Traveling as exploration
|Hiking near Waimea Canyon|
Kauai was an unexpected place, tropical, but not particularly "natural," as it's a small island, inhabited by humans and domesticated animals for more centuries than I knew before we visited. So the sense of wildness was tempered by the sense of transient vegetation, and unfamiliar species at that. And it's the sense of bringing familiarity to an unfamilar place that is part of the journey.
Traveling reminds me that exploring beyond your customary places is worthwhile, while keeping a sense of exploration and curiosity at home can be equally rewarding.
And being again in a place that I've visited before is a different sort of process as well, bringing thoughts of what now familiar places at home would have been like decades ago, not to mention centuries.
Houses with dates in the 15th and 16th century aren't uncommon in the Altstadt of Freiburg, whereas in eastern North America, early exploration and colonization by Europeans had just barely begun, from the far reaches of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec to Florida and the southeastern U.S. These journeys started shaping the edges of a continent inhabited by indigenous groups, practicing different ways of living on the land.
In some ways, our last year of travels has encouraged this kind of historical perspective more than ever; with places such as Santa Fe (NM), Kauai, Vancouver, Stockholm, Umbria, southwestern Germany, and eastern Canada having many layers of time embedded in their cultural perspectives.
The shape-shifting of thoughts around place are prompted by understanding a bit more about how the past has shaped one's current experience of place.
The Schwarzwald was being challenged by deforestation in the 1500's, hard to imagine with the managed forests cloaking the mountains today. Similarly, in the Southern Appalachians, the deforestation of the late 1800's is now masked by second and third growth forests. Both of these places feel to me to be places of the spirit, with the mountains, mixed forests, streams, and pastoral valleys.
But, seeing photographs and depictions of what these places looked like at those points in time brings those realizations home.
In North Carolina, the reforestation vision fostered by George Vanderbilt as part of the development of his Biltmore Estate, brought a young professional forester named Gifford Pinchot to successfully begin to manage what is now Pisgah National Forest. He went on to become the first Director of the U.S. Forest Service. His successor at Biltmore was a German forester named Carl Schenk, who went on to establish a well-known forestry school in the region. The threads connecting these places have been interesting to contemplate, as I've been writing this, as I was thinking earlier today, prompted by an email from a family member, about the place where my great-great grandparents left in the mid-19th century, ending up in Ellinburg, Kansas. It was another green, now forested part of Germany, in Kulmbach, Bavaria. Perhaps it was quite different then, too.