I am ambivalent about travel.
I really don’t like flying. Getting through security is no picnic. Belt, shoes, cellphone, pedometer, boarding pass, driver’s license have to be coordinated like a circus juggler. On the plane you have to sit in a tiny seat, in stress positions banned by the Geneva Convention, for hours with limited breaks for exercise, food and water and bathroom privileges.
Eventually, you arrive exhausted at your hotel in need of a shower, but the operation of that shower requires a degree in mechanical engineering.
But then you get to the good part — a new and different place, with the opportunity to have new and different experiences. If you want to change your band width, and see the world in a different, better way, then travel is one very good way to realize that aspiration.
So Marsha and I visited southwest South Dakota for five days this month. We saw a lot: Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Custer State Park, and Deadwood. These attractions were great, but as is almost always the case when you travel, the best is in the detail, the unexpected and the small.
I’m an early riser. So each morning I walked in the forest alone in the dark. Fortunately, the half moon and stars lit my way. It was as quiet as I can ever remember. The only sounds were water and wind and an occasional bird or coyote call. So different from Oak Park and the el, the Eisenhower, planes, cars and the other man-made sounds of suburban life. The experience was a reminder of the greater role nature could, and perhaps should, play in my life.
Then there were the times we drove through the vast expanse of the prairie. In preparation for the trip, I had read Giants in the Earth, a saga of the first settlers to this harsh and imposing land. I appreciated as never before just how courageous and brave a husband and wife would have to be to leave civilization and bring their children to such a place in order to realize a dream of freedom, independence, and a better life.
On one of my morning treks, I came upon an open field and dimly perceived a few dark shapes moving slowly in the hour before dawn. As I approached, those shapes grew larger, and I noticed more and more of them. Slowly, it dawned on me that I was surrounded by buffalo on three sides. I had found the herd. Discretion being the better part of valor, I stood stock still, and watched as these magnificent beasts passed. One stooped and stared at me for a few seconds and moved on. He seemed to have concluded that this aging biped presented neither threat nor interest to him.
I have a bias against mammals as a result of living with a Yapshire Terrier for 20 years, but this unforgettable experience with these buffalo has caused me to reconsider my animus.
So as is almost always the case, my ambivalence about travel was resolved in favor of travel. If you do not wish to be the person you have become, then don’t stay.