Tales From Nowhere

‘Many places can feel like nowhere: a desert, an isolated village, even the middle of a bustling, impersonal city. And then something happens: an adventure, a revelation, an experience that changes the whole landscape. The discovery that every place is the center of the world to somebody and has its own riches and wonders’.

Tales from Nowhere was my first Lonely Planet anthology; my book of choice for my own European adventures. It traveled with me in the door netting of my housemate’s camper van, nestled next to my Jungle Formula and paper packages of half eaten baguette, always in reach of my makeshift bed for our days driving south on D roads to the Verdon Gorge. 200 pages and some 643 miles later, I finished the collection, sat on a stranger’s bed, locked out of my house in the middle of the night and with sand still dusting my lap each time I moved my head. My own nowhere place. And a fitting finale for a collection so centered on the true nature of adventure.

Edited by Don George, the collection conglomerates 30 travel stories. Bound together under the expansive theme of nowhere, each tale takes us to a place so separate and yet so expressively relevant. Dazzlingly rich, but beautiful in their simplicity, modesty and innocent explorations of what it truly means to travel, these 30 stories wind from continent to continent, from the stretches of Icelandic wilderness to The Worst Country in the World, abstracting a sense of nowhere at each stop and illuminating the significance of our most (seemingly) arbitrary experiences. For me, this contrast is what made the book such a joy to read these past few weeks travelling south. Settling into each page, reading aloud to Nathan on the beach or by the light of my phone as we drove through the night to a mechanic in Troyes, I was transported from my own nowheres to the middle of the roads traveled by others. With these stories reverberating in my mind, I reminded myself again and again that the tiny mechanics shop, the squat toilet aires, watching the biggest great dane puppy I’ve ever seen in my life gallop across a service station car park at 6am, these nowheres were in those moments the center of my world. Those that made me wonder where is ‘nowhere’ when you are constantly ‘somewhere’.

Nature Retreat| Portugal

”Your best ideas, those eureka moments that turn the world upside down, seldom come when you’re juggling emails, rushing to meet the 5 P.M. deadline or straining to make your voice heard in a high-stress meeting. They come when you’re walking the dog, soaking in the bath or swinging in a hammock.”

For the past week I’ve been cultivating a new hope for my life. It involves a hammock, a suntrap veranda, and a whole host of pets. Saturday through Wednesday, Nathan and I spent some time at a nature retreat tucked away in the wilderness of west Portugal. I hadn’t realized how sorely a recharge was needed; some time to switch off, tune out and realign, ready for the hive of activity that’s been buzzing away since we landed back on home turf. I want to say I hadn’t realized how much I needed it, but what I mean to say in truth is that I hadn’t realized how much I need it.

If there’s one thing that can clear a foggy mind, it’s a hammock with a view, and the sound of cicadas across a stretch of beautiful valley. The slower pace of life this past week, in direct contrast with my life back at my 9-5 office job complete with emails, targets and general bureaucracy (don’t tell my boss) sets in motion a vision of something at once so exciting I can hardly contain it and so terrifying I can barely think of it as anything more than a wild dream. I want life to be simple, and I want life to be different. What I really want is life, naturally. And not just 5 days of the year.

One of the most difficult truths I’ve had to accept about myself in the 9 months since I graduated is that I’m never going to do well in an office, I’m not really interested in a career, and my time is the most important thing to me. I don’t really like the city. I’m an introvert and I crave remote infrastructure.

And I’m also conflicted.

I enjoy the freedom to dip into modern society when it suits, and I appreciate the fast pace of life that my routine back home affords me. I don’t want to be disconnected; apart yes, but isolated, no. It’s a funny one. One I’m still figuring out. I’m not really certain of anything at the moment, and perhaps this uncertainty is the price of youth and the pressure to have it all figured out, but I’m surer about some things than others. I want away. Not out, perhaps, but away. Instead of longing for a simple life, I want to cultivate a life I don’t feel the need to flee.

And if there’s a single thing that’s clear to me it’s that nature, a simple life, self-sufficiency, wilderness. Not one of these things is to visit. They are home.

 

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“Wildness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being. It is that wellspring of creativity whence comes the instinctive activities that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young: to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea.” ~ Thomas Berry

“What is adventure? If a lone wolf lifts his plaintive call into the moonlight near your campsite, you might call that adventure. While you’re sweating like a horse on a climb over a 12,000 foot pass, that could be adventure. When howling head winds press your lips against your teeth, you face a mighty struggle. When your pack grows heavy on your shoulders as your climb a 14,000 foot peak, you feel the adventure. When you suffer freezing temperatures and 20 inches of fresh powder on a hut to hut trip in the Rockies, that could be called adventure. But that’s not what makes an adventure. It’s your willingness to conquer it, and to present yourself at the doorstep of nature. That creates the experience. No more greater joy can come from life than to live inside a moment of adventure. It is the uncommon wilderness experience that gives your life expectation”.