"Deep Travel" in the Wake of Thoreau

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First of two excerpts by David K. Leff from Deep Travel: In Thoreau's Wake on the Concord and Merrimack, 2009, University of Iowa Press, and published with permission. This book relates the retracing of Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack through the author's "deep travel."

hutchinsbymoonlight.jpgAt its simplest, deep travel is about heightened awareness. It is careful looking. It is paying attention to what is around you. Deep travel demands that we immerse ourselves fully in places and realize that they exit in time as well as space. A deep traveler knows the world is four-dimensional and can't be experienced with eyes and ears only.

Deep travel is not so much a matter of seeing sights as it is sight-seeking. It is a searching for the patterns and juxtapositions of culture and nature and delighting in the incongruities left by the inexorable passage of time. Deep travelers revel int he wild, inspiriting call of a kingfisher as it flies over a couple of trolling angles with Bud longnecks in one hand and rods in the other. They savor the sight of a tree-shaded burial ground squeezed between big-box retailers on a traffic-choked commercial strip.

Deep travelers look not so much for scenery or enchanting objects as for a tapestry of comprehension woven from stone walls, retail establishments, streets and topographical names, transportation networks, building styles, plant and animal assemblages, advertising signs, and other artifacts. Each element makes a statement about the landscape as a whole and the relationship of one part to another. Together, they tell a story. Deep travel is an ecological way of looking where everything we see has a function and all the parts are related, no matter how seemingly disparate or contradictory.

blucanoe.jpgLike animals that remain intensely aware of their surroundings and any alteration to them because predation or starvation await the unwary, deep travelers work to be keenly conscious of their environs. They strive for alertness and acuity of wildland firefighters or soldiers whose survival depends on their knowledge of topography, history, weather, vegetation, and the observation of changes in minute phenomena. Such mindfulness simultaneously enriches experience and makes the voyager worthy of the voyage.

On a dank, humid July morning, my eleven year old son, Josh, and I launched our canoe into the Assabet River from a grassy ribbon of land behind the large public works complex at Concord, Massachusetts. Although a few paddle strokes downstream of where Thoreau began his voyage, it was a put-in where we could safely leave our pickup, according to local policy, who seemed unsurprised by a request that might have invited suspicion in some towns. Of course, in Concord they must be used to the eccentric requests of visitors, many of whom are on a pilgrimage to the haunts of quirky characters this community has nurtured for centuries... (continued later in the week)

Photos: Top, Hutchin's Farm and the Concord River beyond with moonrise. Bottom, Assabet River. Both ©2010 Rich Stevenson, all rights reserved, Local Color Images

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This page contains a single entry by ConcordMA.com published on March 5, 2010 10:00 AM.

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