How about breaking out briefly?
No joke, it can change your vision – give you 20/20 if yours has been a little blurry lately. But not in the way you see a distant tree or a traffic sign or the neon red scratches across the window of a small Memphis store I once saw: Guns & Music.
This was perfect for me then. Nowadays I’d rather just read, Tons of Music. And maybe yes. I haven’t been back to Memphis since ’85, when I was helping a friend out of Virginia to get to Northwest Arkansas. Not 1885, but 1985, in case you weren’t sure.
Traveling there – and meeting a harmonica player in the Mississippi Delta south of Memphis named Willie Foster, who once got on a bus trying to get to Chicago but ended up in St. Windy City because he couldn’t read – it’s given me 20/20 vision now, more or less.
For me it means seeing how the planet works and how Americans can move a little faster in making things better. And that means seeing why we don’t have, and what remains strangely, brilliantly beautiful about us anyway.
Here’s one of the wild paradoxes about Americans that you can see if you travel: We helped bring the New World out of 3,000 years of European civilization right into slavery, through the colonies, and then into one country. But paradoxically we also waged the bloodiest, most desperate fight in our national history to end it.
If you travel to the homes of our Founding Fathers in Virginia, places like Mount Vernon (George Washington) or Monticello (Thomas Jefferson) – the people who separated the United States from the ancient bigotry of class and religion, who gave us free speech and division of church from state “to keep forever from these shores the incessant strife which has drenched the soil of Europe with blood for centuries,” as James Madison (Montpelier) described it—you will also see their active participation as proprietors in the history 400- years of slavery. They left it to other Americans (led by Lincoln, born and raised in a log cabin) to soak the ground in blood by ridding us of racial injustice.
This is some kind of explosion. But any kind of travel, big or small, is worth it if you want better vision.
Say you work in marketing, sales or finance, or are a small business owner. Say you live in a comfortable house in a comfortable town. Maybe you’ve defined travel by now as going to even more comfortable places, often with beaches or on ships where smiling workers serve you food and drink whenever you want.
In that case you are not really travelling, even if the scenery changes.
Instead, you might consider going to Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp, pressed against Lake Okeechobee near Clewiston, where mosquitoes the size of Focke-Wulf dive bombers (German, WWII) never show up in the squadron with less than 100 on some nights, and you sleep. in an old tattered bed in a small square room and – whether you fish or not – you walk 100 meters to the dock, looking out at the sawgrass and the water, its surface carved by the head of an alligator or turtles with the occasional push.
This is a journey without rest.
Or say you wander periodically in Florida’s extraordinary preserved wilderness – Big Cypress Reserve or Everglades National Park, Fakahatchee Strand or Ten Thousand Islands or Archbold Biological Station in the Lake Wales Ridge Country, where the landscape in some areas has not changed significantly in a million years.
Good. But to see more clearly you need to go to a spa hotel and resort and see how the other half (or 90%) lives.
This is a journey without rest.
My oldest son, Florida Weekly writer and photographer Evan Williams (no relation to whiskey except maybe an occasional drink), did this last year when he moved to Los Angeles after many years in the Sunshine State. And my youngest son, Nash, did just that recently, returning last week from his first long hike with friend Grant Rogers to Yosemite National Park.
Just because they wanted to see the backpack in the park.
For the boys from Florida, this is a serious trek: from a foot above sea level to the base of El Capitan, a granite rock that rises 3,000 feet above the valley floor to more than 7,500 feet above sea level. This is 2½ times the height of the Empire State Building and three times the height of the Eiffel Tower.
Which you have to travel to see. ¦
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