In summer I never believe anything unless I touch it. The season is full of mirages: oceans shimmer atop asphalt highways, lightning bolts camouflage as white heat, shadows promise refuge only to vanish in ether. In summer, I rely on nothing, waiting for incidents to unfold. Days, which are supposed to tread slowly like treacle running through the briar patch, hasten with wings from seaside to summit. I move at tortoise pace, however, upon the country roads discovering at each turn that I am on the verge of another mistake. Little whirlpools of dust rise and dance in the air while my heavy pack settles into the sweat grooves on my back.
Summertime is for unearthing one’s own truths and fathoming the accuracy of other people’s counsel. It is for gathering knowledge and conducting experiments. It is for orchestrating evaluations and constructing errors. So, with my necessary worldly goods I set out for the open spaces and navigate urban sprawls. I go on scientific voyages eager to know things for myself. I am always given innumerable advice before setting out on my open-air adventures, yet I find that the telling of them never sinks into my being. I nod pleasantly and agree with cannier heads about what I should and should not do, but I have found that their counsel only imprints itself on me once I have lived through the situation.
“Remember to slow down,” the wise ones told me, “enjoy the scene while you wander.” Too bent upon traversing the miles, however, I only look down, keeping my eyes focused on the pebbles and cracks beneath my feet. The towns come and go, the roads diverge yet I fail to perceive them. Blindfolded both to the beauty of grandeur and the enchantment of minutia I sink exhausted upon a tree stump in the middle of an unnamed grove.
“Only in my fatigued stupor do my eyes and ears open to the music around me: the whisper of a bent branch rubbing in the wind, the ditty of floating clouds, the melody of warbling frogs.”
Everything has been singing the sublimest ballad, but I never paused to hear it. When I regain my strength I force myself to halt oftener, taking in the tune of a busker, the sight of a single daffodil growing in a rubbish heap, the concerto of the night crickets.
“Don’t pack it unless you are willing to carry it,” I was advised. Yet, it is only after three and a half hours of steady climbing that I understand the weight of my extra comforts is a sack of boulders upon my hips. Late in the evening, I unpack and sift through my hoard, cheerfully donating what once I thought essential to my survival: a pair of binoculars, a tool kit, a second set of boots. I ruminate about each article before returning it to my rucksack, each delightful object of convenience has transformed into an unwanted encumbrance. After four days I have divested myself of almost my entire contents. I find I can live on very little material goods and the resulting ease on my aching back and shoulders is a justified reward. I have acquired the art of getting by on simplicity.
“There is always something new to be learned,” the sages admonished, “keep your mind open.” After years of travel I doubted them because I had seen so many majestic slopes, rain drenched forests, and interminable skyscrapers. I had slept in one-horse hamlets and desolate campgrounds. I had walked on mossy trails and muddy terrains. However, my trek is revealing that there are certainties discoverable only in the warmth of the season, when one can live outdoors and use the sky for a roof. The stars pour through the night air in three-part harmony during summer. The fallen rain collecting on silver fir barks tastes of larkspur and sage at that time. In the barren crags far above the tree line, the laughter of a clear spring makes the ideal lullaby. The campground’s scent reflects the passage of a thousand summers in each charred log. Some truths cannot be told, they have to be encountered by living them. So I venture out and plumb the depths of summer, to learn and relearn those instructions that never touch my heart until I have studied them for myself.
Do not take my word for evidence, however. Go and see for yourself in the soundless places how the snake slithers out of its old skin, how the beetle greets death with arms folded in dignity, how the new corn ripens in golden streaks within its husk during the silver nights. Use your guidebook to navigate the unfrequented alleyways; but also forecast afternoon thunderstorms using the fragrance of the earth and the dimpling of clouds. Refer to your map to show you the whereabouts of ghost towns; but sharpen your senses to locate lost rivers and columbine fields. Gather timetables so you do not miss the last train to Guayaquil; but do not forget to mark the shifting of Venus in the ebony firmament or notice the shadowless telephone poles ticking off the interminable route. These are truths no one can tell another, they must be sought after in diligence. Only the wandering curious unafraid of the never-ending road and the unforgiving desert will verify them.
In this short summer term, life is the school that teaches me. Under the estival spell I venture to the gorge’s edge seeking proof of the sluggish river’s erosive power. I read the stories of winter storms upon the scarred remnants of junipers. I learn the language of glacial moraines and attempt mastery of the grasshopper’s exuberance. Herein lie my lessons. I am grateful that I must spend my summer understanding these principles and laws on my own, so that they become a part of me.
BESPOKE TRAVELER TIP #9
“Discovery cannot happen without experimentation, error, and a spirit of inquiry. The freedom to make mistakes is one to treasure and exercise.”
Have any thoughts on how summer influences your travels or daily life? Share them with us in the comments section.