Well more first steps than giant ones. Still, with a nod to Mr PC.
Last year a renowned publisher of progressive culture held a short story competition on the theme of travel. Anyone with whom I have had fleeting contact would understand why I declared, “oh I can do that”. At the time I considered my stream of consciousness ramble to be brilliant. Looking back with the benefit of time … well, it has some nice ideas but is a garbled thematic mixture. Despite reservations about the quality and the terrain covered, both physically and abstractly, the piece does seem an appropriate place to launch a meander through the universe. Please enjoy.
From Sea To Flight, Post Restante to Skype
The lure is not to see if the grass is greener, rather it is an inherent quest to discover what is on the other side. This is a journey of the person as mirror to the species.
Life is like a river, it’s got no beginning and it’s got no end
We had been hiking for several days and were deep into the mountains by the time the last village was reached. As was customary we paused to give greetings to the Chief before moving on, our final destination still a distant peak. Accompanied by a bevy of guides, hunters and porters from our starting village, we felt an embarrassed resemblance to early European explorers, lacking only in pith helmets, khakis and long white socks.
Until the arguments erupted we were unaware that the two villages remained locked in a bitter dispute over the granting of Paramount Chieftaincy decreed by colonial authorities thirty years prior. Suddenly the Chief pumped his chest proclaiming authoritively that we could not proceed. Angry voices became shouts as men jumped to their feet. Heavy wooden clubs and ancient rifles were drawn. It seemed as if battle would be declared.
In the midst of the dispute two old men, one from each village, were drawn to each other. Eyes sparkled and faces broke into broad smiles as slowly the glint of recognition grew. Nothing was said. Arms reached as a slow, elaborate handshake occurred, neither letting go. Possibly they had fought together in World War One; perhaps once they had been lovers. Their presence exuded elation, as a long extant, disrupted friendship was silently re-established.
Wanderlust: the insatiable desire for adventure and new experience that arises from deep within the human psyche.
In his ode to humanity, The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin postulated that nomadism is intrinsic to mental well-being. Just like the baby that relaxes with the movement of the mother, the rhythms of the limbs are the core of harmony within self and between self and the external world. His vision travelled from the first shouted declaration of consciousness on the African savannah, the universal ‘I am’. The vision encompassed worldly proverbs affirming walking as the cure for all ills, moved via Aristotle’s peripatetikos, to indigenous Australians who walk the track singing their Songlines to retain the presence of the world.
There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path
Let me be clear, wanderlust is not synonymous with nomadism. Nomads are like the Australian suburban family with the big back yard: children learning every nook and cranny, climbing the tree to build a cubby house, knowing where to hide, and where the poisonous spiders weave their web. Nomads are no different, it is just the scale is on a greater order of magnitude.
Nomads understanding of their backyard is deeply internalised – the timing of the rains, where and when certain fruits or tubers ripen, the place to harvest reeds or be at preferred hunting sites, and the locations for religious ceremonies. They read the leaves, the breeze, the flight of birds and insect trails the same way we consult a well-worn street directory. The visitor sees nothing, while the inhabitant traverses an established way bristling with life, kinships and knowledge acquired through generations of custom. The road is only less travelled by those who do not regularly tread its path.
In contrast to the circular nomadic patterns, my travel is perpetual change, seeking the new, the unknown, the places never before encountered. To go boldly and befriend people. To engage with other cultures, learning from and appreciating. To experience the full gamut of emotions and emerge smiling. To witness the intricate beauty of this, our planet Earth. To expand our place bound consciousness and be part of the timeless journey. To avoid the inevitable cliché and fail miserably.
Good morning star shine, the Earth says hello
I am. To me I am the most important being alive and every trivial chemical interaction that somehow emerges as a thought is of vital relevance. I am not a blip in the universe or a scrap of dust on the historic time line but a conscious speaking life form demanding attention.
From infinitesimal infinity comes an explosion –The Birth Pangs of Spring merges with Ode To Joy – and the journey begins, generating the warmth of the sun. Creeping, crawling, floundering first steps out of the primordial swamp and into astonishing complexity.
The climate shifts that reduced African woodlands to open savannah, caused a chimpanzee to descend from a tree to triumphantly walk upright, grow the brain and expand across the globe. Sentient beings streamed out of Africa. Climatic stability of the Holocene, in temperate zones the birthplaces of agriculture, the establishment of civilisation.
We are! Humanity. The commonality that enabled social structure, taking us from scavenging to the spaceship.
Earth Mother’s Woman Child
120,000 years past our ancestors left their mark on the shores of Lake Natron, the soda lake that is home to the pink flamingo and cadaverous calcified birds. Escaping the volcanic eruptions from the domineering Ol Doinyo Lengai, home to the Maasai creation gods, eighteen adults and children, probably dying from poison fumes, erratically running across hot lava.
The footprints are the most ancient Homo Sapien confirmation, and I cannot resist chanting from Songlines > Footprints of the Ancestors while flouting protocols to find impressions that match my own feet. My attempt to immerse myself into their mindset is irritatingly ephemeral, even though I have walked with people whose hunter-gatherer lifestyle harks back to that lineage.
The nomads roamed their backyard; a short workweek provided them with a broad based diet, yet the harsh existence meant a brief life span with no wealth accumulation. Their social order was egalitarian: dependent on collective parenting, shared food and resources, and living in intricate harmony with nature. They were the originators of the slow-food slow-travel movement, of art and emotional intelligence.
Wherever I lay my hat (that’s my home)
Could Göbekli Tepe in Turkey be the site where our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ embraced sedentarism and launched the Neolithic revolution?
The paradigm shift represented by the site overwhelms me with its complexity. It feels beyond comprehension. Temples constructed then buried. Megaliths engraved with creatures from earth, constellations beaming in the night sky, and surreal pictograms possibly of transition between the physical and spiritual worlds. Were the builders worshipping the dead or celebrating life? What origin songs did they sing and to whom? What colour sky did they see? How far removed have we become?
Of all the gin joints in the world why this particular location? Did someone recognize the seasonal regularity of rains that brought the seed to bloom, and in deliberate planting create sufficient abundance to feed a workforce? Or the opposite; did the need for numerous workers to construct temples demand increased food production, and thus the seed was planted and fed till it blossomed and spread? That seed successfully colonising the planter, till fourteen seed varieties of European origin now constitute over sixty percent of the planet’s grasslands.
Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home
When the first European sailors reached the West African coast in the fifteenth century, they glowingly described the peoples and empires they encountered. But the New World demanded a work force and enslaving a people demanded that they be dehumanised. Up to twenty million people forcibly relocated, almost twenty percent to die on the Atlantic Crossing. New Worlds founded upon the destruction of Old Worlds.
Maritime connectivity forging globalisation. Metal and weapons to Africa – slaves to the Americas – silver and gold to Asia – tea and spices to Europe.
The age of rationalism and colonisation entered, camouflaged by the veneer of spreading the Gospel. The advent of the league of independently wealthy gentleman explorers and scientists (women not permitted), whose discoveries transformed human knowledge and the planet. A European resource crisis demands new fuels and technologies, launching industrialization. Populations being restructured into new classes entranced by the locomotion of technical advancement, blissfully unaware of the poison breathe spewing from the runaway train.
Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars
Two hundred years after gentleman explorer Mungo Park, we reach Djenne, the famed market city on the confluence of the Bani and Niger rivers, home to the magnificent adobe Great Mosque. Upon arrival Park reported being offered perfume that had been transported across the Sahara from Paris; in our case on-sale were fake Nikes.
From Djenne we drive south to the Bandiagara escarpment, home of the Dogon. Centuries prior to the invention of the telescope, the Dogon recognized the dog-star Sirius as twin stars, one circling the other in a fifty-year elliptical orbit.
Five thousand years ago waves of people traversed the Pacific Ocean. Using technology and navigation skills as innovative for their time as transporting a human to Mars is today, they spent months at sea searching for habitable land. When you can steer by stars and clouds who needs a GPS? Going where no human had gone before to find new places to settle in the ‘sea of islands’. The motive for their original departure remains unclear, yet having settled, population growth within limited land space meant their young had to move yet again, first by canoe, now leaving on a jet plane.
Witnessing the abundance of whales in the Pacific, Joseph Banks, gentleman botanist on the Endeavour, may as well have said “they are as common as jet skis in the bay on a summers day”, oblivious to the forthcoming motor fleets that would decimate fish stocks.
In Tonga I have walked in atoll waters protected by gabions made from crushed beer cans, stubbing my toe on the foundations of lost houses. Then I have had to assist friends to permanently relocate their lives because the seas have washed their homes away. Meantime, in nearby deep ocean floors volcanic activity creates conditions analogous to those that led to the formation of life.
Fly like an Eagle
Alfred Russell Wallace lacked the finances of the gentlemen explorers and relished the wondrous beauties of the natural world. Capturing, stuffing and exporting animals in order to survive, he independently came to similar conclusions to Charles Darwin; Wallace’s own survival depended upon understanding natural selection. In the Indonesian archipelago bagging birds, Wallace appreciated their plumed beauty and marvelled at the splendid diversity produced by tiny shifts between biospheres.
Birds of Paradise
We thank the birds for the sensual majesty of flight and the chirruping seductiveness in their sweetest love songs.
We express the colours of life in our own songs, the poetry of movement, the soulful emotion. Travel as a metaphor for life, sung to affirm ones own existence.
I love to go a wandering. Ramblin’ on my mind. The road I must travel. Baby we are Born to Run. The Long and Winding Road. Climbing Higher Mountains. Many Rivers to Cross. These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. Further on Down the Road. Freedom Highway. Proud Mary.
Exodus – Movement of the People
As a young traveller at the roadside sweltering in heat and vehicle fumes trying to hitch a lift, looked enviously at the passing air-conditioned tour bus, thinking of the shower and hotel room the occupants would enjoy that night. In maturity the comfortable bus occupant, envied the hitchhiker, recalling the freedom of movement that self-initiative and a backpack offers, still looking towards savouring a glass of fine red that evening.
A group of youthful Gypsies take a liking to this naïve traveller and allow me into their fold. I feel proud and privileged – touching the Other. The Gypsies ask people for money, acceptable in that culture. This traveller however is from a time and place where the social order prohibits people to live openly on the streets, requesting alms. Pride inhibits me from begging. They kindly wish me well and vanish in another direction to where my own path heads.
The old woman with the durian smile makes the best street pho, infused with fish sauce. When I ask if she has even been to Hanoi she laughs raucously. “Why would I want to go there? This is where my history sleeps. This is where I was born and where I raise my children. Everything I know is here.”
We set up camp at the oasis and relax on a sand dune sipping sundowners. Just as the last sparks of the sun reach up to heaven and the glow off Venus illuminates, an elegant elongated man strides out into the desert. He will walk through the night with the stars as friend and guide, reaching the next distant oasis before the warmth of the sun rises to beckon good morning.
The old man in the Ethiopian Afar desert strokes his red-hennaed cactus beard lamenting, “the weather is crazy, it does not know what to do anymore.” Weather patterns once familiar has displaced his traditional routes with unpredictable confusion.
Working in a war zone, the alarm came from an overwhelming acrid stench of burning flesh. The body had also been macheted, with deep cuts down to the bone revealing layers of flesh like steaks. His eyes pleaded with us, demanding succour. There was nothing we could do.
We are witnesses to the initial stages of another global people movement as we push the climate out of its era of stability. As the land starts to break asunder and burn, as ice walls collapse and the oceans begin to rise, as wars erupt over diminishing resources – from Syria treads the shape of things to come already begun. Movement of the People, fleeing death and desolation. There is destruction on earth and in the heavens that is approaching irredeemable.
Ocean acidification and freshwater loss
Species extinction and biodiversity depletion
Deforestation and desertification
Greenhouse gases and other pollutants
Global Financial Crisis, wealth and poverty, the highest levels of inequality since the inception of capitalism
Space is the Place
I stand on ground where 3.6 million years ago an Australopithecus Afarensis bipedal female walked, wondering if she was as complexly contradicted as we are. Peasant women struggle along the roadside bent askew by bundles of firewood. A car in cruise control flashes past and overhead a jet plane leaves a long vapour trail, the occupants focused on smartphones and hash tags. The new world order instructs us to ‘innovate’ as if that is not the story of humanity.
NASA announces that lines on the Martian landscape suggest the potential of water– although they are yet to disprove the theory that the lineae are remnants of a delectable chocolate ice cream soda, and I am volunteering to journey there to investigate the veracity of this claim.
Our ever-accelerating technological advancement is outpacing the inventions of the industrialisation age: bio, nano, neuro, quantum, digital, renewable. Futurists consider the merger of humans and technology as the potentially next great Darwinian leap. Chemical and electrode brain enhancements, cloned bodies with consciousness downloaded, ultra powerful artificial limbs and sensory organs, re-stranding DNA to replace natural selection with ‘choice’. The prospect of infinite life, price non-negotiable.
From Homo Sapiens to Homo Hybridus.
SEITI, Voyager, Rosetta, New Horizons, along with the aptly named ‘Curiosity’ Mars Rover, searching for other forms of life and life sustaining planets. In anticipation private companies take passenger bookings.
What crossing will the next phase of humanity undertake?
Which passage awaits our children?
It’s After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet?
Reminiscent of a dystopian sci-fi story, I wonder if we could soon face the prospect of an A.I. operated spaceship full of immortal One Percenters, declaring “Bye, bye, planet Earth; you’re fucked so we are off to colonise a new planet”? Another movement of the people marked by size of the dollar signs rather than numerical numbers of the participants. Creating New Worlds on the death of Old Worlds.
We are on the road to somewhere.
Future routes are not pre-determined but options that compel choice. The thought arises of merging the hunter-gatherer ethos with modernity’s technological capacities. To draw back from the death throes enveloping planet Earth and to boldly go in new directions. Movement of the people becoming a people’s movement.
If it rains again tonight I can think light years ahead, I can put myself back a thousand years ago
The next day, the obstinate Chief circumvented, we reached the summit. The afternoon sun beamed through slivers of cirrus cloud while below the peaks fell away into dark forest. A hawk glided and swallows swooped to pick bugs from the grass. The gods may not be at home but the area abounded with pagan spirits. During the climb the guides had picked flowers, placing them in Elish’s hair till it bloomed like a posturing peacock.
My love with Elish is as deeply volatile as the eruptions in the Tongan trench. Elish has the flamboyant empathetic personality that people are drawn to and forges lifelong friendships. Mine is a solitary lifestyle, moving from one place to another, relationships sporadic and intense.
“You have gone silent again,” Elish says. “Your soul has departed and now your body must chase it.”
Similar to lazing on the mountain peak, we would sit on the roof of Elish’s vertical village, gazing down onto hanging gardens and over pulsating city lights, planning our next means-of-survival forage. They were the first, passionate days.
Elish declares, “Then that’s decided. At our next destination we will stay for a period, and my friends will come to visit.” The affirmation brings a smile to my face.
Babaa Maal sang of the Nomad Soul as homage to humanity, our endeavour and artistic creation, our capacity for expression and communication, the ability for independent thought to innovate and change. The unity of the spirit attained through rhythmic movement, striding into the future.
The call of the wandering heart into the big backyard.
So Long, Farewell, it’s been good to know you
Wonder what colour the grass is on Mars?
‘Life is like a river …’ from Familiar Reality by Dr John (John “Mac” Rebennack), Atco Records, 1971.
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, Vintage Books, 1987.
‘There is a difference …’ from The Matrix, written and directed by The Wachowski’s, 1999.
‘Good morning star shine …’ from Hair, by James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot, Emi Music Publishing, 1967.
‘Ode to Joy’ (An die Freude), Friedrich Schiller, 1785.
‘The Birth Pangs of Spring’ by Rip Rig & Panic, Virgin Records Ltd, 1983.
‘Earth Mother’s Woman Child’ by Kev Carmody, Song Cycles Pty Ltd, 2015.
‘Songlines > Footprints of the Ancestors’, by Zoli, Zoli Engel Bashar, 2009.
‘Wherever I lay my hat …’ by Marvin Gaye, Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, CBS, 1962.
‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot …’ traditional.
‘The Locomotion’ by Jerry Goffin and Carol King, Dimension 1000, 1962.
‘Fly me to the moon …’ Bart Howard, Decca, 1954.
‘Fly like an Eagle’, by Steve Miller, Capitol, 1976.
‘I love to go a wandering’ from The Happy Wanderer by Antonia Ridge and Friedrich W. Moller, Bosworth & Co., Ltd, 1953.
‘Ramblin’ on my mind’ by Robert Johnson, Vocalion, 1936.
‘The Road I must travel’ by Tom Morella, The Nightwatchman, 2007.
‘Born to run’ by Bruce Springsteen, Columbia, 1975.
‘The long and winding road’ by Lennon & McCartney, Apple, 1970.
‘Climbing Higher Mountains’, traditional.
‘Many rivers to cross’ by Jimmy Cliff, Trojan, 1969.
‘These boots are made for walkin’ by Lee Hazelwood, Reprise, 1965.
‘Freedom Highway’ by Pop Staples, Epic, 1965.
‘Proud Mary’ by John Fogarty, Fantasy, 1969.
‘Exodus – Movement of the people’ by Bob Marley and Lee Perry, Blackwell Fuller Music Publishing LLC, 1977.
‘Waltzing Matilda’ by ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Sounds of Australia registry, 1895.
‘Dreamtime Story’ by Narbalek Band, SFM Publishing, 1999.
‘Hellbound Train’ by Kim Simmonds and Andy Silvester, Parrot, 1972.
‘Space is the place’ by Sun Ra, Blue Thumb, 1973.
‘It’s after the end of the world …’ by Sun Ra, MPS, 1970.
‘If it rains again tonight …’ from Hyperdrive by Grace Slick and Pete Sears, Warner-Tamerlane, 1974.
‘Nomad Soul’ by Baaba Maal, Palm Pictures, 1998.
‘So long, Farewell …’ by Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie Publications Inc, 1940.