Diaspora: Thoughts on Journeying
In the summer of 1996, I left Kansas City to go to college in Los Angeles. It was the first time I remember feeling displaced. The first year was hell. My heart was with my friends, my family, my place. I was always talking about KC, always calling back home, always struggling with the new and strange horizon lines. It seems we never know what we have until its gone.
On my first return home, something changed. I found myself always talking of LA, always projecting about future projects, already loosening the binds of the familiar for an ever larger experience of unforeseen life. Home has a way of finding its way to us when our vantage of place is on the move.
Diaspora literally means “through sowing, or spreading out”. In agricultural terms, this displacement is the beginning of where the old life is transformed into the new.
Many of my friends work with Bhutanese and Nepali refugees now living in Kansas City, Kansas. My travels through the Himalayas and my friends have taught me that the national boundaries do not make up our identities. The refugee knows how precious home is, wherever that home may be found. In you. In me. In here. In now. We’re all refugees sowing our lives in the land of each other.
Ten years ago I sold most of my possessions in a garage sale of life changing proportions. Without ever having camped two nights in a row, I went to the Mexican border with the very real intention to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) into Canada. To even think about my first week on the trail evokes tears. They are the weird kind that come with memories feeling so uncomfortable that they are comedic. I had read two guidebooks and made much of my gear by hand but none of that could really prepare me for my time on the PCT. In my mind I was an expert when in reality, I didn’t know what I was even doing on the trail. I wasn’t running away. My only purpose was to finish.
On the first day I nearly ran out of water in the desert. I took a wrong turn and had to bushwhack in shorts through thorns to get back to the trail. When the sun went down, my headlamp revealed the eyes of the mountain lions or coyotes that had been keeping watch. I was scared but my only choice was to keep moving. My sleeping pad fell off of my backpack sometime earlier in the day. When I tried to sleep, lightning struck 100 feet from me. My heart felt like it exploded and I have never moved so fast and been so motivated in my entire life. On my second day I actually slept. On my third day my sleeping pad was returned to me by another hiker who also found my pedometer and sunglasses that I had unknowingly dropped. He recommended that I shed my ice axe, etch-a-sketch and about 20 pounds of books before I get into the big mountains. For the next 4 months, my name became Lost & Found.
Somewhere around the Three sisters in Oregon, I took a 20 mile accidental detour onto an unmarked trail. I was more than a little lost and had the option of turning back but stubbornly continued onward. I had plenty of water and food and figured that if I just kept walking North I would run into the trail. Worst case scenario, the next road crossing was probably within a two day’s walk.
My lunch that day was on a summit of an unknown mountain overlooking my favorite view during the whole of my hike. I was gazing at the speed of mountains where two chains collided. The Sierras were vast granite slabs slowly rising in contrast to the volcanic speed, color and sharpness of the Cascades. My moment was abruptly interrupted by a cold wetness on my butt. I had accidentally sat down on my water bladder and was wearing it. All of it. Panic took over. As I was descending north I noticed animal tracks. I was getting good at naming other hikers by their footwear. These were cougar prints that I was following. My mind started racing every time I heard a sound. I was on edge. And then there it was. A small spring flowing from the rock. I would live and find my way back to the PCT thanks to the trail left by the big cat.
Deep in the Pasayten wilderness, in the northernmost reaches of Washington, I could see the canadian alpine and the end of my hike was only a few days away. I was forced to turn back by a blizzard, waist deep snow, frost bitten toes, and my final encounter with a cougar. With tracks encircling my tent and survival sirens going off in my head, I still felt disappointed in myself. If I had just walked a little faster, or paid more attention to not get lost so much, I would have made it. But the truth was I was not lost, for once, and still had my life, my wits and a few extra cliff bars. When tracing back my footsteps in the snow to the last road in America, I found myself provoked to tears by the magnificent beauty and humbling scale of the Cascade spires. My journey had not come to an embarrassing end, but was in fact just continuing.
The Joy and Sorrow of Time Travelers
movement by moment
personal identities travel
difference and distance
out of sync pacing through space
wandering and wondering through
separation and embrace
shipping spatial restraint
hoping with eternal unreasonability