organ behind, his intimidating calling card. The movie depicts the transgression, depicts the attacks, but fails in complete veracity by leaving out this business of liver snacking. That’s too bad. I would have liked Redford to show a bit more belly fire in his roll. If this sounds too Hollywood, it well may be. The very nature of mountain-man Johnston’s life is such that pinning down the truth is near impossible–a fitting end to a pilgram’s tale.

Let us consider…

In Adventure, Books, Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on July 30, 2012 at 6:00 am
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Mt. Keneo, Moosehead Lake, Maine

There is much to share with you. It’s been a two week vacation and a universe can collapse in less time.

Yet, I worry that perhaps I’ve exposed too much already. I came to think on this during my time away.

I took a few days, after family visits and guests, to go into the woods alone. Upon hearing this a friend mentioned to Carole that “he just wants to get away from everybody, doesn’t he?” The week before, in jest, I mentioned a long-term project I was considering whereby I would go into the north woods and live in a cabin–or camp, as they’re called here in Maine–for a year. I envision a coming-of-middle age sort of experience. Carole’s response was supportive: “There’s no reason you can’t. I’ll come visit you.” (It is not lost on me that my absence might be just the ticket for her.) I mentioned it to a friend as a possible book subject. His response was, “Why write a book? Just go do it.”

I am not a misanthrope. I like people. One of my few skills is my ability to get along with them well. But most of the time I’d rather not. I don’t avoid people–but much of the time I’d rather be without. In reality, I don’t think I’m too different from many people. I suspect being an only child made my stamp a little deeper. I’ll take a comfortable chair and a book over a party, a fire in the woods rather than a reunion any time.

Part of this conundrum, for that is what it is, a conundrum, involves my blog. I enjoy this form of communication a great deal. And from the bits and pieces I can put together, I am under the impression that many of you, my reader-friends, enjoy reading my missives. Yet there is toil involved, and eventually our natural inclination to avoid toil must be considered. Too, there is the pressing business of how much one reveals and invests in a forum such as this, particularly if disappearing into the woods is on your mind.

One of the activities I enjoyed during my absence from “…the house…” was hiking up Mt. Keneo in Moosehead Lake. Keneo tops out at almost eighteen hundred feet. The trail starts at the elevation of the lake, about a thousand feet above sea level. It is a mile and short change to the top. An eight-hundred foot vertical climb in a mile or so, is a good workout. It gets the blood going. I like that. The physical appeals to me. It was also appealing that one hundred and fifty-five years–and two days–previously, Henry David Thoreau made the same climb. That night when I returned to camp, after I’d filled my belly, after Lucy had turned in (on the trail, when she’s ready for bed, she stands in front of the tent), I opened Thoreau’s essay, Life Without Principle. My eyes fell to an underscored sentence, a note I’d made in a previous reading: “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.”

That, friends, is the mission at hand.

Yvon Chouinard

In Adventure, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life, Wisdom on July 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

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If you’re a regular reader of “…the house…” you know of my obsession with the examined life. How to live is the question, and the study of “lives” is one fashion by which I attempt to find answers. That is, how have others answered the question and what does the examined life look like?

Typically this pursuit turns to history, literature, philosophy, and biography. But there are contemporaneous lives I study as well, vibrant lives not yet covered with the dust of history. First among them is Yvon Chouinard.

Chouinard is best known as the founder and CEO of the Patagonia company. He is widely recognized for his unique corporate style and philosophy, and his visionary environmental leadership. As a younger man, he was a world-class rock climber and adventurer. For a quick primer on the man and his philosophy, I recommend the current documentary, 180 Degrees South. (Available as streaming video on Netflix.) When pressed, I cannot think of a life that better wrestles with the question of how to live than Yvon Chouinard.

I leave you a Saturday quote from Chouinard.

“I had always tried to live my life fairly simply and by 1991, knowing what I knew about the state of the environment, I had begun to eat lower on the food chain and reduce my consumption of material goods. Doing risk sports had taught me another important lesson: never exceed your limits. You push the envelope and you live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but you don’t go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means. The same is true for a business. The sooner a company tries to be what it is not, the sooner it tries to ‘have it all,’ the sooner it will die.”

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.

North, by Northeast.

In Adventure, Travel on June 18, 2012 at 6:00 am

Heading north.

You can drive to another country from Maine.

We are Canada bound.

If on schedule, we are, as you read this, on our way to Grand Manan Island, P.E.I., and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. That is the sketched-out draft. We are pointing the car and going north, unsure of schedule and destination.

“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living our life.” ~ Paul Theroux.

I haven’t been home from Nepal a month and am setting out again, albeit, this adventure is of a different nature entirely. This is as it should be and fills me with excitement to be on the move again. Another beautiful place in the world awaits. Fortunately, no two-day plane rides are involved.

Stay tuned: No altitude sickness, of this I am sure. I am less sure, but almost sure, no snow awaits us. And we will be seeking out activities “only human beings do.” (See Saturday’s post.)

On Grand Manan Island we were advised that we select our campsite away from the cliffs, as at night the whales, if they are migrating, make too much noise for sound sleep. Let the whales sing. We are sleeping cliff side.

Check list:

  • tent
  • sleeping bags & pads
  • birds of north america field guide
  • spotting scope and bionoculars
  • hiking boots
  • whisky

Traveling light. Essentials only.

Stay tuned–and thanks for reading.

____________

In my absence I have queued up a few repeat posts. I am sorry for this. But the road beckons and the whales are calling. Such inconveniences cannot be avoided.

“Only an animal does useful things.”

In Adventure, Books, The Examined Life, Writers on June 16, 2012 at 6:00 am

“Only an animal does useful things. An animal gets food, finds a place to sleep, tries to keep comfortable. But I wanted to do something that was not useful–not like an animal at all. Something only a human being would do.”

It’s Saturday–again–and I want to leave you with a quote. (I see a pattern forming.) What you read above are the words of adventurer Gérard d’Aboville. His book, Alone, was being published in the U.S. and Paul Theroux was writing the introduction. The book is the account of d’Aboville’s single-handed 1991 journey rowing across the Pacific. Theroux was pressing d’Aboville: Why? Why take such a dangerous voyage? I very much like the nuanced answer, it’s “something only a human being would do.”

It’s the weekend. Go do something only a human being would do.

Next?

In Adventure, Travel, Writing on May 31, 2012 at 6:00 am
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Torres del Paine, Tierra del Fuego

So it begins…

The above image is Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, Tierra del Fuego. It is a misty focus of my possible next adventure. The genie is out of the bottle.

This torment. I know the beast well–thought I’d tamed it into a corner. Return from an adventure and start thinking about the next one. That is the torment. Specifically, there is nothing of substance in the works, just the cranky wheels turning between my ears.

I was in Tierra del Fuego maybe ten years ago. I was chasing trout, measured there not in inches but in pounds. It’s the end of the earth, the last stop before slipping on the ice of Antarctica. It was Magellan who named the island, Land of Fire. From his ship he observed the fires of the Yaghan indians. It is estimated that the Yaghan ancestors settled the island around 8000 b.c. There remains today but one full-blooded Yaghan, Cristina Calderón, born in 1928.

The Yaghans survived on sea-lions which the men hunted. The women dove from canoes into the frigid ice-strewn waters to forage the sea bed. In this manner these people existed for thousands of years. But they could not survive being “discovered” by the Europeans. Captain FitzRoy of the HMS Beagle captured three Yaghans on that vessel’s maiden voyage. He decided to return them to England, where they were to be taught “English..the plainer truths of Christianity..and the use of common tools.” They were to be trained as missionaries and would be returned to save the souls of their brothers and sisters. It was the second voyage of the Beagle, including onboard a young scientist, Charles Darwin, that delivered them home. A year later, the Beagle returned once again and found only one of the Yaghan-missionaries remaining. He “had not the least wish to return to England.” No report on souls saved or lost remains.

How can one resist the pull of such a place? Legend claims that if a person eats the Calefate berry they will return to Tierra del Fuego. And, yes, I ate the berry. It is just a matter of time.