Today I am on the road heading south, the Everglades and New Zealand shimmering on the horizon. Monday I took a walk around our neighborhood in Asheville. It was a beautiful fall day with a few wisps of color still stubbornly clinging to the branches of the trees. The air was warm for late November but with a hint that something was about to change. A whisper in the breeze indicated that winter was on its way. As I ambled down streets I travel sometimes multiple times a day, the thought struck me that this would be my last day of fall here in the mountains, and one of the last times I would see these familiar streets until after the winter has come and gone, after the freezing and thawing, and the cold north winds have advanced and retreated once again. I was again reminded that all we have is this moment right in front of us and that that is all we really need. This moment.
As I stepped outside, the darkness of night was punched through with a million tiny pinholes of light. The rays of the sun would not begin to lighten the eastern horizon for another half hour, ushering in a new day, the last of an Outward Bound course that had spanned the New Year’s holiday bridging the time between 2010 and 2011. The dew clung heavily over all exposed surfaces, giving everything a shimmering quality with the starlight providing illumination. I made my way across the lawn of the Sunset Island base camp and looked upon the tents and personal bug shelters, where our students were still soundly sleeping. I glanced up and saw a shooting star blazing it’s short life across the canopy of the universe overhead. I walked more slowly, eyes pointed upwards. Another! At the bottom of the stairs leading into the lodge, I paused, and saw yet another shooting star. The sky above was alive this morning with spent pieces of the cosmos taking their final plunge after a journey none of us could possibly imagine. I turned to face the door, took one more lingering look at the sky above, and then placed my foot on the first stair. The coffee pot was calling, it was time to head inside again. It was time for the sailor to rest, and for the farmer to once again take prominence in my life.
For the past week, I had traveled by sea kayak through Everglades National Park and the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge with eight strangers and my co-instructor. It had been a good Outward Bound course. For me, the end of it marked the end of a period of many months of movement, of being outdoors. Since June, I have not spent much time in one place for very long. Leading backpacking trips, bicycle tours, and being away on vacation has kept me in motion. Heading inside that last morning of course felt symbolic to me of the larger direction my life will be going during the next several months. The sailor in me was returning from sea for awhile.
I am back in Asheville today, settled into my favorite chair, and ready to begin being a member of the community of people here. I will step back into the role of full-time student for the semester. I will enjoy watching the winter turn to spring. This is the farmer in me.
This concept of farmers and sailors was brought to my attention by a post I was reading this morning from a blog called The Path Less Pedaled.
[A friend] said, “There’s basically two kinds of people on this earth. There are farmers….and there are sailors. Farmers are the people that take great joy in laying down roots and are comforted by the predictable day to day routine and the dependable seasons. Sailors have to be constantly moving and looking for new experiences. There is nothing more satisfying than the prospects of a new port for a sailor. The world needs both kinds.” I’m not quite sure if I’m either wholly farmer or wholly sailor
I could not agree more. The farmer in me loves my home and community here in Asheville. He enjoys raking the leaves to the curb in the fall and going out to breakfast with friends at his favorite breakfast spot. But the sailor within me just won’t be quiet. He is a restless soul who does not tolerate sitting still for too long.
Therein lies my challenge. Can I convince the farmer and the sailor to work out a compromise? In 2010, I was able to have them coexist fairly well, though always at some level of uneasy tension between the two of them. When one of them is allowed to thrive, the other necessarily must suffer some. One thing is certain, the farmer and the sailor are both a part of me and neither is going away any time soon. And the thing is, the farmer within me learns so much from the sailor, just as the sailor is nourished by the contributions of the farmer.
What about you? Are you a farmer, a sailor, or a little of both?
I find myself home again after a fall spent traveling to Tuscaloosa, New York City, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Outer Banks. I’m a little road weary and glad to be back in Asheville for a while. So here is something I wrote back in the Spring of 2009 about coming home after a season of adventures.
As the trees opened up at the bend in the trail, the late afternoon sun striking out across the gorge washed the alternating bands of lush vegetation and jagged rock walls before me in a fiery glow that filled my mind and spirit with a profound sense of peace and wonder.
I was home again.
It was the late summer of 2003 at the end of a road trip that had taken me down rivers in the canyons of Utah, hiking in the magnificent forests of the Cascades, and sea kayaking in the salmon and berry filled fiords of southeast Alaska, but at that moment, I realized that nothing I had experienced on that journey had surpassed the beauty I was witnessing out my backdoor on the rim of the Linville Gorge Wilderness in North Carolina.
Growing up as a skateboarding, floppy banged, punk rock aficionado in 1980’s north Alabama, I spent my time waiting for the day I could leave the southeast behind for more majestic and progressive places. I had dreams of attending collage in a ski town out west where I would live in the big mountains and hit the steeps in between classes, but reality and my introverted nature set in and so I remained in the south for my collage years, still dreaming of the time I would escape to more exciting locales. A few twists and turns after college eventually led me to work full time as an instructor for the North Carolina Outward Bound School where I was able to create a lifestyle allowing me to travel and explore new places. My time in that role had me spending warm months hiking and sea kayaking the mountains of western North Carolina and the Outer Banks, then migrating down south during the winter to paddle the Florida Everglades and islands of the Bahamas. It was a grand adventure, allowing me ample time to travel in the time periods between migrations or when I chose to take a season off, as happened that summer of 2003.
Travel is a magical thing. It strips us down to a minimum of our precious possessions and puts us in places where we don’t know what to expect around the next bend or from the next conversation we’re about to have. It allows us a perspective on the places we’ve come from that is far more valuable than what it teaches us about the places we may be visiting at the time. Experiencing the different environments and cultures we travel through shines a light on ourselves, and helps to clarify who we are and what we truly value. When I was younger, I felt that one had to get as far away as possible to experience these things. The moment of clarity I had while looking in awe at the Linville Gorge taught me that adventure, natural wonder, and the insight they imbue can be found right at home.
I now consider myself fortunate to live in the southeast. Here one can explore rugged mountains, beautiful coastlines, and a fascinating cultural and natural history. In these times of economic uncertainty and global warming, what better way to save money, minimize our environmental impacts, and bolster our local economies than to seek our adventures close to home. For me lately, these might simply involve a long run on a local trail or a weekend bike tour. A week away might involve camping and paddling in the coastal areas of the Carolina’s, or a hike on a section of the Appalachian trail. Though the Linville Gorge is no longer my backyard, the Asheville Botanical Gardens are right down the street and the Blue Ridge Parkway is just a 20 minute bike ride away. Natural beauty, adventure, and all the benefits that come along with these phenomenon can be right outside your door if you open yourself up them.