The Domestic Explorer

There are things every explorer wants to do. Whether it is as drastic as Thoreau spending 2 years, 2 months and 2 days in a cabin in the woods, or Kate Harris finding herself in the process of exploring the Silk Road, there are aspirations for us to reach that state of mind where we can look past the hustle and the bustle of our daily lives. A form of reflection that one gets to experience once in a while, but has no idea how to sustain. (At least I have had no luck at it.)

Quote from Lands of Lost Borders:

“I’m not sure where I go when I spin wheels for hours on end like that, except into the rapture of doing nothing deeply.”

I think Kate Harris’s moving, poignant, lyrical, poetic, beautiful meditations on being, belonging, and living is well on it’s way to becoming one of my favorites. I have re-read sections of it soon after finishing it. Hers is a marvelous mind (I am grateful she penned her thoughts and found a publisher for us to enjoy). It does make me wonder sometimes how many others there are out there, who have similarly exalted thought processes, a Being larger than being squashed into narrow compartments that we seem to slot ourselves into: A Higher Order Thinker.

Kate Harris’s work is one for every traveler’s soul. Every body who has ever dreamed of adventures, ever dreamt of being bigger than your circumstances, hers is an invitation to sample what is possible. For everyone who is unable to sample the world with all its worries and problems, Lands of Lost Borders is there.

lands_of_lost_borders

The author writes of her journey across the oldest and possibly most famous road in the World, The Silk Route. Wanting to lose herself in the other worldly, she lands up finding herself on the oldest roads known to civilization.

Along with her friend Mel, the two women cycle through Turkey, the Stan-countries after Russia’s disintegration (Turkemistan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan), China, Tibet, Nepal and finally India – camping along the way, accepting the kind hospitality of friends and strangers along the way, navigating authorities, paper work and visa restrictions that make us want to throw our hands up in despair. A true voice of an explorer.

Her voracious reading sparkles in the form of quotations and anecdotes – Carl Sagan, Marco Polo, Charles Darwin, Russell Harris, Wright brothers are all in attendance adding their rich experience to the journey. Her clear heart blurs borders while sizing up people. Sitting up in bed with the wind roaring outside, the rains lashing, it is bliss indeed to pedal relentlessly through the high mountains, past lakes, punishing deserts and sketchy neighborhoods. Two women alone in an alien world.

As she quotes every so often,

“Every explorer dies of heartbreak.”

This is one of those books that will stay with me for a long time. I had the privilege of reading this book alongside another of Miss Read’s comfortable, cozy book. This book of travel and adventure was the perfect pairing to the domestic pleasures that a Miss Read book conjures up.

In Miss Clare Remembers, Miss Read writes about a young child of 8 or 9, who was excited and flushed after seeing the snowdrops when they went out on a school nature walk. Afterwards inside the home of the local farmer, where the farmer’s wife had kindly laid out biscuits, milk and cut fruit for the hungry children, she realizes how much she requires both pleasures in order to thrive. With a clairvoyance that children sometimes possess, she appreciates the vast spaces that nature provided for her soul to soar; and the cozy domestic pleasures where she can feel nurtured and at home. A safe haven from her flights of adventure.

Quote from Emily Davis – By Miss Read:

“One was her nest. The other was the place in which she stretched her wings, and soared, as effortlessly as the lark outside, into a different dimension.”

miss_clare_remembers

 

I felt that way while reading the Lands of Lost Borders together with a Miss Read book. I savored the stars kindly drawing the constellations out for the explorers to reach out to every night; as much as I enjoyed the domestic problems of a normal life. Ensconced in the modern comforts of living, reading both the books in parallel left me with a deeply delighted sense of having both adventure and comfort, and feeling grateful for it.

I am not sure my blogs can do justice to the books, but it seems a perfect way to begin winding down the year.

On The Ribbons of Wonder

The ‘Scenic Highway’ sign brings about an overwhelming goodness of heart; a promise of something worthwhile; a yearning for the treat ahead.

Nuts? (Absolutely – especially near the symmetrically placed Almond plantations on Californian highways.)

Cuckoo? (Of course! Who wouldn’t be to the musical trilling of the birds?)

California_State_Route_1_All_American_Road_sign
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Scenic_Highway_System_(California)
The image was created by Mario Salje from Greifswald, Germany. (Wikipedia)

I poke my head out to inhale the scent of fir, pine or eucalyptus, only to be chided by the children. Amma – stop that! It is cold, or it is hot or it is windy. I try to look repentant, but the joy in my face is a give-away. I become a child collecting wildflowers for the vases that spot every side table in every room in my childhood abode again. The same vases that the father used to roll his eyes at before gingerly moving them out of the way, for they had a tendency to fall and spill onto his ubiquitous newspapers. These tastefully collected possums of wildflowers, interspersed with pine or fir with a sprig of Eucalyptus is joy in a vase. I never learnt the art of Ikebana but my grasp and plonk technique gave me as much joy. 

Even on days when childhood woes and worries weighed heavy on the mind, a saunter in the hillsides with a wildflower bouquet in my hands was enough to get me looking at the world benevolently again.

Adulthood has cured me of this eternal optimism and benevolence, but it has had no luck when it comes to the joy nature can give me. I still potter about the neighborhood sniffing at primroses, admiring cow-slips, and reveling in the wild grass as it pokes its shoots out of the cracks in the pavement. I don’t know the names of the wildflowers, but when I see a squirrel sniff at one, it doesn’t seem to matter whether one knows the name of the flower or not. On road trips, I relish the beauty of the highways, the trees and flowers beside the highways, and thank Earth for its natural bounty. 

Little did I know that I really needed to thank Lady Bird Johnson for this bounty in USA. Having grown up in a small town in Texas, she enjoyed nature and its calming influences first hand. When her husband, Lyndon B Johnson, became President, one of the things she did as First Lady, was to get the Highway Beautification Act underway.

IMG_8394
Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers – By Kathi Appelt, Illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein

The nation was still pained at John F Kennedy’s assassination, and she wanted to cure the nation with the remedy she knew best. Natural beauty.

 

I am grateful to Lady Bird Johnson for this foresight. I belong to the class of people who derive spirituality from Nature, and wholly agree with the feisty Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.)

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” 

― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables

The next time you see a scenic highway stretch out like a wondrous ribbon unravelling itself from its spiel, send a wave of gratitude out to the thriving beauty of life out there, and the person(s) responsible for it. 

Beautiful highways are not a quintessential American feature either. There are accounts of beautiful tree lined roads, hugging mountainous roads with marvelous vistas, roads by rivers and through deserts, built as early as 300 BC. The most famous ones I can think off are the Silk Road(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road), and sections of the Grand Trunk Road (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Trunk_Road) 

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” 

― L.M. MontgomeryAnne of Green Gables