Exploring Local

by JAKE NORTON

March 2021
How do we keep inspired during Covid-induced isolation and stagnation? Finding the new in the local, the seemingly mundane, can help.
A plane and contrail streak across the evening sky high above Colorado. Destination unknown.
A plane and contrail streak across the evening sky high above Colorado. Destination unknown.

The contrail picked up the warm light of dusk, a streak of vivid pink bifurcating the bullet-blue sky. Gazing up at it, I felt a bit like Nǃxau ǂToma's character Xi in The Gods Must Be Crazy, feelings of wonder tinged with envy, and perhaps a bit of anger, too, if I’m being honest. Who the heck were those people (likely exciting and exotic), flying somewhere (likely exciting and exotic) to do something (likely exciting and exotic), while I was still here, living the patterns and rote experiences borne of a year of Covid-induced grounding.

It was a petty thing, I reminded myself, an elitist, first-world, woe-is-me fit of whining, but there it was, burning a bit of a hole in my soul. Ever since I was a kid, travel has been a part of my being. I love to go far, far away, to set off for distant lands and new experiences, to explore. Since I was little, the concept of leaving home, saying goodbye to the familiar and embracing the novel, the challenging, the world out there as opposed to the one right here…it’s always held great meaning and a profound draw for me. But, the past year for me - and likely for you - has seen my passport gather dust while my feet incessantly itch, my heart and soul aching for an experience out of the norm, an adventure of the body and the mind, lending itself to an opening of eyes and horizons, pushing my personal boundaries of comprehension to embrace the words of T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Lila and I continued down the back-yard mountain, the contrail fading in the oncoming dark - and some of my envy with it - as a full moon rose above Elephant Butte. We paused for a moment, fresh elk tracks crossing ours through the snow with others mixed in, maybe coyote, maybe lion. The ponderosa cast their moonshadows across the mountainside, and we gazed in wonder at the scene, marveling at the deafening silence and sublime beauty of this simple place, this simple scene, this place we knew so well and yet could always know again for the first time.

Sunset over Elephant Butte.
Sunset over Elephant Butte.

I realized then - and have to remind myself constantly - that there is wonder to be found right nearby, it takes only an open mind and a desire to see it, to explore right here, right now, to adventure without a plane or a passport, just the feet and eyes and breaths and mind. Especially in these times of Covid, when many of us are stir crazy and seeking change, excitement, difference, a bit of soul stirring and consciousness-wrenching experience, we can find it in the backyard. It reminds me of one of my favorite characters from radio, John B. McLemore, a brilliant and tragic figure, a tortured and talented soul who spoke with profanity, thought with profundity, and died too soon:

“I’ve coaxed many infirm clocks back to mellifluous life, studied projected geometry and built astrolabes, sundials, taught myself 19th century electroplating, bronzing, patination. Micromachinery, horology, learned piano. Read Poe, De Maupassant, Boccaccio, O’Connor, Welty, Hugo, Balzac, Kafka, Bataille, Gibran, as well as modern works like Mortimer, Hawking, Kunstler, Klein, Jacobi, Heinberg, Hedges, Hitchens and Rhodes.

“But the best times of my life, I realize, were the times I spent in the forest and field. I’ve walked in solitude besides my own babbling creek, and wondered at the undulations, meanderings, and tiny atolls that were occasionally swept into its midst. I’ve spent time in idle palaver with Violets, Lileas, Sage, Heliopsis and Monkshood, and marveled at the mystery of Monotropa uniflora. I’ve audited the discourse of the Hickories, Oaks and Pines, even when no wind was present. I have peregrinated the woods in Winter under the watchful guard of vigilant dogs, and spent hours entranced by the exquisiteness and delicacy of tiny mosses and molds, entire forests within a few square inches.”

- John B. McLemore, from the S-Town podcast

So, tonight, I went through photos of the past several months, remembering the adventures and explorations of here rather than there, the revelations and the beauty, the solitude and the learning and the solace they’ve provided.

Who needs a jet anyway?

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