Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Oh, the places you’ll go…

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


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,


…they carried on.

In Life, Travel, Writing on August 14, 2012 at 6:00 am

Fulton, Maryland

It was hot today and the work suffered. I suffered. But not as much suffering as the small crew of men I’d hired to cut the fallen trees, strip the limbs, and carry it all into the woods, suffered. The temperature rose to over ninety and they brought no water. For a moment we considered going to get them water. Imagine: Going to get them water! Water was at the ready. Tap. How have we come to a place where one drives to a store to get water? Instead, Carole filled a pitcher and grabbed some cups and took it to them.

By mid-afternoon we were spent and finished. But they carried on.

Evening found me sitting and pondering the sky. The trees were filled with the sound of cicadas and the horizon was alive with tree swallows, darting there and there again. Above them, far above them, the silver fuselage of a jet traversed the sky. Listing rays of evening light reflected off it and I discerned it heading west. It was at altitude already and I could only image that it was from Europe and heading to maybe Chicago or even a direct flight, Paris to San Francisco. It was the middle of the night for the people at thirty-thousand feet. Would they land fully awake and excited and push off on an adventure, as I like to do? Or would they be irritable and tired and sleepless and wonder why do this, go places and spend time away from home and the comforts of home and the dog and the toothbrush at attention and waiting? Who’s to say? Regardless, this was my thought after a long day of labor and an evening contemplating the sky with a tall glass of Maker’s and a dog hungry for bed.

The Minaj Plain

In Adventure, Death, Life, Travel on July 9, 2012 at 6:00 am


Village barber, Rajasthan, 2007, © Doug Bruns

A journal note from October, 2007, Rajasthan, India, the Minaj Plain

The sun sets large on the Minaj plain. Three kilometers north a village bustles with evening preparations as penned lambs bleat. Nightfall returns mother and her milk. Herds of village-bound muted goats traverse the plain. Each hoof-drop triggers an explosion of red dust. Endless goat herds move west into the sun and roll off the edge of horizon.

Alone, I walk into their presence. So many beasts! They pass around me, flowing like a river. I am absorbed, a simple obstacle. Hundreds of goats. They move past, following the herder–but for one red goat, her head dropping with each labored telegraphed step; each advance perhaps the last.

The monsoons were heavy and the underbrush flourished. Thorns abound as agents of infection and death. The goat struggles, losing contact with the many, a victim of infection. She will return late; and some morning, tomorrow or perhaps the next, her journey will end.

A little thing will take us down. A cell goes haywire, a thorn infects. We lose contact with the herd. We eventually each return to night in silence.

The goat-herder, distant, his turban brighter at the horizon, turns–is he checking his charges? Or me?

I press my palms and bow. The gesture returned, he escapes to the edge of the earth. The halting goat follows in perfected uncomplaining silence

Leaving on a jet plane.

In Travel, Writing on July 3, 2012 at 6:00 am


(Written July 1, 7:20pm to around nine pee em.)

What is it, I wonder, about travel and airports, and planes, and anticipation that makes my head come alive? I go to the airport early because that is where I know the ideas hang out. I watch a waitress approach a customer. She stands silently in front of him. He is oblivious, fingers dancing on his phone. Finally she speaks: “Thank you for texting.” He looks up at her like a stupid cow. She wears a name tag: Ma. Thank you for texting–that’s rich.

Elsewhere and later, someone says, “No ESP for me. I have ESPN. High-def.” See what I mean? You don’t need a Parisian cafe when that stuff is floating around. Times like this I think I can be a novelist. But usually that is because I’ve been drinking in the bar, eavesdropping.

On the plane I heard a man say he was moving because he wanted a bigger garage. People move to have a bigger room in which to store inanimate objects? Really? I have been to places in the world where people have no inanimate objects. This same traveler also was overhead to refer to his spouse as “the wife.” I do not recall every hearing a woman refer to her spouse as the husband. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

I fly more than I like and have been upgraded to business as a result. In business the booze is free and this is my single consolation to travel, aside from the great conversations I overhear and the energy I pick up. Those things are really better than the booze, but the booze makes them significant in a way they would otherwise be lacking or simply less interesting.

Leaving Maine is a heart-break always. I hope that never changes.

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.

The City Weird

In Photography, Travel on June 19, 2012 at 6:00 am

As noted previously, I’m traveling. This is a repost from January, 2010. Thanks for reading.

Street Photography, D. Bruns

Can there possibly be a greater American juxtaposition: Portland, Maine to Las Vegas, Nevada? But then Las Vegas (I feel weird calling it Vegas, we’re not that close) makes for a stark comparison to most any other place.

I had to go, yes, had to go, to Las Vegas to attend to some last-minute–and unexpected–business. This was my third time in that city. The first visit, I think six or seven years ago, was particularly weird. My daughter, Allie, and I had been climbing in Joshua Tree, dirt-bagging it, tearing our knuckles on those famous cracks, getting sunburned and thriving a pitch off the deck. Good stuff. Camp fire at night. Great stuff.

Carole and Jeff (I think Tim was in Michigan, at camp) flew out and met us in Sin City. Allie and I drove out of the desert, still dirty and thrilled at the great climbing, and into the evening glow of Las Vegas. As we pulled into town she looked at me like we’d just landed on a moon of Jupiter. “Las Vegas is weird,” she said.

In 1968 Joan Didion wrote Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In an essay called “Marrying Absurd” she wrote: “Las Vegas is the most extreme and allegorical of American settlements, bizarre and beautiful in its venality and in its devotion to immediate gratification…” That was a long time ago. But it still rings true. Las Vegas is an event seeking participants.

This time, a few years older and knowing what to expect, it is, well, still weird. There are some places that feel right. And some that don’t. More people than not, I think, find Las Vegas right. Not me. But I revel in contrariness. Maine feels right. Every other place seems by degrees a little weird from home. Some places more than a little.

Street photography, D. Bruns, Vegas Escalator