Saturday, May 30, 2015

Widely, deeply, well : An intro

Trail to Mt. Marcy, Adirondack High Peaks (2014)
Upland trail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison (2015)

“To live WIDELY, DEEPLY, WELL,” I scrawled into a notebook years ago, after a discussion (well, argument) about the merits of staying put and gradually, perhaps boringly, burrowing into the same old place, as opposed to whirling, exhilarated and exhausted, from shiny new place to shiny new place. The friend with whom I was debating [arguing] was a fellow traveler / perpetual peripatetic / seasonal park service employee who, like me, was faced with perennial dilemmas—to return to work at the same park each year? Once at a park, to spend free time exploring the backcountry or visiting the surrounding area?  Travel by bus, by car, by foot? (By helicopter, by kayak, by sled dog, …?) Although we shared a desire to see as much of the world as possible and both did our best to really see the world—to not just skim through scenes, snapping photos and moving on, but to try to learn about each landscape and culture—we’d somehow found ourselves embroiled in this vehemently polarized either/or inhabit vs. travel discussion [ahem, argument]. He was driven to explore ever father, ever wider—to venture to physical and geographical extremes; I was content to explore ever more deeply—to attune to places' every mood and minute change.

To live widely, deeply. What is “well”?  

Train from Anchorage to Denali Natl Park (2012)

It’s an old debate, certainly not resolved in our afternoon’s argument or my subsequent years of wandering and wondering. From Basho’s “wind-swept spirit” to Dickinson’s adage to “dwell in possibility” (and at home), people have always felt torn between adventure and familiarity— the stimulation of travel vs. the safety of the hearth; the inspiration of a journey vs. the certitude of home.  Most famously (at least, among those who grapple with these sorts of ideas), humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan has devoted his career to pondering “Space and Place”—the former signifying freedom and desire, the latter security and devotion. It’s not an either/or, he insists—in order to live a rich, fulfilling life, people need freedom as well as security, desire as well as devotion.  (Think William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways and then PrairyErth, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and At Home, Barry Lopez in the Arctic and on the banks of his beloved McKenzie, Gary Snyder in Japan and at work in his watershed…)

Widely + deeply = well.

What’s the balance, then? How much freedom vs. how much security? To complicate matters even more, how much physical/geographical exploration vs. routine; how much mental stimulation vs. contemplation?

Road in upstate NY, relatively insignificant but for the fact that I've walked it hundreds if not a thousand times, in all seasons, in all weather (2012? or 2013? or 2014?)

I’ve been thinking about this recently, as I’ve left New York and my happy habits (daily walks around the same small college town; summers hiking up and down the same Adirondack High Peaks) to return to Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado for the field season.  My time here is limited (granted, not quite to the same degree as most visitors—I have three months rather than three hours), and I’m not sure how best to spend it.  The West Elks and San Juans gleam tantalizingly to the northeast and south, and Grand Mesa flattens off the northwestern horizon. There’s Gunnison Gorge Conservation Area! Dominguez-Escalante! The Uncompahgre Plateau!, how will I ever see them all? Can I make it to Canyons of the Ancients? The Maroon Bells?  Oh, Dinosaur National Monument!... Part of me wants to spend every weekend spiraling out to any wild place within a day’s drive.

As far out into the Denali wilderness as I ever went -- mountains upon mountains upon mountains I'll likely never step foot upon (2012)
Heart Lake, Adirondacks. Also mountains upon mountains upon mountains -- pure wilderness to some; to me, a favorite spot for near-daily contemplation (2014)

Another part of me wants to spend every moment sitting at Rock Point, listening to the river thrum, watching the light change over and in the canyon, and trying to fathom the immensity of time and space I see here. It is beautiful. Rock, river, sky.

I’ll begin (or continue, I guess, in a slightly more organized manner) thinking through different means and quality of experiences by describing the past two weeks—driving to the canyon (new places!); once here, walking the park road and hiking into the canyon (semi-familiar places!); and, finally, sitting still. Widely, deeply. Well, we’ll see. 

Back at Black Canyon: Painted Wall (2015)

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