Thursday, July 12, 2018

Best Travel Blog

I post today a new badge from MyTherapyApp for Best MS Blog for Travel. I certainly appreciate the recognition, along with the kind effort to tailor Jim Dandy's derelict demeanor such that he might fit, albeit kicking and screaming, into a crisp pair of Bermuda shorts and a Panama hat and put him, hair combed and cheek cleanly shaven, carry-on carefully packed and weighed, onto the nearest boat or plane. Bon voyage! 

In her introduction to the blog, Tracey, at MyTherapyApp, quite appropriately puts it this way: 

The words ‘travel blog’ usually conjure up thoughts of budget-conscious, adrenaline-seeking backpackers traversing the likes of South America and South-East Asia, and everywhere in between.

Everyone Here is Jim Dandy, therefore, is not your typical travel blog. Indeed, its author, Richard Boughton, would probably raise an eyebrow or two at such a title.

When I left America in 2010, I left not to travel, but to arrive. And it has been my continuous effort in the seven, almost eight years since, to do just that. To arrive. I did not go out to see a reed shaken with the wind, nor a man clothed in soft raiment. I left home to find home, or in the hope that home would find me. I left the one place with a wife, bound, we thought--or I thought--for a new phase of our mutual marital venture. I ended up wife-less, a stranger in a strange land, ears full of babble, a disjointed, multi-language dialogue of past, present and future trying to decide upon a story--all set to the clattering of gamelan music and the wailing of the Muslim call to prayer, which themselves are cradled in the foundational song of Oregon's high cascades.

For me, this is what is rightly called travel--the full, sometimes treacherous, sometimes joyful exploration and experience of one's own winding road in life. Who knows what is around the next bend? We might have an idea, a reasonable expectation, but then again, winding roads have a way of their own, of rising steeply, or falling swiftly, or of teetering between unforeseen cliffsides. They transport us through the darkest forests and also to the most astounding vistas.

Oh Lord my God,
When I in awesome wonder, 
Consider all the works
The hands have made . . . 

Travel is the continual effort to arrive, to become, to know.

My wife's idea of travel, as it turned out, was to see this place, and this place, and this place in quick succession, touching down for but fleeting moments, like a bee overwhelmed and distracted by the choice of so many flowers, such that the honey, the essence remains uncollected in the folds of the brightly painted petals. We were in Bangkok together, and in Penang, and in Kuala Lumpur, and God knows what other points of passing--and while I'm sure that the Buddhist temples were grand and stately (just as the brochure declares), I could not help but be the more impressed by the man who lived in the cardboard box which had originally housed a refrigerator--the man with the widest, toothiest smile I have even seen. And I could not understand what this man was saying. If only I had had more time.  What do the monkeys of Krabbe Island do when it is off-season and the tourists are gone? And the ownerless dogs who live on the temple grounds? What is the actual character, the deeper meaning of this world we glimpse between arrivals and departures? 

Bali itself, even after the better part of a decade, is daily new to me, and daily more completely fills its own canvas. I have been to many well known sites on the island, yet just as many, and more, are tucked away in my own little neighborhood, secret until you see them; and what is not hidden in the bush or at the end of the alley is cloaked in foreign words. Language therefore, rather than the jetliner, is the most direct means of transport into a foreign land, for language translates the darkness into light. 

There is a story by Mark Twain, from his book A Tramp Abroad, I think, where he tells of a voyage in the darkness. He has gone to sleep for the night, you see, but later awakens and determines that he has left something important undone (I've forgotten the details). Not having a candle or any sort of light at hand, Twain starts off on a journey through the darkness that becomes ever more fantastic, ever more baffling with every step. Although he had gone to sleep in the room but a short time previously, and should have known its every corner and nook, he finds himself hopelessly lost in a perfectly alien world. Furniture pops up where it should not be, and sharply skunks his ankles at that. A window pane is found where a door ought to have been. Strange shapes, which may as well be sentient as inanimate, confront him in his path, shouldering, sometimes warm, sometimes clammy against his skin. A bedpost has somehow turned into a brass hat rack, or into a half dozen hat-wearing heads. It's a funny story, hilarious, actually; but as with many of Twain's inventions, it has something compelling to say about man's daily (and nightly) conversations with his world.  

This is travel--the study through motion of mapping, identifying the character of the visage beneath the veil of darkness. 

I made a similar voyage around my own backyard just the other night--and although I have lived in the house for more than four years now, I had not yet so completely discovered my own backyard. I was looking for little bits of wood, you see, for the inspiration had suddenly come upon me to make a campfire, just as I had often done back in the Oregon forests. Generally speaking, one would not want to make a campfire in the Bali heat which simmers humidly even at night, but of late it had actually been rather chilly at evening and morning. I collected larger branches from the front yard first, cut earlier from a tree that had died, and then set out on my search for smaller sticks in the backyard. And who knew that there would be so many sticks, despite the absence of a tree? Yet, I found these twigs all along the edges of the walls, as well as clumps of dry brown grass perfectly suited for tinder. I found as well a large lizard--a tokek. I had heard him in the past, croaking at night, saying his own name, as Tokeks do--"Toe-Kay, Toe-Kay, Toe-kay--until they run out of breath, but I had never known where his home was--just there in a crevasse where side and back walls meet. Next, I saw a mouse run up the concrete wall. Who knew that mice could climb walls? Not me, until now. I found that one could actually hang himself by the neck if he tried to walk through the clothesline, indistinct in the darkness, and that the metal clothes rack, when taken by surprise, is able to wrestle with unexpected vigor. And oh! So that's where those cockroaches come from--that little hole beneath the lower slab of the porch! (I'll fix their wagon in the morning). 

In short, my backyard is a world its own, in miniature, and able to sustain its own sort of travel.

And so I made my humble fire, and sat for a time beneath different stars and the glimmering of memories that shine through the years and across the vast, many sided globe.  

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