Life Is But a Dream

We may be landlocked here in Middle Tennessee, but I am in a nautical frame of mind, as Linda and I are planning our upcoming vacation to the New England coast, our very favorite place to visit. And while I was preparing this post I was reminded of the nursery school rhyme we all learned as children: “Row, row, row your boat, Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.”

Not all of life is dreamy, of course, but what I’d like to think this rhyme is about is adopting a merrier attitude as we row our boat called life. And one way to travel “gently down the stream,” as the song says, is to pack lightly. Paula Wallace, co-founder of the Savannah College of Art and Design, puts it this way: “The allure of travel lies in the freedom of a suitcase—taking only what one needs and leaving room for serendipity.”

And in her book Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter author Elaine St. James shares this fun quote attributed to the cleverly named Jerome Klapka Jerome: “Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink, for thirst is a dangerous thing.”

Personally, I could do without the cat and dog, or even the pipes, but I agree with the rest of Jerome’s pithy perspective. The lighter we travel through life, the less baggage we need to lug with us. By keeping it simple, we save ourselves the trouble of toting more than we need on our journey, which any veteran traveller will tell you is the key to enjoying the trip from here to there. Remember, hearses are the great equalizer between the haves and the have-nots. Living lightly on earth helps prepare us for the hereafter.

No Place Like Home

As I shared earlier, my wife Linda and I have done a little traveling this summer and it has been fun. During Memorial Day weekend we visited Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky and to celebrate Independence Day (and our wedding anniversary) we visited Sewanee in Monteagle, Tennessee. And at each place, we were treated to classical music concerts, which we loved.

Yet as nice as each place was to visit, we nonetheless found ourselves uttering that familiar phrase, “be it ever so humble, there is no place like home,” which has gotten me to think about the meaning of home again, particularly since our one-year lease has expired and we are living on a month-to-month basis. The virtues of our present place are many and so we are content to continue living here.

For friends and family who have followed our journey these last three years since we sold our house and furniture to explore a more location-independent lifestyle, the question may arise, “so do thoughts of home mean you are thinking of settling down again?” To which we’d reply, “uh, no.” I’m not sure I even know what settling down would look like for us, but it definitely does not include buying another house. It even feels a little funny staying in the same area for the last couple years, even though we changed addresses.

As regular readers may recall, I posted an entry titled The Meaning of Home about a year ago but here are more thoughts about it. Alain de Botton writes in The Architecture of Happiness: The Secret Art of Furnishing Your Life, “Those places whose outlook matches and legitimates our own, we tend to honor with the term ‘home.’ Our homes do not have to offer us permanent occupancy or store our clothes to merit the name. To speak of home in relation to a building is simply to recognize its harmony with our own prized internal song. Home can be an airport or a library, a garden or a diner.”

And Kirsten Chapman adds in The Way Home, “We are imprinted with an eternal sense of ‘home’—no matter how far we wander. Home can be found in a place, a person, a book, a melody. When we feel it, we know we’re there. It is that safe haven where we find comfort. Where we feel anchored. It is a lifeline.” So for the time being, we are at home here, and if that changes, I will write about it.

The Road Less Travelled

I am reading a book called The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel by Dan Kienan, a travel writer who rarely if ever flies because he prefers more pedestrian modes of travel, such as walking. The book is all about taking the road less travelled, which the famous Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” suggests makes all the difference. And I agree, so much so that I carry a copy of the poem in my Moleskine.

Speaking of roads and notebooks, fellow travel writer and user of Moleskines, Bruce Chatwin, is quoted by Kienan: “Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and life itself is a journey, to be walked on foot.” While I don’t know if I want to walk everywhere on the journey of life, there is much to be said for slowing down long enough to savor the stroll.

Kienan also quotes my favorite travel writer, Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” And the author suggests that what Thoreau may mean by “music” is an alternative concept of time, namely celebrating the present.

“The thrill of living in the moment, which is the real destination of all journeys, is what the greatest travel writers are revealing in their meticulous descriptions of the places they go and the people they meet,” writes Kienan. Wherever we are on our own travels it helps if we move more slowly and read the signposts along the way so we can make detours if necessary. Here is to enjoying the journey!

The Psychology of Place

Writer Russell Banks observed about the psychology of place: “All travel writing that’s of lasting interest—writing that is written by writers as travelers, not travelers as writers—is really written to make a point about home…which leads one to conclude that the best travel writers are people who are at bottom unsure of the nature and limits of home and their relation to it. They move out of the that…they can look back and see what’s true there.”

As reflective sojourners, my wife and I are still in the process of looking back and seeing “what’s true there” after selling our house last year and redefining what home means for us in this new phase of our lives. And we both agree that while there are facets of home ownership that we miss, we are convinced that we made the right move and are very much enjoying the fruits of it.

What enriches our experience exponentially is the realization that we are walking out the will of God for our lives, of which we are continually reminded in ways both big and small. For example, upon relocating here to Franklin, we landed the first place we looked at living, we leased the first car we test drove, and Linda got the first job she inquired about, all within about a month of moving to unknown territory during a poor economy.

Strangers and Sojourners

It’s that time again…my wife and I are preparing for the next move on our grand adventure…and this time it’s off to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Dating to 1623, the city of about 25,000 is the third oldest English settlement in the nation behind Jamestown, Virginia [1607] and Plymouth, Massachusetts [1620] and we are headed there this weekend to check out the area before planning to move there within the month.

Speaking of Plymouth, while pilgrims are most often associated with that place, the word pilgrim literally refers to people who embark on journeys of faith and that includes us. A similar word to pilgrim is the lesser-used term of sojourner, which can be defined as “a person who resides temporarily in a place,” and that also describes us.

Even my blog profile states: “I am a creative sojourner who enjoys simple living, thoughtful conversation and good coffee.” And during my devotional reading the other day I came across a biblical passage from the Old Testament that quoted God as saying, “For you are strangers and sojourners with Me.” I can’t speak for others but I like the thought of God being my traveling companion.

As we anticipated from the get-go, Nantucket has been a way station instead of a destination for my wife and me. Between moves from our cottage on Main Street here in Nantucket and the upcoming one to Portsmouth we are staying with friends at another property located on, of all places, Pilgrim Road, which sums up our journey.

Return From America

My wife and I recently returned from a brief visit to “America,” as Nantucketers refer to the mainland. After four wintry months on this spit of land thirty miles out at sea we were invited to spend a couple of nights with close friends from Nantucket at their rental home in Hyannis on Cape Cod, a two hour ferry ride away.

After a rocky ocean crossing during which I “lost my lunch,” [an experience shared by Thoreau upon his visit here and which he called “paying tribute to the sea”] we proceeded to thoroughly enjoy our stay off island. In addition to watching television and playing Scrabble with our friends, we also indulged our latent desires for food chains, including a relaxing chai latte at Starbucks and a hearty steak supper at Outback.

But one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip came when our friends loaned us their vehicle for the day, which gave us the opportunity to explore Cape Cod’s back roads, including one called “Old King’s Highway,” a meandering scenic road through several picturesque New England villages complete with general stores.

The one pictured above, the Old Village Store, is located in the town of West Barnstable and has been in continuous operation as a general store since before the Civil War. It was even featured, along with the adjacent railroad depot, in the period movie called The Lightkeepers, which was filmed on Cape Cod and featured Richard Dreyfus and Blythe Danner. It transported us back in time even as it served as a waystation on our journey.

Places to Spaces

According to respected technology guru Kevin Kelly, “The network economy shifts places to spaces.” As he further points out in his writing, while a place is bounded by the dimensions of height, width, depth, and time, “a space, unlike a place, is an electronically created environment.”

What that means is that technology assists us to connect with one another without regard to the limitations of time and place, which is an incredible gift if used properly. For example, while emails, texts, and instant messages can help keep people close, unless each party practices proper “netiquette,” all the technology is for naught.

A byproduct of moving from places to spaces is the movement from atoms to bits, in other words, from the tangible to the intangible. The upside of this for me is that digitizing my stuff, including books, music, photos, and videos, enables me to fulfill my dream of traveling lightly through life.

However, there is a downside also. Despite all the optimistic talk about “cloud computing” there is the possibility of “technological difficulty,” such as the time my complimentary click-and-build website vanished from the ether one day. While it can be argued that I got what I paid for, it was nonetheless an unwelcome reminder of technology’s shortcomings.

The bottom line of all this is that technology as a tool is one of the most revolutionary innovations ever devised by man, but it must be used wisely and with integrity if we are to reap its vast rewards and realize its promise of keeping us all in touch with each other, wherever we are.