On (Not) Traveling

The red buoy must be a mile out. Were I to stand at the edge of water-beach rather than on this hillside of rosehips and rocks higher up, where now-white driftwood slammed up to fashion a fence, I’d have a better sense of shore to water span, a clearer calculation of traveling-from-here-to-the-buoy space. But I’m here, here where I have landed – at the edge of Popham Beach navigating the hilly terrain. Here there are the last scents of scraggy pinky-magenta beach rose petals, these rugosa roses displaying their now bountiful, full, brick red rosehips as petals weather, wither, wash away. I am mesmerised by oceans of smells, breezes, sounds – and the couple dozen monarchs winging to explore late summer stamens, the beach roses yet popping clusters of yellow pistils, and still green bases linking lushness to a forest of stems and root ball tangle. Monarchs’ wings bring the afternoon color, these many monarchs winging their ways to new destinations. Landing for pieces of time, the movement lets me wonder whether they’re landing – in monarch timing – for long or short spells. How much time for a monarch constitutes lingering? how much is stopping by for a visit? how much longer is the time span for flitting about to take in so much beauty? how does – does? – a monarch enact touristing? does a collection of varied plants become part of a nectar-tasting flight? Are these hips on these hills a home? a home from home?

I’m traveling today – just not in ways I’d planned. At this southern Maine shoreline, I’m facing an Atlantic Ocean that I’d have flown over yesterday, in an ordinary world. I’d have been returning home from my home from home after a summer away to think alongside Raymond Williams in that Swansea archive where his adult education teaching documents and thoughts on Welshness are held precious beside the manuscripts of Keywords and cultural studies work with Stuart Hall. A summer to rove the Squares of Manchester, embracing a July of International Festival frivolity and friendship: Brazennose to Albert to St. Ann’s to Market to Exchange to Piccadilly Gardens to St. Peter’s to Greengate. Ten years ago this was a yet-to-be-built square in the neighborhood of the flat 7 stories up that I called home for 5 months.

And yet, here in unplanned Maine, I am traveling in familiar landscapes – a complex landscape that seems quintessentially northern: the tall trees, winding roads, water inlets, clapboard small businesses, and cheery faces I can find in Minnesota’s lakeways; the town names, industrial histories, foods, rolling hills, plentiful piers, and broad green fields common to both Northwest England and Wales’ border counties. 

Still, I am traveling with friends – and with masks. Covid masks, not with the sort of masks that “protect the real me” from the friends who accompany me this particular summer. Friends I’d not be traveling with had I gone on that “if there’d not been covid” leave from which I’d be recovering jet lag wise. I’d not be traveling among breweries and eateries and “how has life changed” stories here in Maine with my since-phd-school friend, or since-first-teaching-at-UMinnesota friend if I’d flown into MSP yesterday from MCR. Even more, I’d not have recognised my own kindred, my chosen siblings from another father, as it were. And not had the space of summer months to know ideas, resonate with experiences, and discover a mighty alignment with one among the kindred who is also on both this and their own (not) traveling journey, both writing their own (not) traveling essay and expecting to read this one. At this same moment, in this same slice of life, we are most certainly traveling – moving between cognitive and affective places, and moving into ourselves, knowing that we can’t “go back”  – even if we wished it so, and will make new forwards while being rightly and richly aware that simple isn’t easy. For now, we are on a journey of (new) traveling, of traveling light, of being where we are. In (new) traveling, we’ve landed on both feet, both shoes have dropped, the laces are tied, and we’re ready to go.

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