Doug Bruns

Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

The Road from Machu Picchu

In Adventure, Memoir, Travel on February 5, 2013 at 6:00 am
Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Travel, for a pilgrim on the road to the examined life, can be as important as the books you’ll read. For some, travel trumps everything. I understand that, and for many years practiced it accordingly.

My daughter, Allie, a kindred spirit, lived in Peru for six months in 2006. At the end of her job there I flew down to visit and travel with her. I hired a guide and we made the pilgrimage through the Sacred Valley, stopped in Cusco, then took the train to Rio Urubamba, the village at the foot of Machu Picchu. I thought you might be interested in this little vignette from that adventure. I found it in a journal of that period, a recovered memory.

Allie, the train to Rio Urubamba

Allie, the train to Rio Urubamba

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The bus back to Rio Urubamba from the summit of Machu Picchu carries about thirty people. It is a precipitous journey from the summit. The road switches back along the dusty 8km route maybe 15 times, plunging here, leveling there before dropping again. The trip down takes approximately thirty minutes.

We–Allie and I–arrived at Machu Picchu for sunrise. Our guide ushered us through the ruins and, four hours later, after

Huayna Picchu

Huayna Picchu

the tour and Allie´s summit of Huayna Picchu, we took the bus down the mountain. I looked over my shoulder at the receding ruin and could not help but think that I would never see it again. Dark mood.

At the first switchback a group of young boys waved at the bus and hollered. We waved from our seats. They were dressed in bright orange capes, traditional-looking outfits, and shook their arms in the air. They were animated. The bus trudged on leaving them in a cloud of dust. They closed their eyes and covered their mouths. At the next switchback one of the boys reappeared, again shouting and waving his arms. I thought it curious. The bus continued down the mountain. Then again he materialized, seven or eight minutes later at the next switchback–and again, appearing out of the forest, waving, shouting, then rushing downhill into the jungle, an orange blur. After maybe a dozen turns and untold vertical feet we came upon the bridge across the Urubamba. He darted out from the left racing against our flank and rushed in front of the bus, charging across the single-lane wooden bridge, arm extended as the bus roared on. Alas, on the other side, the driver stopped, the young boy jumped aboard, not even breathing hard, and shouted into the bus. He extended his purse. We bus passengers, amazed at his feat of running down the mountain, chasing and beating the bus, dug into our pockets and dropped our coins into his hand. I held out a candy as well. He looked at me and smiled. His eyes were big and brown and he snatched the candy and moved past us down the aisle. He sang goodbye and disappeared into the crowd at the station to a round of cheers and applause. This is the stuff of travel, I thought.

Oh, the places you’ll go…

In Adventure, Travel on January 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

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The travel section of yesterday’s New York Times reminded me that I was once a traveler. The specific article prompting this observation is called, The 46 Places To Go in 2013. Of the 46 places listed I’ve been to eight. That is not a bad average, I guess. I used to be a regular and steady country counter and was full of myself a few years ago when I had to have more pages sewed into my filled passport. Bragging rights no longer motivate me, and the travel bug, as some call it, has lessened, albeit, all but disappeared. As I said I was once a traveler, which is like saying, I was once a dancer but don’t have the legs any more.

(Perhaps some day we will discuss the distinction between the traveler and the tourist.)

In the same Times section is an article by Paul Theroux (b. 1941) called My Travel Wish List. The piece was tagged, “The Man Who’s Been Everywhere, Except These Places.” I was pleased to discover that I’d been to at least two places on Theroux’s wish list, places he has yet to visit, Bhutan and the Seychelles. (Seychelles travel piece.) He also comments that he’s never been to Maine’s northern-most, and remotest county, Aroostook; nor has he climbed Maine’s Mt. Katahdin. (“Come ‘on, Paul. I’m a Maine Guide, let me show you!”) I’ve admired Mr. Theroux’s writing for years, and applaud his curiosity-driven life.

“Travel is a state of mind,” he writes in his essay collection, Fresh Air Fiend. “It has nothing to do with existence or the exotic. It is almostfresh.air.fiend.001 entirely an inner experience.” To the non-traveler this might seem odd, even contradictory, but it rings true to my experience. First travels taught me the artificial nature of conventual education. History, geography, language, literature, culture–they all combine into a monolithic “inner experience” when one travels. “Experience and travel,” wrote Montaigne, “these are as education themselves.” Travel of the right order affords one a unique perception regarding the net of experience. In that way it is not unlike a hallucination, where one caresses the stars while sipping champagne. Odd things are perceived, understood, and accepted, transforming the traveler. The world will forever be perceived differently henceforth.

What happened? Where did my passion for the world go? There is no answer at the ready for that question. Travel has been as important to my life as the books I’ve read, if not more so. Is it, as a friend suggested, that in coming to Maine I arrived at my destination? Perhaps, but that seems too pat an answer–and does not lessen the sense of mourning. Perhaps the restlessness of a younger man has been exhausted–at least the physical restlessness. I find this answer close to truth and sadly disconcerting, for I value the quality of restlessness and think it an attribute worth cultivating. It seems not much of worth is accomplished without a healthy dose of it. I do not know an antidote, nor think one likely, for this condition. I find it quietly upsetting and do not think too long on it.

I invite Mr. Clemens to contribute the last word:

1244“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Thanks for reading,

d

By the Wilson Stream.

In Adventure, Life, Nature, The Examined Life, Writing on September 18, 2012 at 6:00 am

Against the night.

I camped along Wilson Stream last week, not far from Toby Falls–four nights in my sleeping bag, crawling out of my tent in the morning, welcomed by crisp fall air and the scent of pine. By Saturday night the weather had turned from cool to cold and I woke in the dark of my tent and searched for my tee shirt. I had my summer bag, rated to forty degrees. It is no longer summer in Maine and the summer bag will be stowed and replaced with my fall-winter bag, rated to zero less eighteen. At one point, deep in the night, I exited the tent and studied the night sky. The northern night sky, void of light pollution and reflecting a black ice clarity, always makes my heart sing. The big dipper hung overhead and from the ladle I traced the line to the north star, steady in the sky. There is a short period, three minutes or so, after crawling from a sleeping bag, where the warmth of sleep clings to a body, insulating against the elements. But, like so many protections, this too is brief and temporary, and a scramble back into the bag follows without delay.

I slept next to moving water and there is hardly a thing better than going to sleep under the north star on the bank of a lively stream.

I am not sorry to see summer go. Fall is my favorite season and now I’m steeling myself for cozy nights and short days and plentiful reading and thinking and earnest study.

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I relish evening fires with new friends, faces in dancing orange and amber, curtain of night descended. I find great comfort in a community fire ring. There is warmth and protection and sturdy friendship constructed there. It is deep in our brains a friend said, this satisfaction. Yes, I agreed. One hundred and fifty thousand years ago my ancesters and your ancesters and all our long-forgotten families sat by the fire as protection against the unknowns of night, finding comfort in one another. That is but one reason to seek out the wild. It feeds an ancient longing that cannot be defined; but if one is still and is patient this ancient thing might speak to you.

No Boxed Thinking.

In Adventure, Life, Nature on September 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

Blue Lobster, photo by Mike Billings, Portland Press Herald, 8/31/2012

The morning paper carried the story of a blue lobster caught by a blue lobster boat on the evening of a blue moon. The lobster–transported in the photo above by sternman Mike Billings–will presumably live, a curiosity ensconced in a saltwater aquarium in Bangor.

Blue moon is the term for a second monthly full moon. (The full explanation is more complicated, but we will settle for simplicity.) No one seems certain why it’s called a blue moon. It does not appear blue. There is a blue moon every two and half to three years–more than once in a blue moon, it seems.

I observed the almost-full soon-to-be-blue moon rise from camp this week. I was sitting at the fire, pondering the tendrils of sparks launched into the gloaming, and it rose from the northeast, over my shoulder, and illuminated our campsite. It rose simply and singularly for us alone and we where selfishly delighted. I watched Virgo rise from the west and knew that libra was waiting patiently below the horizon. I don’t know much about the night sky and remain in a state of ignorant awe when enjoying it.

We camped on a bluff about twenty feet above the Cupsuptic River in Rangeley. It’s a small river at this spot, easy to wade across, and produces a soothing melody by which to fall asleep, or to be enchanted. The name “Cupsuptic” derives from the Abenaki language (the Abenakis where a tribe of original Mainers), meaning “a closed-up stream.”

Next week I journey west to hike a stretch of the Colorado Trail with son Tim. The CT stretches five hundred miles from Denver to Durango. I’m going to bite off just a small portion and will chew throughly.

A Facebook posting recently caught my attention. It was a photograph of a tent glowing from an inner light, against an indigo backdrop of  water and rock and mountain. The text read: Think Outside. No box required. I like that. It would make for a good tattoo.

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Have a good week, friends. Thanks for reading.

A Peripatetic Theory of Knowledge (redux)

In Adventure, Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life on August 29, 2012 at 6:00 am

North of the “Pine Curtain”.

As noted previously, I’m into the woods. (What is the draw to pine and moving water?–that is a contemplation for another time.) Out and gone, as it were. So, I leave here thoughts from eleven months ago. I present, A Peripatetic Theory of Knowledge:

There is a quote in the new Alpinist magazine (#56) that caught my eye. Mountaineer Joe Fitschen comments, “Wittgenstein talked about getting to know a region, whether on the ground or in the mind, by just wandering around, eschewing maps and other guides, coming at the territory from different angles until you feel at home. I call it the peripatetic theory of knowledge.” I like this notion. I’ve considered the value of walking around, sauntering as it used to be called, elsewhere. (You can find my essay on the topic, Metaphor: On Walking, at The Nervous Breakdown.) It, walking around, is a balm for the soul, good for what ails you.

But Fitschen’s observation is more than that. I’ve spent a great deal of time in my head over the years, though largely with the guides (books) Wittgenstein recommends eschewing. Now at this place in life, I am beginning to question the value of all that quiet time, all that contemplation. If you’ve been following this blog the past year or two you might have noticed a shift from–with a nod to Guy Davenport–”The Geography of the Imagination,” to “The Geography Under My Feet, My Sleeping Bag, My Canoe.” Fitchen, citing Wittgenstein, gives weight to replacing the cerebral with the physical. I’m reminded of another mountain climber, Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest (1963). “I don’t reflect much,” said Whittaker. “I just do it.” (Nike, by the way, rolled out their “Just Do It” campaign in 1988.) A life of action versus a life of the mind, interior monologue, exterior dialogue–a classic lineup.

I’ve never been one to sit around. There is enough ADD in my temperament to keep me in motion. That has always been the case, but it seems to be picking up momentum and along with it the need to practice the peripatetic theory of knowledge. I think a sense of place has a great deal to do with it. Maine, if one is inclined, invites one to get lost, literally and figuratively. It is a place that will draw on the physical, if one is naturally inclined in that direction. The more I explore this place, the more I am dismayed over my abysmal knowledge of my surroundings. For instance, I plucked a small twig from a tree this morning. There are five or six alternating simple leaves attached. But I cannot identify the tree from this sample, despite my library of guide books. It is a glaring omission in my accumulated knowledge, this simple business of not knowing my surroundings. To quote E.O. Wilson, “The first step to wisdom, as the Chinese say, is getting things by their right names.” I can talk with a modicum of intelligence, say, about the life and thought of Nietzsche but I cannot tell you anything about a tree at the dog park. This is deeply troubling to me and I am setting out to rectify it.

In praise of wild chicory.

In Adventure, Nature, Writing on August 21, 2012 at 6:00 am

Chicory

If, at day’s end, I can point to something I learned then I deem it a good day. This is likely my mid-western upbringing at work, an ethic that strives and strives until one is exhausted or mad. They are not mutually exclusive, exhaustion and madness, but keeping both at a healthy distance is good for the spirit. A bit of knowledge gleaned does the trick.

For instance, I identified wild chicory yesterday. I’ve developed a habit of snaging a plant on my morning walk and, upon returning home, identifying it. I lay it out on the kitchen bar like a thing to be dissected, leaves splayed, blossom fading. With the guidebook, New England Wildflowers, as my mentor, I go to work. It’s not hard work and it gives me traction in the physical world. Carole and I went for a stroll this afternoon. She pointed out a pretty little blossom and commented on its delicacy. That’s jewell weed I told her. I was full of myself.

I also learned how to figure declination using my compass and a topographical map. Are you aware that magnetic north is about 800 miles from the geographic north pole and moving? The north magnetic pole has been drifting slowly northward across the Canadian Arctic Islands and is now clocking in at about 15 kilometers a year to the north northwest. I find this fascinating and equally unsettling. One expects some things should sit still.

I was reviewing a topographical map for a portion of the Colorado Trail I will be hiking next month and had to change my compass from 20 degrees west declination to 10 degrees east, such are the offsets for Maine and Colorado. The Colorado Trail stretches five-hundred miles from Denver to Durango. I plan to bite off three days of it with Tim.

A physical thing learned feels different than an intangible thing learned. For the better. One wrestles with an idea. There is no wrestling with jewell weed.