1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Book Review: Taking Evans' 'The Walk' Across Florida and to Ichetucknee Spring

I've always believed that the quickest way to a man's heart and maybe soul is not through his stomach but through his love of nature. When SAM the Saluki man and I first met at SIU 32 years ago, it was our shared love of all things outdoors that sealed and nourished our relationship. Walks in the woods, climbing glacial-era sandstone boulders at nearby Giant City Park, and studying each other between classes on a park-like campus filled our memory banks with more riches than any exalted career path ever could. When I picked up Richard Paul Evans' The Walk at the library a couple of weeks ago, the title, the cover, and the jacket description of it as a "life-changing journey, both physical and spiritual," captured my attention. Here, I thought, would be the perfect traveling book. We had a journey of our own to take across the state of Florida, and I figured Mr. Evans might have some insights to share with us through his fictional characters. For instance, would the protagonist change his plans to suit an irascible sister-in-law and keep peace in the family? Probably not, since he's hell-bent and trauma-warped enough to insist on doing it his way. Doing it means walking all the way from Seattle to Key West, after he has "lost everything," and he's "taking with him only the barest of essentials." Like a debit card to draw on a hefty account administered by his attractive personal assistant? So he can buy energy bars, trail mix, Pop-Tarts, and beef jerky to fuel his passion for walking. And later to pay for meals at roadside diners and then a night's stay at a luxurious bed-and-breakfast. Some things in this book don't ring true, and I think it might have a lot to do with the walk itself.  
 Before we took that tandem kayak for a float down the Ichetucknee River a week ago Monday and before we ventured across the state to visit the Irascible Sister-in-Law and other, more easygoing relatives, SAM and I felt like we needed a walk in the woods. We stayed in High Springs on Friday night at a cheap but mostly clean motor inn for a couple of reasons. First, the bigger chain motels don't consider it worth their while to locate themselves so far off the beaten path (Interstate 75). Secondly, we thought we might do the float on Saturday morning before heading over to the East Coast. Then the phone call was made on Friday evening to firm up plans for the weekend. The ISIL made it clear that she was fixing a roast for Saturday supper and that the other family members from Australia were going in the afternoon to visit SAM's mom at the nursing home. Wouldn't we like to join them for both events? Black sheep though we may be, SAM and I decided to keep the peace and not make waves, at least not this time. We would swing back by Ichetucknee on the way home to Tallahassee, hoping the sunny, dry weather would hold on for a couple more days. It did. Getting back to the walk, though, we headed out early Saturday morning to O'Leno State Park where we found a swinging bridge to cross. This one was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. I don't think anyone has too many complaints about the way that particular stimulus plan worked. We're still enjoying the benefits in 2010.
We hadn't planned on staying more than an hour or so walking on the trail, but you know me. Once I start breathing in that lovely pine smell, and looking up at the lofty canopy towering overhead, I'm hooked.

Who needs to buy Pop-Tarts and beef jerky when you can survive in the woods on pine bark and seeds with a side order of pine needle tea? Getting back to The Walk now, I find it ironic that a physical and spiritual journey gets fueled by store-bought fare. Nature is the best provider as well as healer.
I'm not sure what I expected to find between the pages of the book, but product placement was the furthest thing from my mind when I first started to read it. It didn't take long for the name-dropping to begin. By Chapter Two, I knew that the protag, Alan Christoffersen, drives a Lexus and fell in even greater love with a woman who once operated a Kool-Aid stand. Of course, all of the hype could be explained by the fact that he's an advertising executive. He pitches products for a living so brand names belong in this book, right? Not so fast. Maybe they do before he begins his walk, while he's still caught up in his fast-paced, high-falutin' lifestyle, but once he begins preparing for that spiritual journey after losing everything, those brand names should disappear like water down a sinkhole. Not so. Ray-Ban Wayfarers and an Akubra Coober Pedy hat purchased in Melbourne, no less, adorn our hero as he sets out to leave his life behind.
Water never really disappears down a sinkhole. It just reappears somewhere else, downstream, hopefully in better condition than when it sank. (That's probably not the case, though, considering all the organic and inorganic pollutants that somehow find their way into the groundwater and recharge system.)
For some reason, I expect a good book to do that too--reappear downstream, away from the polluted mainstream, I mean. It has a path for me to follow, and even if it starts out a bit awkwardly, I want it to take me somewhere extraordinary.
So when I read on the first page of Chapter One "The water before me [Gulf of Mexico as seen from Key West] is as blue as windshield wiper fluid," I figure there's still time for this book to find its footing. The journey has just begun, right? Well, no, actually the protag has already reached his destination and the story begins at the end. He tells us that he has "come a long way to get here--nearly 3500 miles." On foot. Where does windshield wiper fluid fit in with that picture? Maybe it's the author's voice squeaking through the veil. Evans tells us on his website that he couldn't "write the book without experiencing the path" his protag takes. So he flies to Seattle and rents a car to drive that path. Whatever happened to walking a mile or 3500 in someone else's shoes?
Or floating down a lazy river in someone else's kayak?
Remember I told you that we waited a couple of days to take that float down the Ichetucknee? I'm so glad we did. If we had gone Saturday, the course would have been clogged with many more boats and people. Now, I'm not antisocial, but when I'm in need of peace to do some serious thinking, the fewer people around the better. 
"What is it to be admitted to a museum, to see a myriad of particular things, compared with being shown some star's surface, some hard matter in its home! I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound has become so strange to me. I fear not spirits, ghosts, of which I am one--that my body might--but I fear bodies; I tremble to meet them..." --Henry David Thoreau, Maine Woods, "Ktaadn," Part 6

I do like Evans' use of a journal and famous quotes to keep the novel flowing, but I wish he had chosen some better ones than this:
"Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it." --Kierkegaard
The Ichetucknee begins with one head spring, and it becomes a mighty flow not far downstream as other springs join it. Not fast moving, mind you, but flowing nonetheless. It takes hold of your imagination and gets away with it sometimes. Like something that Thoreau has written. Now there's a source from which to gather quotes. Who needs to walk away from burdensome thoughts? Take them with you, wash them in the river, and try them on for size again.
"What is this Titan that has possession of me? Talk of mysteries! Think of our life in nature--daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it--rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! the solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? Where are we?" --Henry David Thoreau, as above
Try as you might, you can't plumb the depths of a spring anymore than you can a human spirit's.
It has hiding places that not even its owner knows about. Someone once told me--or maybe I read it somewhere--that every human has a God-shaped hole in his/her soul. He/she yearns for it to be filled with something. It cries out like an empty stomach and is never satisfied with anything less than the real deal.
Nature was never intended to fill the hole. That would be counterproductive. It's not eternal, and I can't take it home with me. The Lobelia cardinalis I find on this trip down the river won't be there the next time I visit, and it's designed to thrive right where it is, not to be uprooted and thrust in some flower bed.
The Great Egret, Ardea alba, is certainly an object to be admired and maybe even studied but worshipped?
Even turtles like this log-hugging River Cooter seem to know when it's time to cut the crap or the tree so that the river's flow continues unobstructed, and as a bonus he gets a place to hang out and catch a few rays.
Where I am going with this train(wreck) of thought as I float down the river, past the Great Blue Heron intent on catching his dinner? To the latest news about a solar installation in the Mojave Desert. According to an article in the Huffington Post, a couple hundred permanent jobs will be created once this project is completed. Woohoo! I'll bet Californians are excited about that prospect. Though, maybe the creatures calling the desert home won't be so thrilled about it. Ah yes, the price we all must pay for progress. Solar Millenium, a German company responsible for designing one of the 14 fast-track projects approved--for permits as well as funding--by the federal government, "will be required to mitigate the project's effect on more than 8000 acres of habitat for the desert tortoise, western burrowing owl, bighorn sheep, and Mojave fringe-toed lizard, as part of an agreement with federal officials." Unfortunately, the animals were unavailable for comment on the mitigation plan. The same could be said for the vegetation and various insects inhabiting the region.
We knew our trip down the river was nearing its end when we saw the power lines spanning the water. Was it the hum of electricity and towering symbol of man's interference with Nature that told us so? Not exactly. The lady at Ichetucknee Family Canoe & Cabins told us to call her so she could drive the van over to pick us up at the takeout point nearby.
That's where this story began, with SAM the Saluki man, climbing outta the 'yak. And the river keeps going, flowing freely, past the point where we left it that day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

New Blog--Fiction Versus Nonfiction

I've decided to branch out a little and start a new blog. Someone in the family--no, not SAM--recently (jokingly, I hope) said that I wasn't exactly telling the truth when I explained to someone else that this blog is nonfiction. Okay, I thought, let's show 'em and give fiction a try since that seems to be my forte. I started it yesterday, and I hope you will take a look and let me know what you think. Have a great weekend!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Surprise! Florida's Missing Waterfalls and Gifts from Friends Above (Up North)

Florida isn't famous for rock formations or sheets of water cascading over precipitous cliffs into chasms below. And "drought" is not a term most people associate with a state known for its tropical vegetation and associated rainfall. Surprise! Northwest Florida has both topographic and climatic anomalies or exceptions to the rule, and once in a while the drought condition upstages the one that supports a waterfall. Secret Aging Man and I found this to be the case recently at Falling Waters State Park. We were on our way back to Tallahassee last weekend after showing the house to yet another couple who remarked that they liked our home but were determined and eager to buy one of the many "distressed" properties up for grabs. They had already put in a bid on a house much larger than ours with similar features for only 105,000 dollars. Oh, how things have changed since we moved here almost seven years ago. You would have been laughed out of town for an offer like that back then. And that was pre-Hurricane Ivan, before speculating developers got their hands on the land and its resources--including the water. It's unlimited, right? Plenty to go around and then some. Build and build some more. Life in Florida is easy and so is the credit to finance it. Or was, I should say.
The Waterfall
(Henry Vaughan, 1655)

With what deep murmurs through time's silent stealth
Doth thy transparent, cool, and watery wealth
Here flowing fall,
And chide, and call,
As if his liquid, loose retinue stayed
Lingering, and were of this steep place afraid,

The common pass
Where, clear as glass,
All must descend--
Not to an end,
But quickened by this deep and rocky grave,
Rise to a longer course more bright and brave...
Falling Waters State Park wasn't always the kind of place to look for just "watery wealth." Boardwalk trails and clean restrooms didn't beckon curious visitors in years past. Another kind of wealth drew prospectors' interest here when they heard "legends of a rock-enclosed substance that would burn." Click on the pic above to read the details.
Dear stream! dear bank, where often I
Have sat and pleased my pensive eye,
Why, since each drop of thy quick store
Runs thither whence it flowed before,
Should poor souls fear a shade or night,
Who came, sure, from a sea of light?
Or since those drops are all sent back
So sure to thee, that none doth lack,
Why should frail flesh doubt any more
That what God takes He'll not restore?
We might not have autumn in all of its glory here in Florida like most of the country does at this time of year, but we do find pockets of peace to cherish what we do have. Clear skies and cooler temperatures draw us into the woods--healing places where the dry tears and tatters fall away and new growth takes place another day. The waterfall will return in the springtime. I hope.
O useful element and clear!
My sacred wash and cleanser here,
My first consignor unto those
Fountains of life where the Lamb goes!
What sublime truths and wholesome themes
Lodge in thy mystical deep streams!
Such as dull man can never find
Unless that Spirit lead his mind
Which first upon thy face did move,
And hatched all with His quickening love.
As this loud brook's incessant fall
In streaming rings restagnates all,
Which reach by course the bank, and then
Are no more seen, just so pass men.
O my invisible estate,
My glorious liberty, still late!
Thou art the channel my soul seeks,
Not this with cataracts and creeks.
I gave a hint in the title of the post that a gift had arrived. It wasn't really a surprise. I was expecting it to come any day. The postal service certainly can't use any excuses about sleet, snow, or rain delaying the package, and it wasn't the first attempt that Karen of KaHolly and Down in the Hollow fame had made to send me some of her beautiful handmade greeting cards. A set of Eagle cards is still floating about somewhere in North America, or maybe it's landed somewhere it doesn't belong. I just finished filling out a survey for USPS. It didn't pile on any praises for quality of service or timeliness. I sometimes wonder if the Pony Express wouldn't be more efficient? Anyway, thanks, Karen, for your lovely gifts and, most of all, patience. We could all do with a lot more of that virtue/spiritual fruit in this hectic world we share.
On a different note, another blogger friend recently said on his blog that he thinks blogging and other forms of social networking verge on narcissism. That kind of attitude makes me sad for two reasons. First of all, serious psychological conditions have become fodder for psychobabblers who chew on popular literature/trends and then regurgitate the stuff to make themselves look good and often end up making other people feel bad. Secondly, if you think about it, Narcissus--the fellow in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection and the namesake for a certain modern psychopathy--should never have become so despised and blamed for his lover Echo's despair. Echo, after all, had brought trouble on herself for gossiping, talking too much, and annoying the gods. She was condemned to always have the last word. That doesn't seem like such an awful punishment, unless you consider that she could only repeat what someone else had just spoken and was not allowed to ever give voice to an original thought again. It's no wonder Narcissus plopped himself down on the riverbank and became enchanted with his reflection. Who likes being taunted by having his words flung back at him--a verbal slap in the face? Still, though, if he had really been so pathologically self-absorbed, he would have been gratified hearing his own words replayed. He wanted no part of Echo with her endless repetition. It's a shame that the nymph and son of a nymph couldn't sit down and discuss things sanely over a cup of tea. And not fret about who gets to have the last word on a subject or who's right or wrong--a wonderful exception to the rule in our modern society and quite in line with that other, old-fashioned, unpopular, outdated one. You know--that Golden Rule.