As the temperatures begin to rise, I notice myself looking out the nearest window with a sigh and desperate longing to be out there. That ‘out there’ could be anywhere but home, but if I’m to be truthful, my heart would much prefer somewhere far away and underexplored.
Upon initial recognition, I quickly categorized the feeling as seasonal wanderlust. But as the days progressed and that same longing remained, I knew it had to run much deeper.
For the past two years, at the first hint of spring I’ve packed up Belle (my little white hatchback) and driven the 3,000 kilometers to Moab, Utah—the magical land of desert mesas and sandstone castles. Although each trip was distinctly different, they both held commonalities in their outcomes: a sense of peace, a removal from time, and an air of liberation.
It is for this reason I wonder if spring will always bring with it a desire for desert sands and open skies. Perhaps with age my antsy tendencies will settle. Perhaps not. Regardless, I can’t help but wonder why this feeling comes about at all.
Can’t I be content where I am?
‘…the time passed extremely slowly, as time should pass, with the days lingering and long, spacious and free as the summers of childhood.’ – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
‘Days tumbled upon days, I was in my overalls, didn’t comb my hair, didn’t shave much, consorted only with dogs and cats, I was living the happy life of childhood again.’ – Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Childhood. These two are not presenting us with anything obscure; as adults we tend to yearn for the unbound days of our early beginnings. Abbey and Kerouac (who I like to think of as familiar voices from an unfamiliar time) are among many who have articulated that longing, though perhaps others have not done it quite so eloquently.
And so, the question I continue to mull over, and have mulled for two years after first reading Kerouac’s musings: what it is about childhood that we so ceaselessly romanticize?
There is no question that our youth was simpler: responsibility was minimal, judgments had yet to be formed, and time was not yet thought of as finite. These are the obvious facts.
I flash back to my very first drive along Highway 128 into Moab, with towering red cliffs to my left, the rushing waters of the Colorado River to my right. It was a narrow, winding and inspiring road I took on a whim, and one that caused my eyes to widen more with every turn.
The experience, one might say, was overwhelming: I was surprised by vast desert vistas I hadn’t expected to see; I was filled with admiration for the stunning state of Utah; I was struck with awe that a landscape could harbour such understated beauty. I was breathless.
I now note that it was all brand new, unexpected, and there I was: a mere 5’3″, alone, and incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to explore all its nooks and crannies. The possibilities seemed infinite and excited me to every facet of my core.
Childhood. Can the similarities not be drawn? At six years of age, there were so many things I hadn’t yet seen; so many places that were left to visit; so many experiences that were yet to be had. In those days, everything was brand new. And so even the simplest of encounters were met with young, wide and wondrous eyes.
As adults, our worlds and experiences grow until we convince ourselves that we’ve seen and heard it all. To the point at which, I believe, we devoid ourselves of this remarkable feeling.
Isn’t that partially true? Humankind has found ways to permeate into the thickest of jungles, the highest of mountain tops and deepest of ocean floors. Our hands now have the ability to reach lightyears–light years–beyond our fingertips. Those who cannot visit can still see. What is there left to explore?
In reality, however, it takes but one inspiring place, all-encompassing experience, or unexpected moment for those child-like feelings to come rushing back. Feelings, as adults, we tend to limit ourselves from. Excitement. Inspiration. Fascination. And wonder.
Just like my highway did for me those years ago.
I mulled over this awhile, coming to realize there was a fundamental difference between the sentiments of Abbey and Kerouac in comparison to my own. Unlike our two literary comrades, I do not yearn for the days of my childhood, but instead, for the future and what the next exploration will bring.
I yearn for that rare, unique and enlightening encounter to bring back those bright, wide and wondrous eyes.
At the age of 32 it is why, every now and then, those antsy tendencies still reach out to me, and often succeed in taking hold. And it is why I have come to believe they may always will.
Now you want more Kerouac, don’t you. We’ve got you covered: The Desert and the Dharma Bums.