Doug Bruns

The attraction of hard places.

In Adventure, Books, The Examined Life, Travel, Writing on June 25, 2012 at 6:00 am

Morning, Grand Manan, New Brunswick, from my tent.

Observation of last week while driving north through Maine into New Brunswick: Each mile affords another degree of remoteness. Every hour leaves more people behind, presenting in their place, more trees. This feels very right.

I can not help but wonder what it is about such places that appeals to me so deeply. Perhaps it is the consolation of an only child.

* * *

Years ago, after reading my first Paul Theroux book–I think it was The Happy Isles of Oceania–I fancied the notion of molding myself into a travel writer. Theroux’s style appealed in a significant way. His mix of travel, literature, and the personal experience resonated. His books are not so much travel books as they are a peak inside the head of an astoundingly erudite and observant man on the move. The Pillars of Hercules is the narrative of his adventure walking–yes, walking–the rim of the Mediterranean, Gibraltar to North Africa. His classic The Old Patagonia Express records his journey by trains–one connecting to the next–linking his home in Massachusetts all the way south to Terra del Fuego. His other books follow suit. And they all appeal. (It is not lost on me that he leans to places I like.)

That one appeal of literature: Reading as a function of the elsewhere.

There is something about being on the move to a hard place at the extreme that I can hardly resist. Last week, crossing the 45th parallel gave me a thrill. We’re getting there now, I thought. I would like to have continued north to the magic that is the roaring forties.  It must be obvious that I long to dwell in another place and time, when everything and everywhere are not just different, but less than they are now.

I exist in a fictional region of northern New England where I live in a state of wonder and want and where everything tilts to metaphor.

A couple of years ago, I composed an audio-photo essay (the two-minute video is on Vimeo here) on a canoe maker in Northern Maine. Rollin Thurlow of The Northwoods Canoe Company lives in Atkinson, Maine, and makes wood canoes by hand. Atkinson has a population of  323 (2000). Roland told me that in the summer, when the village gets crowded, he escapes north into the Provence of Quebec. He wondered what the good folks in Quebec do when they feel hemmed in. I know what he means.

My notion of becoming a writer of travel adventures got very little traction. The reality became crushingly apparent while floating in a catamaran four hundred miles off the coast of Kenya. I was a million miles away from home. It was my daughter’s homecoming dance. My satellite phone had no connection. I was adrift, figuratively and literally. Nothing appealed to me so much as home.

Then it was, I think, I truly came to first understand the compromise that is life.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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