In flight, February 23, 2011—THIRTY IN THE New World, including two in Baja California. Twenty-six, I think, in Europe; seven in the Pacific. That makes sixty-three airports flown into or out of so far. I mention it partly because others have made comments that might be interpreted as suggesting we travel rather easily, ma douce femme and I: and in fact I've lost count of the transatlantic crossings, which I used to tot up in my mind on each lift-off toward Europe. 1973, '74, '76, '77, '80… lost in antiquity.
This trip is more ragged than most. I mean, the itinerary is ragged, improvised and imprėvu, unlike others we've taken. As I grow older I want more and more to do everything: recapitulate earlier experiences for myself; share them with others; find new experiences. So today we fly to Amsterdam, there to join old friends at a favorite restaurant; then we spend a few days in a less-familiar quarter in a very familiar land (my second home, in fact, Nederland); then we walk for I hope nine days across unfamiliar country…
We have one checked bag, which I will carry on my back, as I did four years ago across the Alps; and one carry-on, which Lindsey will carry on hers, as we have done often before. They will take us through the next two weeks. At that point we rent a car, and perhaps accumulate more baggage. I rather hope not. Along the way we visit our extended family: our Dutch siblings and their children and their children's now and former wives; our Swedish-Luxembourgish daughter and her three children, our French daughter and her husband and daughter.
All these people — twenty or so — we think of as family, very nearly as close as our own blood: but, like our direct blood relatives, as dear friends also, people whose lives, experiences, interrelationships, enthusiasms, achievements, pleasures and occasional sorrows shade and illuminate our own, and those of our immediate family, and the close friends — not so many!— they have not yet encountered.
I find these last few months that these things matter more and more. A walk taken the other day with Oldest Daughter and a friend of hers — close friend of hers, more occasional friend of mine — was strangely moving: nine miles altogether up two thousand feet, then back again, in chaparral on old lava country, putting me in mind of Provence and Corsica, though we were hardly an hour from home, near Calistoga.
The silence of such hours, when shared with friends and family, overrides the ego's noise. I merge into the landscape, that eternal context I was born from: it was a mistake ever to have tried to set it aside, to make my way without it. It will win in the end, when I melt back into it, physically, as emotionally now I merge into the collective life of all these friends I contemplate.
I've outlived my mother now by a couple of years. I used to wonder why she traveled so much, in her retirement: China, Australia, the trans-Siberian railroad and the Silk Road, Peru, the Nile… I thought she must be distracting herself from her usual daily life on these voyages to exotic places, hoping perhaps to shake mortality off the trail. I see now I was dead wrong: she was traveling into herself, back into her real state of relationship to Life and Being. At such extended moments, I think, we live most fully, because least wilfully. We are more than usually authentic, at home with ourselves and with our setting, and learning, perhaps, to be away from our selves.