October 5, 2007
When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle will raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.
When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from.
Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay. This part of the process is invariable and immortal. I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teen-agers in new-hatched sin, will not think they invented it.
Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, as exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip.
Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.
It has been almost 50 years now since John Steinbeck wrote these words in his last novel Travels with Charley (In search of America). After almost 30 years as a practical bum myself I find my built-in reason is quite simple; to capture that millisecond when it all comes together perfectly. It is not the image itself, but rather the quest for the perfect image that brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. If these words resonate with you as well, perhaps you will join me in a photographic expedition and we can share in our mutual fever. I look forward to it!
Antarctica: The white continent - November 7, 18, 29, 2007
Baja: Among the great whales - January 26, February 2, 9, 16, and 23, 2008
Baja: A remarkable journey - March 29, 2008
Alaska, British Columbia, and the San Juan Islands - April 29, 2008
Galapagos aboard the National Geographic Polaris - May 16 and 23, 2008
Land of the Ice Bears in Svalbard - July 2, 2008
Beyond the North Cape, Norway - July 16, 2008
Atlantic Odyssey, Portugal to Brazil - September 21, 2008