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To Visit All the Celebrated Places

“Now is the time to visit all the celebrated places in the country, and fill our heads with what we have seen, so that when we become old and bald we will have something to talk about over the teacups.” – Jippensha Ikku

Credit to Smithsonian Magazine for the Ikku quote, for it made me smile when I read it.  Ikku lived in Japan during a fairly important period in American history (1766-1831) so its easy to overlook what might have been happening in other places in the world.  The quote reminds me that our feelings about travel and aging are timeless.  We all hope to see the world while we’re young and full of vigor, that we might have epic stories to tell over a favorite beverage when we’re older and less mobile.

The travel list of celebrated places is ready, and all earnest travelers wait for the starting gun to set us free to explore once again.  We’re all rooting for a vaccine and some level of herd immunity, some measure of personal responsibility from society at large and perhaps stronger political leadership to set policy that makes sense.  May we see it sooner than later.  But in the meantime, I’m traveling as Thoreau traveled: exploring the place where I am in ways that I hadn’t before.  Walking fully aware in the woods, or the mountains and shores of New Hampshire, stopping at local landmarks previously unknown to me, and exploring space  while looking up at the stars to pick out planets and constellations.  For the adventurous spirit, there’s no shortage of opportunities to explore, even in a pandemic.

“Travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.

All [great travel writers]… believed in “being moved” as one of the points of taking trips, and “being transported” by private as well as public means; all saw that “ecstasy” (“ex-stasis”) tells us that our highest moments come when we’re not stationary, and that epiphany can follow movement as much as it precipitates it.

Travel, then, is a voyage into that famously subjective zone, the imagination, and what the traveler brings back is — and has to be — an ineffable compound of himself and the place, what’s really there and what’s only in him.” – Pico Iyer, Why We Travel

While nice on the surface, I chafe when spending too much time at resorts because I’m not looking for pampering or losing myself in a cartoon world.  Travel at its best isn’t distraction, but exploration.  It isn’t running away from ourselves, but finding ourselves.  And that can happen anywhere if we let it.  Our highest moments come when we’re not stationary…  and so we hear the call to explore.  I’m conspiring to travel locally over the next couple of weeks to places near, while foregoing far.  At least for now.  For there’s so much to see right in our own backyards that we rarely celebrate.  Over the next few weeks I’ll explore some of those places in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  And as you might expect having read any of this blog, explore hidden inward passages too.

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