Life feels frenzied right now… between travel, work, classes, and music, there’s not much extra time! I’m going to strongly consider “armchair travel” for a while. However, after reading about fantastic trips, I’d like to go on some amazing adventure: bike from South America to Canada, hike across Canada or the US from coast to coast, or only travel from state to state via bicycle…. After traveling via car in the big city of Chicago, I feel like ditching the car and only traveling by bike or foot. Public transit is good too, but I feel like I miss so much without having the air rush across my face or the sense of exertion for self-powered travel or traversing. I’m not looking for touch and go travel: get on airplane, travel at 500+ mph, land, get off airplane, get in car, go 75 mph, get to destination, stop, get back in car, stop, etc, etc. I’m really seeking meaningful travel and purposeful trips for longer periods of time and without having such a huge carbon footprint. I’m horrified to see the exhaust fumes from cars and planes filling the air with vapors and unbreathable air. The thing is, travel, especially across the world, is not really eco-friendly. Once you get to the destination, the choice can be made to go by foot or bike, but eliminating vehicle travel is not really done or maybe not really possible. I just read in Mother Jones that we ALL need to drastically reduce the amount of vehicle or airplane travel by 22%. That’s everyone in the US. I already bike and walk to work 5 days a week and try to limit my total travel time on the weekends. I dream of becoming a long-distance bicyclist and not just for fun/exercise, but for a new way of life. A new focus. A healthy focus. A focus that lets me truly feel like an earth guardian. I also want to make connections with new cultures and people. To learn a new language and become infused with a different culture. To learn more and be taught by indigenous peoples. To really make a difference or help others make a difference. To meditate and concentrate only on self-powered travel; eliminate thoughts of consumerism and escape the constant bombardment of the media and its self-imposed messages. I’m beginning to think about the options…

I’ve read several travel-themed books these past few weeks. I was inspired and yet conflicted after reading Helen Thayer’s Walking the Gobi: A 1600-Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair. This admirable woman traveled to Mongolia to learn more about the Gobi Desert and the possibility of trekking across its entirety. Then returned to the US to plan her trek across the Desert. Then returned to Mongolia and began her trek and a new chapter in her life, which has always had a focus on exploration, discovery, travel, and education. While the story is laid out nicely, and the telling of the travel tale was intriguing and at times astonishing, I had a nagging conflict in the back of my mind….. the travel to-and-from and the airplane drops were using resources like diesel fuel and hired people to assist the trek. I truly understand that to accomplish such a trek (80 days and thousands of miles, by foot!) supply drops are a necessity. Especially for water. This travel and trekking feat is not accessible to many. It takes time and much careful planning and organization to undertake. It also takes resources and connections of both monetary and human value. The author is quite admirable to accomplish a difficult task and demonstrated sheer willpower, strength and endurance of both mind and body. I also very much appreciated that this book was not just a what-we-did-and-how-we-did-it tale. The author incorporated historical and sociological facts of the Mongolian people and the nomadic life. This was truly fascinating with memorable descriptions by the author. For anyone intrigued by long distance desert trekking, this is a must-read. Likewise for anyone looking to learn more about Mongolia and the nomadic desert peoples. An endearing story, the author takes the reader inside the lives of the nomads and pre and post Soviet invasion. The reader will taste, smell, touch, feel, and see the geography, climate, weather, culture and peoples as Thayer experienced. For more information on the book, the trek, or on the author, visit http://www.helenthayer.com/ or http://www.adventureclassroom.org/.

Every once in a while, I really enjoy short stories or essays. I read several of the essays from the anthology, The Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys (edited by Klara Glowczewska, 2007). These are literary-loving, quiet stories. Full of reflection. Nice little pieces to impart travel knowledge and the experiences learned through travel. The essays are short and very readable; digestable. After each essay is a list of resources to learn more (books, web sites, city stops, travel highlights, etc). With essays by well-known writers including Pico Iyer and Nicole Krauss, as well as as Simon Winchester, Robert Hughes, Shirley Hazzard and more. Recommended for light and literary armchair travel reading.

Saving the best for last, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Where the Pavement Ends by Erika Warmbrunn (2001). This memoir recounts the author’s travel from Russia, to Mongolia, China, and Vietnam. Erika was not a cyclist to begin, but became an adventuresome traveler by bike after this extended travel. Her writing style and portrayal of her experiences on the written page are superb. This was a travel memoir I couldn’t put down. I literally rode the thousands of miles with her through the story. As with Helen Thayer, Erika Warmbrunn gives her readers a true sense of the lands and people she saw along the way with valuably rich depictions of languages and the art of communication, cultural awareness and appreciation,  geography, sociology, and socio-economic differences. Erika gives outstanding descriptions of language and learning to see the ties across languages and the nonverbal communication mechanisms across different cultures. I also particularly enjoyed reading about the living and travel conditions she experienced throughout her travels: from sleeping in her solo tent, traversing across rivers and deserts and mountains and dirt roads, to brief stays with families in their homes or gers, to the food and water she ate and drank. Erika’s memoir is not only educational but also personal and inspiring. For any woman who dreams of long distance self-powered travel, Erika’s memoir is a must-read. Highly Recommended for all adventure travel readers. For more information on the book and author, visit http://www.wherethepavementends.com/.

I’m not done reading travel memoirs… Several other travel books are on my bookshelf including:

  • A Blistered Kind of Love: One Couple’s Trial by Trail by Dustin (Duffy) Ballard and Angela Ballard
  • Miles from Nowhere: A Round the World Bicycle Adventure by Barbara Savage
  • On Top of the World: Five Women Explorers in Tibet by Luree Miller
  • Other Mountaineers Books include STELLER’S ISLAND: Adventures of a Pioneer Naturalist in Alaska by Dean Littlepage; THE ART OF ROUGH TRAVEL: From the Peculiar to the Practical, Advice from a 19th Century Explorer by Francis Galton; EAT WHERE YOU LIVE: How to Find and Enjoy Local and Sustainable Food No Matter Where You Live by Lou Bendrick; WAKE UP AND SMELL THE PLANET: The Non-Pompous, Non-Preachy Grist Guide to Greening Your Day

Now about blackbirds…..

Blackbirds, especially Red Wing Blackbirds are one of my favorite types of birds. I very much enjoy birding, bird song identification, and bird habitat conservation. Blackbirds sing and chat all the time, wetherthe sun is shining or if it’s pouring rain or a drastic blizzard, I can always count on the presence of the blackbird singing. My performing group is called Blackbird for that reason: blackbirds are versatile, flexible, and they sing all the time no matter what just get their story out! I recently heard about a Chicago-based chamber group called The Eighth Blackbird and they take their name and inspiration from the poem by Wallace Stevens “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (viewable online). The poem starts like this…

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

It’s a lush and beautiful poem. Here’s a blackbird poem of my own:

Grey skies, Cloudy skies, Bright skies, Sunny skies.
No matter the sky, the Blackbird sings all the time.

The ladies of the flock chitter chatter and share the news of the day. The men of the flock sing purtung purtang concachee. As the skies darken, the song gets louder. As the rain pitter patters the chattering continues. If the thunder cracks, there is silence, but only for a moment.

In the bright full sunshine, the Blackbirds nestle amonst the trees. They sing and rejoice in the light of the day. They flit flat from tree to bush to tree to wire. They fly and swoop and catch bugs to their full desire.

Blackbird, you are a thrill and a delight to see and hear. You stand so tall and proud with a voice pure and strong. Not sweet, but fun and cheerful. To walk past a blackbird singing in full force will surely bring about a smile or a twitter or even a bit of laughter. Welcome blackbird! How can we help your home and habitat? Keep our waterways pure and clean with trees and shrubs abundant. Sing on Blackbird!

Happy Reading and Writing! Don’t be afraid to travel the world through the power of a book!

Advertisements