Last year during September, I was riding around Western Ireland on a bicycle. Two years ago during that same time, I was taking a 500 mile walk through Spain. All of which makes me wonder about different modes of travel. What are the benefits? What are the problems? Why choose one mode of transport over another?
As a young boy in Carbondale Pennsylvania, I don’t remember many family travels. Dad spent his time running the Del Rocco cocktail lounge and working in a grocery warehouse. Mom had enough on her plate trying to love and care for us. A 20 mile trip to Scranton (by car) for a new pair of shoes at Buster Brown’s was quite an outing. (At the store they gave us pretzel sticks from a large tin container.) Most travel in those days was what happened in our imaginations. (Bobby Fallon’s Dad was legendary for having gone all the way to California where he visited Disneyland.)
Though I don’t remember reading lots of books or being encouraged to explore the world through reading, I do remember the World Book Encyclopedia. That was where we could find out about the world beyond our town—maps, photos, and lots of new words. For some reason I remember how the book included plastic overlays for things like geography, geology, and biology. As a young reader I got to travel to the inside of a volcano or into the human circulatory system. Even better, World Book had yearly updates called Year Books. As if by magic, they were always up to date (internet eat your heart out). As I look back on the memory of those sacred volumes, I wish I had been encouraged to read more. I wish my imagination had been better trained for discovery.
My first real extended trip was by car with Nanny and Bumpy (my mom’s parents) to Arizona. I had the whole back seat of Bumpy’s big sedan to myself as we traveled from Pennsylvania to Phoenix. (Bumpy’s car was something like a 1960 Imperial with huge tail fins.) My 10 year-old self was amazed at the many different brands of gasoline and wondered why trees looked different in different parts of the country. I was surprised that there were so many mountains and deserts to cross and delighted that we got to eat out every night! Even though the Interstate Highway System was in its infancy then, the world still went by quite quickly. We found our way to Phoenix with the help of AAA (American Automobile Association) TripTik Travel Planners and their books. It was a glorious time for me.
I sometimes wonder what our own children think of the car travel we did when they were young. I doubt it was as magical as it was for me. Aside from a few local trips to places like Apple Hill and attending soccer tournaments, I suspect our longest journeys were to Florence, Oregon to visit Lena’s folks. Was it drudgery to them? Was there any sense of adventure? Did they notice the towns that we drove though? (Tough to do on Interstate 5!) Did they have any special places they enjoyed eating? I should really ask them more. Maybe there were other road trips that stick in their minds. I am sure I have forgotten some. Maybe there are particular joys or challenges of which I am not aware. Maybe the arguments in the back seats of the Mazda MPV van took second place to the adventures.
Yesterday Lena and I had the opportunity for a different kind of movement that could be called travel “by hand.” We were helping for an hour or so at our church’s community garden called “Table Farm.” (Our church is called “The Table.”) Our assignment was to harvest chard. That’s it. Two rows—maybe 30 feet long. So, each equipped with a pair of scissors and a plastic box, we “travelled” down the rows. Very. Slowly.
We moved a few inches every few minutes. As we did, I noticed things that were completely new to me. Evidently, chard comes in different varieties and colors. I had neither noticed nor thought about that before. The stalk of the leaves can be yellow, purple, red or anything in between. The leaves were large and they were small. Some leaves were tough—some more tender. A few were a bit bug eaten. Some had brown spots. With the “discards” (of which there were few), we “composted in place.” We threw the leaves on the path between the rows of plants. We placed the good leaves in bins to be washed. As we went along we also found weeds that we dutifully ripped out and discarded.
Moving slowly down though the garden, I was transported in my mind. I thought about the small urban garden Lena and I briefly shared in when we lived in Chicago. I wondered what life might be like were I a farmworker in the valley of Central California. I pondered if there were many times in my life when I had actually eaten chard. Traveling by hand is not a bad way to go.
Spiritual Practice: Take A Different Route
When I was a pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church, about a 25 minute drive from my house, I almost always took the same route. Because I live some distance from the church, I would usually take Route 50 to Interstate 5 and exit at Florin Road. Most of the time that was the speediest and most efficient route. I didn’t want to “waste” too much time in the car, even though I was rarely running late.
But a few times I took a different route. South on Sunrise, to Grant Line Road, then to Elk Grove Boulevard through the town of Elk Grove—then north on Interstate 5. Those of you who know will understand this is quite a bit out of the way, much longer, but it has the advantage of taking “country roads” and then surface streets through a small town. It is slower. But on this journey I noticed things that I would have flown by on a freeway. I discovered places, homes, and geography I never knew existed. Frankly, it was much more pleasant ride.
So here is the practice. Wherever you are going in your car, take a new route. Try a slower route. And look around (but don’t take your eyes off the road too much!). Then think about what you have discovered.