Travel, Travail, Temptation

Travel, Travail, Temptation

The Harvesters, by Pieter Bruegel. 1565

John Abel’s comments about Mark Twain’s non-fiction work got me to thinkin’. A dangerous thing, for sure. I thought about the miles Twain must have traveled, first up and down the Mississippi, then, when famous, around the world. And I thought about Tess, Hardy’s Tess, and how she might have traveled within Wessex some 15 to 25 miles in one direction or another, probably never going much beyond a radius of 25 miles or so.

. . . . Through beautiful meadows and across ancient hills, to her destiny, but her destiny was not too far from the place she was born. Hardy creates a big world for her, with extensive inner horizons, but she walked almost everywhere she went, rarely was granted even so much as a ride on a horse or in a carriage. Her world must have been quite large for her. To us, in the 21st century, with our cars and trains and planes? Many of us travel farther each day just going to work. But do we have a larger world than Tess, or Huck, or the characters in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County?

Mark Twain said:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

Jack Kerouac said:

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.”

D. H. Lawrence averred:

“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.”

What can travel do for us? Do we have excuses in our age to avoid it? Is there more to be learned from staying at home, making the rounds of the neighborhood, the locality, the township?

Gregor Mendel became the father of genetics by studying pea plants. The study of fruit flies may lead someday to a cure for autism. Madame Curie discovered a world inside her tiny lab . . . and Proust found deathless poetry in a madeleine.

But how far did they travel before they found such life in minutiae? Literally, metaphorically? Do we need to go far to see the near, or look closely at small things to see the bigger picture?

Lao Tzu said (translation by Ursula LeGuin):

The tree you can’t reach around grew from a tiny seedling.
The nine-story tower rises from a heap of clay.
The ten-thousand mile journey begins beneath your foot.

Einstein’s cousin said:

“It’s all, relative!!”


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