Two months ago, I hopped off a Greyhound bus into the town of Golden, British Columbia. In one month, I’ll hit the road again. This time, I’ll be headed south. Montana. Colorado. New Mexico.
But for now, here I am, sitting in the town’s bakery. Just sitting. Do you do that too sometimes? Just sitting motionless and doing nothing.
For me, doing nothing is an essential part of traveling. I absolutely need to do this from time to time. Looking at people, spying on conversations. I am watching the way they look around, starting and resuming conversations. I find it fascinating. By looking into their eyes, you can tell that there’s a story behind every single object around them.
That ketchup bottle reminds him of that girl he once fancied and had lunch with. (Lilies. She liked lilies.)
They run past that gas station every Sunday morning. (I need to fill my tank.)
There used to be another cashier at that counter. (His boy had a funny name; what was it again?)
She never sits on that plastic chair over there, it’s not stable. (She noticed it on the day the hospital called; “We received the results of your test, and it’s not cancer!”)
They, all of them, are locals.
There’s Colleen from the museum. There’s Wayne from the town council. There’s Stuart and Trish from the movie theater. There’s Shirley who loves to write limericks. There’s Samantha from the bookshop. And many others.
We all are someone else’s local. I bet I too have that look when sitting in my favorite café back home and a traveler comes in. I bet that traveler too can see stories unraveling in my eyes.
Every one of us is made of a tightly-strung net of experiences. Things we’ve seen, heard, lived. Back home, that net may end up feeling too tight and there’s a point when you’ve got to cut yourself loose.
That’s what happened to me. I suffocated.
Right now, sitting among the town’s locals, I am just a loose string. I can’t really weave that feel-good, tight net around me; I’m moving way too fast. And in a way, that feels good. That feels new. That feels like freedom.
But after a while, you realize it is a fool’s delusion. The very reason why I do that (do you, too?), sitting in a bakery, motionless, and doing nothing, may just be that I’m missing my net. Looking at people, spying on conversations, I start weaving a new net. Places, people, things.
What is traveling but the relentless weaving of interconnected places, people, and things?
Someone called Aristotle once said that all there is to this world, all of it, can be found in any single particular thing. The whole universe, in a simple detail. That piece of decoration, that spectacular or tacky photograph on the wall, that bottle of ketchup. They all remind you of another place, another person, another time. It does so because it interconnects with something in you.
Traveling is weaving. You cut yourself loose, you start weaving a new net in Golden, British Columbia, and then you go back home and connect that net to another net.
After a while, after many places, people, and things, you are everywhere at the same time.
Obviously, it is also a give-and-take. You also leave a piece of you everywhere you go. A thread for others to weave their net. There is something quantic about traveling. Something about being there, and not there.
After a while, after many years of going places, it feels like you’re vanishing into travel, like “Travel” is an entity, like it is this ancient deity, who has been around since time immemorial, who knows better about the world, and about you, your hopes and disappointments, your inspirations and your fears. Your innards.
(Now I’m talking nonsense.)
New Mexico then. I need a bit of heat, sun and flowers. I have lived through three winters in a row. One winter in Lyon, then one winter up and down New Zealand, then one winter here in Canada. I have known my last summer two years ago in Japan. I hated the heat, though: +47°C in a heat wave in Kyoto! (I had iced pinapple juice that day; I remember the smile of the lady who gave me that glass.)
Once we reach Colorado or New Mexico, we’ll drive back up all the way to Alaska. That’s what loose strings do, right? They flutter around, sink into mud and rub off walls. Someday, eventually, they settle. They are joined by others and start weaving a net. They think about cutting themselves loose.
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